We hadn't been to Friuli in two years, so we went for a quick visit. Two very good restaurant meals, two casual osterie and one restaurant that was very disappointing.
The best of our meals was at Sale e Pepe in Stregna, 9 miles east of Cividale del Friuli and tucked right up against the Slovenian border. A lovely couple (Teresa in the kitchen, Franco the sala) who have a very traditional place (in the best sense of the term) which seats about 40 in two well done comfortable rooms, one of which has a marvelous fogolar. There is an excellent wine list (the very best of the trip), moderately priced, divided half and half, whites and reds (unusual for Friuli). We had a 2006 Dorigo Tazzelenghe which was fantastic. Can still taste it. Franco knows a great deal about Friuli wines and is quite happy to share his knowledge. Service is warm, casual, well paced and professional. The restaurant is both in Gambero Rosso and Osterie d' Italia.
The food reflects its location, the great combination of Italian and Slavic influences that makes Friuli such a delight in terms of food. Teresa is a pro. This is no ordinary osteria/ristorante. Her ingredients are as fresh as can be, the combinations are excellent,there is a great deal of skill on those plates and plating is attractive without being fussy.
We had an amuse of a bit of soup: white polenta cooked in milk, with lots of wild herbs. Delicious. Then we started with a large plate of salame, mortadella and prosciutto... all made with goose! We'd had it many years ago, but this was extraordinary. Then for the primi, we had light blini di grano saraceno (they do not call them crespelle) filled with wild asparagus with just enough jus to coat the asparagus; and gnocchi di ortiche with a goose ragu. For secondi: guancia, white polenta, peas and red onions; stewed duck with spring vegetables and polenta. A wonderful crema di menta with salsa di fragola... and a delicious gubana for the desserts. There was lots more on the menu which changes frequently (and with the seasons). We hope to try the other dishes soon. If you go to Cividale (a lovely town), this is the place to go to.
Our other very good meal was a place we hadn't been to in more than 20 years, though we've been up to Friuli fairly often. La Subida is just outside of Cormons. The entire evening was delightful: excellent food; a very good wine list reasonably priced; warm, casual, professional service, a few unusual dishes. The restaurant has been around forever, but it is not tired, not run down and certainly not living off its past glory. The next generation is very much in evidence and there was a good spirit from the family members and the rest of the staff. The restaurant was full on a Monday evening and it was a lively atmosphere. We had a merlot (something we almost never have, but it's not easy to find great reds in Friuli; the Dorigo Tazzelenghe was an exception), a 2007 Franco Toros Riserva which we very much enjoyed much to our surprise.
An amuse of frico to start. Thin, crisp and flavorful, just the way we like it. Then a large plate of the last of the season's white asparagus, what a treat. For primi: I Mlinci e l'Orto, fresh pasta with vegetables and pieces of goose and an herb which was described, but was local...really good; tortelli stuffed with potatoes, herbs and onions with a light vegetable sauce. Then a boned, rolled and stuffed faraona with a cherry sauce. I had fegato di vitello alla brace. Both secondi were outstanding. I'd go back in a second for that fegato. Their version of tiramisu (very good) and then that incredible Friuli digestivo Abuja's Pelinkovac, which really does clear up any indigestion :).
We had two simple meals at La Subida's osteria right down the road. Good light food (frico, pea soup, frittata with greens, prosciutto from San Daniele etc, a good wine list (one lunch we had, again surprisingly, an excellent bottle of Renato Keber's 2003 Merlot Riserva). Also a light lunch at Mulin Vicio in Garadisca. It always has been a pleasant place if you're near Gradisca.
We stayed at Livio Felluga's B&B, Terre e Vini, in the hamlet just north of Cormons. Perfect location. Friendly staff. Very nice rooms (make sure to get one in the back away from the road). Ate at the osteria. It was okay, nothing more.
Our one disaster of a meal was at Borgo Colmello in Farra d"Isonzo. A snail and wine wine bottle in the Osterie d' Italia, usually a great sign. Poor wine list. Ordered a bottle. It was oxidized. The owner came out and said it wasn't oxidized; it was, not even close (I can't remember how many years ago it has been since I've sent back a bottle, although, of course, have been tempted to periodically; but this bottle was undrinkable). Didn't offer to take it back (first mistake). Okay, I said, we'll order another bottle and we'll pay for the bad bottle. La Signora brings over the wine list. I pick another bottle and just to make sure, both my wife and I said to her "we're ordering a 2003 Keber Merlot Riserva" (the same wine we had another night). She repeated it, the year and wine. Two minutes later she brings out the bottle, already opened (second mistake) and a different year (third mistake). The food was fine; the people who run the osteria were not. Not a smile, even before the wine problems. We, of course, paid full price for the two bottles. Do not go.