Jon and I spent last week skiing in Cortina d’Ampezzo and despite some residual soreness (seriously, I must have thighs of steel now), I loved every minute of our trip.
I grew up skiing almost once a week in the ultra-icy Poconos, which means that while I know how to ski, I have long associated the sport with anything except glamor and fun. But when our friend, Jane, proposed a group ski trip and responded enthusiastically to the idea of going to Cortina, I jumped at the chance to experience a little dolce vita on the slopes. Cortina, several friends had told me, was a great place to ski if you value eating as much as (or more than) skiing.
And just 24 hours after we’d booked our flights to Venice, this article (“Fresh Powder Meets Fine Dining in Cortina d’Ampezzo”) appeared in the New York Times travel section. Thus validating the feeling that we were on to a good thing.
As the article describes, in Cortina, there are lots of rifugios (huts) where you can eat on the slopes. A few Cortina rifugios serve what you’d expect at a ski resort – sausages, schnitzel, french fries – all self-service on trays. But others, like the ones written up in that New York Times article, serve high-quality, delicious northern Italian food, sometimes on white tablecloths.
The rifugio that caught our fancy so much that we ate lunch there three times was, surprisingly, not mentioned in the New York Times article: Baita Pie’ Tofana.
A friend of a friend owns a house in Cortina, and he recommended Baita Pie’ Tofana as not just the best rifugio in the mountains, but also the best restaurant in Cortina. So despite having to ski down a few steeper-than-we’d-like bits to reach Baita Pie’ Tofana, Jon and I showed up for lunch on Day 1 of our ski trip, and three lunches later, Baita Pie’ Tofana holds a special place in our hearts.
Our favorite starter was a warm salad comprised of radicchio and speck, both popular local ingredients. Setting aside the axiom that all things cooked with bacon are winners, this salad was a masterpiece of textures and flavors. The mildly-bitter, crunchy radicchio complemented and balanced out the crispy speck and tangy-sweet vinegar. Of course, eating it outside on a sunny deck with views of the mountains and to a soundtrack of happy Italian diners helps. Perfetto.
Given the kitchen’s masterful way with speck, it’s no surprise that I also loved Pie’ Tofana’s homemade, pillowy-soft gnocchi with speck and aubergine.
I’m not a lover of beetroot and left to my own devices wouldn’t order it when there is speck on offer, but casunziei all’ampezzana is the local specialty, so Jon and I gave it a try. The beetroot filling was, as expected, sugary, but the dish was saved from cloying sweetness by salty Parmesan and nutty poppy seeds.
Everyone loves a mountain of snowy Parmesan curls on their rustic bigoli served in a spicy tomato sauce, no?
And on our last day in Cortina, we pushed the boat out and ordered the tagliatelle with veal sweetbreads and black truffle. The kitchen was generous with the black truffle, and the woody-mushroom shavings mixed well with the creamy sweetbreads. Definitely not your everyday ski fare.
Ossobuco needs no introduction, but Baita Pie’ Tofana’s version included the biggest portion of marrow-in-the-bone that it has ever been my pleasure to scoop out and savor. And because I was skiing in between meals, there was no guilt. Score.
Despite its somewhat bizarre presentation (i.e., the rabbit bacon cone shoved into the polenta mound), Il Coniglio (rabbit served three ways) was another standout. There were roasted rabbit ribs and a juicy, meaty portion of rabbit loin stuffed with rabbit liver.
And there can’t be many places on the slopes that end your meal with mignardises.
Jon and I loved eating at Pie’ Tofana. It wasn’t just the food that won us over, but also the unique experience of sitting down for a fine meal dressed in grubby, sweaty ski clothes while taking in the mountain scenery and sunshine. Servers were always polite and professional, and by Lunch Number 2, they gave us a lot less attitude for not having made a reservation in advance.
The only downside to Pie’ Tofana was the price tag. For the quality, the food was reasonably-priced, but I’ll admit I was annoyed by the 5-euro-per-person coperto (a bit high, I thought) and 4.50 per bottle of water (because God forbid you can successfully order tap water in Italy). Jon and I generally each had a pasta and shared a main and starter. With a shared glass of wine, our lunch tabs averaged 65-70 euros for two.
So if you’re an easy-going skier but a champion eater, get thee to Cortina, and be sure to stop by Baita Pie’ Tofana.
Baita Pie’ Tofana, Cortina d’Ampezzo, at the base of the Rumerlo chair lift and easily reachable from the easy slopes of Socrepes; +39 0436 4258. [And Cortina is a relatively-straightforward 2-hour drive north from Venice Marco Polo Airport.]