Imagine yourself walking along a long road and glimpsing in the distance a castle with the Alps in the background. Now imagine an orangerie, some green-houses and service lodgings of this 13th century castle. Imagine they were first used as a tavern and then transformed into a magnificent restaurant.
Now you won’t need to use your imagination any more because in Colloredo di Monte Albano a star has been shining for the past 21 years… it’s La Taverna, prized by the Gambero Rosso Guide! Its success story started in 1979 when Piero Zanini, with the help of his wife Matilde Bonitti and Vinicio Sant (that retired in 2007), decided to take over a simple tavern and turn it into an incredible restaurant.
Since September 2016 Piero and Matilde have a new business partner: Nicola Storti, a revolutionary mind for The Taverna. Lots of famous chefs have been here; in 1997 Andrea Berton earned the Mihcelin star, then Andrea Gabin, Giovanni Tovolaro, Alessandro Scian and Roberto Franzin.
And in November last year another young chef joined their kitchen, the young Ivan Bombieri from Verona, with lots of experience in high level restoration service. So how could I miss out on the opportunity to check out this lovely place which is just an hour’s drive from Trieste?
The mistake was going there for dinner because I didn’t get to chance to appreciate the scenery. I missed out on that but I still got to appreciate the scents of their vegetable patch J Here everything is neat and tidy like in the best private garden; Piero loves gardening and with the help of a young man from the village, he takes care of the vegetable patch which they use for anything needed in the kitchen and the lawn which is so well cared for there’s barely a leaf on it.
From the garden you can see the castle’s tower with its clock and even if it’s still surrounded by a scaffolding (they’ve been doing some repair works since the earthquake in Friuli) the scenery is very romantic and in the spring and summer, it must be a fairytale!
When I got there I just couldn’t resist and tried the spring tasting menu. And I have to confess that I was quite excited at being the first one to taste it 🙂
I’m welcomed to a table in a cosy dining room with a fire place, where about 40 guests can easily fit as they’re warmed by the fire, under a ceiling with beautiful wooden beams; the room is rustic but elegant, with long table cloths just brushing the floor. I appreciated everything, from the table arrangement to Richard Ginori’s dishes and the different types of freshly baked bread: with horse radish, with herbs, with olives and the classic baguette. Everything in the kitchen is carefully prepared by Ivan, from the bread to the pasta and the desserts.
A glass of Franciacorta from the producer Gatti is perfect to accompany the entree. But before I start telling you all about the food let me tell you something about the wine menu, which has more than 2 thousand labels from the local areas of Friuli and all the way to France. I also suggest a tour of the wine cellar, where you can admire great and interesting wines and be captured by the sight of a grate suspended 32 meters over an old well, where they store the French wines. Walking across it is quite something!
As well as marvel at such a collection of wine they also organize tasting events in this magical place ( to know about when they’re planned keep an eye on the Facebook page of the Taverna https://www.facebook.com/latavernacolloredo/).
Shall we start dinner? Let’s start with the entrée. A cup of foie gras with sweet bread, red turnip gel and lime marmalade. Delicious. Next they serve a seared prawn, a potato and lime cream, green beans, black olive granite and confit tomato with a glass of excellent Friulano from the producer Faet.
Ivan’s dishes have a reoccurring leitmotiv….citrus fruit! With a little lemon zest or lime each dish becomes a little fresher or with a nice scent, but without strong acidity of the lemon. And with spring round the corner it’s almost perfect 🙂
The dishes at the Taverna follow the seasons and the territory, also thanks to the excellent ingredients from Piero’s vegetable patch. But let’s get back to our dinner, after the prawns a slice of excellent Italian Pezzata rossa beef, an asparagus mix, a cream of poached egg and a leaf of frico. As I’m eating the asparagus I close my eyes and make a wish, because my grandmother used to say that you should make a wish when you eat the first fruit or vegetable of the season… I can’t say what I wished for or it won’t come true!
To accompany the next dish, a glass of Pinot grigio; don’t let the colour mislead you because this wine from Vignai Da Duline, is made in the “old way” and processed with the grape skins.
And now a proper spring dish. Tortellini with a filling of zabaione made with Asìno cheese, black truffle caviar and green asparagus. That’s all I can say, you can judge. And after this “new dish” here’s their classic dish, filled with the flavors of our beloved peninsula. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Garganelli de La Taverna: shellfish from Istria, a fish broth and lime and garlic bread.
I was completely captured by this dish, I would even had seconds. The homemade pasta is just right, the garlic is delicate and almost imperceptible, the lime zest gives it a light perfume, bringing out the best scents from the ingredients.
But it’s not over yet. I see Piero heading over to our table with a Cabernet from Tuscany from the Tenuta Col d’Orcia 1995 and I’m already preparing myself to taste some nice meat. In fact the next dish is lamb at 360°! Forget the usual cut, here you’ll taste every part of the animal, all with different cooking temperatures and servings. I taste loin, shoulder and leg with a liver mousse in the center. Everything left is used for the sauce, a concentration of taste with a cream of carrot and ginger.
And the little vegetables are also excellent, with a fresh mint oil, which balances perfectly with the meat!
It’s not over yet. I see Piero heading towards us with a bottle in his hands: my eye focus on a 1990 Sudtiroler, a pink moscato with the most incredible scents of coffee, chocolate and spices that is perfect with the pre-dessert. A chamomile cream, a fondant of celery turnip and wild valerian flavored ice-cream. A treat!
The proper dessert is a frozen strawberry soufflè, with cocoa dust, Tonca fava, lime, yogurt and mind meringue.
The last touch is a selection on mini pastries and a 1956 Bas Armagnac, everything enjoyed in front of the fire.
We’re at the end of this great experience, where history and passion for the local territory blends with a cosy environment. Andrea, my trusted photographer, asked me if I had been drinking when we first sat down after a tour of the restaurant. He was teasing me because my mood lifted incredibly as I walked around such a welcoming environment, I was euphoric at discovering such a great place in my beloved region.
I was about to forget one last thing. If you appreciated the menu, the price is 90 euros (without the wine). And if you’re a family with kids there’s another solution for you J
A trip to Colloredo is well worth your time, as well as a stop at “Cence Mantîl” (which means “without a tablecloth” in Friulano), which is a smaller dining room where they serve a more simple menu, with an informal attire, more traditional dishes, linked to the vegetables in season and prepared by Ivan and his staff. The price of the lunch is much lower. Here’s a photograph of the board with the lunch menu.
You have no excuses now. Neither do I, because I’ll have to return as soon as possible to admire their wonderful garden, taste the cheese selection I missed out on (or I would have exploded) and because my son Giovanni really wants to see the castle and try the “Cence Mantîl” 🙂
Ph. Andrea Zangrando