Antonia Klugmann, born in 1979 in Trieste, chef and owner of the Argine restaurant in Vencò (Dolegna del Collio, Gorizia) since December 2014 (photo instagram.com/antoniaklugmann)
It's not easy to climb up here, on the border with Slovenia: the motorway from Veneto is scourged by works in progress, there are only a dozen flights landing and taking off from Trieste airport every day, and the regional train to Cormons is half the pace of the Frecce trains. But Antonia and Vittoria Klugmann's L'Argine di Vencò makes a mockery of accidents and continues to overflow with ideas, customers and freshness like few other restaurants. A slow and inexorable growth, the same rhythm as the beloved wild vegetable garden that grows progressively in the perimeter.
The restaurant's first service, we discover going backwards, is dated December 2014. In almost a decade, the restaurant in Dolegna del Collio (Gorizia) has become a special table among the special ones in the country. This is not attested to by coats of arms or who knows what awards in the trophy room: there are 50 other restaurants with over one Michelin star and being in the World's 50Best (which would fit right in) is certainly not an objective to which the two sisters dedicate time and resources.
The restaurant is surrounded by vegetable gardens, wild and domesticated
The construction site covering the work on the cottage next to the restaurant: it will be completed by the end of the year and will open 4 new rooms (in addition to the existing 3)
The 'Territory: Life on the Move' menu includes 11 courses and costs 130 euros. There is also the option 'Il Nostro Menu' (7 courses, 100 euros) and 'Il Piccolo Menu' (6 courses, 90 euros). alcoholic pairing costs 40 and 60 euros (4 and 6 glasses). The wine list, compiled by Roberto Stella with honest mark-ups, is two-thirds dedicated to the best labels from Friuli and Slovenia and one-third to a selection of wines from Italy and the world. The dining room is the sum of Vittoria Klugmann's and Veronica Kriznic's legerdemain and competence
Roasted cherries and fried salad in an infusion of black tea and blackcurrant leaves, an immediately challenging principle
Grey shrimps from the Marano lagoon, their bisque, sorrel in sauce and leaf, juniper and fir oil. Delicious, it contains the only taste of sea that we will find on the entire menu
Al dente potatoes, honeysuckle flower mayonnaise, roasted bitter almonds and raw peas. The potatoes are wonderful and satisfying in their unexpected crunchiness (one potato, one bite), cooked in a butter and lemon emulsion, 'al dente' like the pasta (and peas) (photo Passione Gourmet)
Green spaghetti alla chitarra with wild garlic in borage and lettuce sauces/reductions, herb salt, matcha tea powder, dried and pickled borage Savoury, bitter, earthy
Yellow tomatoes in fennel and liquorice oil. These are the first tomatoes from the Argine's vegetable garden, very young, a preview of a dish on the next menu. It is the taste that has impressed us most, the child of an intuition almost entirely devoid of technical artifice
Artichoke with Jerusalem artichoke. Beneath the blanket of white and black summer truffles hides an artichoke with a tenacious bite, cooked in a Jerusalem artichoke glaze and topped with a white truffle-flavoured butter. The aromatic framework is the sum of herbs with a vague hint of mushroom, especially plantain. On top is a light dusting of coffee powder. A happy game of taste assonance between artichoke and Jerusalem artichoke (a tuber which, not by chance, the Anglo-Saxons call 'Jerusalem artichoke')
In the lamb soup (it’s been so long since we last had some!) we find a handful of ravioli filled with lamb liver pate and two drops (imperceptible, if you don’t know they’re there) of whisky. Fabulous
Beef marrow, red turnip and sauerkraut. The beef marrow is slightly pinkish because it is quickly roasted in the oven. It is served with fermented sauerkraut and a red turnip reduction. Unctuousness, acidity, sweetness: flavours of Eastern Europe. Trivia fact: the plate on which the dish rests is an antique piece the cook found in a flea market
Strozzapreti, caramelised onion sauce, bay leaf extract, cardamom and wild pepper. With the strong callosity of the fresh pasta, the lemony, balsamic aura of the bay leaves wins out (ps. the portion is smaller than usual, at the request of the diner)
The only meat (game) dish on the menu is also the one with the superior technical content: at the moment of ordering, the venison sirloin is moved continuously in the red wine reduction. The five thin slices play hide and seek under beets and carrots from the garden, radish leaves and a mustard sauce
Non-sweet pre-dessert recently on the menu: it is a (very dominant) pistachio sorbet that contains in its small crater a centrifuge of raw green beans. On the left a pumpkin seed puree
Gnocchi, peach curd and sage. A dish that updates the sweet-not-sweet archive, a dessert trend of the last twenty years: the gnocchi are cold, there is sage and the curd (curdled milk to which lemon is normally added) is sweeter because it is transferred to peach
Walnut shortbread, fennel ganache, parsley, rhubarb jelly, custard meringue and ginger. Personality down to the smallest final taste, sums up normally standardised petit fours
The magnificent breakfast at the Argine di Vencò. On the table, clockwise from left: apricot jam buchtel, sourdough and chocolate bread, strawberry jam tartlet, salted butter, sulla honey, apple juice, plum and strawberry jam, cheesecake and strudel, strawberries, yoghurt
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso
Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world
born in Milan, 1973, freelance journalist, coordinator of Identità Golose World restaurant guidebook since 2007, he is a contributor for several magazines and teaches History of gastronomy and Culinary global trends into universities and institutes.