Mussels in Taranto
Not even mentioned in local guides, Taranto is Puglia’s dirty secret; a near derelict old town with a sprawling port and navy base on one side and oil refineries on the other. There are more beautiful places in Puglia but it’s still interesting and starts to grow on you quickly. There’s a castle, good views of the two bays, lots of great restaurants and a fair bit of nightlife.
In terms of cuisine, Taranto is famous for its mussels, despite potential pollutants from the worrying amount of industry on the shore line. The seafood in general is famous here, as is the Greek-style roast lamb, olive oil, clementines and other fruit. The region has the Lizzano and Primitivo DOC’s and Birra Raffo is the locally made beer.
Al Gatto Rosso (Intermediate A), 2 via Cavour (off Piazza Garibaldi), Tel. 099 4529875, not Mondays. GEM ALERT!
This is an excellent place, recommended by Gambero Rosso and, specialising in seafood since 1952. It’s semi-formal with friendly, attentive waiters in whites and trainers. I had to have a big bowlful of the famous mussels, with razor clams, cooked in a white wine sauce, generally one of my favourite dishes and in this case perhaps the best I have ever tasted (€7, A+).
To follow I had melt-in-your-mouth Pacchieri ai Frutta di Mare with prawns, baby vongole verace and squid in a tomato and fish sauce (€10, A) and washed it all down with a local white recommended by the owner, ‘Alta’ Bambino ’08 (A) for €9 from Cantina Teanum, which was quite similar to a Falanghina or a Fiano.
To finish, a lemon tart (B+), some complimentary squares of dark chocolate with almonds (A) and a local grappa (B). Even the bread was good (A) which is unusual in Italy. All this for only €36!
Ristorante La Fattoria (Intermediate A), 9 via Abruzzo (in the opposite direction from the old town but worth the trip), Tel. 099 7362560
Another excellent place. Eight of us sat down for lunch and had the Antipasti di Frutta di Mare which included mussels in breadcrumbs (A), sweet pan-fried olives (A), fried red mullet (B), grilled aubergines (A), marinaded anchovies (A), grilled courgette with mint (A), prawns and baby squid (lightly poached in fish stock) (A). My main was a sea bass cooked with delicious olives (A). The Falanghina (A)and novella Primitivo red (B)were very nice too. Finished with a fruit salad which included Figi di India prickly pear (B).
Ristorante Ebalia (Intermediate B), Piazza Ebalia
Seven of us went to this ok place recommended by reception. The highlights of the shared antipasti were, steamed mussels, sardine roe béchamel gratinata baked in a scallop shell, deep fried artichokes stuffed with ricotta, polpo affogato (‘drowned’ octopus) (all B). My primo was a huge portion of seafood linguine (B).
The wine was an excellent Primitivo di Manduria (Villa Mottura ’06) (B+). Our friend Claudia, a wine expert, told us she has never had a bad bottle of Primitivo di Manduria. Nicky had beef steak tagliata on a bed of red chicory (A).
The dessert of Sfoglia con Crema Pasticcera (B+), little sandwiches of puff pastry and vanilla cream dusted with icing sugar, were described by the waiter as ‘sporcomusso’ which translates as ‘dirty mouth’! They are so described because they cover your lower face with powdered sugar and flakes of pastry when you bite them. When they are still warm and washed down with a glass of Muscat di Trani (A), as we did, they are absolutely delightful.
Service ranged from the very friendly to the overly pushy but the food was good.
Exit Village (B), 120 via Cavallotti (on the corner with Lungomare Vittorio Emanuelle).
I was alerted to this bar by the scene of a bloke snogging a drag queen against a skip outside. That’s my kind of place! It’s a cool little mixed bar in a cellar with booths and a big video screen at one end, very near the Mercure Delphino hotel. A grappa costs €4 and comes with half a grape on a cocktail stick. Very camp. They shut at 2am.
There are other bars around too, you can spot the hip places by the crowds outside on the street. The main pub and disco area seems to be along along the Litoranea Salentina seafront.
The Hotel Mercure Delfino at 66 viale Virgilio has free wi-fi in its rooms. Only the rooms at the rear have sea views.
Written November 2009.