Trattoria Marsupino – Piedmont, Italy
April 27, 2009
Maybe we should hold a sign up that says “Will drive for food.”
When we emailed our proposed itinerary to my husband’s colleague in Santa Vittoria d’Alba, she replied back advising against driving all the way down to Briaglia because it was too far and there was nothing to see. Of course, she doesn’t know about all the miles we’ve logged in the name of food, and that, for us, an exceptional restaurant even in the middle of nowhere is a destination in it of itself.
So, on our first full day in Piedmont, we are chugging along the A6 heading for Briaglia in our rented Fiat Punto amidst a downpour.
The little car, which seems quite out of breath even at a sedate pace of 110 kph (65mph), is a most quirky piece of engineering. Its cigarette lighter cavity loosely cradles the plug of our Neverlost like a careless midwife with a fussy baby. Every now and then, the device threatens to stop charging and go to sleep when nudged from its favorite position. In the meantime, we’re fidgeting with the dashboard trying to locate and disable the child safety lock so that our front windows would roll down. After many unsuccessful attempts, I’m now convinced that the power window switches in front are just for show. At least the manual levers at the back are operational and keep us from suffocating.
We’re on our way to lunch at Trattoria Marsupino, renowned for traditional Piedmontese cuisine and omnipresent in guidebooks and articles about where to eat in the region (Michelin, Gambero Rosso Low Cost, Slow Food’s Osterie & Locande de Italia, Food & Wine, etc.). Getting there requires a steady hand on the steering wheel and a strong clutch foot for navigating those multiple hairpin turns uphill. Keeping one’s eyes on the road is difficult because the scenery is rather beautiful despite (or maybe because of) the rain. All that precipitation only makes the Briaglia hillside take on a lusher, deeper, and more vibrant shade of green.
When we reach the top of the hill, our GPS announces that we’ve arrived at our destination, and the Punto pants to a stop as we pull into a parking space. We panic for a moment as the gearshift refuses to go into a reverse position. After consulting the Fiat manual, it turns out we have to press the ring around the gearshift while moving it into reverse. Future Chrysler owners will do well to remember this.
Inside, it’s everything I imagined a trattoria would be — exposed beams on the ceiling, stucco walls and rustic chairs. A very gracious lady sees us into the dining room and explains the degustazione menu in English. After we nibble the two slices of salumi that are sent to greet us, our appetizers arrive, and our meal is underway.
Vitello tonnato. A classic Piedmontese starter that’s usually served cold. The veal is sliced very thinly and served with a puree of tuna, anchovies, capers and mayonnaise. Despite the assertive ingredients, this tonnato is not that salty; it’s also very smooth although if you press your tongue to the top of your palate, you can discern a little of the graininess.
Lingua di vitello con peperoni arrosto e la bagna brusca. The tongue of veal, tender yet firm, is dressed with a lively vinaigrette of parsley, capers and anchovies. It’s got a really nice tang with just the right balance of sweet, salty and sour. This one is a stand out and I resolve to learn more about bagna brusca when I get back.
Tajarin ai quaranta tuorli al ragu do salsiccia di Bra / Agnolotti del plin al sugo d’arrosto. These two types of pasta are most characteristic of Piedmont and only found in this region. My husband and I are supposed to have one of each, but the kind folks at Marsupino split them for us. The tajarin, miniature tagliatelle noodles made with quaranta tuorli (40 eggyolks?!), are so long that they take forever to twirl around my fork. Because they’re so thin, I don’t get that same toothy bite as with other pasta served al dente. They are coated with a delicious tomato-based ragu of salsiccia di Bra, a veal and pork sausage from the town of Bra that is typically eaten raw (more on that in the upcoming Boccondivino post).
When I ask our waitress what type of sauce the agnolotti would be served with, she was at a loss for the correct translation. We then engage in a somewhat stilted conversation of English (me), Italian (her) that is finally triangulated in French (us). Arrosto = Roti = Roasted. But roasted what? I latch on to the next word I don’t understand. What is plin, I ask. She pinches her forearm with her thumb and forefinger. Does she mean skin? It takes a bit of body language for me to realize she is referring to a verb not a noun. Plin is to pinch, and that’s how the agnolotti are made, by pinching the pasta to mark each segment. The result are very delicate little pillows fully stuffed with finely minced beef and spinach. They are served plain since any sauce would be extraneous.
Maialino da latte al profumo di ginepro. Tender chunks of slow-cooked suckling pig flavored with juniper berries. This reminds me of the Filipino adobo, except perhaps less tangy. The flan on the side has a very concentrated spinach flavor.
Sottopaletta di vitello glassato ai carciofi di Albenga. The piece of veal cooked with artichokes comes with sauce and garnishings similar to those of the maialino. I wonder if the baby spring vegetables are steamed inside the jar so no flavor is lost.
Bonet alle albicocche. Also a typical Piedmont dessert. Bonet is a bread pudding whose texture, as my husband describes it, starts with a flan and morphs into a cake. Embedded in it are chunks of apricots.
Sorbetto al mandarancio. A refreshing sorbet made with mandarin orange which seems to be in season.
The petit fours that follow dessert are worth mentioning. I like the bite-sized round chocolate brownies (and I am not by any means a fan of chocolate or brownies) that are not too rich nor sweet and the almond marzipan cookie with the mouth-puckering bitter aftertaste.
Trattoria Marsupino is definitely worth the hour and a half trip from Torino. I’m happy that we’re off to a great start with our gastronomic adventure in Piedmont. Now that we’re fed, we can go see the sights.
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