First row in the middle
Although my trip to Turin was scheduled months ahead I succeeded in surprising myself and like a rookie didn't book even one table nor marked places to visit. Therefore I had to trust my luck in order to find a proper place to eat in the first capital of modern Italy.
The first sign for that sometimes luck is quite a good plan was to find out that Consorzio resides very near to the place I stayed in, so even the sudden rain that washed the city didn't hold me back. The restaurant got great reviews in local and international food guides (it shouldn't in any way be a factor but it's also on the top part of TripAdvisor's recommendations), and consistently appears also on Italy's best trattorias list. So I was really happy when I entered and asked for a table for one for Friday night, a very challenging request and a bummer for the restaurant that needs to leave a table just for one person. But sometimes luck strikes twice so my request was accepted, and look! The sun came out behind the clouds! So everything seemed promising.
Like almost every Friday these days until the evening the news were gloomy on the screens so there's no other option but to fight evil with good. And food is good, isn't it? Jumping above paddles I arrived the door and got a corner table which let me to look around, on one of the two spaces and draw some conclusions regarding northern food and food in general. The place's fixed menu consists of two appetizers, first and second courses and a dessert, and aims to present the forte of the kitchen in cooking traditional Piemontese dishes with a modern smile and funny price of 34 Euros.
Just before the first dish and in order to relax a little more I had a quite strong Negroni that swindled me a bit thanks to the warm weather - regardless the rain - and being irresponsible that day with drinking water. One sip and sliding right into the experience.
The restaurants' walls are divided by two: the upper part is well preserved while the bottom is momentarily exposed and gives a hint of a sloppy job, but the art which hanged all over, and especially the bull motive which is also Turin's symbol that symbolizes hard work give the notion that this is no coincidence. The restaurant works in two ways: a very hard and professional work in the kitchen but also a hard work showing how much it's deliberately sloppy.
Well, if I got to…
On the tables next to me a bachelor party guided by a guy who didn't look older than 25 years old but seemed that he's very opinionated about the wine the guys would drink, a young couple and the guy's parents and another couple in his early stages as one. In the next room and through the glass I could see some more groups of all ages, a diversity of fine people that have a will for a fine food in a fine environment (the fact that I sat there had a very little influence on the last sentence).
Here we go: a pack of grissini - more than enough for one person - covered in what seemed like semolina that gave them a nice rustic-like cover, accompanied by a bowl with two types of full-bodied sourdough bread and stripes of delicious oily focaccia. A bite - wiping the fingers, a bite - wiping the fingers. This is so great!
A royal-rustic welcome
Alongside the dough I was served a porcelain spoon filled with large crumbs with a very clear taste - blood sausage! And on this case it was a Mustardela, the northern ambassador of the Italian sanguinacci and the eastern sausage at the poor cuisine of the Valdesians, a Christian movement that was forced to be nomads after they were declared as heretics. As such the Valdesians had to cook in mobile kitchens so even after they set themselves on the valleys west of Turin they used all the pork's parts for their cooking - including the blood, and together with spices and red wine got themselves a rich flavored sausage. In Consorzio the mustardela is served together with chopped fresh celery which balances the sausagey tenderness, and it's a good thing that it's only this spoon because I could easily eat a whole bowl of it.
Enough but not enough
From the western part of Piemonte the trip goes up to an overlook depicted by a reddish-pinkish puck on a slate board. And that's it. Oh, right, there were some grains of cooking salt. Apparently this is how a stake tartare is done in Piemonte: no mustard, no egg yolk, almost without any treatment. My guess is that the monastic presentation owes itself to the local Fassone breed that due to a genetic mutation shows a high muscle-fat ratio, which leaves the kitchen to decide how fine they'd like to chop it. Here the meat was fine enough to almost melt on the tongue but rough enough to show its presence. With such a low stimuli dish the kitchen must be very sure of itself and the meat quality - and it's absolutely right (and it could have been perfect without the sound of cutlery on slate which gives me the shivers).
Let the meat do the talking
Still on the appetizers section, I would have picked the next dish anytime. The most sensual dish of poached egg, and even while I know it's there the second the yolk is revealed makes me go "Grrrr…..". Consorzio's poached egg was especially caressing after it was covered in breadcrumbs, delicately fried and set on a small hill of poached chard and covered with a balanced crispy pancetta stripe. Around this construction there were sprinkles of melted Cheddar cheese from the British Keed dairies that constantly grab trophies in international cheese contests. And now I think only on international cheese contests.
