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, lacabrera.com.ar

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).

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

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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).

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

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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.

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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) www.tempusalba.com.

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

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

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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).

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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.

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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, www.cabernet-restaurant.com

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).

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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.

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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.

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Post Street Bar (Elementary A), Thames 1285, Palermo Soho www.poststreetbar.com

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 barisabel.com

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 victoriabrownbar.com

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, www.lacocinadepedro.com.uy

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 esmercat.com.uy, 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!

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 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.

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

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

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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).

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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.

Misoshiru

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

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

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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).

Grappa

 

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.

Bars:

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.

Enna

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.

Agrigento, San Leone & the Valley of Temples

Posted in Agrigento, Italy, Sicily with tags , , , on September 11, 2010 by gannet39

Sicily, November 2009

The Hotel della Valle has a 15m outdoor pool and a health spa. Internet costs €3 for 30 mins. Rooms at the end of the corridor, e.g. 114 and 115, are larger and have nicer views than the rooms on the side. There was the odd mozzie about in November. If you turn right out of the hotel and go a few doors down you will find a supermarket on the right. There is a small cafe on the way which does decent salads.

Trattoria dei Templi (B+), 15 via Panoramica dei Templi (right out of the hotel, first left, it’s immediately on the left), 0922 403110, not Thursdays.

This is the best place near the hotel and is mentioned in Ristorante d’Italia. A mid-range eatery that attracts families and passing tourists, the decor and ambience is nothing special but the food is very good. Antipasti dishes are €8-10, pasta courses €6-10 and mains (mainly seafood, their speciality) are €11-20. I had Zuppe di Cozze (B+) with huge plump mussels in a tomato, garlic and parsley stock which I soaked up with their lovely soft bread, Taglioline con Gamberoni Rossi e Pisachio (B+) , a mixed salad and a half bottle of ‘Chiaramonte’, an excellent Nero d’Avola (Firriato ’07) which all came to €32 with water and cover. The house specialities mentioned by the guide are Casarecce al Ragu di Triglia (pasta in a mullet sauce with fennel and toasted breadcrumbs), Sarago (a fish) in Crosta di Patate al Forno and for dessert, Lo Spumone all’Arancia con Salsa Frutti di Bosco (an orange cake? with a sauce of forest berries).

Up the hill:

It takes about 15 mins to walk up the hill to the main promenade on Viale della Vittoria in town. This is probably the best place for a run on the flat, (20 min circuit) and from the small adjoining park you can get amazing views of the coastline and the temples in the foreground. Ficus bar at #109 is a nice modern bar that plays world music.

Pizzeria Nobel (C), 13 Viale delle Vittoria.

This is a popular pizzeria with seating for one hundred, so the noise is pretty deafening. I ended up here when I found Gennaro’s above to be inexplicably closed on a Saturday night. My Pizza Siciliana (mozzarella, tomatoes, capers, olives, onions, chillies, anchovies, oregano) was edible enough but no great shakes. Personally I found the crust too thick and rather tasteless, but the locals seemed to enjoy it. With a Birra Moretti and (friendly) service it came to €12.50. Pizzas are €4.50-7, antipasti €6-8, big salads €6, pasta €6.50-9 and mains €7-13.50. Cheap and cheerful.

Trattoria Giovanni (C), Piazzetta Vadula (turn right at the western end of Viale delle Vittoria, it’s the second small square you come to on the right, before you get to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele), Tel. 0922 21110, closed Sundays.

Listed in Ristoranti di Italia, this is a formal restaurant with old stone walls, pink flowery tablecloths, antique cutlery and dodgy still life paintings. There were only two other customers when I visited on a Monday. Although the twelve dishes on the antipasti buffet looked pretty decent, I was still full from lunch, so only had a pasta course, Orecchiette Vadala (C), with prawns, swordfish and tomatoes for €14. After several attempts I have come to the conclusion that swordfish is best as a steak or smoked in thin slices and the lumps of fish in my pasta did nothing for me. The best thing about the meal was the local Fiano (Mandrarossa ’08) (B+) which was the cheapest wine on the list at €14. Bread and cover was a hefty €4, resulting in a bill of €32 for very little. Generally a short menu is a good thing I think but all the dishes on the single page were overpriced (antipasti €12-15, pasta €11-14, mains €12-30). This, along with the sickly decor, is reason enough to give this place a miss. The staff had their coats on and were waiting for me to leave at 10pm.

Via Atenea is a pleasant shopping street with lots of eateries and bars that’s worth a wander. Cafe Girasole at #68/70 does great sandwiches. I got a caprese on olive bread for €2. There’s also a famous cake shop at #94.

Trattoria Concordia (B+), 8 via Porcello (second or third right? off via Atenea as you go up. You will see a sign on the street.) Tel. 0922 22668

A pleasant unpretentious little place with rustic decor that seats about 30. It was the one of the only places off via Atenea that was open on a Monday and had any customers. We had the Antipasti Rustica; caponata, pecorino (both A), potato tortilla, olives (both B), fish cake and involtini di melanzane (both C) with a large salad on the side (B+). Both the house red and white were good quality (B). The mixed grill consisted of veal dusted in polenta flour, sausage (both A) and a disappointing pork chop (C). To finish an excellent amaro (A) from Salemi in Trapani province. The bill came to a paltry €26 each. Would definitely go again if I was in the area.

