After tromping the Alps of Piedmont, Italy, it's always a pleasure to replenish at a typical mountain restaurant. One that serves hearty stews of local vegetables and Fassona alla piemontese the renowned local beef and wine of the region. It's also an added bonus if the proprietor is willing to share amusing stories and sprinkle each course with laughter. Andre Tolasano, owner of La Taverna degli Orsi, is such a host. He calls his establishment in the Italian ski town of Limone "a typical mountain restaurant," but it is anything but ordinary. Every item on the ever-changing menu is skillfully prepared in his kitchen from the best available local foods and then perfectly paired with the appropriate wine.
I met Andre, who goes by the nickname, Prince, at his restaurant while on a Hedonistic Hiking gourmet walking holiday. We hiked high into the Alps during the day and at night, our small group of sixteen reconvened for gourmet feasts. Dinners always included local fare and this night, Prince had hand-written our menu cards and entitled them "Bear Night." For the name of his restaurant, La Taverna degli Orsi, means Tavern of the Bear and the mountain restaurant was decorated with the mammal's motif.
We munched on homemade sausage and sipped Spumante Brut Rose by Josetta Saffirio, a light-colored bubbly, as Prince told how he made the sausage with garlic brought from his hometown of Caraglio, an Italian village known for the pungent plant. The intense 13.5 % alcohol content of the wine, made from Nebbiolo d'Alba, the quintessential Piedmontese wine grape, said Prince, washed out the garlic taste.
After the aperitif, we were presented with the first of three appetizers. "In the Piedmont region it is typical to have three small appetizers before the main course," Jackie Parsons, owner/operator of Hedonistic Hiking told me later. The first was a not so small, a crispy walnut, celery and pear salad topped with a generous slab of moist cheese. "It's made with goat cheese of this valley," announced Prince, pouring more of the Rose'.
Prince then opened a Roero Arneis DOCG Daivej from the winery of one of his best friends. Deltetto winery has been producing wines in the prestigious Piedmont wine area since 1953. The white wine had a smooth mouth feel and its aromas of pear and fruit complimented the salad and the second appetizer, a pastry hand-stuffed with salad and topped with Basne iaido sauce.
"Much too much food and much too much wine, but who cares?" said one of the hedonists, Guy, who had come all the way from Australia for this adventure in eating. We were watching Prince at a side board prepare the wine glasses for the next course. After uncorking the bottle he conditioned the first crystal goblet with a bit of the wine, swirling the glass with a flourish of his elbow. He poured that bit from the first glass to the second and did the same swirling motion. He repeated the procedure for the next fourteen glasses signaling to us that this next wine was special indeed.
He then turned to us and announced, "My best friend is Barbaresco, the next wine. It is very tannic, but with a soft taste… It goes very well with the next course, local veal raised by my family. The wine is a bit sweet on the tongue with a subtle licorice taste.
The main was a roasted veal stew cooked for eight hours and served with potatoes and a finger-sized squash. In Italy, the term 'veal' means meat from calves up to a year old, differentiated by the Italian word for ‘veal milk’ that denotes the younger version, which we in other parts of the world would consider veal.
A Muscato accompanied the dessert of berry cake finished with French cream sauce. And as if that weren't enough, once we were all finished with our dessert course, we were offered grappa, the grape based Italian brandy digestive.
Prince knew that it would be a perfect ending to the "Bear Night" and another gourmet feast with Hedonistic Hiking tours.
Stacey "Vagabonding Lulu" Wittig is a travel writer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. She writes about hiking, food and wine. Disclaimer: Vagabonding Lulu was a guest of Hedonistic Hiking gourmet hiking holidays, yet all opinions are her own.