Archive for the Sicily Category

Buenos Aires – Palermo Soho – Restaurants & Bars

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Palermo, Palermo Soho with tags , , , , , on November 13, 2015 by gannet39

Along with Palermo Hollywood (see separate post), Palermo Soho forms what is still sometimes called Palermo Viejo. For me it’s the biggest, and best, entertainment district in BsAs.

La Cabrera (Advanced A+), 5065 Cabrera, Palermo Soho, Tel.4832 2259,

For my colleagues; La Cabrera is just 25 mins and $60 in a taxi from the Hotel Sileo, so you need to meet in the lobby at 6.15.

This is my favourite steakhouse in Baires, an example of a restaurant that has got everything right, down to the last detail, as far as I’m concerned anyway. The fact that they’ve had to open an annex on the next block (La Cabrera Norte at Cabrera 5127) to cope with demand demonstrates how successful they’ve been.

I love everything about the place; the waiters in flat caps and leather aprons, the dish clothes for napkins, the food porn on the telly, the mobiles of toy cars and other amusing artworks, the pics of gorgeous female Hollywood stars in the gents (also vice versa I’m sure) and the soundtrack of accordion covers of Spandau Ballet tunes. It’s the little details like these that add so much to the experience and in my opinion it’s everything a modern parrilla should be.

Naturally a place of such quality is not particularly cheap but another great thing is that everything you order between 7 and 8pm is 40% off the asking price on the menu, including the wine. This of course is great for people who like to eat early, like the English. You should aim to arrive at about 6.45 to snag an outdoor table. The terrace was full by 7.10pm when I arrived (on a week day) so I had to sit inside. By 8pm other latecomers were queuing down the street.

While you’re waiting for you food to reach the table you’re provided with a small dish of gorgeous liver pate (B+) and a basket of different kinds of excellent bread (B+), which comes with some nice mayo (B) and delicious cherry tomatoes (A).

The half portion (still huge) of Mollejas Grilladas I had for my starter were the best I’ve ever tasted. Euphemistically known as sweetbreads (as opposed to sweetmeats), perhaps due to their sweeter taste relative to meat, they are usually just the thymus gland (found in the neck) of the cow, but here included the slightly tougher pancreas as well (A+ and B+ respectively).


The perfectly seasoned and cooked Ojo de Bife (ribeye) was fantastic too (A+).


Another thing I love is the multitude of little pots of extras you get with the steak which offsets the potential boredom of eating so much meat. On the tray put in front of me there were small pots of potato puree (A), pumpkin puree (A), another dish using more cherry tomatoes (A), a miniature zucchini soufflé made with parmesan and cream (A), mustard sauce (A), grilled red peppers (B+), couscous and sweet corn (B+), baby pickled onions (B+), apple sauce (B), lentils (B).


My friendly waiter suggested a very reasonably priced Malbec by Reto which was also excellent (A).


To finish the Volcan de Chocolate involved a chocolate fondant with Chantilly cream studded with blueberries and ice cream and a berry sauce, which was visually stunning and tasted divine (A). This was ordered after the 8pm watershed however so it cost me $112. Given the quality I was quite happy to pay that though.


With the bill came a tree of lollipops, as if to sweeten the blow, but it wasn’t too bad. It should have been $541 but with the 40% discount it was reduced to $324.60. The experience pressed more buttons than I knew I had. In fact I decided this could well be my favourite restaurant ever!

Don Julio (Advanced C), Guatemala 4691, Palermo Soho

According to many blogs and guides this place is also a contender for best parrilla in the city but I think many of the reviews were written before La Cabrera opened. They have got many things right but sadly the food just doesn’t score highly with me.

Arriving at 12pm without a reservation for Sunday lunch, my friend Nicky and I were surprised when we got a table outside after just a short wait of a few minutes, which had been made more tolerable anyway by a complimentary glass of fizz. The service was very efficient and polite and in no time at all we were tucking into a slab of grilled provelta (B-) and a bottle of good Malbec by Tempus (B)




The Tabla de Achuras (offal platter) was ok, but the kidneys were overdone and we couldn’t finish the intestines (B-).


My butterflied Bife de Chorizo, although usually a tough cut, was chewier than others I’d had and disappointing in flavour (C+).


The accompanying Parrillada de Vegetales was unimpressive too and lacked any finesse (C). Another blogger who loves the place did say that the veg wasn’t great, but I didn’t listen. (Btw, his tips are to get the ribs and avoid the marrowfat peas).