About half way along via Atenea on the right you will find via Fodera (becoming via Spirito Santo), which dog legs back up the hill, leading to the Spirito Santo monastery at the end. The nuns here are famous for their pastries, especially their almond cake (dolce di mandorle) which is made to a secret recipe apparently kept secret for centuries. If you press the door bell at #8 S.Santo Cortile and say ‘Vorrei comprare qualche dolce’ they may sell you some. They aren’t cheap (€10 for a half kilo, about €1 a biscuit) but it’s worth it for the experience. They also sell (takeaway?) couscous but I was told to come back on Wednesday at 1pm as they didn’t have it that day. The monastery was founded in 1299 and is probably the most venerable medieval building in town. Go through the door to the left of #8 and even if it isn’t open, you will still be able to see the beautiful archways.

Coming back from Spirito Santo, if you go up one of the staircases on the right and keep going upwards you should eventually get to the steep but relatively wide via S.Girolamo. At #63 on the left you can see a beautiful old doorway with a plaque which reads ‘Consulate of the British Empire’, a relic of the sulphur trade from the late 1700’s. If you continue up via S.Girolamo to via San Vincenzo you are in the alleys which formed the heart of the Arab city over a thousand years ago. Go up via Duomo and you will pick up signs for Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Grecia (or go up from Piazza Lena at the end of via Atenea). You can still see the foundations of the Greek temple on which is was built through the glass floor.

Down the hill:

Turning right and walking down the hill from the hotel, it will take about 90 mins to get down to the sea at San Leone (no pavements after the temples, but you can catch the #2 bus from outside the Hotel della Valle), or several hours longer if you want to take in the ruins of the Quartiere Ellenistico-Romano (lots of old house walls and a few mosaics), the Museum (lots of old pottery, some quite amusing, and one of the original colossal statues from the Temple of Jupiter), and of course the five Greek temples. The Tempio della Concordia is the most intact and has a nice view from the ridge. There is a necropolis by the side of the path leading up to it. You have to pay in at all these places but I don’t know how much as we got lucky and went when it was free.

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Leon d’Oro (A/B), 102 viale Emporium, (on the way to the beach at San Leone, about 40 mins walk from Piazzale dei Templei or catch the #2 bus and get off at the camping ground), not open Mondays.

This place is unremarkable for its ambience but is known for its seafood and the staff were very friendly. Two of us started with the Grande Antipasti Misto which consisted of marinated anchovies on a slice of green lemon (A), smoked swordfish on polenta (A), a fish patty, marinated white and pink fish, pumpkin and red onion chutney (all B) and sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs (C). I followed this with Spaghetti alle Vongole Verace con Pomodoro Ciliegino (cherry toms) e Spolverata di Bottarga (sprinkled with tuna eggs) which seemed to give it a bit of a kick (B+). Nicky had a fantastic Grigliata Mista del Mediterraneo of char-grilled calamari, large red prawns and a wonderful grilled fish of the day (sarago?) (A). This was accompanied by a mezzo of house white (€3) (B) and a bottle of excellent white ‘Grecanico’ (A) from Cantina Mandarossa in nearby Menfi. We finished with the unusual Semifreddo al Basilico di Sicilia (basil ice cream with pistachio) (A), Panacotta al Frutti di Bosco) (B) and two glasses of Marsala. Our bill came to €93 but we were treating ourselves to a special Sunday lunch after a hard day viewing the temples. You can of course eat more cheaply than we did (antipasti €7-10, pasta €7-12, seafood mains €8-18).

From here it’s about 15 mins walk to the seafront in San Leone. There is no beach as such, just rocks and the whole place has a strong feel of decay. After walking off lunch we had a coffee and got straight on the #2 bus back. It costs 1 euro, supposedly runs every 20 mins and drops you right outside the Hotel della Valle. The local taxi number is 0922 26670.

Another good place (recommended in Ristoranti di Italia 2009) that we didn’t get to try on the seafront in San Leone is Al Porticciolo at 26 Lungomare Falcone e Borsellino, which I think has a terrace. Specialities include Frittura di Pesce and Ricciola n Umido. Closed Tuesdays. Tel. 0922 413631.

Stunning Siracusa

Posted in Italy, Sicily, Siracusa with tags , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by gannet39

Sicily, November 2009

There are probably lots of normal good places to eat near your hotel but for atmosphere and great food, head straight for the island of Ortigia, in old Siracusa.

Lungolanotte, 23 Lungo Mare Alfeo, Ortigia, Tel. 0931 64200.

A nice candlelit place for an aperitivo, right on the waterfront in the beautiful old town. We had an excellent glass of red here, they do food too but we were there just for drinks. This was the only place open in November, you would probably need to reserve a table in the summer.

Osteria da Mariano (A+), 9 vicolo Zuccola, Ortigia, Tel. 0931 67444

Had one of the best meals here that I have ever had in ten years of eating out in Italy. As well as being mentioned in several guides, my workshop participants also said this local institution has people travelling miles for their pasta. Other places nearby look fancier but it was the delicious smell that finally convinced us to come in. On closer inspection the plain decor is offset by well-chosen objets d’art and quirky items such as cuckoo clocks and pink curtains with flower ties which hinted at the proprietor’s proclivities.

As soon as we were seated, Mariano came to greet us and tell us what was on the menu that evening. Simultaneously  the first dish of hot bruschetta drizzled with oil and oregano and a plate of fantastically fresh ricotta sprinkled with pistachio, arrived at the table, both totally delicious (A+). Next came the antipasti proper, which included caponata, spicy salami (both A), an egg and potato frittata (like a tortilla) and a slice of rolled omelette filled with ricotta (both B).

