Saturday, November 8, 2014

Lunch in a Castle - Ristorante al Castello di Grinzane

It's hard to find a grander venue to eat than Ristorante al Castello di Grinzane, located inside a castle thought to be built in the 13th Century, up on the hill at Grinzane Cavour in the Barolo region, where we had lunch on a bright sunny day on the last day of our trip.

As we walked up to the castle from the foot of the hill, we were already attracted by the smell of cooked meat, presumably coming from the kitchen of the restaurant. That got us excited before we even set foot in. Before the restaurant opens at 12:30pm, we spent time visiting the rest of the castle, at one point the residence of the town's wealthy mayor and now a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site and doubled as the regionale enoteca and museum. Then we walked further up through the narrow spiral staircase into the patio, where we found the entrance to the restaurant.

The restaurant dining room was spacious and grand, surrounded by old brick wall and offered a gorgeous view of the vineyard landscape below. Right next to our table was a cellar housing some of their wine collection. Well the restaurant maybe unfamiliar to most, but there was somehow a strong connection with Hong Kong, as the famous annual white truffles charity auction, traditionally in mid-November, was held at this place, with simultaneous video feed to the Otto e Mezzo restaurant in Hong Kong for remote bidders in Asia.

For lunch menu, one could go for 2 of the tasting menus, one the traditional menu with classic Piedmontese dishes and one called Menu dello "Sef", a 5-course menu based entirely on market ingredients and chef's decision, or there are also a la carte choices. We told the manager we would go for the Menu dello "Sef" with one condition - the primo course must be of the veal ragu. There's no way we were going to leave without a taste of this after having that enticing smell from afar. He then consulted with the chef and agreed - he later told us the chef was a bit surprised we knew what's cooking in the kitchen. LOL.

Whipped Cod with Spinach
We started with an amuse-bouche of pumpkin cream with ricotta cheese - sweet and tangy, but I suppose nothing out of ordinary in terms of techniques but extraordinary in terms of freshness of the ingredients. Both antipasti was seafood selection - which was more than welcomed because last thing we want was another Vitello Tonnato (Veal with Tuna Sauce) which was a classical dish making too many appearances to our table already throughout the trip. First appetizer was a whipped cod with spinach sauce "smeared" around the deep bowl, followed by a deep-fried monkfish cake with sauteed spinach. They were similar in a sense yet different; both were nicely presented and tasted very good, except I found the monkfish cake a tad too salty, but I like the exotic touch of cumin in the dish and we all love the spinach since we have been deprived of green vegetables for a while.

Tajarin with Fassone Veal Ragu
Lamb with Polenta

Then the most anticipated dish arrived - the tajarin with veal ragu. And yes, it tasted as good as it smelled. The pasta was cooked to a softer side, and the thin, flat noodles took on the sauce well, and every bite was heavenly. Of course we could always live with a bigger portion, or just have that every day every meal for the rest of our lives, but the portion was just right without too filling. Our main course was lamb - usually I wasn't too fond of lamb but this one, from the loin cut and well-cooked to medium rare, was tasty and very tender. It's served with potato puree, deep-fried polenta, meat jus, and sprinkles of edible flowers giving the dish an interesting aroma. It's enjoyable.

Petit Fours
Pre-dessert was a little glass of masala cream with hazelnuts, then it's followed with another simple dessert, which I believe was a re-interpreted panna cotta, with a bisquit sandwiched between some creamy parfait. Both were very nice with a right balance of sweetness. The mignardises was served on a rectangular slate plate and neatly arranged - it's one of those few we managed to finish all because they were all too delicious! The walnut praline dome and the cannoli with filo pastry were two particularly memorable ones.

Wine list was decent, not only with good regional selections (expectedly) and also a number of international choices. They offered a number of options by-glass based on region as well, and I chose Barbaresco, which turned out to be a La Ca Nova Barbaresco Montestefano 2010. It's definitely on the softer side from what we have tasted this week, showed balance and elegance, not particularly fruity but with a hint of white truffles and floral note. It's easy drinking, and I found it hard to resist having a refill towards the end (of course, having someone else driving for the day helps too)

If you happened to be in the area, I think this is a perfect spot for a leisurely lunch, and with a full house on a random weekday, I think we were not the only one who thought so.

Full photo album of the meal on my flickr site:

When? October 31 2014
Where? Ristorante al Castello di Grinzane, Via Castello, 5, Grinzane Cavour, Cuneo, Italy
Menu Highlights? Tajarin al ragu di fassone (Tajarin with Fassone Veal Ragu)
Drinks? La Ca Nova Barbaresco "Montestefano" 2010

(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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