A box of white truffles is presented in the dining room of Ristorante Bovio in La Morra, Italy, October 2012.

Arrivederci, Ristorante Bovio

Saying Goodbye to a Place That Changed My Life on October 12, 2012

7 min read

It was a day I will never forget: with high expectation, my wife Hailey and I, along with our friends Adam and Tess, drove from the Milan area to the hilltop town of La Morra in the heart of the Langhe. It was autumn of 2012. I was 31 years old, and buoyed by the first year of success with a solopreneur company, I felt like this trip to foodie paradise was either earned or the most haphazard thing I’d ever done. Was I enjoying what my professional achievements had brought? Or was I just a glorified lawnmower boy who immediately changed that $20 bill into 80 quarters and spent them all at the arcade?

The real hedonism would come that evening, where we had a table for four reserved at Ristorante Bovio. There, I witnessed the alchemy of terroir in a way that was so profound, I would redirect all of my professional ambitions to pursue it.

Little did I know what Barolo and Barbaresco had in store for me: that emerging and successful career path I was on was about to deviate into far less lucrative — yet way more rewarding — territory. And it was all because of two stately wine villages and what they would reveal to me over a week’s time.

October 12 would be a first kiss with the world of fine wine.

At lunch in La Morra’s More e Macine, we witnessed how the wine industry operates: producers and importers, it seemed, made up the entire lunch crowd, and the bottles they were opening represented a new adventure at every cork pull. We watched a man grapple with Movia’s undisgorged sparkling wine under a bath of water. His cohort stood up, took charge of the bottle, and released its pressure in a glorious plume to the applause of the whole room. I was captivated.

But the real hedonism would come that evening, where we had a table for four reserved at Ristorante Bovio. There, I witnessed the alchemy of terroir in a way that was so profound, I would redirect all of my professional ambitions to pursue it.

Two photos in a collage of La Morra, Italy and Nebbiolo grapes in a vineyard near Barolo
The village of La Morra under an October dusk; Nebbiolo grapes asking to be plucked from the Boiolo cru. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Adam’s father had a friend in the wine business. Before our trip, we received a list of 10 restaurants to consider from him, and Adam zeroed in on the most expensive, most lavish one on the list: Ristorante Bovio. I wasn’t so sure. Just being in Italy felt a wee bit exorbitant in the first place, but he insisted. As we were seated, he clapped my shoulder. Listen, lawnmower boy, he didn’t say, but easily could have. Get over your inhibitions about spending on this one. There is a reason we are here. Now hand me the wine list.

The wine list at Ristorante Bovio, October 2012.
The mother of all wine lists. I’ve seen bigger since, but they’re all on iPads now. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

I had dined at nice restaurants before, but never at a place that made formality feel vital. At Ristorante Bovio, ordering a bottle of wine became a ceremony, complete with a pushcart bearing our two precious bottles (a 2000 Silvio Grasso Barbera d’Alba and a 2003 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato), as well as a decanter and eight wine glasses (four Bordeaux, four Burgundy). After uncorking the Ornato and steadily pouring it into the decanter, our host poured a dash of the Barolo into each of the Burgundy glasses to season the stemware while it opened up. Swirl, swirl, swirl. Tip, pour. Swirl, swirl, swirl. She was as methodical as a glass blower.

Of course, I now know that none of this is essential to enjoying a good Barolo, but that’s not the point. This was permission to fawn over something unique … to be ceremonial for the sake of caretaking, both of the guests and the special, local product which needed to come out of its shell and be revealed. I’ve since dined at a several Michelin-aspiring restaurants, but many of them come across as disconnected from the joy of eating and drinking. Not at Ristorante Bovio. There was something about the procedure that felt duty-bound, not performative.

This became truly evident moments later when the host walked back into the room with a box holding the first prized white truffles of the season. As I wrote on my now-defunct photo blog at the time:

Two things happened instantly: one, the air filled with their pungent and earthy aroma, and two, the room of well-behaved diners turned into a den of delirium. Everyone rose from their chairs and fawned over the box. They asked if they could hold one, like teenage girls asking Justin Bieber if they could touch his hair.

Between the aroma and the fervor, we were sold, and asked to have the white truffles shaved onto our pasta dishes. What’s another 30 euros at this point?

Had you told me in that moment what was to become of white truffles, I wouldn’t have believed you. Today, top Italian restaurants in the United States offer multicourse white-truffle dinners for between $800 and $1,000 per person. It is a mania that surprises (and frankly disappoints), as white truffles are now a luxury item that goes beyond cuisine. Much of this has been exacerbated by the irresistible boasting mechanism that is social media, but white truffles have also grown increasingly scarce due to climate change, a fact that has further pushed prices up. Thirty euros for a white truffle add-on doesn’t seem that steep now.

White truffles presented in the dining room of Ristorante Bovio and an appetizer of carpaccio
The moment white truffles entered the room, a unique delirium was created. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

What hasn’t changed is the magic of a white truffle. What those whisper-thin slices demonstrated atop my egg-yolk ravioli, along with a simple sip of the Barolo Ornato, was indeed the holy grail for foodies and wine obsessives alike. There was a harmony of the senses — like two sound waves vibrating into unison — that spoke of soft earth, wet leaves and spooky dark corners in a forest. It is something unique to the Langhe region. It is terroir, a concept that I increasingly understand is rarer than we think.

White truffles shaved on pasta in La Morra, Italy at Ristorante Bovio
Adam and I getting the white truffle treatment on the pasta course. Best decision I ever made in a dining room. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

That night transformed me. It was instrumental in guiding me towards a life as a wine writer and the publisher of Opening a Bottle.

So it was with a heavy heart this week that I saw this post from Ristorante Bovio on Instagram.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Ristorante Bovio (@ristorante_bovio)

Translated, their message is:

It is with deep emotion and a mixture of nostalgia and gratitude that we announce the closure of our doors after 60 years of extraordinary activity between Il Belvedere and Ristorante Bovio. It has been an incredible journey, a chapter that marked our lives and created indelible bonds.

We are grateful for every moment spent in your service and for the immense support you have shown us over the years. The decision to close was not an easy one, but we feel that the time has come to conclude this magnificent adventure.

We would like to express our most sincere gratitude to everyone who contributed to the success of this venue: our suppliers, who provided us with high-quality products, to the talented and dedicated collaborators who made our mission possible, and to our dear customers, the true stars of this story. You were more than a customer, you were part of our family.

Looking back, we remember with joy and pride all the shared moments, laughter, celebrations and unique experiences that enriched us. Taking back these precious memories as we close this chapter

Although the doors of our place may be closed, the warmth of friendship and gratitude you have donated to this activity will remain in our hearts forever. Heartfelt thanks for making this adventure so special.

We hope we have inspired you with our dishes and service, just as you have inspired us with your support and affection. It was an honor to serve you, and we will always carry with us the memory of every smile, every meeting and every moment shared.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

With love, the Bovio family

The restaurant business is nonstop, taxing and costly. It is a brutal business, and as an outsider one can never judge what it must be like to give so much of yourself in service to food service.

We had hoped to return with our daughters some day, and share that dining room with them. But for now, I wish only the very best for the Bovio family on their next chapter. And from the bottom of my heart, I’d like to say grazie mille: you did inspire me … by every measure.

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