Mariano scorned my fumbling choices from his spoken selection and said I would just get something special. This turned out to be two types of pasta (both A); penne with ricotta and cream, and spaghetti with sundried tomatoes and breadcrumbs (capaulata in dialect?), a speciality of Ragusa where Mariano is from, simple but delicious. A bowl of grated almonds was provided for sprinkling on both.

Nicki had fried cakes of bianchetti (tiny sardines) accompanied by an orange salad with chilli, Rachel the stewed rabbit with olives, celery and carrots, and I had the mixed grill of pork and lamb chops and sage flavoured sausage with spinach and peperoncino on the side (all A).

Whilst waiting for our unneeded desserts we were offered sesame seed biscuits and candied ginger (both B), and later some raw ginger which Mariano sliced at the table himself for each customer whilst pontificating on its aphrodisiac qualities, although it was probably intended as a palate cleanser. To finish, a deliciously exotic tiramisu (A) which we accompanied with a glass of sweet Zibibbo (A).

It wasn’t our intention to eat so much but it would have been rude to refuse. I mislaid the bill but it was really cheap, about €32 each, an incredible price for incredible food. The parting gift from Mariano was a piece of ginger pressed into my hand! Really want to go back but don’t think I can by myself.

Vecchio Pub, 9 via delle Vergini, Ortiga

As the name suggests, this is the oldest pub in Siracusa, lots of character and friendly staff, deep in the old town and good for a digestivo. I had a Vecchio Romana Riserva brandy for €4 which was pretty good (B) considering the Italians don’t really do brandy.

Untried:

Vite e Vitello, 1 Piazza Francesco Carpuci (corner with via Maestranza) , not Sunday, €30 average spend. (from Ristorante d’Italia)

Don Camillo, 96 via Maestranza, not Sunday, €50 spend. (from Gambero Rosso and Ristorante d’Italia)

Oinos, 69/75, via della Giudecca, not Sunday, €45 spend. (from Gambero Rosso and Ristorante d’Italia)

…and about twenty other places.

A great town, you must go.

A couple of days in Catania

Posted in Catania, Italy, Sicily with tags , , , on September 11, 2010 by gannet39

Catania is a fantastic city, with some great restaurants, especially down my the fish market.

La Paglia (Elementary A), 23 Via Pardo, closed Sundays. GEM ALERT!

Also recommended by the guides, this is more down-market than Antica Marina next door and less crowded. You can have a great three course seafood meal here at a very reasonable price.

I  had the Antipasti di Mare, which consisted of a fried sardine coated in breadcrumbs and possibly filled with bottarga and pine nuts (B), a plate of delicious Telline, little clams that look like butterflies when open (A), raw prawns with peperoncino and parsley (A) and an Insalata di Mare of octopus, mussels, squid (B+) and mopped up with delicious sesame seed bread (A).

For the next course I had spaghetti with squid, prawns, octopus and vongole clams (B+) which didn’t look very appetising, and wasn’t al dente, but tasted delicious! Some of the prawns had been fried which added a different taste and texture and the pasta had soaked up the stock which really made it.

My friend Nicky had Zuppa di Vongole e Cozze which we thought had been cooked in sea water as it was deliciously salty and again the stock was wonderful (B+). To drink we had a bottle of Cataro Grillo ‘Rampante’ (Russo, Bianco di Etna IGT) white (B) and Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC red (Etna Terre di Giurfo ’04) (B) and a glass of disappointing Zibibbo (C). Lemon sorbet with wild strawberries to finish (B).

Total cost for two, a meagre €65. Great food and great hospitality from the lovely lady who runs the place.

Osteria Antica Marina (Advanced ?), 29 Via Pardo (fish market), Tel 095 348 197, closed Tuesdays.

Recommended in several guides, this is perhaps the best seafood place in town. Very popular, I tried to reserve on the day but couldn’t get in and went next door to La Paglia instead.

One year later, I reserved a table a couple of days ahead but when we arrived the table they offered us was right next to the door and they couldn’t/wouldn’t give us anywhere else even though hardly anyone had arrived. In protest we went next door to La Paglia again and had a great meal for a fraction of the price.

Agora Hostel (A), Piazza Curro. GEM ALERT!

This is a late night bar with a large seating area outside. They do great Mohitos and serve food inside too but I didn’t try it. If you go downstairs, all the way down through the restaurant, you will see a stream running through the cellar which was once used as a bath house by the Romans. A unique and eerie spot.

Sicilia in Bocca (A), 16 Piazza Pietro Lupo, Tel 095 7461 361

‘Sicily in Mouth’ is recommended in a couple of guides, it’s a great place for seafood and local specialities, they have a large self-service buffet too. The waiters aren’t unfriendly as such but they’re a little brusque and speak very quickly in dialect! Very popular but we got in without a reservation.

A last minute visit to the market is a must. It’s in Piazza C.Alberto, between via Etnea, via Umberto I and Corso Sicilia. Even if you don’t want to shop (hard not to!) or take photos, it’s great fun just trying to decipher what the old guys on the stalls are croaking about to their audience of critical Sicilian nonnas.

You can get fresh cherry tomatoes from Pachino, artichokes, bags of peperoncino, dried oregano, sun-dried tomatoes, green lemons, olives, fennel, garlic, oyster mushrooms, almonds, chestnuts, dried fruit, cheese, salt-cod and multi-coloured Figi di India (prickly pears), though it’s better to point at that last one as it’s also a rude word!

