Friday, May 23, 2014

Italy 2014: Day 22: Friday: May 23: Casale Monferrato

Our room looks out onto an interior courtyard so it is hard to tell a lot about the weather but it is definitely not raining and the sun might be out.

Breakfast is brought to the room by Alessandra....and it is simple but fine--rolls, cornetti, yogurt, fruit, coffee and tea.  After breakfast, we head out to the market and find that it is a glorious day--sunny and warm.  I stop to ask for some information at the tourist office about things to do in the area and am pleasantly surprised when the middle aged lady on duty not only speaks excellent English but has many good suggestions along with detailed directions about how to find the places.  This gets the morning off to a good start.

I am not a big market person....they are usually fun for people watching but, for the most part, you see the same merchandise over and over again.  So we don't usually stay too long--just a quick once through and out. The market in Casale Monferrato stands out the first place, the market is huge covering almost the entire parking lot at the Piazza Castello.  Secondly, there are more food stalls then we are used to seeing, selling the most delicious looking cheeses, meats, fish and fruits and vegetables.

This stand was particularly impressive for its tomatoes

but I really was fascinated by this guy and how he was going to get all his stuff back into his truck.

After Diana buys some sun-dried tomatoes from Sicily (she just ran out at home) and some hazelnuts--from Italy, not France--w
e make a short visit to the Santa Caterina is right on the Piazza Castello and is only open on market days (Tuesdays and Fridays).  It has a very richly decorated facade

and an ornate interior, including a large oval dome

Not exactly our favorite style but it does make an impression.

We walk back into town and go into a bookstore...we had noticed this bookstore on our first walk around town because it had very extensive window displays that stretched for an entire city block. With bookstores closing all over the US, even in NYC - the publishing center- it's so nice to see a few bookstores in this small city. One thing that catches my eye is an entire row of detective novels (in Italian) written by one of our favorite authors, Michael Connelly.

The bookstore is quite amazing....a large room with both new and used books...on seemingly every subject. 

Before we leave town for lunch in the countryside, Diana goes back to the tourist information office to ask about a laundromat and finds out that the nice lady that I had talked to is a retired English teacher and a volunteer (like all the tourist office people in Casale).

Alessandra has found a restaurant for us near Rosignano Monferrato, a hill town about 20 minutes from the city. Once you leave Casale Monferrato, it doesn't take long to reach the green, rolling hills of the Monferrato region. The horizon is dotted with a number of castles as well and it all makes for a very pretty picture.

We get lost as the GPS doesn't pick up either the restaurant or the address but Google Maps on the smartphone comes to the rescue.  The restaurant--A Casa di Babette--is in the middle of the countryside across from the local wine cooperative.  From the outside the building looks like a warehouse but once inside, the rooms are beautifully decorated in a cool, restrained manner.

We are greeted by the owner and he seats us in the French room (see above) and proceeds to explain the menu which is quite traditional with some creative touches thrown in.  When we ask about wine, he asks us if Alessandra has told us about the restaurant.  We say no and he explains that A Casa di Babette is known for its champagne list, that they have developed a name as a place to try unique French champagnes--very unusual in Italy and certainly in Piemonte.  We decide to try a glass of champagne with our meal..and it is delicious--delicate and crisp...and very different than prosecco.

The meal works out very is like having your own private chef and private dining room.  Diana has the carne cruda--served with an unusual egg yolk sauce--and agnolotti (she is doing a comparison of Piemonte specialties) and I try something a bit different--a chicken salad made with local free range fowl and very delicate greens followed by gnocchi with local sausage.  Diana tries the special dessert which turns out to be a semi-freddo with three layers of flavors.  I like it better than she does so I finish it off.

The food is fine and the whole experience is memorable--the countryside, the weather, the refined atmosphere and the attention.

We take a short drive after lunch but we decide to go back and rest at our b&b after our special lunch.

In the late afternoon, we stroll around the town enjoying the activity on the appears to be a very convivial place...and stop for a prosecco at the Riviera Cafe

a very popular bar on the main street, Via Roma.

No dinner tonight...we stay in and watch some television.

Tomorrow we are going to Moncalvo to have lunch with our friend Livio.

Jim and Diana