The pancetta was set aside and the center of the plate was clear to present the poached egg that easily was cut and covered the chard with strong yellow yolk. What a great sight! What a wonderful taste! After floating in the air with the tartare (relatively speaking, of course) the combination of egg and melted cheddar served as a tasty heavily flavored dish.
Right before the food I got a glass of Barolo, the region's wine caesar that shed its heavy tears in the glass. Together with those he gave me a very serious look as to show that the staff is very serious about its job, as to show that the Turinese people are serious about what they're doing.
And speaking about staff, as I walked in I was greeted by Pietro Vergano that together with Andrea Gherra opened up the place on 2008 in a mission 'to weave the plot of this holy alliance between producers, processors (I'll get back to that in a minute) and consumers' (from the English reastaurant's website). Now, I couldn't decipher if the three vertexes are resembles the three powers of the original 19th century Holy Alliance: Prussia, Russia and Austria or if Vergano and Gherra wish to reconcile with those who suppressed the military rebels of Piemonte that wanted to unite Italy couple of decades before it actually happened. It's very clear that in this triangle Consorzio put itself as a "trasformatore" (from the Italian restaurant's website), like a magician who transforms something to something completely different. Not an electrician but definitely electrifying.
The first-first course comes from Asti region which is on the other side of Turin. On the plate lying six agnolotti, and not "just" agnolotti but "agnolotti gobbi" which means hunchbacked, totally makes sense with the puffed ravioli that were served. But wait, why agnolotti and not ravioli? Well, it's true that according to the unproven story the ravioli were invented in a tavern of - true, Raviolo family - in Gavi back then at the beginning of the previous millennium, but after their spread all around Italy it was necessary to "brand" the original Piemontese from the others and here came the agnolotti. It's not clear eithrt their name derives from their original round shape (anello = ring) or the original stuffing of veal (agnello).
The main difference between agnolotti and ravioli is that the former are usually cooked for Christmas so they must be honorable and rich with meat, eggs and cheese, handmade and carry alongside childhood memories, or as "The Court of Agnolotto Gobbo" writes:
"(The agnolotti) are a memory… every Piemontese records the festive voices at his grandmother's house at the country on Christmas day, when all the family is gathered and there's no need to think about work for a change but about gifts… the agnolotti were then lined up on the white tablecloth, waiting to be thrown to the boiling-salted water pot… lined up like soldiers, ready for battle, obedient".
You can't argue with childhood memories.
And what about the ravioli? You can leave them all the cheese and herbs stuffings that are unworthy to be eaten on Christmas.
And what about the Consorzio's agnolotti? Even before I've read about their history I enjoyed the strong deep taste of meat, probably veal, slowly cooked until it was able to form it together with rosemary - and I think also sage - to a small ball to be covered in the pasta sheets. These small creations will be scooped out of the pot and with a quick anointing in butter would shine on the plate. For some minutes and until the plate left empty I felt Piemontese.
My brief Piemontese personal history
It's time for the main course which goes back to the Fassone and a hearty piece that was braised in an ultra-regional Ruché wine situated between couple of villages east of Turin. The long, slow braise softened the meat enough to the point I didn't need to use the knife since the fork was enough to split the cut that was covered in a dark and thick wine layer, probably what held the meat together. Next to the meat there was a mixture of slightly cured eggplants - not my immediate though of Piemontese food - and red onions that together served as a somewhat fresh contrast to the heavy meat. It's a good thing I didn't eat all the bread and saved some to clean the wine gravy from the plate and help the dish washers at the kitchen.
Knife is just a suggestion
For "real" dessert I was served with a handsome panna cotta that danced on the plate with every touch of the table. Not like many other places in Italy that you can choose between berries syrup or a boring chocolate sauce, in Consorzio they keep the loyalty to the region so the main actress was followed by three spots: reduced Barolo, liquid Torrone - the Italian version of this breaking-gluing teeth candy and bitter oranges. These three well defined tastes balanced - and completed - the sweet panna cotta, each from its point of view and were gathered to an excellent dish which seemed like taking a bow to the sound of loud cheering,
This marvelous performance ended with the encore next to the coffee - a tiny cookie with crème patissiere and a raspberry.
Final act - and an encore
The fixed menu at Consorzio keeps its promise and serves as a tour guide in the region of Piemonte, and everywhere the customer arrives - there are waiting the magicians from Turin to perform their magnificent show. Bravo!