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I got stung with three prickly pears that had small rotten patches, probably because I wanted so few, and wouldn’t be coming back. Other more honest stalls sell these cheap and upfront with the sign ‘bastardoni nostrani’ on the crate.

There is a panificio (bakery) at 68 Via Grotte Bianche where a nice old lady will sell you some freshly baked bread, with or without sesame seeds.

Catania, Sicily, 2008-2009

Bye Bye Blues at Mondello Beach

Posted in Italy, Mondello, Sicily with tags , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by gannet39

Monte PellegrinoI’m more of a beach bunny than a culture vulture so I thought I’d check out the nearest beach to Palermo at Mondello. Wouldn’t recommend it at the weekend, or anytime school is out, every teenager in Palermo will be there and finding a peaceful spot is impossible. However, if you have a half day in the week, it’s a really nice place to go. The 806 bus runs from Piazza Sturzo every half hour and it takes about 30 mins. You can buy tickets from the bus drivers’ kiosk in the square.  Not sure what time the last bus is but I got the 806 at 11pm in the week. Best check though as it’s a long walk home!

nice creamA lot of the beach is public but there are a couple of private areas (the best one is just to the right of the ‘wedding cake’ construction halfway along the  beach) where you can get a sun bed for €8. If you’re going at the weekend, you would need to get there before 10 to stand a chance of getting a place. If you arrive before 9 (when they open) you should put your name on the waiting list to avoid being jumped in the queue. The water was lovely and clear in May but I’m told it gets more polluted towards the end of the summer.

Mondello is also the place Palermitans come for seafood, both the following places are excellent.

Al GabbianoAl Gabbiano (Intermediate A+), 1 Via Piano Gallo, Mondello Lido. (follow the main road to the far end of the bay where the old tower is, go past the boats and around the bend, the restaurant is on the right on the sea front). Tel: 091 450 313. GEM ALERT!

This is the sister restaurant of Biondo, the place I dissed to death in Palermo! The service was a little unfriendly again but the view and the food made up for it. Get there as soon as it opens at 7.30 (or reserve) and bag the far corner table on the terrace by the water. You get a fantastic view of Monte Pellegrino in the fading dusk, glimmering ferries leaving Palermo in the distance and the lapping of the waves is only disturbed by the occasional fishing boat chugging past. To start I had the Piato Mediterraneo which involved a raw oyster, marinaded anchovies and red prawns and a frittura of squid and larger prawns (A) for €15. The primo was Casarecce alla Cernia e Pomodorini (A), a sublime sauce of grouper and baby tomatoes on chunky pasta for €9. I washed this down with a bottle of wonderful, slightly sparkling Charme, a white from Paceo for €15. Make sure they give you an ice bucket (secchielo) to keep it chilled while you sip and meditate on the beautiful view. Total cost €48 with a Macedonia, but well worth it. A job affirming and blissful experience for me!Charme wine

Went back in 2010 and found contentment once again with four oysters (B+), Spaghetti al Gabbiano (mussels and clams in tomato sauce (A) and Zuppa di Cozze (mussels in tomato sauce with four slices of fried bread) (B+) and a bottle of Leone white wine for €46. The service (different waiters at lunch?) was much friendlier this time.

Bye Bye Blues (Advanced A++), 23 Via del Garofolo, Valdesi Mondello. (Go up Via Margherita de Savoia (the main road back to Palermo) and take first right and follow Via Pater Dei to the end, past the church. The restaurant is in front of you on Via del Garofolo. You have to ring the bell). Tel: 091 684 1415.  Opens at 8, probably best to reserve. Closed Tuesdays. GEM ALERT!

Trancio di Tonno su Cipollata con Schima di Zabione e Salsa di MarsalaThis Michelin recommended, backstreet place is on another level, one of the best seafood restaurants I have ever been to, with great staff and fantastic food. The waiters were actually running around when it got busy, and the kitchen was a frenetic hive of activity, broadcast via CCTV onto a screen in the dining room, making for fascinating foodie viewing. I felt obliged to go for the €50 Menu Degustazione (although many cheaper options are available) and a €15 bottle of the wonderful Leone IGT (Tasca d’Almerita ’08, a very famous brand). After an amuse bouche of cheese in a Trapani sauce and a goblet of vegtable soup, followed by two mini Sfincione, the Misto de Pesce Crudo arrived, consisting of raw seabass, yellowtail tuna and red prawns (B), which surprised me till I found out the head chef is Japanese. I was advised to put some Tenuta Rocchetta olive oil on it (one of the best Sicilian brands). Next came the Mosaico di Antipasti Siciliana (A/B) which included a sublime octopus in gazpacho (top combo), sardines in escabeche, and two other concoctions with bluefish and tuna. After that came the Spaghetti a la Ricci (sea urchins) (A) which I have never really appreciated in the past till I came here. The following dish was also pasta, Tagliatelle con Uova di Tonno (B) which I preferred to bottarga (dried tuna eggs as opposed to fresh in this case). The ‘secondo’ was Trancio di Tonno su Cipollata con Schima di Zabione e Salsa di Marsala (A), large flakes of tuna steak with sweet onions and egg in a marsala sauce, all nice individually but incredible when combined on the fork. Semifreddo di Ricotta con Salsa di Arance AmareThe dessert was Semifreddo di Ricotta con Salsa di Arance Amare (A), a sponge with the same cream filling as canoli, washed down with an excellent Passito di Pantelleria (Bukkuram ’05, again “one of the best”). After all that, I could only manage a couple of the lovely complementary mini biscuits. Total cost €76, but worth every cent. Go on treat yourself!

