This is the fourth post in the Around the World Birthday Extravaganza Series. Because there will be many, many posts in this series, I will list all other posts from this series at the bottom of the post.
Donna Selvatica is a new, upscale Italian restaurant that recently opened in the tiny village of Neive. We came here for lunch on the first day of our private wine tour after visiting Barbaresco in the morning. It has stunning views of the surrounding vineyards, which you can enjoy from its outdoor patio.
Unfortunately for us, it was so foggy that day we couldn’t see more than 20 feet outside the window. Our tour guide Robert had to show us the photos of what the view normally looks like.
But really, it wasn’t that bad at all.
I mean, we had to settle for this view instead.
The old village of Neive is still beautiful to look at, even if it’s the only thing we could see through the window. Furthermore, this particular table was in a private area set away from the rest of the dining area. It’s a wonderful location for an intimate date or a business meeting.
Of course, the view can’t be the only reason to visit a restaurant. Food is of utmost importance, and Donna Selvatica firmly delivers in that aspect. Bryan had said before we arrived in Italy that he wanted to enjoy white Alba truffles at every single meal while in Alba.
Well, that was not hard to achieve at Donna Selvatica (heh, see photo above).
Furthermore, Donna Selvatica serves many classic Piemontese dishes, interpreted and executed through the elegant and sophisticated style of head Chef Gabriele, who has combined his culinary training with old world influences from his upbringing (e.g., his grandmother, among others).
Because we were with a wine expert, we asked Robert to pick out a wine for us. He chose this lovely Barbera D’Alba from local winemaker Ugo Lequio.
We started with a traditional Piemontese dish called Bra Sausage. Made with predominantly beef (or veal) rather than pork, this raw sausage dish came with chestnuts and whipped butter. It might seem a bit strange to eat raw sausage, but it’s really no different than eating beef tartare, except with different spices.
We also enjoyed a beautiful salad made with shaved local vegetables, like carrots, fennel, and cabbage along with some local greens and tomatoes. The olive oil and vinegar came on the side. In fact, the vinegar came in a spray bottle, which I thought was ingenious. What a great way to ensure a super even coating of vinegar on your salad!
The Piemontese are huge on eating hyper-locally and seasonally. Accordingly, pumpkin was heavily featured during the autumn, and thus we enjoyed a beautiful pumpkin soup.
We also sampled a trio of antipasti. Above, Vitello Tonnato, a classic Piemontese dish that consists of thinly sliced veal served with a flavorful tuna flavored mayonnaise.
Carne Cruda, or raw beef, served with a touch of Parmesan cheese, lemon, and olive oil.
Yet another cured meat, served with a creamy sauce.
And then out came the treasure.
Hello white Alba truffle!
Most restaurants recommend pairing white Alba truffles with only a few classic dishes: eggs, pasta tossed in butter, or raw beef. Most other dishes compete too much with the delicate and fragrant white Alba truffle.
We opted to shave the white Alba truffles over a simple sunny side up egg.
And it was divine.
There are certainly restaurants that are happy to shave white truffles on other dishes aside from the classics I mentioned above. However, after several days of sampling white truffles on a variety of dishes, I have to agree that the simple, classic dishes work the best (eggs and pasta are probably my favorites).
Though it may seem difficult to top the last course, the final pasta course, Tajarin (pronounced “tie-ya-REEN in Piemontese dialect), was actually really, really good. Chef Gabriele creates his own twist on the traditional red sauce meat ragu by making a white Langhe sauce instead, inspired by old family recipes. This particular version was fantastic. It was so simple, yet the flavors came together beautifully. It was one of my favorite food memories in Italy.
One interesting thing to note about tajarin (the most popular pasta in the Piedmont region) – it is intensely yellow because it is only made with egg yolks (no whites!). This is how the story goes: once upon a time, local winemakers used egg whites as a fining agent to help remove fine particles in the wine. As a result, their families were often stuck with lots of egg yolks that they had to use up. Voila, grandma ended up inventing the 40-yolk egg pasta, or tajarin (that’s 40 egg yolks per kilogram of flour).
Though most wineries now use synthetic materials as fining agents, the popularity of tajarin still reigns in the Piedmont region.
For dessert, we ended with a few sweet bites: macaroons, dark chocolate truffles, and meringue. My favorite was the chocolate truffle, which was decadently dark and not too sweet.
Of course, we had a shot of espresso as well.
Oops, I almost forgot the digestivo, or after dinner drink. We finished off the meal with a splash of Grappa, an Italian alcoholic beverage that’s made from fermenting pomace (the leftover bits from winemaking like the stems, skins, pulp, and seeds) without any addition of water.
It’s sweet, quite alcoholic, and supposedly aids in the digestion of a meal, thus the term “digestivo.”
We had a chance to meet the talented Chef Gabriele, who really served us a fantastic lunch.
All in all, we were extremely impressed with the food at Donna Selvatica. In general, food in the entire Piedmont region is already at a very high standard. However, Donna Selvatica still stands out as one of my favorite meals of our entire trip. Everything was truly outstanding. Definitely try the tajarin with white Langhe ragu as well as the eggs with white Alba truffle (if it is in season).