Choosing a restaurant recommended by the Michelin guide from which I’ve had terrific luck over the years in Italy, I made it out for lunch around 1:00. Just a five-minute walk from our hotel, Osteria dell’Arco was booked on a Wednesday, a good sign, and I had to make a reservation for a half-hour hence. When I was able to be seated, it seemed that I was only the only non-Italian and only non-Albese, which I took to be another positive. I ordered a tasting menu filled with traditional dishes and which included white truffles shaved over the Tajarin “40 tuorli” al burro d'alpeggio, the deep yellow, angel-hair-thin fresh pasta made with a ton of egg yolks that was served simply with melted butter. The pasta was a bit clumpy, the sauce a little too watery as the pasta was not fully drained, and the white truffles, some a bit damp, were almost without aroma and without much taste at all, if not unlike a pleasant, if not-so-assertive mushroom. A more generous share might have helped. It certainly wasn’t worth the €22 (about $25) surcharge for the truffles for the dish. I couldn’t help thinking that I might have gotten an older nearly spent truffle, and prepared somewhat indifferently, with the restaurant thinking the foreigner wouldn’t know the difference.
The dish at Osteria dell’Arco turned out to be the only disappointing pasta I had on the trip. The exact same dish served the next day in stages to a group of over well over a hundred people out in a covered courtyard on a cool afternoon was much better, with the pasta a tad firmer and much tastier, and the truffles fresher, much more fragrant and with a richer flavor. The dish was delicious. The kitchen of the Michelin-starred San Marco restaurant in the town of Canelli did a terrific job serving a multitude, and the truffles it was shaving were seemingly in much better shape than what I had been served the day before.
But, as much as I liked the dish there and the several other times that I had white truffles shaved over carne cruda, risotto and ravioli and agnolotti before the end of the trip, I affirmed that white truffles really aren’t worth the hype to me. They added a richness and an earthiness to the taste of the dish, but it is really the aroma, that deep musky fragrance, that is the best thing about white truffles. Possibly the most enjoyment I received from the truffles during the trip was when a bowl of very fresh truffles, distractingly aromatic, were set next to before they were to be shaved onto the pastas. They certainly aided a dish and I would not turn them down, but to pay for them, and to pay an additional $25 in Alba – which might have cost $75 to $100 here at the rare restaurants that serve them – that’s another story. I thought that very good quality Parmigiano grated over a pasta dish was a better complement than the white truffles.
Maybe my tastes are too pedestrian, too American, but I was left thinking, concerning the white truffles, is that all there is?... If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing…. Let's break out the booze and have a ball…. If that's all there is.
A delicious pasta with white truffles at San Marco in Canelli a month ago.