2008-2010

Don’t get stiffed in Palermo

Posted in Italy, Palermo, Sicily with tags , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by gannet39

These reviews are from 2008/9 but many will still be relevant. Heard Cucina has gone which is a shame. Has anyone checked it recently?

Typical Palmeritan dishes include Caponata (a sweet and sour aubergine stew, served as an entree or side dish), Pasta chi Sardi (sardines with wild fennel, pine nuts and raisins), Sfincione (a street food like pizza but thicker and usually topped with anchovies, tomatoes, stewed onions and breadcrumbs), Arancita, deep-fried rice balls filled with spinach or veal, Cassata (rich ricotta cream cake with marzipan) and Canoli (ricotta cream filled cakes). Pasta alla Norma, named after a character in a Verdi opera, consists of fried aubergine in a tomato sauce. Alla Palmeritana usually means coated with breadcrumbs. The ice cream is invariably good but you might like to try Granita (shavings of fruit flavoured ice) as another cooling option.

The house red in restaurants will invariably be Nero d’Avola. It’s usually best to avoid the house white although good whites are available by the bottle. Personal favourites include Charme (pronounced ‘sharm’) and Corvo Glycine which are lightly sparkling whites, and Leone, a floral Chardonnay/Sauvignon, and Principe di Corleone all excellent with seafood. Whites from Grillo grapes can also be very good.  Others I have been recommended butwhich remain untried include Syrah, Planeta, Donna Fugata, Frappato, Firriato, Principe di Butera.

It’s easy to spend a small fortune in the restaurants here and not get-value-for-money, or in fact get completely ripped off. Below are a few suggestions on where to go, and also where to avoid! As a general rule of thumb, the places around Via della Liberta are generally more upmarket, whereas eateries off Via Roma are cheaper. See also my reviews of Mondello if you fancy a day at the beach.

Right, 300 restaurants in the Palermo area, best get busy…

CHEAPER RESTAURANTS WITH GOOD FOOD:

Il Mirto e la Rosa (Intermediate A), 30 Via Principe di Granatelli, off Via Roma, closed Sunday.

A touristy place (recommended in several guides) but very good value with friendly service and lots of choices for vegetarians. In May it’s best to get there before 8, especially if you want to sit outside on the rather narrow terrace, although it’s quieter in June. They have set menus starting at €10, going up to €30. I like the €13 option, for which you get an Insalate Caprese (A), Fettucine Meditaranee (pasta with a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, B) or Fettucine Norma (B) and a veal escalope (A), or a plate of veg if you prefer. The red Nero d’Avola (Rallo ’08) (€7 half bottle) is very good although you might prefer the bone dry La Segreta Bianco (Planeta ’09) (€13) or the slightly sparkling white Corvo Glycine, (€12). The panna cotta is also wonderful (A). A limoncello is a bit expensive though at €4. The only negative is the frequent attention of hawkers and accordion players. If you can’t get in here, the Cafe Royal next door also has a selection of menus starting at €10, although I don’t know what the food is like.

Ristorante Altri Tempi (Intermediate A), 65 Via Sammartino, 5 mins from the Principe. GEM ALERT!

I love this place for its attitude as much as its food, which was very good value for money. It’s old school in every way, the menu is in dialect (and English) and the dishes are very traditional, and therefore possibly a bit challenging! The terrace is a popular meeting place for middle-aged blokes, I counted nineteen men to one woman outside, but don’t let this put you off. When I asked for the antipasti, seven dishes arrived at the table! I panicked about the cost but was told it would only come to €8 in all. You can also get free refills of water and wine! The starters were; 1) Vrocculi e Carduna a Pastetta (A), deep fried cauliflower and cardoons, and also chickpea fritters. 2) Favi a Cunnigghin (A), broad beans ‘a la rabbit’ i.e. with garlic, oregano and oil. 3) Pumaroro Siccu (B), sundried tomatoes with capers and a piece of cheese. 4) Caponata (B). 5) N’zalata d’arenga (C), smoked herring with orange, lemon, celery and olive oil, (too powerful for me and I’m half Norwegian). 6) Pieces of octopus, squid, mussels (B). 7) Mussu e Carcagnolu (B), which are erm..calves feet and cartilage (described as lips on the menu), actually not too bad! I had already ordered my pasta course but wished I hadn’t as I could only manage half of the above, and I was starving when I arrived! The Pasta chi Sardi (hollow pasta with sardines, dried broad beans, wild fennel and oil) was a bit too rustic for me and I could only give it a C. When I asked for a digestivo after my strawberries and canolino, three chilled bottles of homemade liqueurs were put on the table, limoncello, finochetto (fennel) and alloro (infused laurel leaves, a herbal taste like amaro but clear), all (!) delicious. Total cost €20, amazing value.

Cucina (Intermediate A), 54 Via Principe deVillafranca (between via Agrigento and Catania), Tel. 091 626 8216

Very popular with the locals due to having good simple food at great prices. The menu is spoken and changes daily. Modern, bright and simple decor. Don’t think they do reservations so get here early if you want a table for one, there will need to be more of you to sit on the terrace outside. They don’t really need your custom and there will probably be a queue at the door so they may well ask you to leave as soon as you finish! Not a problem if you are prepared for a certain level of brusqueness.

