Zigante restaurant is the flagship of the Zigante Truffle Empire that hunts down, cooks up and sells the prized Istrian delicacy. Based in Livade just outside Motovun in the heart of truffle country, Zigante has stores in six locations throughout the Istrian peninsula (which includes Koper in Slovenia) from which it’s possible to buy a number of Istrian products including preserved truffles. Preserved truffles are fine only if the fresh ones aren’t available but the flavor is nowhere near on the same level.
I tried the Livade restaurant about 10 years ago and was mightily impressed with the sheer variety and imagination with which the chef incorporated truffles into everything from bread to desserts. The price for a full course meal was also astonishingly low, about 140KN if I recall correctly. It was superb value for money.
I stopped in this past week to check up on it and also because I have a hankering for truffles when I’m in Istria. Truffles are available all year with white truffles dominating the autumn season and black truffles dominating the spring and summer.
The first change I noticed in Zigante was the price which has climbed considerably. In the 10 years since my previous visit the restaurant has gained considerable acclaim and truffles are not a cheap treat even in Istria.
On an elegant outdoor terrace, I ordered the homemade tagliatelle with truffles, priced at 160KN. While awaiting its arrival, the waiter brought a small hors d’oeuvre which turned out to be a tiny square of beef paté flavored with truffle of course. The taste of truffle was so mild as to be nearly vaporous and the saltiness of the cracker served with it overwhelmed the taste anyway. The truffle-flavored flaky rolls served with it were OK but not outstanding.
The tagliatelle turned out to be quite tasty and well-made, topped with a butter and cream sauce. The server brought a large black truffle to the table and shaved off five or six slices to be mixed with the pasta. Still, the truffle taste was very, very mild. I’m all for subtlety but I’d also like to taste the tuber. It could be that the pasta could have used a few more shavings or it could be that the truffles this time of year are comparatively mild but I can’t really report that the dish was appreciably better than the fuzi with truffles I had enjoyed the day before in Bale. Some of the other dishes on the menu look most interesting however and I may well try one of them next time. You can download the menu here.