Thursday, June 23, 2011

The First Family of Collio Hospitality

If there is a guardian of Friuli's food culture, a student of its sometimes opaque history, a defender of its origins and a champion of its traditions, that would be Josko Sirk, whose country restaurant La Subida just outside Cormòns has evolved into a legend.

It's a legend that brooks no compromises, but it does demand the fulltime attention of every member of the Sirk entourage.

On a recent Sunday evening, when tourists as well as local families tend to wander off to the Adriatic beaches, Josko Sirk was dressed a bit less formally (no jacket, rolled up shirtsleeves), wheeling the cart bearing a Prosciutto d'Osvaldo to every table so he could personally carve a few slices as a token of welcome. (When we were here this past winter, Sirk welcomed visitors at La Subida's hearth, the fogolar.)

Sirk's wife, Loredana, glided from table to table to chat with guests. Their 32-year-old daughter, Tanja, acted as the principal server ("I've worked here da sempre," she said with a charming smile, "since forever"). Her husband, Alessandro Gavagna, runs the kitchen. There's another daughter, Erika, whom I didn't see on this visit.

And then there was their son, Mitya, just 18, in jeans and a polo shirt and a funny little beard, but with the poise and grace of a ballet dancer, already a professional maître d'hôtel (clothes don't necessarily make the man) and a precocious knowledge of Collio's wines. No shy, gangly teenage mannerisms but a bearing of self-confidence that will stand him in good stead as he makes the rounds of the top Italian, Slovenian and Croatian restaurants in the US this summer, starting with Lydia Bastianich's spots in Manhattan. (The Bastianich family has a winery in Udine, not far from La Subida.)

Game has pride of place on the menu here; the full name of the restaurant is Trattoria al Cacciatore de la Subida, the hunter's tavern. And cervo with polenta is but one example. That after several appetizers and pastas, and before a panoply of desserts. The region's best wines, of course. The kitchen displays none of the frantic, frazzled activity of an American restaurant; the staff knows what's expected and they deliver, confidently and without fuss.

Now that the kitchen is firmly in the hands of his son-in-law, Josko Sirk can devote his time and energy to another project: artisanal aceto. Just down the drive from the restaurant he's built a star-shaped wooden house; inside is a distillery where he uses whole grapes to produce an exquisite vinegar, sweet enough to flavor ice cream. You spritz it onto food as if you were squirting it with a lemon. Industrial production takes 20 minutes, but he ages aceto his for two summers. The vinegar even has its own website.

Trattoria al Cacciatore de la Subida, Via Subida 52, Cormons, 39 0481 60531

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Collio on a Vespa

UPDATE, July 2, 2011: Three weeks after this post appeared, the New York Times runs big interactive feature by Ingrid Williams about, yes, riding a Vespa along the Collio trail.

I admit it, I'm a sucker for scooters. I drive the Yamaha Vino in Seattle, so I jumped at the chance to tour the Collio hills on a sunny Sunday afternoon on a bright yellow Vespa.

And what a sweet machine it is. Room under the seat for Michael's D80 loaner with its 12mm lens. Off I go, into the hills, toward San Florian (church square under reconstruction), down again to Oslavia (World War One ossuary, remains of 60,000 soldiers), stop on market square in Cormons for Aperol spritz and bowl of gulasch soup.

More photos online:

Scooter outing courtesy of the elegant resort Castello di Spessa. This trip to Italy is being hosted by the Cosorzio Collio Carso, whose motto, I need not remind you, is I Love Collio!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Venice in the Rain

View of the Grand Canal from the Accademia brdge. More new pictures of Venice online. More coverage of wet weather in Venice (last December) here and here.

It feels like winter. The sky is leaden, and the public squares are almost empty except for a handful of North Africans who have materialized with 5-euro mini-umbrellas; they stay in touch with each other by cellphone. From the Accademia bridge, a German tourist tries to pierce the gloom with his camera flash.

On the periphery of the Campo San Stefano, half a dozen cafes serve lunch under a canopy of canvas. Bored waiters wielding brooms poke and nudge the accumulated water to the edge, where it cascades onto the outermost row of tables. "Cambia domani," they say, without conviction; it's going to be better tomorrow.

The Biennale is on. Art of all kinds is on display and being performed in museums, gardens, public squares, palazzos. Venice itself is a giant living museum, of course, even with the lights turned low. Along the maze of side canals are neighborhood bars where young and old stop for a glass on the way home. Prosecco, spritz, Campari Soda. Cicchetti are nibbled.

Back on the square a couple of tourists hurry past, protected by hooded white ponchos; they look like they're going to a KKK rally. Everyone wears sensible shoes. The wind shifts and the tablecloth gets soaked. All is quiet except for the church bells.