CHEAP PLACES WITH AVERAGE FOOD:

Pizzeria Bellini (Intermediate B), Piazza Bellini (off Via Maqueda, just after Quattro Canti)
Considered by many locals to be the best pizzeria in town, I think it’s pretty good but not a patch on Da Michele or Trianon in Naples. Pizzas start at €4.

Still you can sit outside in the very pleasant square surrounded by historical architecture (the so-called ‘Fountain of Shame’ with its controversial nude statues is in the adjoining square).

fountain

of shameCasa di Brodo (Intermediate B-), 175 Corso Vittorio Emanuele, open Sunday lunch, Tel: 091 321 655

A Palmeritan institution (since 1890), it has a nice art nouveau wooden interior but a slightly fusty atmosphere despite being recently repainted. It’s famous for its broth (brodo, in this case tortellini in chicken stock with parsley and chunks of celery and carrot)) which legend has it made people feel better during an epidemic at the end of the 19th century. To be honest it’s rather tasteless (C) (Italians don’t really do soup) and they seem to be living on their reputation. However it’s good value if you go for the set menus which offer a choice of two first and second courses for both fish and meat. I went for the seafood Menu della Tradizione for €18, and opted for Ravioli alla Cernia (grouper) which was great (A) but the following Involtini di Pesce Spada (a paste of swordfish, pine nuts and raisins formed into balls and grilled on a skewer) wasn’t really my thing (C), although it’s very traditional. You get water and a quartino of house wine included in the price (the white (B-) is ok). On a second visit, I had the sausage with a side order of chips which were perfectly edible but unimpressive (C). The rather unhelpful foppish manager was unable to recommend a wine with my food (“Everything is good”, I hate that!). There is an extensive but rather unattractively presented antipasti buffet too.  It’s worth the visit but twice was enough for me. Open Sundays but closed on Mondays.

If you go down the side alley next to Casa del Brodo, you enter a fascinating maze of ancient back streets. On the left as you go straight is a bizarre statue of a king holding a huge snake.

snake king

If you turn right from here you come to Piazza Garofolo which has a beautiful but derelict fountain and some pretty spectacular urban decay. I think this area was bombed in WW2 and seems never to have been rebuilt. Some of the houses look too dangerous to live in but are still inhabited.

garraffello

La Cambusa (Intermediate B), Piazza Marina (at the sea end of Corso Vittorio Emanuele)

Located next to the Giardino Garibaldi, near the La Cala yacht marina; this is a pleasant spot where you can sit outside in the square at a candlelit table. It’s been around a while (mentioned in my pre-euro Lonely Planet) and seems quite popular with locals. Not really worth a deliberate trek from town but if you are in the area it’s nice enough. I had Spaghetti alla Vongole Verace, Bisteca di Vitello alla Brace, Patate Fritte, water, a mezzo of house white and an ice cold limoncello (all B, except the chips C) for €29.50. There’s a cool little bar three doors down playing funk and reggae.

Hostaria de Ciccio (Intermediate B), Via Firenze 8 (off via Roma at the station end)

Many years ago (pre euro) Lonely Planet described this place as one of Palermo’s favourite cheap eating spots. They only had four customers when I went but the food was ok. The Zuppa di Cozze was a B, and the Spaghetti allo Scoglio a rather oily C. The house draught white (C) was €6 a mezzo as is the red. The strawberries were lovely. Total cost €31 with a limoncello and water. They have a €16 Menu Turistico and 6 tables outside, 2 large rooms inside. Closed Sunday.

Cambusone (Intermediate B), 25/27 Piazza Verdi, I missed it the first time I walked round the square but if you have Via Maqueda behind you, it’s in the far left corner of the square, behind the Theatre Massimo.

This is a popular place with locals, mentioned in Italian guides. It’s basically one big room with lots of paintings of bygone days adorning the walls. The waiters look like night club security but are actually quite friendly. The menu is fixed with three options for the second course. To start you can select from the huge buffet, about 40 types of anti-pasti. The pasta is ok, but my spaghetti with pesto and crunchy almonds (B-) was a bit oily. The waiter had problems with the minimal pairs ‘swordfish’ and ‘shellfish’ and I ended up with the former when I wanted the prawns everyone else was eating. Unfortunately it scored a D and sent it back and what I wanted instead. The full bottle of Nero d’Avola was very young and only got a C. Total cost €30 with water and dessert, which was good value but some of the food could be a bit better.

Osteria lo Bianco (Elementary C),104 Via Emerico Amari

If you are on a really tight budget and not too fussy what you eat then this place, with its sticky plastic tablecloths, may be an option. Primis are only €4 and secondos €6. I had Spaghetti all Acciuga Rosa (C), basically pasta with tomato puree, garlic and raisins, which arrived suspiciously quickly. I followed this with Arrosto Panato (C) which I was told differed from Cotolet Milanese by being roasted rather than fried, but it tasted deep fried to me. The first sip of wine was shudder inducing but went down reasonably well after that (you can’t really complain for €2 for a mezzo) and the limoncello an unheard of €1.50. Total cost €17 with salad and bread. There is a ‘buffet’ with about four items on it, including boiled spuds. I scored the food C for edible as opposed to D for inedible. Probably best to go for simple stuff like a veal steak and boiled greens. Go late and point at other people’s food! Nice lady serving.

