This was our 4th visit to Laite, a restaurant in the ski resort town of Sappada in the North-East of Italy, close to the Austrian border. Just the way the restaurant looks tells you that Austria is not far away. We have been coming here since 2007 and it has always been a pleasure. Laite has only one Michelin star, but we enjoy it better than dinners at many three star restaurants.
One of the reasons for that was Roberto, the owner and host, who used to run the restaurant, together with his wife Fabriazia in the kitchen. His charm, enthusiasm, hospitality, and ability to pair food and wine were legendary. We had noticed during our visit in 2015 that his health was deteriorating, but it still came as a shock to hear that he has very recently passed away (during our trip, actually). But his daughter Elena has taken over in the dining room and she is just as charming, enthusiastic, and hospitable. The young sommelier has been taught well by Roberto and is already a master in pairing food and wine from which many other sommeliers could learn a few things. We were shocked by this news and offered our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family.
Like many other restaurants, at Laite the lockdown has been used to experiment and develop new dishes. Next to the 9-course degustation menu of more traditional dishes (Asou, 95 euros) there is now a 13-course degustation menu of more inventive dishes (Plissn, 130 euros). We opted for the latter, with wine pairing (50 euros).
The aperitif was a Alta Langa extra brut from Pinot Nero and Chardonnay.
The amuse bouche were very nice; especially the venison hamburger was delicious.
There were many different types of bread. I thought the ‘regular’ bread was the best, with excellent crumb and crust.
First course of Plissn: lightly marinated trout with vinegar ice cream, lettuce, orzo ‘krupuk’, sprayed with juniper aroma. The combination of textures, temperatures, and flavors was really nice. The vinegar ice cream tasted a lot better than you’d expect from the name. I could not really make out the juniper spray. The trout was mostly their for the texture and could have used a bit more salt. The pairing with the sparkling wine worked well. 8/10
The next wine was a 2016 Pinot Grigio from Veneto. Because it had matured a bit, the volcanic minerality had come to the forefront, giving it a nice complexity.
It was a good pairing for the ‘yellow and orange painting’ made with bell pepper, tomato, carrot, pumpkin, curcuma, and cheddar. 8/10
Matched even better with the same wine was the rabbit tartare with pickled radishes and lovage remoulade. This is the first time I’ve had rabbit tartare, and it was excellent. Very tender with a nice flavor of rabbit. The wine pairing was outstanding. 10/10
The next wine was unexpected at this point of the menu: a Moscato d’Asti, which is usually used as a dessert wine.
The vintage was even more surprising: 16 years old, whereas Moscato d’Asti is usually best when drunk within two months (!) after bottling. This wine had aged very nicely though. The muscat character was still there but more complex and elegant, and the same goes for the sweetness.
This came with an unusual dish that could also have been a dessert: red fruits with frothy goat cheese, bottarga, and fresh peppercorns. A very original dish that was very tasty, although it was a bit difficult to get the balance just right: it was at its best with just the right balance between goat cheese, fruit, and bottarga, and it was up to you to find that balance with your spoon. The best spoonfuls were 10/10, but overall 9/10.
The next pairing was beer. I am not a beer person (to me all beer tastes horrible), so I am refraining from commenting on it. I can say that the beer was less disgusting to me paired with the food, but most of my beer ended up with Kees.
With the beer came a delicious pretzel made with milk thistle (cardus marianus), stuffed with porcini mushrooms, smoked boar, radicchio, and a crest sauce. 10/10.
This Gewurztraminer from Alto Adige was elegant compared to many other Gewurztraminers from that area, which made it a good pairing for the next dish…
…which was lobster with coconut milk, samphire, chicken livers, and summac. This flirts with a Thai curry without the chillies, and the chicken livers (cooked medium rare) were a really nice touch. 9/10
The next dish was accompanied by a small glass of mead rather than wine. It was ‘risotto’ of green farro with donkey milk, green tea, goji berries, and spruce.
The spruce aroma was enhanced by the spruce under the bowl. A very unusual dish with vegetal flavors and aromas. 8/10
A Collio Chardonnay from the 2000 vintage, aged very nicely and a perfect pairing for…
…catfish with truffle, morels and peas. 9/10
Another unusual wine. A Gaglioppo rosé from the Cirò area in Calabria is not unusual, but it is when it is. 7 years old. The rosé had aged remarkably well.
It was paired first with tortelli made from grape pulp (left over after wine making) stuffed with braised oxtail, with pickled daikon, hibiscus, and indian cress. The tortelli were tiny, but bursting with flavor and a fantastic pairing for the rosé. 10/10
The same rosé was also a great pairing for sweetbread in sweetbread broth with puffed gnocchi, pickled melon, and salmon caviar. This was probably the best sweetbread dish I’ve ever had. 9/10
The Barbera from Nizza was from 2013, but still very vibrant.
It was perhaps a bit too vibrant for the next dish of venison fillet with mushrooms (similar to chantarelles), hay ashes, and konbu. A wine with more tertiary aromas would have worked even better with this dish, although it was certainly not a bad pairing. The konbu and hay ashes did not have a lot of flavor and could have been omitted, but the venison and mushrooms were very nice. 8/10
The pre-dessert was a fennel sorbet with cucumber and katsuobushi. Using Japanese ingredients seems in Italian dishes seems to be a trend this year.
The final wine was a Reciotto della Valpolicella from 2010, aged nicely.
The combination of dark chocolate and passion fruit is a well known one, and I’ve also made my own version of it, but here it was taken to the next level by the addition of coffee and cardamom. This was great and a wonderful pairing with the Recioto. 10/10
The meal ended with some nice friandises.
Food (9/10), wine (9.5/10) and service (9/10) are as great as ever at Laite, and the restaurant offers great value for money. Although Laite has held only 1 Michelin star for a long time, I’d prefer it over most 2 star and some 3 star restaurants. The dishes are creative and beautifully presented, but the flavor remains the most important. This is one of the few restaurants in Italy that understands the importance of wine pairings and does it perfectly. We can’t wait for our next time!