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This is an agriturismo?

Full of despair at our lodging, we take a short drive out of town (Samwise is now functioning at peak efficiency) to La Subida, for dinner in its highly-regarded trattoria. Itís in a beautiful location, with a striking interior (that, tonight, seems to be full of Austrians). Staffed by family, the restaurant serves just one set menu (albeit with a few options in the middle courses) of fresh, pure, of-the-earth food in a hybrid Friulian/Slovenian style. We nosh at a lovely, measured pace, lingering for about three hours over some truly striking food.

But first, thereís the wine list, which weíre handed long before food is mentioned. Thatís a good thing, too, because itís novel-length, with spectacular prices on extensive verticals of the best and brightest of Friuli, most of which Iíve never even heard of outside my research for this trip. Magnums, at even more ridiculously low prices, abound; Iíve never seen so many on a single wine list. Itís like oenophile heaven, in book form. I make some tentative selections and then wait to hear about the food, sipping a complimentary glass of bubbly.

The service is terrifically pleasant, with a low-key feel appropriate to the surroundings. Our waitress explains the menu and its options in slow, careful Italian, making sure we understand (sheís equipped with the English words if we donít) before she proceeds, which is enormously helpful for both our enjoyment of the meal and our growing but still minor skills in Italian. This is the thing the French just wonít do with eager but language-mangling tourists. Italians are just different; they seem to regard all such encounters as potential teaching moments, and weíre grateful for it.

I start my meal with thick-cut deer carpaccio served with shredded horseradish, pomegranate seeds, and greens. As modern usage would have it, this is the Best. Carpaccio. Ever. Itís full of powerful flavor and soulful elegance, with a stunningly evocative quality to the meat, I could eat kilos of this in a single sitting, if allowed. Next is a mťlange of primi Ė though I guess that should be primi misti Ė served one at a time, which leaves Theresa (who orders just one) a little bereft: ravioli with a flawless late-season pomodoro sauce, pumpkin gnocchi with a very herbal beyond-basil pesto, and a dense, eggy, almost bucatini-like pasta with an awe-inspiring ragķ. Iím in culinary nirvana.

To the amusement of our waitress, I move on to a slab of rare venison in a fruit-enhanced reduction sauce (I must have hated Bambi as a child), which is served with candied apples and caramelized root vegetables; again, the superior quality of the meat carries the dish. A local cheese menu is up next, from which we stuff a few slivers into the unfilled corners, and then thereís dessert: a chestnut cream in pastry. Also worth mentioning: the house-made bread is excellent, and unquestionably the best Iíve had in Italy.

After dinner, Iím asked if I want a digestivo. But of course. Our waitress proceeds to wheel a double-tiered grappa cart to our table. Itís insanely impressive, and I simply canít decide from the multitude of choices, so I ask her to pick a pair for me. After a little negotiation, she provides two local distillatesÖone soft, the other more aggressive.

The cost for all this luxury is Ä170, which seems a terrific bargain to me. Iíd love to return, but there are so many other places to go in the region that itís unlikely. Unlike the Felcaro, however, I cannot recommend this place highly enough. Itís magical. (10/07)


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