Ristorante Piazza Duomo in Alba is a dichotomy of delectable mystery. Located in the core of the cobbled Alba, the splendour of the Duomo cathedral levelled on the primo piano of the restaurant, you may dine veiled in ignorance. The square you see is not named Piazza Duomo as in Milan or Florence, but in a true nationalist pride, you sit at Piazza Risorgimento, the liberal political movement that rid the heeled boot of royalty, transforming it into emotional Italy as we know it today.
Piazza Duomo in Alba: Italian emotions, Japanese precision
Enter the fuchsia door, and the play with meanings goes on – your cravings will and won’t be met at Piazza Duomo. It all tastes marvellous, rest assured, yet it depends on your expectations since surprises lace the three Michelin star plates. Enrico Crippa inserts some unexpected – grown locally from faraway seeds – ingredients into the menu. Beyond legendary Milanese kitchens, working in Kobe and Osaka, Japan, formed the Italian chef’s experience and culinary sensitivity.
In an authentic Italian expressionism, feelings guide his work: “I believe that only with yearning can there be real pleasure: there is always a small gap that cannot be filled, as in love.” Desire, longing for more, philosophically tease your palate. As with a good book, the chef skilfully authors tension. Mystery cloaks the sprawling table with delectable secrets that only your palate attentively plugged in the brain can riddle out.
Biodiversity: local bounty beyond the truffle
You wonder, I am in Alba. The seasonal rarity, the local, wild, white gem – the truffle – will be served in the short-spanning fall season, but the fragrant mushroom does not dominate the menu, it whispers from the underground. The chef highlights herbs and vegetables in his creative meets traditional Piedmontese cuisine. Each plate shows some, even the chamomile desert. Grown on the Ceretto property, a family villa cum sprawling organic winery near Barolo, the garden provides endless inspiration for the signature Salad 21,31,41,51… Changing daily, a seasoned ‘dashi’ broth from the diverse plants drips into a glass container designed exclusively for the restaurant. You eat the leaves with tweezers to taste the personality of each herb, flower, leaf, root, even seaweed. All eventual plants are in latin inscribed in a blue-green card that you can keep. You can purchase the glassware and the custom-made tweezers for at home entertainment as I did.
Cautious, we ordered a la carte at our first visit a few years ago. Developing trust with Enrico Crippa’s cuisine, we dove into the nine-but-more courses La Degustazione recently. The menu can be lighter with his vegetal touches. Still, the tasting menu is a royal affair for your belly. We barely walked into our suite just a duo of doors away from the dining room (the promising wine list prompted us to book one of the in-house rooms). English may introduce slight misunderstandings, so be clear and ask the waiters for repetition since they often got lost in translation. Nevertheless, their pleasant attitude excuses any trouble.
The signature tasting menu at Ristorante Piazza Duomo in Alba can accommodate small alterations. Two changes were the maximum the chef was willing to surmise, so my husband had to keep the gout-arousing scallops if he wanted pasta instead chestnut with liver risotto (ethically, no foie gras for me), and fish in the place of lamb (when I eat meat I must be sure I consume it all, and here, personally I smelled waste) as I did.
The portions a la carte are large, yet plenty of green shoots, flowers and vegetables star Enrico Crippa’s plates, lightening them slightly. In any case, first, you are treated to tiny teasers with your aperitif (sparkling, a wide selection from whites by the glass and some Coravin luxuries or a cocktail like negroni et al.). The snacks include elegant puffed rice crackers, copied like the abundant salad by Matteo Baroneto at Ristorante del Cambio in Turin. Del Cambio version embellished the crackers with a rainbow of natural tints – beetroot juice, greens, black sepia ink, seeds. His salad is richer, with less purity then at Piazza Duomo.
In La Degustazione, the amouse entertainment that is spread all over the table is over the top, a meal on its own. It reminds me of Pierre Gagnaire, one is overfed to the point that you can hardly point out what you like and what not. I was professionally focused enough, and found it all delectable.
“The Beginning” of antipasti included:
Anchovies, green sauce
Puntarelle and burrata cheese
‘Bruxelles’ sprouts and flowering mustard
Mushrooms – preserved micro button mushrooms with flowers
Sweet marinated pumpkin with Piedmont hazelnut, borrage flower, and fresh herbs
Romanesco florets and leaves in cream
Meatless ‘caponet’ for me as my husband relished the regular foie-gras and meat stuffed vegetable. Like petits farcis in Niçoise cuisine, a squash blossom, cabbage, pepper and other vegetables envelop ground meat filling.
Restaurant interior that rises questions: pink walls, cages and vines
At lunch facing the windows on the ochre brick arches of the Duomo cathedral are the best tables. After sunset looking at the frescoed walls inside the main dining room intrigues more. You will not forget the quirky interior, ever.
The soft peach-hued arches were frescoed with imagination of Neapolitan artist Francesco Clemente in 2007. A crawling grape leaf as a tribute to the Ceretto family business branches into metaphorical depictions along the walls. Inspired by the Langhe landscape, a stag peaks from a window, otherwise life and emotions like love puzzle you as in an art gallery.
