Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Meal Under the Weather - Antica Corona Reale

Both of us were a bit under the weather when we arrived at Antica Corona Reale for dinner, partly because we were caught off-guard by the much cooler weather in Barolo earlier during the day, and partly because of the long drive (about an hour and half each way) from our villa to this restaurant, which seems to be in the middle of nowhere right next to a major thoroughfare near the village of Cervere southwest of Alba.

We only caught a glimpse of the beautiful outdoor garden as we dashed into the restaurant, frozen to death because of our inadequate winter clothing. From the picture it looked very nice but it's just too cold for us. But we came to appreciate the classic, down-to-earth country-style indoor decor once we warmed up settling in the spacious dining area inside this large cottage house. 

The restaurant has a long history - opened its doors almost 200 years ago by the Vivalda family. Since then, it has passed on from generation to generation, and now in the hand of owner/chef Gian Piero Vivalda who received training in France as well before taking over. But his cooking was non-compromising classic local style using mostly local ingredients. It's now part of the Relais & Charteaux group of fine travel establishments, and awarded with its second Michelin star since 2009. That explained why we decided to go a bit out of the way to check the place out.

We began with an appetizer of Filet Tartare di Vitella di Fassona Piemontese, or the veal tartare served in tasting portion. We lost count of the times we had this typical Piedmontese antipasto dish but this was one of the best with good meat flavor which didn't require much additional seasoning, other than a slight drizzle of olive oil on top.

With us still very much stuffed from our long lunch, we decided to go for 2 more courses only, figured that's no way we could take in a pasta in between. My first course was a tripe stew spring onions and Centallo beans. The tripes - coming from the indigenous Fassona breed of cattles - was hand-washed and slow-cooked. It was super-tender but not mushy, tasty but not overly gamey, working well with the mashed bean sauce. 

My next course of snails reminded me more of French than Italian, but apparently lumache - or snails - was popular in this part of Italy as well. Little did we know. Once again, the cooking was simple - Cherasco snails were de-shelled and sauteed over butter in a pan, and served on a bed of sauteed leeks and diced apples. The snails were decent-sized with firm, chewy texture and works well with the sweetness of the apple. Leeks were one of the certified local specialty ingredients (in Cervere) so it's no surprise that they were used quite frequently. This is one of the best snail dishes I have ever tried - it's the best ingredients that made a difference.

Looking at a long drive home and we already had our fair share of drinks earlier, we decided to skip wine for the evening, even turning down the sommelier's offer for a tiny sip to go with our food. We could not even order any dessert and had to pack the petit fours home - for those who know us, that's a good indication of how bad we felt that evening, having to forgo the sweets.

It's rather unfortunate that we were not in our best form during the visit. It was probably the shortest dinner we had during the trip, and yet, simple the food or decor might look, I was quite impressed with every dishes we had. I could totally see this blowing our mind off if we are here on a warm summer night sitting in the garden, enjoying the wonderful food and wines, starring at the starry sky over a shot of limoncello... well, there's always next time, some other time some other day, hopefully.

When? October 29 2014
Where? Antica Corona Reale, Via Fossano 13, Cervere, Cuneo, Italy
Menu Highlights? Lumache di Cherasco ai porri di Cervere e mele (Cherasco snails with Cervere leeks and apple)

(This is the part of the Journey to Piedmont series, a writing project capturing our recent travel experiences to the region)

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