This time Stefano Tesi takes the floor:
If it weren't for the traffic-laden asphalt snake that the Statale della Val Venosta (and thank heavens for the new tunnels, which reduce the drive from Merano to less than a half hour) has become, the place would be the perfect setting for certain dire tales of Austria Felix, the Hapsburg Empire, and Joseph Roth.
The town, with the castle dominating the ancient thoroughfare, which belonged to a Tyrolean family long since died out, the tiny station and its trains, the orchards and vegetable patches, the snowy peaks, the hushed atmosphere of the provinces, the crisp mountain air, the delightful art deco dome that has been there for more than a century, and is the source of the name of the inn, to which -- in our imaginary world -- Anselm Eibenschütz, the calibration master in Roth's "the wrong weight" might go every day.
But reality differs. And is better. Because under that dome there really is an inn, with just three rooms. And more importantly there is the Kuppelrain, fief of Chef Jorg Trafojer, his wife Sonja and their children Kevin, Natalie e Giulya. I mention them all because they are the restaurant. Everyone, some every night and others more sporadically. Providing a sense of family that, without detracting at all from the place's elegance, defines it.
A starred restaurant, I want to emphasize. One of those that fully deserves its star, and that, if it were less out of the way, might have gotten is sooner, and even have more than one. But to dwell on this is irrelevant. Because the Kuppelrain is a symbol. The Symbol of the Val Venosta, of the inkeeper's talent, and of his wife's dynamic drive. And of a family's vocation, which began long ago and continues with the new generation. Deep rooted, in short. A vocation not just never refuted, but that continually reemerges in their actions, their habits, and their ideas. I have watched the elder Trafojer work in the garden and among the fruit trees, and Jorj and Sonja quarry the stones destined to line the cellar by hand and carry them home on their shoulders. I have watched them measure the space destined to become the new hall. I have seen the place change, becoming more attractive, never loosing sight of good taste or exaggerating, because the tables are the same: a few dozen. Otherwise, goodbye intimacy.
And I have also noted, in the almost 20 years I have been going, how Jorg's cooking has grown and evolved. Without betraying his pragmatic foundations: menus that follow the seasons, considerable reliance on their own vegetables and ingredients they make themselves (Kuppelrain's speck is more than mythical, it's mystical), respect for the ingredients, and unfailing balance between tradition and creativity. Alto Adige and Val Venosta mingled with other flavors. Everyone says they do it, but few really succeed.
The cellar is instead ruled by Sonja, a careful observer of the world of wine and an even more careful sommelier. And here again there's the balance between local and elsewhere, indigenous and international, many bottles but no excess, courtesy, smiles and friendliness.
At the table (my table, the one on the right by the window looking towards the castle) the best tack is to leave things to the masters of the house. But to enjoy reading the menu. March, in the Val Venosta, is asparagus season. An irresistible temptation for the chef, and for us too.
And since the Kuppelrain is always there, a hundred yards from the train station and half way between Resia or Glorenza in one direction, and Bolzano in the other, stopping becomes habitual. Once I arrived with the flu. They took such good care of me I hoped I wouldn't get well.
Via Stazione 16, Castelbello (BZ)
Telefono: 0473 624103
E-Mail: info (at) kuppelrain.com
Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.
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