Monday, March 16, 2015

Since 1757 - Ristorante del Cambio

What happened when you put in a chef specialized in progressive cooking in the kitchen of a restaurant with a long history and known for traditional cuisine? We were there to find out when we made a booking for Sunday lunch at Ristorante del Cambio in Turin during our trip to Piedmont last fall.

Bicerin - Turin's most famous drink - served at Caffe San Carlo
Though totally unintentional, if there was a coherent theme for our itinerary in Turin, it's likely to be called a "morning of historic cafes and restaurants". After a good hour drive north from where we stayed in Piedmont, we began our day in Turin at Caffe Florio, an unassuming street corner coffee shop at Via Po, said to have been serving customers since 1704, then later on after a quick stroll in this magnificent town we sat down inside Caffe San Carlo, a beautifully decorated restaurant/cafe at Piazza San Carlo first open in the year 1842, for a cup of Bicerin, perhaps the city's most famous drink (at least according to the guide books).

Before heading out for Salone del Gusto e Terra Madre a bit further uptown for more food adventures, our last stop was Ristorante del Cambio, which since 1757 has been one of the most famous culinary establishments in town, serving classic Piedmontese cuisine to locals and tourists, nobles, dignitaries and hmm... foodies. In 2013, the restaurant was closed for a total makeover and when they reopened in early 2014, they brought in Matteo Baronetto, a young chef from Milan's Michelin-starred Cracco, a top restaurant known for its bold, progressive style of cuisine.

Well, we didn't know what the restaurant looked like before the renovation, but I could imagine all they did was to restore whatever they had to its original state and nothing more. Once we stepped inside, we were led to the ground floor salon and seated at the corner table inside. The room was spacious and couldn't be more elegant, lined with clothed tables and chairs in classy upholstery, with the grand crystal chandeliers hanging up high in the ceiling and surrounded by gilded mirrors, classical paintings and gold and marble pillars on the wall. We almost felt a bit out of place with our modern, rather casual outfit.

The menu was filled with very interesting but difficult choices - just because I pretty much wanted everything. The backbone was still classical Piedmontese, which oriented towards simple meat dishes and with liberal use of offals and organs, but Chef Matteo put in his own interpretation to re-create those dishes into something new. While we were waiting and deliberating what to order, some savory nibbles were served, along with grissini, vegetable crisps and a small glass of salmon carpaccio, which I thought was just alright. I was expecting something more avant garde.

Pork Snout, Red Pepper, Tomato and Anchovies
My starter of Pork Snout with Red Pepper, Tomato and Anchovies very much reminded me of the Shanghainese Dong Po pork, just using a different part of the pig. (Snout is the lower part of the pig's head, starting from the nostrils) There's a good portion of fat, and the meat underneath was rich and tender - thanks to the long braising process - plus the addition of sweet tomato glaze on top of the pork and the small pieces of anchovies were eye-opening. And I still couldn't believe they called this a starter dish, with the portion that could easily make it to a full main course.

Ravioli with head of veal, parsley with butter and pumpkin
With the whole afternoon (eating) activities ahead of us, we decided to go light and just went for 2 savory courses, painfully giving up many options available in the main course sections. So I finished my meal with a pasta - and coincidentally, I put my focus on the animal's head (again) with the dish of Veal's Head Ravioli. The pasta dough was mixed with mashed pumpkin, giving it a bright yellow color and some sweet flavors, then wrapped with the collagen-rich, juicy soft tissues from the veal's head inside. The ravioli was served with additional pumpkin purees and parsley deep-fried with butter, giving it a hint of earthy aroma and nutty flavors. All in a beautiful presentation - I was amazed how a ravioli dish could be plated like this. 

Petit Fours
In local standard it was an extremely quick lunch - we had to rush off in just over 2 hours after an impressive lineup of petit fours filled with sweets. I now sort of regret not able to sample a bit more of their food because of itinerary and time constraint, but nonetheless it's an enlightening lunch in an amazing, historical location. Such eccentric mix of old and new would probably be impossible to replicate anywhere in the world, so I think it's worth our stopover here in this town full of history and character.

More photos:

When? October 26 2014
Where? Ristorante del Cambio, Piazza Carignano 2, Torino, Italy
Menu Highlights? Ravioli with head of veal, parsley with butter and pumpkin
Drinks? Bellavista Franciacorta Alma Cuvée Brut NV

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


Peech said...

very recent indeed...

gary s said...

in the whole history of the restaurant, 6 months' nothing. =)