A Culinary Journey in Italy's Northeast, Part 4


Faith Willinger

In this piece, Faith continues her journey through Italy's Northeast (to view previous posts, click here). Or click here to try a recipe for Al Vescovo's rough-mashed potatoes and vegetable.

It was our first daytime visit to Benjamin Zidarich's winery, a warm sunny day with views from the terrace of fall vineyard foliage, red and gold leaves on the vines, the gulf of Trieste, and the Duino castle. Benjamin and his stonemason friend Marco would join us for lunch in Slovenia at Pri Lojzetu—don't even ask me to pronounce it.

I'd encountered chef Tomaz Kavcic at events in Italy and had been impressed by his food and style. The restaurant is located in an ancient ex-hunting lodge in Zemono, the town where a fierce wind known as the bora is said to originate. Which is why, Tomaz explained, the water glasses on the beautifully set table were tipped over—blown by the bora. The menu, a rustic-paper accordion-fold series of dishes, in Italian and Slovenian, was complex. We let Tomaz choose, and were delighted with fish and seasonal vegetables, simple yet dramatic presentations, perfectly executed, paired with excellent Slovenian wines.

We concluded with a seasonal dessert scene, a slate slab topped with cookies, table strewn with winter leaves and artificial snow. Tomaz Kavcic cooks like an elf.

Heart-shaped cheese and pumpkin seed crisps on a stick, porcini mushrooms topped with a scallop and a melty-thin slice of lardo, served on a hot rock to complete cooking, gnocchi (the lightest of our voyage) with radicchio sauce, casually arranged like a cluster of grapes, with a vine stem garnish to complete the look, fish cooked and served on special local sea salt (Tomaz blends the salt with herbs, spices, and water and creates a brick which is then heated). Desserts were the most dramatic, beginning with a citrusy sorbet surrounded by gin-tonic flavored gelatin. Tomaz brought a low centerpiece of roses and a watering can to the table, poured water (infused with juniper berries) onto the centerpiece (with its hidden dry ice) and clouds of juniper-scented vapor engulfed the table. We couldn't stop laughing or taking pictures. We concluded with a seasonal dessert scene, a slate slab topped with cookies, table strewn with winter leaves and artificial snow. Tomaz Kavcic cooks like an elf. I have to go back.

My friends Cathy, David, and Vito are intrepid eaters. I rose to the occasion, all of us feeling we couldn't miss a meal at Devetak. Gabriella showed me a wealth of truffles, just arrived; we began with Osvaldo's exceptional, lightly smoked prosciutto, and concluded with fried eggs topped with plenty of white truffles.

We shopped at Devetak (preserves, honey) the next morning, breakfasting lightly since we were planning a visit to Lorenzo Osvaldo, lord of prosciutto. He wasn't around, so we said hello to his wife, Lucia, and she gave us a sample, amazingly good. No smoked prosciutto to sell, but if we came back in a few days Lorenzo would divide a whole unsmoked prosciutto for us. A reason to return.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.

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