The Panqueque Dulce de Leche with vanilla ice cream rescued things a bit (B+) and the glass of 2012 Malbec Dolce from Achval Ferrer we had with it was excellent (A), but too expensive at $85 for a tiny glass.



The final bill was $675 each, about £55, not good value as far as I was concerned.

The ambience inside is nice enough (impressive displays of wine bottles), the service is impeccable and I like the leather tablecloths but I’ll be going back to La Cabrera next time.

Cabernet (High Intermediate B+), 1757 Borges, Palermo Soho, Tel. 4831 3071,

This is a nice spot with an open air courtyard and reasonably priced food. I came on a work outing and had the Bondiola Braseada a la Miel de Jengibre con Arroz Pilaf Oriental (roast pork loin with honey and ginger sauce with a pilaf) as I wanted a change from beef and was craving rice. It was fine (B). I also enjoyed the Bonarda from La Madrid which made a nice change from the more full-bodied Malbec (B).


Burger Joint (Elementary B), Borges 1766, Palermo Soho www.facebook/burgerjointpalermo

This is a branch of an American chain of hipster burger bars and it’s certainly doing well in BsAs as the crowds of customers demonstrate. It’s a great business concept that presses all the hipster buttons with its graffiti covered walls, collections of Star Wars characters and other plastic dolls on the walls, menus written on old bits of cardboard suspended above the service bar and a band of buskers playing on the pavement outside.


The one thing that lets it down is the crappy bread buns they use, which is a shame because the burgers are pretty good. I had the Mexican Combo with Papas Fritas (B-) with a plastic glass of draught Pale Ale for $90 (£4.50). I guess they’re keeping things simple to keep the prices down but if they just got a few more details right, like the buns, it would be the perfect antidote to Mac D’s.


Post Street Bar (Elementary A), Thames 1285, Palermo Soho

A dive bar with walls covered in graff and street art. The best thing is the large outdoor terrace they have on the first floor. My friend Damian and I put away a few pitchers of draught beer up here one hot Spring evening.

Isabel (Advanced A), 1664 Uriarte, Palermo Soho

This beautiful bar is at the other end of the scale from Post Bar above. It’s one long room with a list of good cocktails and an excellent sound system and a DJ with good taste (at least when I went). I’m sure it’s packed at the weekend but I went very early on a weekday just to check it out. The door to the unisex loos is invisible unless you know where it is and once inside the mirrored walls make you even more confused. A great bar but I can imagine it would be difficult to get served once it gets busy.

Victoria Brown Bar (Advanced B+), 4827 Costa Rica, Palermo Soho

This place is pretending to be a secret bar (a trend in BsAs) but as soon as you enter the doorman pushes a handle and the wall moves away, revealing a very large jam-packed room, and you just walk right in. There are seats around the sides and one long bar, with about five mixologists all working at full stretch. I didn’t get served as quickly as I’d like but the cocktails were decent.

Montevideo – restaurants to avoid in Barrio Palermo

Posted in Montevideo, Palermo, Uruguay with tags , , on November 4, 2015 by gannet39

El Tinkal (Intermediate C), 853 Dr Emilio Frugoni

I came here for two reasons. Firstly to sit outside on their terrace (plastic chairs and tables, nothing posh) next to the grand promenade (South America’s longest at 42km) and watch the sun set over the Rio de La Plata.

Secondly I wanted to try the Chivito, Uruguay’s national sandwich, which is typically made with sliced churrasco beef, mozzarella, tomatoes, mayo and here with added ham, lettuce and a plate of chips on the side.

20141027_205736It was pretty greasy and horrible sadly (C) despite the fact that the Chivitos at this place are supposed to be the best in town, at least according to this website. However some reviewers did suggest the cooking here might not be as good as it once was.

I also tried a traditional dessert called Martin Fierro which despite the strange name, is just a local (and not particularly nice) cheese served with membrillo (quince jelly). I’ve had really nice manchego with membrillo in Spain but again this did not impress as it was overly sweet and there was just too much of it (C).

La Cocina de Pedro (C), 1493 Avenida Gonzalo Ramirez,

I really wanted to like this place with its dark (hence no pictures) and woody decor as it came well-recommended by the same website as above, but sadly the food just didn’t cut it for me. The complimentary bowl of indiscernible meat (tongue? luncheon?) that arrived with the menu was tasteless and remained untouched.

I was tempted by the starter of Rabas (tails) which in the north of Spain would be long thin slices of battered and deep-fried squid. In the end it turned out to be the usual bog-standard calamari rings which I tend to avoid in Spain. The batter certainly wasn’t a tempura as described and the portion was way too big and most of it stayed on the plate (C-).

