This is the second 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.
We were in somewhat of a pickle.
We had emailed our hotel/B&B far in advance, thinking we had lined up all of our dinner reservations in Alba. It wasn't until we arrived that we found out there had been a slight misunderstanding. Our hosts at the B&B had emailed restaurants requesting reservations, but nothing had been confirmed.
It turns out we had zero dinner reservations in hand.
After a flurry of phone calls, we were able to secure reservations at two of the restaurants we had originally planned on visiting. Unfortunately, a third one was completely booked solid during our visit.
"They do not take reservations, and you have to line up, but the food is very good. There are hardly any restaurants in this area that serve food this way anymore. There is no menu. You just show up, and they feed you what they are cooking that day."
"It is very, very popular with the locals."
Originally, we decided to kill time at a local shop before showing up at 7:30PM, their opening time. We soon noticed that by 7:05, a line had already started forming outside the restaurant. We took the hint, and got in line as well. By 7:30pm, a sizable queue of hungry diners had formed.
The doors flew open at 7:30, and the crowd began streaming into the restaurant. As we walked in, we noticed that all the tables were ready to go - fully set with baskets of bread, silverware, and glassware.
I have a weakness for Italian breadsticks, and these were huge ones! I dug in immediately.
There were two rooms, with a mix of private and communal tables (we were fortunate to get a private table!). Soon, house wine began flowing, and food began to arrive.
Right. Remember there's no menu.
They just ask you if you want the daily antipasto, pasta, main course, and dessert.
Oh, and you can order wine by the bottle if you don't want the house wine (though we opted for the house wine).
The first course was a local favorite, Beef Tartare simply drizzled with fruity olive oil, salt, and pepper. The beef was super tender and I really enjoyed the fragrant, fruity olive oil flavor. I found the beef to be perfectly salted and peppered, though Bryan did add an additional pinch of salt to his portion.
Next, we enjoyed a few wedges of their Fresh Cheese alongside a colorful Salad of zucchini, shaved fennel, celery, and red peppers tossed in oil, black pepper, and pine nuts. The dish was simple, but the ingredients were all really fresh, crispy, and all around delicious. I really enjoyed the creamy fresh cheese, which went well with the bread. All in all, it was an excellent salad.
Next came a plate of some sort of deep fried fish - like some sort of baby mackerel. The fish was nice and crispy and very flavorful. The fresh local greens and tomatoes offset the richness of the fish nicely.
And then more protein! We enjoyed several pieces of thinly sliced Roast Beef served with a horseradish mayo. It was simple comfort food, well executed and satisfying.
We had a bit of trouble trying to figure out exactly what the next dish was.
"What is this?"
"Cod, it's in the family of the potato."
With their limited English, this is all the information we got. The white root tasted like a cross between a turnip and a potato. It was cooked until it was really soft and served with an anchovy sauce & lots of oil. The anchovies added a lovely rich and savory umami to the "cod" potato-like roots. All in all, it was yet another perfect, satisfying comfort food.
At this point I was starting to get full (we'd had so much meat up to this point!), but then the pastas started coming out. Our first course was a simple Gnocchi served with a bolognese meat sauce. The gnocchi were decadently soft and pillowy, and the meat sauce was hearty and full of flavor. All in all, it was excellent.
The next pasta dish is what they call Ravioli de Plin, a type of mini-ravioli filled with ground meat and tossed in a sage and butter sauce. This was perfection. Nothing beats pasta in Italy, and we both loved the delicately thin yet al dente pasta. It was fantastic.
At this point, the server asked us, "Are you full? Or do you want more food?"
For those who still have room, there is an option to get a secondi, or a main course. At this point, we were both pretty stuffed, so we declined the last course.
Instead we opted for dessert.
We chose the classic Tiramisu, which was completely made in-house. The lady finger cookies tasted like they were freshly baked (with a crusty edge!). All in all, the tiramisu was very enjoyable, with a solid, strong coffee favor and lusciously decadent cream.
But it wasn't quite over yet.
After we finished dessert, they brought over some bottles of digestives, such as Fernet-Branca, Grappa, and a house dessert wine. We were welcome to sample all of them, and sample we did! At some point, one server came and took one of the bottles on our table and brought it to another table. At another point in time, they brought us another bottle from yet another table.
It was all very casual and communal, like we were all at some big dinner party where everyone ate the same thing.
To pay the bill, you walk up to the front of the restaurant and pay at the counter. Supposedly in Italy, they try to separate the payment of the meal from the enjoyment of the meal. Ideally, diners should not be able to see the cash register from their seats.
Bryan was floored at the price. Our entire meal (all-in, including the house red wine, 7-course meal, and the unlimited sampling of digestives at the end, tax, and tip) was only around $60 USD (for both of us!). I think we've been so weathered by the expensive prices for Italian food in America, we were really blown away by how good of a "deal" this was.
This place is super popular with the locals, has a really fun, convivial atmosphere, excellent food, and is really, really reasonably priced. I would highly recommend it. It's really fun and worth the wait.
Osteria Dei Sognatori
Via Macrino, 8, 12051