Saint Hubertus: the Alpe's strength

I have an amazing tarte tatin in front of me, pure pleasure with its crunchy and old-fashioned pastry and that caramelized flavour that reminds me of lunches of the past and good clothes: the vanilla ice cream that goes with it is amazing, soft and abundant. I raise my eyes from the plate and feel at home.

This section of the Dolomites is a place where I often return, the ski slopes are groomed like an Italian garden, with care and expertise, perfect for carving on skies: they have been the reason for returning here at least as much as this restaurant, which I have seen change and grow with my own eyes over the years.

Norbert Niederkofler is a friend, I will state this immediately, I am bias, but his enchanting table is a dream. The grey loden fabric of the chairs and walls, the raw wood, the old Hapsburg furniture, the deer horns and the shining crystals. Everything at the St Hubertus calls out territory and landscape. But it's especially the cuisine that smells of heimat, of home country.

If you were kidnapped, like in an American series, hooded and seated at one his tables in the dark to taste dishes, you would know immediately, exactly where you are. If Norbert's cuisine were a glass of wine, the right word would be territory.

A menu with carefully chosen and selected products, mostly originating the province of Bolzano, with a few well-measured incursions from the neighbouring Veneto region, for sea and valley flavours. But the hand in the kitchen is modern and ambitious, at times even technical, but never flaunted.

I start with the unavoidable aperitif in front of the chimney, nice and welcoming with that smell of mountain and happy days, a glass of champagne pleasantly cutting with a perfect hint of false truffle, a praline that looks like a truffle, explosive to the palate and fun, with scents of woods and autumn. Then at the table we start with a round of starters that are elegant and modern, always delicate and ancestral with their references to earth and herbs: the lavaret tartar with purslane and radishes is rhythmic like its name, Mountain River, the venison mille-feuille with beetroot is a territorial and elegant mouthful.

We then reach the serious part, the snails in the vegetable plot with parsley, radish and earth scented gel are old-fashioned and primitive, they smell of earth and cold winters, of wild and food stolen from the landscape.

The risotto with Graukase (Tyrolean grey cheese) has an extra drive thanks to being smoked on wood, pure gluttony, with that oafish light and shade given by the onions braised in apple vinegar. The ravioli are explosive thanks to their liquid caprino cheese filling, enriched by the sensual and greasy bite of caramelized eel. More conventional and fashionable are the beetroot gnocchi with the exotic touch of Daikon: I wonder if beetroot is not the rocket of nowadays?

The main courses are sumptuous, solid and material, as one is no longer accustomed to. The chicken from the Berici hills, which is served in two dishes, tastes of old fashioned farmyards, bourgeois festivities and shrewd farmers: the elegant and delicious breast served with the international flavour of quinoa, the rest in red wine, with a pleasantly rustic flavour. The fillet cooked in hay is a classic carnivorous and manly mouthful.

The service works a treat, coordinated by Christian Rainer, a young metre-sommelier who always rises to the occasion and is capable of making you discover the pleasure of wines originating between Alto Adige, Austria and Germany. His knowledge of these territories and of the magic of Riesling are worth a visit alone.

After the tarte tatin I stand-up, it's snowing and Norbert smiles at me from behind his dark glasses... I can't wait to return and get lost in the Alps!

Tags: Dolomiti / San Cassiano / Hotel Rosa Alpina / Norbert Niederkofler / Saint Hubertus / Badia /

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