Somewhere in northern Italy, there is a little trattoria. It is there since 1961, although the family and the restaurant business have been intertwined for a lot longer time. For years now, a couple of friends and ourselves, all led on by our friend M., whose parents are the discoverers of this little gem, have been making a pilgrimage to this trattoria once a year at the end of October, travelling over a thousand kilometers. Over the years we have seen the trattoria get bigger, nicer, a small hotel was added, the Lire went, the Euro came, and the foreigners, too. The only thing that stays constant is the quality of the food and the staff. We have travelled to this place on occasion for just one dinner, we had 3-day adventure trips including visits to very prominent wine cellars and two dinners (gasp!) at this temple, and we have combined these holy dinners with preliminaries at other restaurants, like this year at the Obauer restaurant in Austria. This trattoria is the bar every restaurant (including 3-starred ones) has to measure itself upto for many of us, being mentioned often during the course of the year and prepared for starting as early as June.
The reason for us to go at the end of October is the truffle. The white ones, tuber magnatum. Truffles seem to divide the mankind into lovers and haters, usually with not much space in between. Most people hate truffles (or they think so) because they had encounters with all the fake products which carry the name truffle. If you have the means, you should at least once in your life taste a real and fresh white truffle. A “truffle” pasta dish for 10 Euros is definitely wrong, because either it has the so called “summer” truffles or just some oil with fake truffle aromas. Truffles can’t be cultivated and grow wild, below the ground in some very special forest areas in France and Italy. There are some minor types that grow elsewhere (China, southeast Turkey). Contrary to the legend, in Italy the truffles are not sought using pigs or boars (who love them) because of the damage they inflict on the forests. Special truffle dogs are nowadays the truffle seekers best friends.
Unfortunately this year it hasn’t rained enough and the truffle harvest (or find, if you like) has been less than regular, sending the already horrendous prices through the roof, up to €6,000 per kilo. This we have suffered during our long awaited dinner, as well. Although we had less dishes than usual with truffles, at one point the trattoria went out of truffles, which had never happened before, and the prices had never been so high, either.
Are you ready for the ride? The menu on this evening consisted mainly of signature dishes we eat very often in this trattoria. Here we go:
We were welcomed with a shot of vegetable soup, studded with flecks of fried prosciutto from the region and drops of olive oil.
A carpaccio of Loup de Mer, “cooked” by the acidity of orange juice and rounded up by thyme.
Porcini and ham in love. You get slices of porcini au gratin and the smoked regional ham on separate plates and combine them yourself. This is a very simple but great combination and of course lives from the quality of the porcini and the ham, which is from a very famous producer.
One of my three favorite dishes. The region as well as the trattoria are famous for their polenta, which is unlike any you have had. It is so creamy. Then there is the montasio cheese grated on top which instantly melts, the sauteed porcini on the side, and when the plate arrives your table, the waiter comes with the truffles and shaves it on the polenta (see below). Is there a better combination? I can’t decide between this preparation and the following two.
Our favorite waiter D. shaving truffles on the polenta.
And then again the truffle shaving. This is the most common way to eat truffles and I just love it. But the tagliolini in this case are worth the trip even without the truffles, this was just like a cloud and so delicious, the best pasta I ever had (and I have had a lot, having lived in Italy and what not!)
I tend to say this is my favorite combination. A hollowed out potato, filled with an egg, covered with a slice of montasio cheese which bakes in the oven to perfection, till the egg is done but runny and cheese has melted. Some roasted salsiccia on the side and truffles shaved onto once the plate sits in front of you.
One more picture just because it is so beautiful. At this point, the trattoria ran out of truffles, so we didn’t get to eat the traditional risotto and the meat courses had to forgo this earthy flavor as well.
A buffalo steak for T. Others had a roast of wild boar and horse steaks.
Finally we start with dessert. The 8 of us had double plates of 5 desserts and shared them. This is the torrone ice cream with grappa. The best dessert of the evening, in my opinion.
All good things must come to an end, on this evening with some rum and bittersweet chocolate.
One word on drinks: We started with a bottle of champagne and followed with 5 different white and red wines from the region. Not 5 bottles. If I list the wines you will get dangerously close to finding out which trattoria this is, and this we would like to keep for ourselves. Suffice it to say that they are among the best what Italy has to offer and at laughable prices.
For me, this evening was proof again that I am most happy in simple restaurants where best quality regional products are lovingly prepared in a very simple manner. This trattoria is still the measure of all things food and wine relevant for me.