Located in Alba, Italy, famous for its white truffles, Piazza Duomo builds a menu each day that reflects the offering of their on-site biodynamic garden. Depending on which micro-season they're in, the chef (Enrico Crippa) must improvise. In his own words, "<The menu> is a daily task that I can't delegate to anyone and every day I am forced to learn and adapt." Choosing this strategy means that they can only seat a few dozen people each week, and I must say that the experience felt pretty exclusive and special. My overall thoughts are that this improvisational technique yielded a handful of truly outstanding moments—two of three of the dishes on this menu might be some of my favorites of all time—but it also produced some real duds.
PRICE PAID: $252 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10
Situated in Northwestern Italy, in a sub-regional called the Langhe (a UNESCO world heritage region since 2014,) the restaurant is in the middle of one of the richest food cultures in Europe. Along with the aforementioned white truffles of Alba, Barolo and Barbaresco wines can also trace their roots to this part of the world. From having spent an afternoon driving through it after lunch, I can tell you that the region is easily worth a few days' (or weeks' ) trip. Steep hillsides, vineyards, tiny fortressed villages... It's heaven on Earth.
Piazza Duomo's interior is up a flight of stairs from their brightly-painted streetside entrance, and a wandering collection of anterooms crowd the upper floor. This lobby is one of them.
We are led to the main dining room, which is a slightly less-offensive hue of pink than the exterior, and looks like someone's 8-year-olds had a field day with the wall paint. A bizarre criss-crossing abstract leaf pattern makes the point: "this place is a little odd." Nailed it. Outside, the gorgeous chalky colors of Alba shine through in the early Summer sun.
We are first brought two different chips made out of chickpea and buckwheat. The buckwheat version tastes exactly like Frosted Flakes without sugar. The chickpea chip has a rich, Middle-Eastern flavor to it. 7/10.
A nice palate-cleansing dish of shiso and green apple sorbet. The minty, cilantro-y flavors of shiso go perfectly with the apple, and the frozen temperature is a nice way to begin a set of vegetables. 9/10.
Next up, a series of small appetizer bites. From left to right, a rich bok choy leaf straight from the garden dipped in a lovely pâté of mushrooms and seeds (8/10). Next, mushroom paper with milkweed, as soft as actual paper (9/10). A pillow of corn with sesame seeds, which tastes just like cheesy bread (9/10). Lastly, on the right, a beautiful presentation of deep-fried spaghetti sticks with carbonara and eggplant. Strongly-flavored mint leaves are attached to the stick with some pretty edible flowers, also straight from the garden (9/10.) 9/10 overall.
Almond marzipan, with extremely strong tree nut flavor and a very sticky, gummy texture that I found agreeable. Allergics beware. 9/10.
Langoustine and veal tartare made to look like olives. They actually taste very olive-y. 7/10.
Peanut cracker, which tastes just like a light peanut butter. 8/10.
"Swiss chard sponge", with some tuna and mayo in the middle, an absolutely classic flavor combo. We are advised to eat with our fingers, and the soft sponge yields immediately to the lightest pressure. Beautiful, original, and fun. 8/10.
Next, foie gras cream with ginger foam, which we are advised to eat from the bottom up. Something is really bitter in the foam, unfortunately, and the very light and creamy foie gras doesn't quite make up for it. 6/10.
Endive salad with dill and cod. The cod is super light. Pretty delicious. 8/10.
The first main course was a precariously-plated, thin-shelled goose taco. Inside is an oversized portion of protein, chicken-mayo, Parmesan-Reggiano, and many varieties of leaves. There are strong mint flavors, but the overwhelming quantity and huge diversity of greens gives it a flavor of Too Much Garden. The taco shell also immediately disintegrates upon first bite, making it a real battle to eat. 5/10.
Another enormous quantity, this one titled "Eggs + Egg Salad." Caviar, egg whites, egg yolks, sour cream, seaweed, and a codfish broth on top. A lot of the leaves are partially wilted in some melted butter. This dish is absurdly large and very salty; it's also just six large piles of pretty much the exact same thing. For maybe the second time in this whole experience I could only get through about a third of it and gave up. 5/10.
This next dish, titled "Prawns & Cherries," was full of beautiful color. The gazpacho was constructed with tomato, orange, cherry, and red prawn. When taken all together it actually works really well. Lots of great flavors, and some serious depth comes from the flowers and mint. 9/10.
Called "Raw Colors," this dish was another strikingly-plated collection of brightly-hued ingredients. Red mullet with lots of powders, basically, with some that taste like vegetables and some like sea urchin. Each of those powders seems to be primarily made of salt, yielding yet another very briny dish, which is kind of overpowering. 6/10.
Sultanas and capers add some neutral colors to what is otherwise an extremely green dish. The cod buried within is absolutely perfect—actually the best cod I've ever had, fresh and cracklingly resh, and the vegetables are prepared perfectly. A completely different set of flavors than the previous dish. 10/10.
Though I'm not sure the photo will quite do it justice, this next dish was possibly the most artful, most gorgeous plated presentation I have come across in my entire adventure, period. Titled "Squid & Peas," a collection of brightly colored vegetables is paired with a mashed potato ragout and creatively-streaked squid ink. Great flavors and a mix of different textures. 9/10.
Made with white wine vinegar and corn powder, this straighforwardly-titled "foie gras and leaves" is, indeed, some foie gras under a leaf. There is a lot of crunchiness in the texture from the corn powder, which contrasts the foie in an interesting way. 7/10.
In yet another example of how my experience here was kind of all over the map, this was one of the most insanely delicious bites of pasta I have ever enjoyed outside of my favorite at La Pergola. Parmesan sauce, paired with an Islay Scotch whisky! The server brings the whisky over in a small spray bottle, and delicately applies a few puffs to the dish right after service.
Known for their heavy, peaty, smoky flavor, this particular Scotch pairs absolutely perfectly with the light cheese sauce and the pasta, which is itself dead simple and a touch al dente. 10/10.
Cardoncelli mushroom with asparagus, carrots, and pigeon. The pigeon is fresh, well-cooked, evenly spiced, and not overly rich (a rare event). Fantastic. 9/10.
If you had asked me before this meal whether the flavors of curry and banana go together well, I probably would have said, "hell no." But, I would have been completely wrong, because this curry, banana, chamomile reduction, and peanut butter rectangle crisp ensemble represents yet another stunningly original and functional flavor pairing that can only be called inspired. 9/10.
As we approach the end of the meal, some lychee sorbet as a palate cleanser. The flavors really worked well; sweet, simple. 9/10.
Buried under a layer of strawberry meringue, yet more strawberries. Sugary, over-the-top, near-perfect dessert. 9/10.
Strawberries and cherries, milk and grappa, and a variety of other small dessert bites. The milk and grappa has a bold, alcoholic flavor. Actually, it's totally fantastic. 9/10.
Lastly, a geometrically-laid-out group of chocolate truffles, decadent and fresh. A lovely finish to an excellent, if uneven, meal. 8/10.