The grilled Salmon came with a gloopy salsa of reduced balsamic and honey which tasted brackish and unpleasant, The timbale of veg was also pretty horrible (both D). Observing my unhappiness the waiter offered to change it for something else so I played safe and went for a mixed mushroom risotto. Even this though was sub-standard, with whole mushrooms the size of my mouth, and generally lacking in finesse (C-). The portion was huge once again.

Thankfully the Sauvignon Blanc was ok (B). It was one of five Uruguayan whites recommended on this blog. The waiter also cheered me up with a complementary limoncello although this would have been served warm (yuck!) had I not specified that I wanted it with ice.

I think that if you came here and ate meat from the grill your meal would be fine, but as I’d been a carnivore for the previous three nights on the trot I was really hoping for some decent seafood.

You might fare better at Es Mercat, at Colon 1550, very near the hotel. It’s recommended for its mariscos by the same pesky website though, so I wouldn’t count on it. It was shut every night I tried to go.

I’m going to rail more about the poor standard of non BBQ cuisine in South America in coming posts so I’ll leave it there on this occasion. Hope you fare better than I did.

Buenos Aires – Cerviche and Sushi in Palermo Hollywood

Posted in Argentina, Buenos Aires, Palermo, Palermo Hollywood with tags , on November 23, 2011 by gannet39

Palermo is one of my favourite barrios in Buenos Aires and is probably where I’d choose to live if I could (I wish).  It’s also one of the biggest neighbourhoods and is subdivided into smaller areas as you can see on this map.

Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho (see separate post) together form what used to be called Palermo Viejo. The area is particularly known for its nightlife and many of the best bars and clubs are here, as well as lots of good cafes and restaurants.

Palermo wall

The following places are in Palermo Hollywood, so called because of the number of TV and radio producers who moved here in the 90’s.

Osaka (Advanced A), Soler 5608. Tel. 4775 6964

I was very excited to come to this place as I’m a huge fan of Sushi and had heard a lot about Cerviche but had never tried it. Both are specialities of this restaurant which is reputed to be one of the best in Buenos Aires.

Cooking crew

Cerviche is an ancient food originating from Peru, where it was further refined by Japanese immigrants. I sat myself at the sushi bar where I could get a good view of the action and chat with the chefs.

Place setting

Interestingly they use Japanese cutting and rolling techniques, and shout ‘sushi des’ when it’s ready but otherwise can’t speak a word of Japanese. I was here to treat myself and eat heartily and did so; obviously you could spend much less.

Tools of the trade

 While looking at the menu, I had the house cocktail; Caipi Osaka  (A) made with vodka, passion fruit juice and fresh strawberries with a sugar halo, yum!


 For the first round, I had the Degustacion Cevi where you choose three different preparations from a list of six. I went for the Wasabi which was white fish, sea bass I think, in Leche de Tigre (marinade of key lime juice, fish and hot pepper), fresh wasabi (the traditional Japanese horseradish that is usually mixed with soya for dipping the sushi into), curly sweet potato and chulpi (sweet maize) popcorn.


Also the hot and sour Indo (salmon with chilli jam, mango, coconut milk, scallons, togarashi (Japanese chilli) and topped with crispy quinoa).


Thirdly the Classiche, (fish, cerviche base, peppers, herbs and red onion, served with glazed sweet potato and lettuce). All three were absolutely amazing.  (A+)


The Torrontes white wine I wanted to try (Colome) had sold out but the waiter recommended another (San Pedro Yacochuya 2010) from the same grape which was perfect for the fish (A).


Next, Terimaki Temaki, a nori seaweed cone of fried langoustines, slices of salmon and lime, Philadelphia cheese and teriyaki sauce which was heaven in the mouth (A) …Teriyaki Temaki

…especially when dipped in a little soya and wasabi.


dips-e1511169009513.jpgFor a bit of heat I was also given some yellow Aji chilli sauce, although the waiter described it as TNT!

VietnamitoAlso a plate of Vietnamito, salmon with chilli jam, ajies (chilli pepper variety), fish sauce and grated coconut. This is made in Teradito style, a Japanese-Peruvian method of preparation similar to Cerviche and Carpaccio but without onions and using Japanese fish cutting methods. Sadly this was my least favourite as I didn’t like the sweetness (C). Lots of other Teradito on the list to try though.

After this the 2 Salmon  Temaki, another cone of spicy salmon ‘tataki’ (seared with a gas torch) and avocado with ‘Osaka sauce’. Amazing again (A).