Al Duar (Intermediate B/C), 28 Via Marino Stabile

You can get couscous in a lot of places in Palermo but I thought I would try out this long-standing Tunisian place and it was definitely worth it for the money paid. They do Italian dishes too but the best and most cost effective option is to get the four-course Menu Completo Tunisimo. The first course is Gilbena (B, a veal stew with peas and potatoes), Mescuita (C, a puree of grillend peppers and onion used as a condiment) and Merghes sausage which I added to the couscous later. Second course is Brik (B), a kind of crispy pancake with potato, tuna, egg and parsley) and Cebtia (C), a fried rissole of potato, veg and parsley which failed to impress. The third course was the couscous itself, I chose the meat version with vitello (B) and the accompanying semoule (C) which was made with the stock rather than being simply steamed which I prefer. Ask for harissa to whip into the couscous stock if you like it hot. If there’s two of you, you get a fourth course of Safoud, a spit of veal and veg, but you will probably be too full to eat it! Finally there was a fruit macedonia. All this with a half liter of water and a quartino of house red (C) for €17, cheap and very, very filling.

There’s a friendly and very comfy gay-run bar next door to the above. The Spanish brandy was a bit pricey at €6, though local drinks will be cheaper. There is a Phillipino restaurant next to this (always empty) , and a Chinese place at number 87 (although there’s a posher Chinese at 56 Principe de Belmonte).

M.R.S. di Tharsan, 3 Via Torre Arsa, (Intermediate B/C), just off Via della Liberta.

A Tamil restaurant selling Indian dishes. The interior looks very atmospheric although probably too warm, but you can sit outside on the street too. The starters I had pandered to the local taste for deep fried rustici, three balls of channa dahl, lentils, rice, with hot sauces, that were ok but nothing special. I opted for a thali of four curries, a delicious dahl and a nice fish curry but these were offset by a disappointingly flavourless chicken curry ,a rather bitter aubergine concoction and a very soft popadom. The beers were a reasonable €2. With fruit and a grappa it came to a very cheap €20. Good if you know what to order.

Ristorante Moon India (Elementary C), 35 Via Marino Stabile

Actually Bangladeshi rather than Indian, with a rather grumpy owner but his family are nice. Great samosas to start and the tandoori mixed grill (4 pieces of chicken and a rather non-descript seekh kebab) was delicious with yoghurt. The Chicken Jalfrezi and Tarka Dahl were very disappointing though, and the naan too doughy, however total cost with two Moretti beers (dirt cheap at €3 for 660ml) was €15. Fixed veggie menu for €7 includes samosas, saag paneer, tarka dahl, rice, naan, and rice pud.

MEDIUM RANGE PLACES WITH GOOD FOOD:

Antica Focacceria di San Francesco (Intermediate A), 58 Via A Paternostro

One of the oldest eating places in Palermo, since 1834, with a not particularly interesting Stile Liberty (Italian Art Nouveau) interior.

San Francesco

You can choose to eat off plastic inside or off porcelain on the nice terrace in the square outside as I did. Set menus from €6 to €12, salads for around €6, pizza and foccacia too. I had the rustici (rice balls, bechamel croquettes, chick pea fritters, pizza, caponata) followed by Analleti al Forno (pasta rings baked with tomatoes, mince, peas and parmesan), all delicious. A mezzo of draught house red was €4. You can choose desserts from a tray brought to your table.

The large cauldron in front of you as you go inside contains milza (veal innards, specifically lungs and spleen) an ancient Palermitan snack, served in a panino with shavings of caciocallo cheese and tasting rather like liver, actually rather nice.

milza

2016 update: The owner of Antica Focacceria di San Francesco recently featured on Gino D’Acampo’s ‘Italian Escapes’ as he’s famous for bravely refusing to pay the mafia their ‘pizzo’ or protection bribe. The anti-mafia campaign Addiopizzo got its start here. For that reason alone they should be supported.

La Dispena dei Monsu (Intermediate B), Via Principe

A nice place with an atmospheric off-street terrace, candlelit so not good for reading, and a soulful selection of cool sounds on the CD player. The food is good, a modern take on traditional classics. The main menu is reasonable but many dishes weren’t available and the daily specials are pricier. The crostini with baby tomatoes and oregano (€2) were rather brittle. The Tagliatelle con Pesto e Mandorle was crunchy but you couldn’t taste the almonds. The Lacerto (veal) in Agglace al Frebbiano (onion sauce) was delicious whilst the accompanying contorno of apple caponata was interesting but there was too much off it. Wine is only sold by the glass, but I wasn’t too impressed by the €18 Cos (Azienda Agricola ’06) which the waiter recommended. Total cost €39 with water and cover.

Piccolo Napoli (Intermediate B), 4 Piazzetta Mulino al Vento (at the beginning of a side street on the right of Corso Domenica Scina as you walk down to the Borgo Vecchio).

A mid-range place in the Borgo Vecchio, recommended by Gambero Rosso and a local fixture for over sixty years. The location and interior decor is nothing special but the service was friendly. Every table was full when I arrived but I managed to get one after a few minutes wait. After some delicious olives (A) and a plate of Caponata (B), I had the Spaghetti alla Marinara (A) which wasn’t much to look at, being mainly cubed squid with the odd prawn, but the pasta had been finished perfectly in the stock and it tasted wonderful. The following grilled prawns were big and juicy but a bit disappointing (B) for this Norwegian (must remember cold water prawns have much more taste and order something else next time I’m in the south). The accompanying €13 bottle of Leone was already my favourite local white wine (A) and went perfectly with the seafood. Total cost €62 (the prawns were €18 and I had two limoncellos) as it was my first night and I was treating myself, but you can eat more cheaply here.