There are eight tables in the main dining room. A less memorable bright room behind a cosy lounge is for larger groups.
The artistic pursuit drives the success of Ristorante Piazza Duomo. The genie strikes the mind when it is open, so the chef may draw from his subconscious or after an intense brain storming.
The sea meets the Alps with tradition coated in innovation
In contrast with the Piedmontese meet-centric cuisine on the foothills of the Alps, the proximity of the Mediterranean imprints enough seafood on the menu. Our Scallops, Mediterranean Sea Urchins and sheep’s Pecorino blended mountains in. The quality of the Sardinian scallops was not what an Atlantic specimen would bring along, less tender and rather flabby. The pudding with sea urchins would make Japanese chefs laugh, far from Hokkaido’s plump richness.
Everything else was superb though. A delicate Cod and pumpkin, cooked sous-vide, the tender fish dissolved on my tongue like a dollop of fresh cream. Served with gorgeous red nasturtium flower and its leaves the canvas was naturally tuned in.
Instead of the lamb main course we had Seabass, Fiolaro broccoli, Bagna Cauda. The last, a local 16th century specialty of garlic and anchovies was mellowed so not to overpower the superb wild fish. The crisp sprouting broccoli introduced more leafy greens and vibrant garden colours of flowers added feminine charm.
Still, in Piedmont one must have veal. The Fassona Garibaldi was also tenderised gently in slow sous-vide preparation. For me a Chambertin Grand Cru Burgundy (poured through a Coravin) accompanied lovingly this sublime Piedmontese cut of veal. The Garibaldi style includes a Marsala sauce with spices in the young meat. The best veal in Piedmont I have had to date.
Next landed another staple on the menu, the silky smooth and gooey Potato Cream seasoned with Lapsang Souchong tea. Like the french aligot, it is dangerously delicious. In fall, the white Alba truffle is shaved on top instead of the smoky Chinese tea.
The Under Brush of mushroom ravioli instead of the risotto with foie gras was a superb choice. Seeing unfinished plates of the risotto at other tables, our al-dente pasta with fresh spinach leaves forest tea broth were a better match in the now overwhelming tasting menu. Cheese puffs were served with it on the side.
We could not imagine eating desserts, but we did.
Pre-desserts include a fine Piedmont D.O.P. hazelnut crisp, exquisite fragrant chamomile sorbet, slightly sour candied orange triangles, a cold-brewed infusion, and a disappointing mushy bread stick coated in milk chocolate (together with the bread basket, the weakest morsel of the night).
It was time for either a coffee by Lavazza with famous estates like the Jamaican Blue Mountain staring the menu or tea. The tea menu is not specific enough for a camellia snob like myself. Simply marked as Taiwanese oolong, Chinese green tea, when asking for details did not help I went for an Italian tisane. The special blend of cardamom, liquorice, orange was meant to facilitate a better digestion. Feeling really full, I mused that a post-dinner walk through old Alba would do better than the tea.
Yet, more sweet gourmandise with the digestive Tisana Speziale arrived. Local specialty – the hazelnut cake Tarta a la nozziole, a milk ‘latte’ shot, chocolates, … My brain could not process it any more. We got an extra cake in our room.
The wine program measures up to the expectations of a wine region setup. Two lists: “Only Piedmont” and “All the Rest”. The owner of the building and the restaurant, the Ceretto family (their other projects include a tavern La Piola, Relanghe confectionery shop sourcing from its hazelnut orchards, and curated art exhibitions in the region) includes much of its cellar in the Piedmont album. At Ceretto all estate-owned vineyards (160 hectares) are organic, some, in Barolo and Barbaresco (20ha), plus the Monsordo Bernardina Estate vineyards (10ha), employ biodynamic principles.
By the glass, the offer is so generous that Coravin, the bottle preserving system enables more special wines like the famous ‘Super Tuscans‘ to be sipped by the glass, seduced us. Special tasting journeys include a €500 Nebbiolo feast of three rare local wines that my husband embarked on. Barbaresco Crichet by Pajè 2008, Barolo Gran Bussia 2009 from Roagna and Ceretto’s precious Barolo Cannubi San Lorenzo 2006.
I was more cost-conscious, selecting a better value Grand Cru Burgundies (€60-80). For most of the tasting menu, these lighter, rounder, more fresh less tannic French Pinots work better.
Ristorante Piazza Duomo in Alba is a project of desire by the Ceretto family. Enrico Crippa was called in to fill in the creative culinary gap in traditional Piedmont. Since 2005, the ascent from the first star within a year from opening and third within a decade, now includes four, contemporary rooms filled with art and connected to the gastronomic restaurant. A convenient gourmet staycation in Alba. The fresh, minimalist rooms feel like being in a house. Just step through the doors to be greeted by the Italian staff in the restaurant’s spacious lounge.
What we further appreciate is that the chef Enrico Crippa focuses solely on his culinary projects in Alba, not seeking faraway fame of virtual social stardom.
Piazza Risorgimento 4, 12051 Alba (Cuneo Province)
+39 0173 366167
Lunch 12:30 – 2pm; dinner 7:30 – 09:30pm