2 Salmon  Temaki

And Misoshiru (B) bean paste soup, which came in a square wide-lipped bowl. This offended my soup-drinking sensibilities as it needs to be in a small round bowl you can drink straight out of, so I sent it back to be changed. In Japan misoshiru is drunk instead of water at mealtimes.


Finally, Centolla Nigiri, two pieces of rice topped with king crab and held together with a band of nori seaweed, again very nice (A).


For dessert, Chees Maracuya (sic), a tasty passion fruit cheesecake with deep-fried basil leaves on the side (B).


Sadly the limocello was served only slightly chilled again as it always seem to be in Argentina (D) and I had it changed for a Grappa (B).



I was told I would need to reserve a couple of days earlier (and before 6pm) but instead I was on the doorstep when they opened at 8 and got in that way. As it turned out, there were empty tables anyway so maybe the hype has subsided a bit. My total spend with tip, $630,just shy of £100, but I would happily spend this again, it was easily worth the money.

caiparinhia.jpgAfter this wonderful experience I went to Congo at Honduras 5329 (open Wed to Sat from 8pm to 4am or 6am) for a Passion Fruit Caiparinhia (A) in their garden bar, which according to Time Out is one of the best outdoor drinking spaces in the city. This was my last night in Buenos Aires and perhaps my best. Really hope I can go again soon, love this town!

Rah Rah Ragusa

Posted in Ragusa with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Sadly I only stayed in Ragusa for one night but I wish it had been longer. You should walk around the place as much as possible because the views, especially of the old town and from the top of the ravine, are fantastic and have been used in many classic Italian films. Even though we were only out one evening we still managed two restaurants.


Al Bocconcino (Intermediate C+), 96 Corso Vittorio Veneto (a couple of blocks away from the Hotel Montreal), closed Sunday.

A lovely guy serving but sadly some dishes not up to scratch. The rustici with choux-like pastry and slice of sausage was nice (B) but we couldn’t eat the peppers, olives and pickled onions which had come straight out of a jar (D). My friend Rachel loved her minestrone and my Arrosto Misto of sausage, veal, lamb and chicken was a B except for the latter item. Nicky had veal in a sauce (B) and we both scoffed our chips even though they weren’t great (C). Other diners received huge plates of pasta. The local house white as only €2 a half litre (C) and we had a very nice Nero di Avola (I Due Sorbi) (B) for only €8. To finish an oak-aged Grappa 903 Barrique (Bonaventura Maschio) (B) from the North. You can eat a lot very cheaply here, €23 each in our case, but there are better places.

Trattoria Cucina e Vino (Advanced A) , 91 via Orfanotrofio, Ragusa Ibla, Tel. 0932 686447

This is an excellent place in the beautiful part of the old town called Ibla. It’s a bit of a walk from the hotel, involving about 300 stairs, but personally I like a bit of exercise before and after eating.  It’s a bit expensive, pasta courses are in double figures, but the food is top quality. Nicky and I had already eaten at the place above but we went here for a bit of cheese and wine afterwards. We got Provaleta Ragusana, two kinds of Caciocavallo (a semi-matured and a two year old which was super strong), two kinds of Pecorino (saffron and black pepper) and three kinds of Caprino goats cheese, one of which had a pistachio rind. They were accompanied by four kinds of ‘ jam’ (cherry, aubergine, courgette and sweet pepper) and a bottle of Cerasuolo di Vittoria red (A) which cost us €33. Pricey but very good, this is the place to come next time.


The not particularly attractive  Hotel Montreal has free wi-fi in its spacious rooms but the signal is stronger in some than in others. The staff are friendly and helpful.

Written Nov 2009.

2016: 1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die lists Il Duomo and Federico II. Both look good value.

Visiting the Godfather in Messina

Posted in Messina with tags , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Messina is the main entry point for all sea and train traffic coming to Sicily from the mainland so first impressions are that it’s a rather ugly ferry port. Appearances aren’t helped by the fact that it was racked by a devastating earthquake in 1908. However, some old buildings do remain and in addition you can get nice views from the monuments at the top of the town.

For me this restaurant is the best thing about Messina…

Al Padrino (Elementary A+) , 54/56 Via Santa Celia, Closed Saturday evening and Sunday. GEM ALERT!

From the Hotel Liberty, turn right and right into Piazza Republica and go straight down Via Giuseppe la Farina. Via Santa Celia is the 9th left, it’s next to the white and red awning on the left as you turn the corner, about 10 mins walk).

