|Ristorante Il Centro (Used with permission)|
|Chiese parrocchiale di San Rocco e Sant'Elisabetta|
As I went around Piemonte visiting wineries and other restaurants, the question invariably asked was "Where have you eaten while in Piemonte?" When I mentioned Il Centro, the feedback was universally positive. Luca Cigluiti of La Spinetta and Contratto said that it is the only restaurant in the region where he feels he could eat every day. The food, he said, was tasty and did not leave you feeling heavy upon completion. With all of the goodwill directed at the restaurant, we decided to pay a return visit and did so for its Sunday Brunch.
Before discussion of our brunch experience, some background is in order. A noted eatery had existed at the current location for 100 years before it came into the Cordero family by acquisition in 1956. Pierin Cordero and his wife Rita, abetted by the culinary skills of Pierin's mother Lidia, began to firmly imprint the Cordero name on this establishment. When Pierin died in 1970, Rita took the reins and continued to build on the gastronomic traditions established by Lidia. When Pierin died, Enrico was 18 years old and he left school at that time to take over management of the enterprise. Elis dropped into the restaurant seeking employment and one year later was running the kitchen. And today her culinary skills are widely lauded. Their children are involved in the family business with Giampiero having primary responsibility for cellar development and wine service while his sister, who is a journalist in New York City, is responsible for marketing and some financial aspects of the business.
|Giampiero, his mom Elis (also the Chef), and his dad Enrico|
with Suzanne Hoffman at the Labor of Love pre-launch dinner
So back to the brunch. We chose to eat the 5-course tasting menu which drew three selections from the appetizers and one each from the first- and second-plate sections of the menu. The first two dishes ordered were Acacia Flower and Salumi (the salumi had a lighter color due to no chemicals being used in its preparation) preparation and Sweet and Sour Pepper and Anchovies. The acacia flower had been dipped in flour batter and then lightly fried and had a crunchy texture along with hints of sweetness and some salt. The pepper had been cured in-house from September of last year using sugar, olive oil, and vinegar, a combination which provided an explosion of contrasting flavors in the mouth.
|Acacia Flower and Salumi|
|Sweet and Sour Pepper and Anchovies|
The second course ordered was a Veal Cooked Under Salt and Prawns with Asparagus. I had had the veal on my previous visit and it was still excellent. The saltiness calls out for an ameliorating liquid.The Prawns had been lightly fried in a lemon, ginger, and olive oil emulsion and was giving, with a dark brown color. Very pleasing. The asparagus had a piney flavor and a crunchy texture.
|Veal Cooked under Salt|
|Prawns with Asparagus|
|Roasted Quail Salad|
I was pleased to see a 2011 GD Vajra Riesling on the Il Centro list. After consultation with Giampiero, I ordered a bottle. It reinforced my convictions regarding this wine. It had a light golden color, hinting at the development it had undergone. On the nose, initially, petrol, golden apple, white pepper, and a soapiness. On the palate pineapple (underripe), intense acidity, minerality, and tamarind. A long, drying finish which evolved into an intense chalkiness with a metallic undertone. After a while in the glass, the wine transitioned to lemon-lime dominance both on the nose and palate but still distinct petrol. Additional time in the glass brought grapefruit into the equation and a growing black pepper and Indian spice presence. Minerality still present. Wine more focused and weightier on the palate. Giampiero mentioned that, three or four years ago, there were only three or four Riesling producers in the region, with Vajra the leader. With the success of the pioneers, there are now over 20 Riesling producers in the region but Il Centro will only carry three; one of which is Vajra.
|Ravioli Stuffed with Pork Ribs and Sweetbreads|
|Breaded Veal Steak with Salad|
|Roasted Cod with Crispy Vegetable Thins|
The dishes served were excellent but I would be doing the restaurant a disservice if I did not mention the service. Giampiero was an excellent Wine Steward, being there exactly when needed (whether for conversation or for wine orders) and his scope of knowledge (in terms of the wines and winemakers) is immense. He likes to think of the people who make the wine when he is drinking it as his enjoyment is increased if he knows its story.
The wait staff was well-trained and quietly efficient. You got the sense of them hovering just off set and rushing in at the slightest indication of need. Enrico was a presence, pitching in in a silent yet familiar manner. He knows everyone sitting around you, knows their life stories. His conversations with the guests are substantial.
In Piemonte? Visit this place. You have been before? Go again.
©Wine -- Mise en abyme