Mr Willi Klinger worked for Angelo Gaja for six or so years. Staying in the sleepy town of Barbaresco, the town his boss put on the international wine map, Klinger claims to have had 60 or so lunches or dinners each year in the Alba region. A very lucky guy, Klinger.
Subscribers to jancisrobinson.com planning to travel to Piemonte might find Klinger's tips for eating, drinking and sleeping in Piemonte quite useful. One of Klinger's two recommended trattoria with serious wine lists in Alba is Enoclub. A few weeks before arriving in Alba I made a reservation at Enoclub.
I don't like much fuss or formality with my Saturday lunch. The kitchen can ditch the foams, the gels, the savoury ice-creams along with the pre-desserts and post-desserts I didn't order. I'll take simple but flavoursome food, which tastes of itself and is prepared with passion. And casual, friendly waiters excited about the food and more excited about the wine list. Noise is also good. Plenty of laughter, no hushed spy whispers. Enoclub ticks all of these boxes.
From the outside, Enoclub is not so glamorous. There is a door, a simple awning emblazoned with the word Enoclub and a lonely menu on a lecturer-less wooden lectern. It's located in Piazza Savona, at the entrance to central Alba if your arriving from Corso Italia. Piazza Savona is full of sweet sellers looking rather bored from behind the colourful sweet stalls you see in most Italian cities. These are the sweets you only buy when you're very drunk and regret it the next day.
Inside the door of Enoclub and down a flight of stairs you stray into a cozy red-brick cellar with vaulted ceilings, which are quite common in Puglia. The tables are well spaced, wooden wine crates are scattered tastefully about the place and mostly Italian families, children and grandparents included, are at play.
The smell of white truffles hits you with a thud, for the second time that day if you've come from the truffle fair as we had. This time it's more pungent than the the scent at the fair. Thicker, waxier, sweatier and combined with other hot-food smells. The scent seems right at home here in a dimly lit underground brick-cellar full of wine crates, Italian chatter and laughter. Much more so than it did in the vast white corporatised space of the truffle fair.
After a few questions on the menu V and I ordered, smiled and drooled with building anticipation. We shared two starters: tajarin with butter and white truffles, and egg in a cocotte with white truffles. Tajarin is a famous Piemonte hand cut tagliolini made with about 8 egg yolks per pound of flour. Very rich. Not great for my imperious waistline. The egg was cooked in cream, butter and reggiano. Also delightfully rich and evil.
The tajarin and the egg were brought to the table undressed and unadorned. The smiling waiter proceeded to cloak each dish in slivers of white truffle, which drifted like feathery snow flakes from the wooden truffle shaver to our plates. The scent of the shaved truffles soared from beds of hot tajarin and egg. The concentrated sweaty muskiness combined so well with the tajarin and even better with the egg when its yolk was pierced and stirred slowly about the cocotte. This was why we were in Alba. We wanted our waiter's job for the white truffle season. We wanted to dance. We wanted to sing.
The richness of our starters and the heady scent of white truffles demanded a chardonnay - a half bottle if I was to follow up with a Barolo and not fall asleep at dinner. Keen to try something local we ordered a bottle of Gaja's introductory chardonnay, the 2006 Rossj Bass. It spends a bit less time in barriques than the more renown Gaja & Rey Chardonnay, but still has noticeable new oak on the nose along with rich tropical fruits. The wine was well balanced despite the high alcohol (14.5%) and worked well with the truffles.
Most diners at Enoclub were ordering dishes with white truffles. Carne crude, the hand chopped raw veal, with white truffles was popular. Each time a smiling waiter shaved a white truffle the unmistakable aroma and smiles it brought on swiftly drifted past other tables like a silent Mexican wave.
A young Japanese couple sitting opposite us pulled out their video camera to capture their truffle shaving moment. Perhaps they're now sitting on their couch in Tokyo replaying the ecstatic expressions on their faces as their flapping duck-billed hands attempted to trap the scent and force it towards their noses while the locals looked on with proud amusement.
For mains I ordered veal cheeks slowly cooked in barolo and V ordered rabbit in a red wine sauce. The veal cheeks were tender, sticky, supremely rich. The rabbit was very tasty, but I was too enthralled with the veal cheeks to pay much attention to it. The 1998 Elio Altare Barolo was delightful with the veal and well priced (see the 10 October posting on the Visit to Elio Altare for tasting notes).
We skipped dessert for fear of harming our dinner appetites. Not so our Japanese friends who asked their waiter whether there were any desserts with white truffle before petulantly settling for someting less savoury.
The following day, after failed attempts to dine at a few other places in Alba and as far afield as Canale without a reservation, we crawled back to Enoclub. It was about 3.00pm when we arrived, hungry and thirsty. The waiters, who recognised us from the day before, convinced the kitchen to stay open for us. We were pleased that they did and had a very special and memorable afternoon.