This is a brilliant must-go place. A basic yet classic Sicilian trattoria staffed by funny, shouty waiters. It’s family-run, with mum and aunties in the kitchen and dad and sons working the floor. They made me feel at home straight away don’t expect any niceties; Ugo the partriarchal owner likes shouting with his mouth full. The name translates as ‘The Godfather’ and staff t-shirts bear the subtitle ‘The Food you can’t Refuse’. I wasn’t allowed to have the light lunch I wanted and was made to go the full four courses! (The spoken menu is fixed but you get three choices for each course). This involved six types of antipasti (most of which I couldn’t identify), a primi of fat stubby pasta in a zucchini sauce with prawns, followed by a secondo of stuffed squid and delicious fried fresh anchovy patties all washed down with half a bottle of the good house red (Salento IGT, charged by the glass). I finished off with two canolini and a glass of sweet Malvasia dessert wine (similar to Passito or Moscato) . They wanted to feed me more but showed mercy after I pleaded with them. Total cost €20. It doesn’t get better than this…

I revisited Il Padrino with my friends Nicky and Rachel a year later and found it much the same in terms of food. Although Ugo seemed more subdued he was still doing his godfather growl. Our antipasti of bruschetta with tomatoes and oil was amazing (A+) and the other antipasti of Involtini di Melanzane with breadcrumbs, almonds, tomatoes (B+), sausage (B) were good but I could have done without the mini-mozzarella (C).

To be honest the Pasta e Fagioli was pretty horrible (D) and the tagliatelle with prawns and courgettes not much better (C) but the macaroni with tomatoes and peppers was okay (B).

For our mains the squid stuffed with breadcrumbs and the octopus was great (A) and the raw fennel and lettuce, courgette and potato and another involitini were also good (B). Our Salento Chardonnay and Nero d’Avola were okay too (B) and we finished with Cassata Siciliana and a glass of Malvasia (B).

Considering that we had a bottle of wine each, the bill of €84 was very reasonable. Maybe give the pasta course a miss though.

Nicky even managed to get one of their highly coveted t-shirts thrown in for free!

Osteria del Camponile (Intermediate A), 9 Via Loggia dei Mercanti, Tel 39 090 711 418

As you’re facing the cathedral, take the street to the left of the garish belltower and first left again (you will see a pointing sign), it’s the awning on the left.

Another great place, informal but more restrained than the above. three rooms, one with a telly, pleasant service, excellent food, fat chef, dirt cheap and very local. They sell a very potable draft prosecco (rose or white) for only €2 a 25ml carafe (same price for house red/white).

I had the bruschetta followed by Spaghetti dello Stretto (swordfish chunks with tom sauce and olives).

To finish I had the Cassata Siciliana, a very sweet cake with a filling similar to canoli cream and covered with marzipan, green in this case, and decorated with candied peel, delish! I accompanied it with a glass of Vecchio Amaro di Capo, a favourite digestive bitter of mine.

Total cost €20, amazing value. This must also be a good place to try the famous swordfish ghiotta but sadly only on Fridays. There are pizzas too if you want them and an antipasti buffet.

Trattoria Lungomare da Mario (Intermediate B), 108 Corso V.Emmanuele II (left out of the hotel and second right, left and keep going straight for about 10 mins round the harbourside). Closed Wednesdays.

A local institution for 25 years and mentioned in both the Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide, so I thought I’d better check it out. It’s popular, relatively modern and a bit posh.

I had the €16 Menu Touristico, for which I got a choice of any primo (I had a simple but tasty seafood risotto) but only fried calamari and/or prawns for the secondo (the latter a bit boring and rubbery), as well as a contorno and a simple macedonia (fruit salad).

The house white (an extra €4 for a mezzo) is uninspiring but drinkable. I finished with a Zibibbo (another dessert wine, similar but not as strong as Marsala?) which you can pour into your fruit salad if you wish.

There is an antipasti buffet and a TV. It would probably score higher if you are prepared to pay more.

On the way back, you can take in the nearby Chiesa di Catalani, one block inland on Via Garibaldi, built on the site of an ancient Byzantine temple and later given to Catalan merchants as their local HQ. The reason it stands below street level is you are standing on the rubble of the 1908 earthquake. There are several nice bars and enotecas on nearby streets.

La Tonnarella (Intermediate C), 28 Via S.M. Alemanna, left out of the Liberty, left at the fork, cross the main road, its on the right.

A slightly pricey and formal seafood restaurant. I had the Linguine ai Ricci (seaurchins) because I hadn’t had them before, and was very disappointed. The chef hadn’t washed them properly and they were full of sand, lovely. Pasta dishes were between €8 and €16. The house white was €3 for 500ml and was pretty horrible. This place would probably be okay though if you ordered well but personally I wouldn’t go back.

