17 Sep A mark of quality at restaurant Il Marko
Invited by Maddalena, welcomed by Maria, hosted by Marco
These are the three personalities of the Locanda dall’Arte resort in Solonghello. They are very different characters, but together they create the perfect mix and atmosphere that distinguishes the Locanda as a unique place in Monferrato for staying, eating and relaxing, in the gardens or at the swimming pool and admiring the countless art on display on every wall or in some of the temporary exhibitions.
Many people say that Maddalena, who works in public relations and marketing, is a volcano. Her ability to create networks of people encourages the building of new projects which support the territory and its features: we were pleased to be invited by her.
We rang at the entrance bell and Maria, very gently and calmly proudly lead us on a visit through the Locanda. From the first moment, we could see how much passion there was behind the whole draw of the structure. Paintings, sculptures, photos, furnishings and every single detail have the capacity to not stop the eye of the guest. This harmony flows, blending with the landscape wich enters the building thanks to large windows, which embraced us with its game of dynamic colours. Outside instead, hedges, blooming flowers and manicured lawns spread feelings of home. There is no longer a distinction between outer or inner and contemplation of the beauty found there becomes a natural process.
There is much more we can say about the Locanda dell’Arte, but we will keep our thoughts for another opportunity of experience. Now is time for dinner, and Maria has introduced us to Marco Casalini.
As in music, we find One-Man-Bands, who make various different harmonies by themselves, we think of him as a One-Man-Restaurant. He manages it all, almost by himself and the Il Marko restaurant own his name with a strong K. Like Maddalena and Maria, he is also a unique personality and like a stamp, he marks every of his creation.
The hall is elegant, the paintings and the soft lightings put us at ease. There is no background music, but a French mother is telling a tale to his child, and we appreciate her softness. She is probably preparing and calming him before his dinner and it had the same effect on us.
As a starter, the chef brings us a Tomino Rosso e Verde: a mixed fresh cow and goat cheese, covered by parsley, anchovies and garlic sauce. It goes perfectly with the Timorasso Derthona, produced by Vigneti Massa, a native wine from Tortona with limited production and high quality.
The restaurant offers many vegetarian options, but it’s better to mention it to the chef in advance, so we each tried a different starter. The Sformato di pomodori e melanzane stufate, is a flan of stewed tomato and eggplant, with a chickpeas cream. Colours and tastes create a harmonious combination, while the Coniglio nelle due consistenze: a double flavour rabbit meat. The Carpaccio is more delicate, scented with thyme, and the Rolata firmer: both are presented lying on a baked bell pepper drizzled with a line of Modena’s balsamic vinegar.
Marco Casalini, an architect and native of Turin has always nurtured his passion for cooking, going to hotel School in Geneva, and working in Switzerland and Scotland. He is landed in Monferrato seven years ago, restoring a farmhouse close to Solonghello, opening his first restaurant and then thanks to the cooperation with the Locanda he decided to move his job inside of it.
He is very kind and approachable. Even though he has to work in the kitchen he served us and found the time to explain every plate to us.
The Risotto with chanterelles and porcini mushrooms is delicious and characterised by a woody aftertaste of combined with the sweet appearances of the pumpkin while the balsamic vinegar binds the flavours.
We tasted a full-body Barbera d’Asti Ca’ di Pian, produced on 2010 by La Spinetta winemakers and characterised by an aroma of dry red fruits and cinder. It is magnetically matched with the rice.
As a second main dish, Marco selected Filetto ai ferri e pancetta fresca scottata: grilled fillet medallions and fresh bacon, a plate where the quality of the seared meat is superb and it melts in our mouth. The bacon especially is cooked for 8 hours under vacuum. As the chef confirms, he goes personally to choose the raw materials sometimes expecting on “waiting list” for the best selection. He knows in which market or from which producer in the surrounded villages he can find the best quality produce, and we can confirm that the quality of this food is characterised by this work of choosing.
As a dessert Marco proposes a classic Piedmontese hazelnuts cake, the Torta di Nocciole served with cream. The nuts are not, as often, crushed, but in big or whole pieces and it gives the opportunity to savour them in a different way.
Finally, we can say that we can feel the mark of Marco in Il Marko restaurant, and that is something definitively that as a stamp, is imprinted now in our memory waiting for the next opportunity to taste his other creations.
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Written by Vincenzo Bagnetto | Edited by Fiona Scull | Photography by Gianni Siccardi