If you’re a fine diner, on any trip to the Langhe in Piedmont (or even Italy, for that matter), it would be remiss of you not to consider visiting the three-Michelin starred restaurant, Piazza Duomo, which overlooks the piazza of the same name in Alba, the town that plays host to the international white truffle fair every year in October and November. The restaurant, a project of the Ceretto family, famous wine-producers of the Langhe and head chef Enrico Crippa, is the Langhe’s only three-Michelin starred restaurant, and one of eight in all of Italy. Crowned by the Michelin guide as the best restaurant in Piedmont in arguably the best region for food in Italy, it is possibly one of the best restaurants in Italy. And having dined there recently, I can confirm it is all that it is cracked up to be – simply an unforgettable experience, where eating the white truffle of Alba is a work of art.
The entrance is an almost unmarked door down a laneway off the main piazza of Alba, a small but internationally famous formerly walled Roman town. The door is a deep crimson hue, and made me think that the restaurant would have a sensual and brooding atmosphere. Once inside, however, the feeling is quite different. Walking up brightly-lit stairs we were greeted by the charming maître d’. The décor is somewhat understated, minimalist, very modern and sleek but not cold or sterile. Adorned on the walls is an incredible work of art depicting, among other things, the 7 continents of the world in grape leaf formations. Jackets are taken and anticipation is high, and we are taken to one of very few tables in an incredibly intimate space. But ‘intimate’ may in fact be a misnomer because even though the room is small, the tables are set well apart allowing patrons to talk without being overheard. Also the lighting is strangely bright but I decided that this is because the food and wine are serious business here and you need to see properly all dishes in perfect light, like exhibiting art at a gallery.
But given the small number of tables (probably less than 30), you feel like you are sharing an exclusive experience with the other diners; a sort of private show that is somehow performed night after night, year after year, with relentless meticulousness. I never felt even a hint of weariness. I have dined twice at Piazza Duomo and both times the energy and enthusiasm exhibited by all players was admirable. Perhaps this is because Piazza Duomo has enjoyed a meteoric rise and there has been no time to stand still or get bored. Opened in 2005, it gained its first Michelin star in 2006, the second in 2009 and was crowned with its third Michelin star on 14 November 2012, when head chef Enrico Crippa was only 41 years of age.
Crippa himself has an impressive CV, having won twice first prize at the Sologne Artistic Cuisine Competition (in 1990 and 1992). And when you see the presentation of the food, learning of this accolade should come as no surprise. All the restaurant’s dishes are presented as pieces of art. One of my favourite dishes is the Panna Cotta Matisse. Panna cotta is a traditional dessert from Piedmont, but the presentation of Crippa’s version is formidable, and makes eating it a shame.
Another stand out dish is the salad known as 21….31….41. One of his signature dishes, the name refers to the number of ingredients that varies depending upon the season, with 41 ingredients at the height of Spring with the most ‘biodiverse’ example of the salad adorned with beautiful microflowers, versus the more restrained winter version of 21 leaves, herbs and garnishes. The method of eating the salad is an art form in itself. It is served in a small upright bowl, you are provided with pincers and instructed to commence at the top of the salad and work your way down to the bottom, as the salad is constructed in a particular way to ensure that the flavours develop in the most pleasing way. At the end, there is a small petri dish of Japanese inspired dressing, that serves as a sort of palate cleanser.
Having been lucky enough to eat the white truffle of Alba a number of times, I can say that the best white truffle dish I have ever had, and possibly the best dish of my life, was Crippa’s signature white truffle dish. This elegant dish is a potato cream, with Lapsang Souchong tea, quail egg and a generous amount of shaved white truffle, served in a beautiful and delicate glass vessel. The recipe was showcased at the Truffle Fair of Alba in 2012 and having read the recipe, there is no way you would ever try to recreate this dish at home. It is truly a dish better left to the experts, to be enjoyed in Alba during the seasonal truffle fair, when the electric atmosphere descends upon Alba during the second half of October and November for the white truffle. Other diners confessed to me that, having sampled many other restaurant’s attempts at showcasing the Alba white truffle, this was by far the most spectacular. Simply put, unforgettable.
What more can I say. Crippa is a genius. Just make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Eleanor Fletcher - living in the heart of the Langhe, Monforte D'Alba (Barolo). Searching for great eats, formidable drinks and fun times. Married to a Barolo and Barbaresco producer, plus a mother of two 'principesse'.