Fratelli la Bufala (Intermediate C),1 Corso V.Emmanuele II (left out of the hotel and second right, it’s on the left)

Bit disappointed the hotel sent me here, probably because it’s very near. It’s basically a characterless steakhouse and pizzeria, part of a big chain that originates in Naples but now has branches nationally, as well as London, Barcelona and Buenos Aires amongst others. Service was pleasant enough but I hadn’t finished eating my starter (caprese salad of mediocre mozzarella with under ripe tomatoes) when the main course arrived (a rather chewy beefsteak sizzling on a griddle). The house Aglianico was palatable enough and the food was ok, I was just disappointed to be eating Campanian style food in Sicily. Total cost €28 with cover and water.

Ristorante Tartaruga (Intermediate D), left out of the Hotel Liberty, first left, go straight for a few blocks, it’s on the left).

Run by a contact of myarea manager who is a teacher at the local catering college, I found this place to be pretty grim. Although the owner is nice enough, his wife seems to have no qualms about having a domestic in front of the customers! The luminous green paper tablecloths, bright lighting and the muppets on TV also did nothing for the ambience. The plain foccacia, made with ten different cereals was interesting (B). However, the Casarecci alla Norma with ricotta infornta (baked brown ricotta, found only in Sardinia, Catania and Messina, perhaps for good reason) was pretty unpleasant to my palate (C-). It’s one of those flavours you need to have eaten from childhood to appreciate I imagine.  Neither could I eat the alungu (?), a bottom feeder with a similar texture to tuna, which seemed to have the same sauce as the pasta with the addition of capers, olives and orange zest (D). Both dishes also had a strange cinnamon-like taste. The local teachers we were with opted for pizza so perhaps they knew something we didn’t! The sweet pizza of banana, pineapple and kiwi with a flaming sugar cube, although fulfilling my need for a sweet, didn’t really impress (C) but the accompanying Malvasia dessert wine went down well. It’s very cheap (€6 pasta, €7/8 mains, €4/6 pizza) and near the hotel, but if I had to go again I’d choose very carefully.

The food for lunch at the catering college the next day was much better and included smoked swordfish wrapped round a vegetable and bread crumb filling which was probably cooked in a ramekin in a bain-marie, delicious (A). A case of students surpassing their teacher?

Le Due Sorelle (Advanced A), 4 Piazza Municipio, about 10 mins from the hotel, tel 090 44720. NOW CLOSED

Located in a nice square with beautiful gardens, this is a small 9-table member of the Slow Food association that specialises in local and ethnic cuisine. I had delectable raw longfin tuna (albacore) to start followed by a nice seafood &veg couscous. The Etna DOC white (‘Valcresia’ Vendemmia 2005) was the only decent white wine I have had in Sicily. I finished with the very highly regarded Grappa di Palari (Faro DOC 2000). Renato the friendly English-speaking owner is a lovely guy and a mine of information on Sicilian wine, he also runs an enoteca next door. He explained the only decent whites come from Etna as they need the altitude and changes in temperature, and also need to lie for a few years. I blew €60 here (half on drinks) but didn’t mind because I learned a lot and Renato deserves support. Closed Sat lunch, Sun.


Davai Enobraceria at 38 via XXVII Luglio is a nice modern bar that’s good for a an aperitif or digestif. A bottle of Leone white (Tasca D’Almerita) costs €14 and you get lots of stuzzichini but they aren’t free.  On some evenings there is a guy singing and playing keyboards. You can sit in or outside. They are a restaurant too but I didn’t try the food.

There is a booth selling drinks with a few outside tables under umbrellas in the middle of Piazza Cairoli too. A G&T costs €6 and you get plenty of free stuzzichini.

There are mosquitos about, but just the odd one.

Sport 4 Club, 7 Via E.L. Pellegrino, Tel 090 2938856

Just a few mins walk from the Hotel Liberty (left out of the hotel, first left, fifth right, on the left). A slightly ageing and cramped gym with lots of bikes but only three jogging machines, three step machines and two cross trainers. Lots of weights free and fixed. There are aerobic classes you can join in with. I would advise going before the 6pm rush.  It costs €8 but remember to take some change for the drinks vending machine as they don’t have free water here.

I stayed at the  Liberty (NOW CLOSED), which is two minutes from the rather dodgy ferry and train terminals. The first time I came, work advised a taxi for security reasons and the driver fleeced me €10 for driving round the corner. It’s an attractive old hotel, if a bit run down, and the breakfast room has great views. The very lovely and helpful Melania and Cetti (Concetta) will give you directions to all the places mentioned.

