Friuli! Day 1: Valter Scarbolo and how he reshaped the way Americans think about Italian cuisine

Today’s post is the first in a series on my recent trip to Friuli with sommelier Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan McKinnon-Patterson, owners of Frasca in Boulder.

Above: Valter Scarbolo (pronounced SKAR-boh-loh), right. His family’s landmark restaurant La Frasca in the province of Udine (Friuli) helped to create a new paradigm for Italian food in the U.S. That’s Shelley Lindgren of A16 (San Francisco) and Joe Campanale of Dell’Anima (New York) in the foreground. When Valter speaks, North American restaurateurs listen intently.

Few if any Italian food and wine insiders, I’m sure, would disagree with me: the first place you need to eat when you visit Friuli for food and wine tourism is Valter Scarbolo’s La Frasca in Lauzacco (not far from Udine).

When I arrived in Friuli in mid-September, the first place my good friend Wayne took me to eat was Valter’s place. (Here’s the post I did the next day on our amazing meal.)

Above: Among other key elements to contemporary Italian cuisine in the U.S., Valter has introduced a generation of North American restaurateurs to the concept of “cult prosciutto,” in this case Prosciutto d’Osvaldo.

A note on the term frascafrasca (Italian) or frasčhe (Friulian) means simply branch. Linguistically and culinarily, it represents a wonderful instance of metonymy (“the action of substituting for a word or phrase denoting an object, action, institution, etc., a word or phrase denoting a property or something associated with it,” OED online edition). In Friuli, a frasca was a roadside stand where producers of cured meats, cheeses, and wines would set up shop to sell their wares. Some believe a branch was placed by the side of the road to draw attention to the stand, while others believe that the vendors would display their products under the shade of a branch. Of course, where wine, prosciutto, and cheese are sold, customers will want to taste with the producer. Ultimately, the term frasca began to denote (as a metonym) a place where patrons gathered to eat (there is a kinship here with the word trattoria). Today, the term is regularly used to denote a restaurant, although Valter’s venue, “La Frasca,” remains the frasca by antonomasia.

Above: One of the amazing dishes that didn’t make it into my post about dinner with Valter Scarbolo was this orzotto, a “risotto” made with barley instead of rice, chanterelle mushrooms and squab ragù.

We all (or at least some of us) remember the “Northern Italian Cuisine” revolution of the 1980s, when restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco seemed determined to expunge “Southern Italian Cuisine” from their menus. In fact, it would more properly be called “pseudo-Northern Italian Cuisine” because the true regional Italian cuisine shift toward the north didn’t take shape until the Bastianich-Batali powerhouse Babbo opened in New York City in the late 1990s.

With the rise of the Bastianich empire in the late 1990s, a new generation of high-end American diners were introduced to Friulian cuisine, first through the Istrian clan’s Frico bar in Manhattan, which I believe opened in 1996 and closed in 2007 (see Eric the Red’s 1996 review here), and then later through Frasca in Boulder, which was opened by Bobby and Lachlan in 2004 (IMHO, one of the top-five Italian restaurants in the U.S. today).

I can tell you from personal experience that both sets of restaurateurs view Valter and his restaurant (which can trace its origins back to the 1960s) as a paradigm for Italian cuisine and hospitality.

Above: The Tagliolini “San Daniele,” actually made at Valter’s using prosciutto by D’Osvaldo, which is made in Cormons, not San Daniele.

The Friulians are an industrious people. Valter is the apotheosis of that spirit and his bright personality and spirtuality express themselves in the metrics of his family’s wines, his superb cuisine, and his warm hospitality. Anyone who knows the man personally, I’m sure, would share my impression.

To know Valter is to know true Friulian gastronomy and I consider myself lucky to know both.

There are many places I’ll be taking Tracie P to dine when we go to Friuli for our vacation in February. But the first will be Valter’s Frasca.

Next up: Ronco del Gnemiz, one of my favorite Friulian wineries…

7 thoughts on “Friuli! Day 1: Valter Scarbolo and how he reshaped the way Americans think about Italian cuisine

  1. I certainly share your impression, we had a great meal at La Frasca tonight. Great food and converstaion with Valter about all things Italian – wine, food, restaurants and even politics – wonderful hospitality.

  2. Jeremy and Tracie P, are the most interesting foodie couple I have ever read. You are both fantastic in what you write and photograph and your knowledge of Friulano culture is off the scale. Have you ever been to the Frasca Al Copari in Craoretto., I am not sure if there still open. I did visit them more then 8 years ago; They did make their own wine and the mothers name was Anna Maria lesizza. Valter’s restaurant I have never been too, must go next time. Saluto – mandi. Marco Bianco, Phoenix, Arizona

  3. @Matt Valter is the real deal. I can’t wait to take Tracie P there. Thanks for stopping by Do Bianchi!

    @Marco Tracie P and I are so glad to have connected with you (thanks to Bobby). Thanks for the kind words… One of these days, I hope we’ll get a chance to taste together in Friuli. And in the meantime, Tracie P and I are trying to figure out a time when we can stop in Phoenix on our way to San Diego so that we can check out your restaurant… Would so love to do that… And yes, I know you will really dig Valter and his food… :-) thanks for the comment…

  4. Bravissmo Jeremy!.. e il fatto che Valter ha un sorriso splendido, meravigliosi occhi blu come l’Adriatico, e qualche volta balla quasi bene, non lo racconti? E’ importante farlo sapere a tutti perche’ completa l’immagine di un magnifico uomo.

  5. @Wanda so great to see you here! Non sapevo che Valter fosse amante del ballo… e sono perfettamente d’accordo: Valter non è solo vignaiolo e ristoratore, è (come direbbero i miei correligionari) un vero mensch… :-)

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