People traveling to Italy often ask me for my short list of places to go, since I live here and always am eating and drinking my way around. This is for the area around Nizza Monferrato, where the historic winery Scarpa is located. Unlike Langhe (Barolo and Barbaresco), the shy Nizza Monferrato hills offer many off the beaten track places, with a dusty vintage feel about them. I love the sense of discovery here, and so does my wallet. Since this is Barbera land, it’s a great time to enjoy the various iterations of Barbera: fresh and direct, aged, modern vs. traditional, etc. If you want to branch out from Barbera, don’t forget the those kinky piemonte grape varieties: Grignolino, Freisa, Ruché, and Brachettto. Martina Barosio from Scarpa has introduced me to quite a few of these places. The descriptions are mine.
Here’s my general travel rant: Travel Tips for Eating and Drinking in Italy.
1. Le Due Lanterne
(downtown Nizza, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi 52, Nizza Monferrato; tel. 0141 702480).
No website. You can hit all the Piemonte greats or just order a plate of carne cruda to have with the grissini you’ve already started eating. When cardoons are in season – get an order. Though, you’lll be tempeted by the agnolotti dal plin (with ragu or butter and sage). Ok wine list, I’ve found some Freisa and Grigolino that were fun lunch wines, in addition to a solid Barbera selection, and you will too. No lodging.
2. Bun Ben Bon
www.bunbenbon.com (Strada Vecchia D’asti 66, Nizza Monferrato; tel. 0141 726347).
Solid piemonte country fair with a place for the kids to pull each other’s hair outside. Mind you, country fair in piemonte is always a notch more refined. Antipasti rounds have the classic peppers with bagna caoda and the always weird to me insalata russa (Russian potato salad). Someone should write an article as to how that got introduced into the piemonte antipasto parade. Lots of dishes with hunters and priests in title, split one with someone at the table, as the portions are large. I hear there’s a wine list somewhere (good luck).
3. Ristorante Belbo da Bardon
(Via Valle Asinari 25, San Marzano Oliveto; tel. 0141 831340).
No website; a must-visit. You won’t leave here hungry or thirsty, you may not leave here. Great cellar that stocks old vintages of local growers as well as a smattering of Burgundy and Champagne.
4. Ristorante Nuovo Parisio
http://www.ristorantenuovoparisio.it/ (Piazza Giuseppe Verdi 3, Acqui Terme; tel. 0144 442196).
No website; one of the oldest family restaurants in Aqui and no pretension whatsoever. This is what you do: start a vintage Krug with the vitello tonnato, because you deserve it and you know that sounds good. Then, order a chilled Barbera for the excellent Cannelloni. While you’re ordering your Barbera, you’re asking about Monfortino vintages, right? The meat courses you will eat whole instead of splitting.
5. Madonna della Neve
www.ristorantemadonnadellaneve.it (Regione Madonna della Neve, Cessole; tel. 0144 850402).
It’s an historical restaurant and B&B. A simple and humble place that has a unique dish i ravioli al tovaglio (where you eat ravioli on a cloth napkin instead of plate), and then roll upstairs to bed and get under your covers. Great little secret this place.
6. Agriturismo Albarossa
www.agriturismoalbarossa.com (Strada Bricco 49, Nizza Monferrato; tel. 0141 702054).
Very humble, very old school. If you want en pointe starry service and presentation, this isn’t the place, but it’s genuine through and through and there are beds upstairs. Web site is horrible (always a good sign in Italy).
7. La Villa Hotel
www.lavillahotel.net (Via Torino 7, Mombaruzzo; tel. 0141 793890).
As you see in the name, you can sleep and eat, and sleep and eat some more, here. Country chic place and food; wine list is a bit more than adequate. Couples seems to be happy here – maybe it’s the clawfoot tub.
8. Trattoria della Posta Da Camulin
(Via Fratelli Negro 3, Cossano Belbo; 0141 88126).
Web site doesn’t work – welcome to Italy! A traditional place that’s easy on the wallet. Antipasto, primo, secondo are all obligatory. Service is old-school, meaning the servers are also grandparents; the white table clothes are starched and ironed by the great grandparents. You’d be hard pressed to find cheaper or more soulful plate of tajarin al tartufo bianco in all of piemonte. You’ll cry after eating them and they will tell you “It’s ok – we understand,” as they ask for your secondo order. No tourists. Wine list: you’ll find something delicious. Don’t go looking for inexpensive unicorns, luxury bottles, or aged wines. Sleep in your car (we all know you’re going to order two plates of pasta). A favorite of mine so don’t tell too many people.
9. Il Cascinale Nuovo
www.walterferretto.com (Strada Statale 231, Isola d’Asti; tel. 0141 958166).
Young chef with a Michellin star. Excellent food that doesn’t breakdown into the grotesque the materia prima; increasingly interesting wine list. Clean simple minimal-modern rooms.