Written in 2008 and 2009.

Enjoying the view in Enna

Posted in Enna with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Apparently the highest provincial capital in Europe at 1,100m, Enna is a lovely town perched on the top of high cliffs. Make sure you go to the Lombard Castle and neighbouring Rocca di Cerere to sample the stunning views of the surrounding countryside and other hilltop towns such as neighbouring Calascibetta. The Torre di Federico is another good place for views.


I recommend staying at the lovely art deco Hotel Sicilia. There may be more modern hotels but this one has a lot of charcter.

Risorante Pizzeria Ariston (A) 353 Via Roma, Closed Sunday.

This is the best value-for-money option with excellent food, just a short 200m walk downhill from the Hotel Sicilia. It’s mentioned in several guides and was recommended by reception and by my local contact too. It’s basically one big room with nothing much to look at except a telly (you could sit outside but it would be like sitting in a subway). First and second courses are between €6.50 and €12 , the double figures being the seafood. I had the house signature dish Cavatelli Ariston (A), small, local pasta shells in a piquant tomato sauce with lots of garlic and a pinch of basil, and on another occasion Penne alla Norma (A), both excellent. A plate of contorni, grilled veg and caponata (A),cost €3.50 at lunch time and €7 from the more extensive evening buffet, I had a nice bottle of Chardonnay (Feudo Arancio 08) for €12 which is the price of most of the bottled wines. All I did was look at what everyone else was drinking then select my preference from the glass fridge by the door. The house red is €2.50 for a quartino. The owner is the older server with the salt and pepper beard. The service isn’t exactly friendly or rude (except for the young girl), just busy. The atmosphere is nothing special, indeed large children’s birthday parties always seem to come here, but the grub makes up for it.

Revisited Ariston in November ’09 with four friends and found it to be as good as ever. The highlight of the antipasti buffet were the roasted balsamic onions. Nicky had some wonderful Gnocci alla Sorrentina and Sara an excellent Spaghettil alla Scoglio (both A), my Cavatelli di Ariston and Rachel’s Ravioli di Cernia were also good (both B). Raffa’s escalope looked great and the Corvo red (Sciaranera ’08) went down well (B). Enzo the owner sold us a bottle of his homemade limoncello (A) for €18. Not cheap but liquid gold as far as I was concerned. My only criticism of Ariston’s food is that the portions are too big and I have never made it past the antipasti and pasta to the main course!

Ristorante Centrale (B+), Pizza VI Dicembre (just before Ariston on the left as you go down, opposite Banca di Sicilia). Closed Sat?

Another nice nearby place that is popular with the Italian tourist guides and local teachers. It has a nicer atmosphere and terrace than Ariston but the food isn’t quite as good. If it’s language practice you are looking for, the older waiter with the glasses is very chatty on the subject of local food, wines and motorbike racing (there is a famous track nearby). I had the signature dish of Pappardelle Centrale (A), thick ribbons with ham, tomato sauce, mince, mushrooms and cream. First courses are €6-10 and seconds €6-13, fish being the pricey item again. They also have good value-for-money set menus for between €16 and €20. For €16 I got Cavatelli alla Siciliana (small shells again with ragu and olives), Vitello al Forno con Funghi, fruit, water and a quartino of wine (B). A quartino by itself costs €1.50, the house red being nicer but the white was ok despite not being chilled. Local grappa was €3.

One rep recommended Di Marino on Viale Caterina Avoca which has great views from the terrace but was closed on Tuesday. Another place in the guides was Antica Hostaria at 9 Via Castagna, off the main square but again closed on Mon/Tues when I was in town.

Castello di Lombardia

Be warned that, because of the altitude, it can be a bit chilly sitting outside in short sleeves, even on an evening in June.

Self-caterers should check out the small shops on Mercato San Antonio, parallel to Via Roma, at the back of Ristorante Centrale.  If you are looking for local foodstuffs to buy, Enna is famous for Piacentino Ennese, a variety ofsheeps cheese featuring saffron and whole black peppercorns. You could eat it with the local bread Pagnotta del Dittaino which has it’s own DOP. Broad beans (fava larga) from nearby Leonforte are also renowned.

Written in 2008 and 2009

Sicilian hospitality in Piazza Armerina & Barrafranca

Posted in Barrafranca, Piazza Armerina with tags , , , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Personally, Piazza Armerina is not a place I’d want to stay for more than a night or two.

Piazza Armerina

A lot of tourists come here however to see the beautifully preserved (by a mudslide) mosaics at Villa Romana del Casal, just on the outskirts of town. Famously these include the ‘bikini girls’ which show Roman women playing sports in an early representation of the two-piece costume.

