Turin Eats: Porto di Savona, Traditional Piemontese
Porto di Savona came highly recommended to us by our Airbnb host, who said that it was the place to go for traditional Piedmontese food. Later, I came across another mention of it in a Chowhound trip report, where the author said that he ate the best pasta there. We originally came at lunchtime, but it was full (ending up at Poormanger instead). While we were there though, I asked if they had room at dinner time, and they did - but only at 7:30pm and we’d have to vacate the table by 9pm (sounds like our reservation at Beerba the night before!).
We actually came back after lunch, because we were perusing the menu on their website, and noticed that the “Bagna Cauda” dish was by reservation only! I had heard of this dish, where you get a plate of vegetables and dip in an anchovy-garlic sauce, and was very curious to try it. When we went back to reserve it, the staff at first told us that it wouldn’t be possible because one usually has to reserve it 1-2 days in advance! But he said that he would check with the manager, who went back to the kitchen to ask if they had one more portion for us to share (asking for more than one portion seemed to be too much!), and they did. So our Bagna Cauda was secured!
So, not wanting to be rushed for our final dinner together, as we had been the previous night, we arrived promptly at 7:30pm. We were ushered upstairs to a dining room where there was already another American group seated.
As the night went on, though, every other table seemed to be filled with locals. A very friendly young lady took our order, speaking great English, and was very kind to even recommend that we were ordering too much. Besides our pre-ordered Bagna Cauda, I was also curious about their mixed fried platter, another specialty where they seem to batter and fry vegetables, meats, and even desserts, county-fair style! She said that because the pasta we ordered was fresh and handmade, it’s more filling than usual, and recommended we cut out one of the main courses. I like it when servers make these recommendations!
The first thing to come out was something that we hadn’t ordered and which I had completely forgotten about. Breadsticks! Turin claims to have invented breadsticks, or grissini. The story goes that Vittorio Amedeo II, Duke of Savoy, suffered from childhood maladies which could have been caused by pathogens in bread that hadn’t been thoroughly cooked, or bread that got moldy. So a local baker made very thin versions of the long loaf, so that they would be thoroughly cooked with no soft crumb inside that could harbor anything dangerous. The Vittorio Amedeo II would then grow up to be strong and (after different wars) was named King of Sicily, and later King of Sardinia, and was responsible for a lot of Turin’s impressive architecture.
So, I was pleased to have the famous health-building grissini right here in Turin!
Our first starter was a a steak tartare, topped with cooked peppers.
We also got the vitello tonnato, wanting to try this version and compare to the one we had a lunch at Poormanger. This was presented quite differently, and tasted different too, but I can’t say this was better or worse than Poormanger’s.
Then we went on to our pasta course, with homemade tajarin (the local pasta) with Castelmagno cheese. The fresh, eggy pasta had a nice chew.
I shared the tajarin with my sister, along with agnolotti stuffed with meat in a meat gravy. The flavor was surprisingly light and mild, despite so much meat. We added some Parmesan cheese which they had left on the table.
By now, it was about 8:40pm, and the manager came up to remind us that we had to vacate the table by 9pm. Oh no, this was just like our previous night at apericena! But then he offered to move us downstairs where we could finish our meal.
When he mentioned this, i thought we’d be put at some makeshift table by the door or under the stairs, but we ended up at a perfectly normal table in a lively dining room filled with locals and staffed by another friendly lady. I wonder why we didn't get this table in the first place? Could it be that the diners at this table already finished eating an hour after opening? In any case, we were lucky to be able to continue our dinner in peace!
We were in a corner with these relics of country life.
Our first main course was the brasato, beef braised in Barolo wine. It was good, very tender, but my friend said it was like the Beef bourguignon I had made at home. And it was. I do like making braised dishes a lot, and so it’s hard to really impress me nowadays with this type of preparation!
And then came our Bagna Cauda. Wow! So much food! I’m now surprised that in the afternoon, the manager had asked us if we wanted three portions for the three of us… or was he the one more surprised thinking that we had asked for three portions? In any case, I’m glad our first waitress advised us not to order any more food, because the two main courses was more than enough for the three of us.
Basically out came a big platter of raw vegetables (fennel, radicchio, celery, carrots), cooked vegetables (asparagus, onion, pepper, potato), hard boiled egg, and soft cheese. All were to be dipped in a warm savory dip of anchovies and garlic. I was super pleased with so many vegetables!
We couldn’t finish Bagna Cauda because we were so stuffed. I would have loved to have tried a dessert, because so many looked good and special (the hazelnut cake, the bonet, the tiramisu, the maize flour biscuits…) But I simply didn’t have any more room!
In the end, my sister and I went for a sweet dessert wine from the dried Erbaluce grape, called Passito di Caluso from northwest Piedmont.
I thoroughly enjoyed this dinner. It was a fantastic tour through Piedmontese cuisine, and topped off with friendly service and a lively atmosphere! Even the move between from upstairs to downstairs didn’t detract from the experience much. At the end of the meal, I went back upstairs to use the bathroom, and saw that they had converted the upstairs dining room into two very long tables for a huge group dinner. This was truly a popular place to be, and we were lucky to have gotten a place to dine!
Porto di Savona
Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 2