Il Rifugio offers a refuge with great food near Aviano Air Base
October 30, 2014
If you’re seeking a peaceful meal away from the bustle of Aviano Air Base, Italy, a narrow road that bends through the towns of Budoia and Dardago will lead you to the right place: Il Rifugio.
Trees from Val de Croda Park and the absence of street lights created a tranquil setting as I parked my car and enjoyed the sounds of nearby rushing water and the aromas of smoked meat from the kitchen.
The interior, which boasted stone walls and wooden beams across the ceiling, seemed to blend in perfectly with the restaurant’s scenic, mountainous backdrop. A few pictures of Il Rifugio from 1933 to 1998 cover a portion of one wall, showing the transformation it has undergone since it was built in 1842 and used as a refuge for people seeking shelter and wanting to trade goods in the park.
Manlio Signora, who is Il Rifugio’s chef, and his wife, Marina, opened the restaurant in 1992, and have embraced it as a member of their family.
“I have one son and one daughter, and Il Rifugio is our third son,” Manlio said, as he explained how much time and work he puts into the restaurant. “It’s a big part of our life and part of our family.”
The Signoras grow vegetables for use at the restaurant and make the flour for an assortment of breads, including the soft and moist white flour bread I enjoyed with a creamy chive-and-butter spread before my appetizer. All of the breads served at Il Rifugio are baked at the restaurant.
Many of the cheeses, meats and fish served are locally acquired and are prepared depending on the seasons.
November happens to be the month of the goose in Italy, Manlio explained, and that will be a great time to order it from the menu.
I decided to take the advice — even though it wasn’t November yet — and ordered an appetizer of smoked breast of goose, which was thinly sliced, much like prosciutto, accompanied by walnut bread and lightly salted butter.
I allowed Manlio Signora to choose the main course — L’impiccato, which translates as “the hanged.” “Hanged” refers to the meat, which is suspended from a spit. He explained that his special recipe is a favorite among patrons — in particular American guests, who typically enjoy a healthy serving of meat.
This specialty was no exception: three pieces of meat — Angus beef, venison and pork — hung from a spit, separated by a mildly seasoned potato and a bold tomato.
Although dessert isn’t included with the combination meal, a query about what they’re serving that day is a must. Much like the rest of my meal, the hazelnut-and-buckwheat cake, stuffed with raspberry jam, was more than fitting for this countryside restaurant.
With the outstanding quality of its menu, it’s no wonder that President Bill Clinton paid Il Rifugio a visit during a trip to Aviano in 1999.
“One of the best joys I have in life is when people come back after 15 or 20 years and still remember my dishes,” Manlio Signora said. “You will find me here as long as I enjoy myself, and the day I stop enjoying myself you will find Il Rifugio closed.”