Villa Romana

If you are staying at the rather depressing Hotel Roma (the best place in town?, maybe try a hostel) the food is pretty good (Intermediate B) and quite reasonably priced. I had a good Tagliatelle dello Chef and a Cotoletta allo Palmeritana (pork cutlet in breadcrumbs), along with a mezzo of Nero d’Avola and Macedonia for about 20 euro.

For water, a cold drink on a terrace or a nearby bite to eat, take a U-turn to the left out of the hotel and up Via Roma. You will find Ristorante Pepito on the immediate right. I didn’t try the food so can’t comment.

Vilma Wine Bar (Intermediate A), 89 Via Garibaldi, next left after Via Roma.

This is a great place to start or finish your evening, you will be welcomed by the friendly English-speaking Roberto (if he hasn’t sold the place yet), who lived in London for three years. He has free internet in the bar and a wide range of reasonably priced beers, spirits and local wines. Set in an atomospheric part of the old town, near the theatre. Opens at 5pm, closed Sundays. I had a nice glass of white here, Branciaforti IGT (Firriato ’08) for 3 euro.

Ristorante Pizzeria da Nino (Intermediate A-), 12 Via Gebbia. Turn left out of the hotel, go straight until the road forks, bear right but keep going straight, past a church, turn right at the TIM shop with red awnings (before the bus square, a sign points to the local penitentiary ), go past Bar Sestercio (ate an ok lunch here waiting for the bus but it’s a bit of a roach hole), Nino’s is on the left.

This is a nice spot to escape the heat and hustle and bustle of town. It’s a large courtyard with ivy-covered walls, olive trees, wagonwheels and wooden wheelbarrows full of flowers. The speciality here is grilled meat and after a nice Caprese di Bufala (B) I had the Arrosto Misto (A), which consisted of a large pork chop, a thick slab of pancetta, sausage, quail, beef steak and a spit (spiedino) of chicken and turkey, with a side order of grilled veg (A).

You’re not going anywhere fast after that lot but I would recommend finishing with the Ravioli di Ricotta (A) which is sweet ricotta in a warmed pastry, possibly washed down with a glass of sweet Malvasia. The only let down was the house red which was not very good (C), but I guess they are trying to encourage you to buy a bottle off the long list of wines which start at 10 euro. First and second are courses between 5 and 10 euro. With water and cover the bill was pretty reasonable at 31.80.

There is another guide recommended restaurant at 62 Via Garibaldi, just down from Roberto’s wine bar, which you might want to try rather than the place below.

Ristorante Pizzeria da Toto (Intermediate B), 29 Via Mazzini, go to the end of Via Garibaldi and turn right, it’s on the right.

Recommended by a local teacher but a little disappointing. The food was ok, the house signature Bocca di Lupo (mouth of the wolf) was a baked slab of layered veal, ham, mozzarella, aubergine and tomatoes (B) but the grilled veg (C) was cold. The Compose di Frutta (A) was excellent with locally grown fresh pineapple, melon, orange and cherries. The house red (D) at 1.50 a quartino, tasted like dried leaves and I couldn’t finish it. Cover and wine are cheap but I thought the first courses, 8-9 euro, and seconds 10-15, were slightly expensive. Pizzas are around 6 euro. Don’t sit near the door as the car fumes can be quite unpleasant.

There is an internet place at 35 Via Mazzini but they charged me a pricey 1 euro for 15 mins.

I didn’t have time to visit the famous mosaics but if you do, you might consider lunch at La Ruota which is recommended in several guides and is close nearby. Pasta with wild fennel, lamb and artichokes are the local delicacies to try apparently.

Il Calice Rosso (Intermediate A), Via Canalicchio, Barrafranca

This is a place in Barrafranca the next town (which seems even more godforsaken than Piazza Armerina!) where the very hospitable teachers from the Liceo I was working at took me for lunch. We had a fantastic range of starters, some I recognised (caponata, baked aubergines) and some I didn’t (tomatoes stuffed with tuna mayo, slabs of spinach in egg). The Pasta alla Norma was the best I have ever had in Sicily, huge rigatonis tossed in aubergine sauce piled high on big oval dishes and sprinkled with salted ricotta, one for two people. I couldn’t stop eating it but still didn’t finish my share. And of course, all washed down with a great Nero d’Avola, absolute heaven. This was the meal that made me warm to Sicilians, great company and fantastic food.  It also goes to show that in Sicily the best food can sometimes be found in the seemingly worst places!

Written June 2009.

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