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

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