Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ristorante I Caffi - an unassuming star in Acqui Terme

After we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in the spa-town of Acqui Terme in the southern side of Piedmont, we decided to stay around for dinner before we head back to our home base. We tried our luck with Ristorante I Caffi, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in this small town, walking in without a reservation, but glad they did have a table available.

The restaurant's located inside a 16th Century palazzo near the fringe of the old town center. Decor of the place was simple but charming - the bar area resembles a medieval castle with clay bricks, dim light and large wooden carbinet showcasting an impressive wine collection, and the main dining area was formerly the "stanza del sindaco" (mayor's office) with a dome ceiling completed with fresco paintings. There's also the brasserie area downstairs offering lunch during day time and less formal dishes at night.

There's no English menu available but the waitstaff spoke good English and was more than willing to translate and explain everything to us. The a la carte menu features classic regional dishes with good number of choices for each of the courses, and you could also go for the prix fixe option with a fixed price depending on the number of courses you chose. That gave us full flexibility in picking our own dishes.

Food here is straight-forward rustic style - not as "fancy" as I have expected (given the Michelin star), but it's comforting and the dishes were well-cooked. My favorite dish of the night was my antipasti course of Trout "Capunet". Capunet is a traditional Piedmontese dish in which meat - or fish in this case - was wrapped with cabbage and cooked. It's served with vegetables confit and a rich saffron cream sauce. Maybe I was too deprived from anything other than meat for the past couple of days, I found the seafood dish offered something different and was very enjoyable.

The primi course of bean soup with seared scallops reminded me of a Tuscan ribolita and was okay - though I wouldn't mind a slightly bigger scallops and more seared. The presentation of my main course of duck with a braised grape sauce and some vegetable sides looked a bit ordinary but it tasted great. I loved the dessert of a hazelnut cream tart served with a slice of dried orange and icecream - such simple idea but they went well together.

They have a wide range of wines available with over 600 labels, from the prized regional treasures to an everyday table wine (plus a handful of international picks) You can pick from the wine list, or just go to the front and picked out one of the bottles displayed in an impressive floor-to-ceiling wooden cabinet behind the bar. If you are looking for something unique and local, try Brachetto d'Acqui, a lesser-known red dessert wine from this region, at the end of the meal. This evening we went for a Nebbiolo d'Alba Valmaggiore from Bruno Giacosa, which was simple but well-made, good bouquet of flavors (blackberries and chocolate) and definitely went down well with food.

Acqui Terme may not be a town you would make a long detour to visit, but we were glad that we stopped by this historical town full of characters. Same for the restaurant actually - probably not worth trekking over from afar, but definitely worth coming if you happened to be in the area. (hint: it's only 40 minutes away from Serravalle outlet if it's in your itinerary)

Full photo album:

When? October 30 2014
Where? Ristorante I Caffi, Via Scatilazzi 15, Acqui Terme, Italy
Menu Highlights? Il Capunet di Trota, Salsa di Zafferano e Coriandoli di Verdure. (Trout Capunet with Saffron Sauce and Vegetables Confit)
Drinks? Bruno Giacosa Nebbiolo d'Alba DOC Valmaggiore 2011

(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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