Sicily – Ragusa province – eating in Santa Maria del Focallo

As mentioned in my previous post, there aren’t really any good resturants in Santa Maria del Focallo itself, but I tried them all anyway just to make sure. I review them below in order of preference. You’ll find them on my map.

There was one good place about forty minutes’ walk from the Floripa yoga retreat where I was staying, along dimly lit roads with no pavement. However I’ll go to almost any lengths for a good meal…

Ristorante Cianciuolo (High Intermediate B), Strada Provinciale SP67, Via Pozzallo Marza,

This seafood restaurant was recommended on a chef’s Facebook group that I’m a member of. It’s a big place that’s very popular with the locals, so it’s a good idea to reserve, especially if you want to sit outside on the terrace.

The idea is that you pick the fish you want from the counter display inside and they will cook it in salt or grill it with tomatoes.

This huge bass was brought out on a trolley and served to a table of six. The waiter poured some grappa over the top and set fire to it before filleting and serving it, although I suspect this was more for show rather than any culinary reason.

I went twice and had some pretty decent food on both occasions. The first time I started with the Antipasti Pescatore (B) followed by Ravioli Crostacae con Gambero e Asparagi di Mare, pasta parcels with a shellfish filling, covered with red prawns and samphire (B). The second time I had the Tagliolini con Gambero e Pistacchio di Bronte, pasta with (non-local?) prawns and pistachio nuts (from a village famous for them), which I must try to recreate one day (B+) and Gamberoni Arrosto, grilled red prawns (B).

You can view the desserts in a display case by the till, and they do look lovely, especially the strawberry tart, but the cannolo I was served tasted of the fridge and I had them take it off the bill (C).

Apologies for the poorly lit photography but it was quite dark out on the terrace.

A popular Sicilian wine for seafood is Grillo which unusually comes from the west of the island (the best whites are from Etna).

These next three places are quite close to each other, about twenty minutes’ walk from the Floripa yoga retreat.

Verde Basilico (High Intermediate C+) 33 Strada Provinciale SP67

A big, brash local events space with lots of outdoor seating. The food was variable but I did really enjoy their Pizza Fritta, stuffed with anchovies, olives, capers and cow’s milk mozzarella (B+), alongside their sizeable Ortolano mixed salad (B+).

On another occasion I was less satisfied with their slightly oversalted Zuppa di Cozze (C), and their undercooked Pacchero Gambero Rosso e Vongole which only contained four red prawns, two of which were very small, for a pricey €25 (C-).

The house red is drinkable (B) but I wasn’t too keen on the house white (C) and went for a bottle of red Nerello Mascalese instead, which was very leggy and a steal at only €15.

The Pistacchio Parfait was nice (B).

So a mixed bag then but okay if you choose well. There was a kids birthday party going on in an adjacent area both times I went so it was quite noisy (Barbie Girl disco anyone?) and I had to bat a few soap bubbles away from my food, but I quite enjoy watching Italians at play so didn’t mind too much.

The service gets slated in many Google reviews, and I think you probably have to wait a while for your food when it’s very busy as the waiters have a lot of ground to cover. However most things arrived very quickly in my experience. My waiter, one of the more experienced older ones, took a shine to me though because, as he told me, he doesn’t often get English customers who speak any Italian. He even treated me to a free double of my beloved blood orange bitter, Amaro Amara.

Il Braciere (Intermediate C), 12 Via dell’Alloro

Just a short walk further is this grilled meat specialist. The food is just okay and the ambience leaves a lot to be desired as the terrace is right next to their car park.

Again I went twice, the first time starting with Antipasti Rustico which consisted of ‘salsiccia secca, formaggio, olive, funghi, melanzana sott ‘olio, zucchina marinata, spinaci, arancine e polpette di carne e crocche di patate’ (dried sausage, cheese, olives, mushrooms, aubergine in oil, marinated zucchini, spinach, ragu rice ball, meatball and potato croquette). The latter three items are the balls and were the nicest things on the plate (B), the rest was average (C) but it was only €7! The plate above the antipasti is sliced up Scaccia (pronounced ‘sha cha), which is a kind of stuffed foccaccia that is a speciality of Ragusa.

After this I enjoyed their Ravioli di Ricotta al Sugo, ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese in a tomato sauce (B), and with a half litre of house red (B-) and two doubles of Amaro Amara, it came to a grand total of only €26!

The second time I had their Bistecca alla Fiorentina, served with rocket and parmesan chunks, which was huge, probably about a kilo in weight! I’ve had the real thing in a town just outside Florence (post here) and this wasn’t in the same league by a mile as it was quite tough (C), but it did press my meat buttons after all the seafood. The tomato salad and the chips were an overkill though and I struggled to do it all justice.

So not the best place but it did make a change.

Il Veliero (Intermediate D), 52 Via del Frassino,

This place got two visits as well but I walked out the second time when some locals on the only other table got served before me after I’d been waiting about ten minutes. The staff can’t raise a smile between them and I knew the food was mediocre from my first visit so I decamped to Verde Basilico next door instead.

I probably should have taken heed of the warning signs from the first visit. Their Pizza Margherita promised buffalo milk mozzarella which I know isn’t produced in Sicily so I was intrigued to see what it was like and my worst fears were confirmed. The pizza base was charred a little too much on the sides and was still doughy in the centre and the toppings seemed overdry and didn’t fully cover the base (C).

Their Pistacchio Parfait is okay though (B).

To drink I was intrigued to try their Cerasuolo from the nearby town of Vittoria but found it unremarkable (C). I will try it again elsewhere though as it is a well-reputed wine. As ever, a very cold double Amaro Amara cheered my journey home.

So not somewhere I’ll return but their terrace was quite busy the first time so it can’t all be bad. I did also spot one of my yoga teachers eating there having a crafty fag which burst a bubble somewhat.

On to the seaside town of Marzamemi next!

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