Piazza Risorgimento 4, 1251 Alba, Cuneo, Piedmont, Italy
Tel: +39 173 442800
Update: Congratulations to Piazza Duomo for achieving its third Michelin star in the recently released 2013 Michelin Guide.
Piazza Duomo is a 2-Michelin star innovative restaurant in the heart of Alba in Piedmont. It is located on the second floor of the row of buildings surrounding the town square above the La Piola trattoria which is a sister restaurant of Piazza Duomo.
The entrance can be hard to find as it's along a discreet side street off the square but once you find the street, you cannot miss the garish red wall against which the restaurant door is set. Press the doorbell and they'll buzz you in.
The restaurant was very well-staffed and it's waiters were young and friendly. The dining room itself was quite small (looked like 8 tables with a maximum of 4 persons per table - although realistically they probably only take around 25 covers a night). The room was very bright (too bright, I thought) with pink walls on which there was some 'interesting' wall art; it was quite bizarre but not in a bad way. For a change, the art on the walls was not done by the chef himself but by a prominent local painter. The tables at the window have a great view of the town square and the Duomo. Unfortunately, we did not get a window table this time.
Over some prosecco, we looked through the menu and opted for the 'innovative' menu as we were quite filled up with traditional Italian food by that point in time. The 'innovative' menu was 11 courses long but the waiter assured us that the food would be light. We were quite skeptical about that, especially since we were served an alarmingly large selection of canapes, which included cod fish sticks, an egg custard (in fact it looked chawanmushi, had similar ingredients but tasted more Italian than it did Japanese), parmesan marshmallow, cheese taco, a cheese puff filled with melted cheese, Parmesan puff coated with chocolate powder and a bag of crisps (in a variety of vegetable flavours including spinach and saffron). Going through all these kept us busy for a while. Fortunately, they were all very well made (I particularly liked the parmesan marshmallow and parmesan puff with chocolate powder - they reminded me of Osteria Francesana which was very innovative with the parmesan cheese, see earlier review: Osteria Francescana).
The dinner that was to come was indeed innovative. The chef (relatively young at 39), had spent three years working in Japan and his style of cooking really reflected his experience. However, to his credit, he successfully married Japanese ingredients with Italian cooking techniques (which is quite the opposite from many chefs who use local ingredients with Japanese cooking style). The results were quite stunning. We were first served with a beautiful amuse bouche of the sponge of Swiss chard (a kind of spinach). It was very light and airy, like a cross between a sponge and a marshmallow, but it was a visual treat.
The first course of a long and eventful menu was the jerusalem artichoke with extra-virgin olive oil and liquorice oil. The artichoke was juicy and crunchy, and it was a light and elegant start to the dinner. Next up was the fantastic raw scallops with sea urchin sauce. This was one of my favourite dishes, as the uni sauce was made to perfection and the scallops were fresh and sweet. This was the dish which I thought made the point about the chef's ability to use Japanese ingredients and cook them using classical European cooking techniques.
The raw prawn with grape sauce was also very good. An otherwise simple dish, the use of raw leaves and petals gave the dish a taste of sophistication. The use of leaves and flowers as integral ingredients for the chef's cuisine as opposed to simply garnishing was one of the distinguishing hallmarks of this chef. According to the waiter, the chef has a 2 acre garden in Barolo where he grows all his flowers and herbs for the restaurant, including some which he brought back from Japan.
The next course was a very delightful dish of rabbit kidneys with béarnaise sauce. The kidneys were lightly seared and it had a springy texture. We were given forceps to pick the kidneys up, and eaten together with the sauce, which was the perfect complement, this was delicious. We noticed that the chef put in as much attention in the visual impact of his dishes as he did the marriage of flavours. All his dishes were immaculately put together and were in themselves, pieces of art.
This was followed by the salted raw cod with black cauliflower. The vegetable was bitter and salty, but when eaten with the raw cod fish (which was understandably fishy in taste), this dish made sense. We were halfway through dinner, but somehow, we did not feel that full yet, as every dish thus far was lightly prepared and served only to tickle our tastebuds.
During the course of dinner, we alternated between being entertained and being annoyed by a young scandinavian couple at a table next to us who was rather difficult with the staff the whole night. At the start, the young man who claimed to be sommelier back home kept grilling the waiter on how much truffles would be shaved on his food as he was afraid of being overcharged (this even though the menu clearly states that the white truffles would be charged according to weight). He was trying to impress his girlfriend in showing off how much he knew, yet was too stingy to pay for truffles (though he also wanted to have some). Then he proceeded to take more than 30 minutes to order his wine, asking the waiter a dozen questions on it. It was shocking that a professional sommelier demonstrated so little knowledge about wines. I was tempted to go across to ask him which restaurant he worked at, so that I would make a mental note never to go there. Then throughout the night, they kept badgering the waiter and sommelier with all sorts of random questions (like why is the 2004 vintage so good, why is the sauce so salty etc), which the staff very politely tried to answer and accommodate. We were very impressed with the staff, if this was a test for them, they passed with flying colours.
Then came a sequence of meat dishes. First up was the veal with green pepper reduction and spinach. The meat was (I think) lightly baked and was still very raw, but it was delicious and the green pepper sauce was an excellent accompanying sauce.
Then, the pigeon with roasted buckwheat seeds in foie gras sauce and purple cabbage. The pigeon was also cooked to perfection and the whole dish tasted as good as it looked.
We were then served with a palate-cleanser of sorts to split up the meat dishes. It was a homemade udon with cepes mushrooms and raw flower petals. This was a triumph of simplicity. The udon was Japanese but it was tossed lightly in olive oil Italian style. The mushrooms and flowers gave it all the flavour it needed.
Finally, the Oviedo pork chop, which was honey-glazed, heavenly and a fitting end to an excellent meal.
The chef did not rest on his laurels, as the desserts were no less impressive. Once again, the clever use of flower petals made special a fruit minestrone dish and a rather innovative creme caramel dessert was accompanied by hazelnut and pistachio cream.
We ended up the same way we started, with a lot of petit four, and it was done with some panache. We left the restaurant feeling like we had just experienced something special. This is a young chef with some seriously good ideas and his newly minted second Michelin-star was very well deserved. Improve the wine list and make subtle adjustments to the interior of the restaurant and we feel that this restaurant will soon be spoken in the same breath as some of the big names in Italy.
Wines: The wine list was average, we expected more from a 2-star restaurant in the heart of wine country
Ambience: We felt that the room was too bright, and that the pink walls made the room feel even brighter. A slightly darker room lighting with focussed lighting for each table would make the ambience much better
Service: We really liked the service here, it was superb and each member of the staff was very friendly and was willing to engage each guest. There was a difficult table that night and we felt that the service staff managed them extremely well.