Ristorante/Pizzeria Le Volte (Intermediate B+), 12 Via Agrigento, open Sundays.

A good quality place recommended by the hotel, I went a couple of times till I found cheaper places. The Busiati al Pesto di Pistacchi di Bronte (pasta twists in a pistacchio and bacon sauce) was original (B) and the Risotto al Nero di Seppia con Salsa di Fasolari (risotto in squid ink with chargrilled clams) was very good (A). Wasn’t so keen on the Scontatissimo Involtino alla Siciliana which was balls of veal mince grilled on a skewer, with mash and mushrooms (C). Ask the price when given suggestions, the fish with cherry tomatoes ended up costing €22.50 alone. House half bottles of Nero d’Avola (Desio ’06) cost €7. I wasn’t too impressed by the local Bianco d’Alcamo at €10 for a full bottle. Open Sundays.

There’s a Japanese sushi place called Tribeca at the posh end of Via Marino Stabile at #134, full of beautiful people but a bit too expensive for me.

EXPENSIVE PLACES WITH GOOD FOOD:

Officina del Gusto Bye Bye Blues (Advanced A+), 316 Corso Vittorio Emanuele (where it meets Via Maqueda at Cuatro Canto), Tel. 091 6111568, www.officinabyebyeblues.com GEM ALERT!

This is a satellite restaurant of the fantastic original in Mondello (see below), one of my favourite restaurants in Italy. You can sit outside or in. Nina and I went for the €40 Menu de Degustation and weren’t disappointed. After an amuse bouche of mussels and clams in a courgette sauce and a mini sfincione (like pizza but different dough?) the main event started with amberjack fish in a pea soup (A) followed by rolls of squid and a lemon sponge in lemon sauce (B), spaghetti in a ragu of tuna and tomato (A), tagliolini cooked in squid ink (A+) and fish croquettes (B-), finishing with homemade ice cream in a bavarese cream sauce (A). The white wine (Schietto ’08) made of Grillo grapes from the Spadafora IGT was fantastic (A+) and a bargain at €14. I had a Passito sweet wine with dessert and an Amaro di Capo digestivo too. It’s fantastic value for what you get, beautifully presented dishes without compare in terms of taste. They also sell deli items, both local and international.

La Scuderia (Advanced A-), 9 Viale del Fante, just a few doors towards town from the stadium.

Recommended by a local businesswoman, this is the place to take your industry contacts to impress them. The food is good but pricey, you are basically paying for the service (I prefer to pour my own wine). The Pasta alla Norma (B) was pretty but I had better elsewhere, the seared tuna steak also. There’s a great wine list but bottles start at around €15. Three courses with wine cost €54, wouldn’t go again.

EXPENSIVE PLACES WITH BAD FOOD:

Ristorante Pizzeria Biondo (Intermediate C), 15 Via G.Carducci, 15 mins from the Hotel Principe.

Recommended by both hotels I stayed at, but with overpriced and often badly made food. The waiter I got was brusque and unhelpful, though the others were ok. It might be better on a different night but I wouldn’t go again. The Antipasti della Casa included some lovely grilled sweet peppers and caponata but the rustici and mushrooms were horrible. The Agnello Siciliana (roast lamb with rosemary) was tough and the burnt roast potatoes were going soggy in the gravy, an insult for €18. The house Nero d’Avola (Campo Reale ’08) was good (B+). Got some free, very dry fig rolls and amaretti at the end. Had to make them switch off the music because the speakers were so bad on the small terrace. Total cost, with an amaro, €49, a rip off as far as I was concerned.

Trattoria ai Normanni (Intermediate D), 25 Piazza Vittoria

Listed in several Italian and English guides this place is taking advantage of it’s lovely setting in a Norman square near the cathedral to rip off unsuspecting tourists, look at the outside by all means but don’t go in! The service was pleasant enough but the small portions of food were badly cooked (I sent back my €10 Spaghetti alla Pescatora but was so hungry I had to eat my burnt Controfilletto ai Ferri alla Palermitana with iceberg lettuce). The prices look ok on paper but the house Nero (admittedly quite good) was an extortionate €5 for a quartino, and they wanted to charge the same for a digestivo. My starter of Vari Antipasti varied between A for the deep fried calmaretti, B for the marinaded anchovies and Polpo alla Greca (octopus with olives, capers and basil) and C for the worst chick pea fritters so far and piece of fish with raw garlic. My replacement primo Casarecce Salsiccia e Pomodoro was ok. I was going to score them a C but then the bill arrived…

Ristorante Pizzeria Peppino (Intermediate C), 49 Pizza Castelnuovo, at the end of Via dell Liberta

Red chequed tablecloths in a tunnel like room. Owner was rather pushy. Had a very doughy pizza for €5 and paid nearly the same for water and cover. Other food (and places) probably better.

BARS:

Acanto Blu (Intermediate A/B?), 10 Via TorreArsa , just off Liberta

This place has an atmospheric courtyard with palm trees and a South American feel. They do food (prices look reasonable) but I have only had drinks here. It was also the only bar I found that had fresh limes and could consequently do a half-decent caiparinha, although the sugar is a bit coarse. Cocktails are €5/6. A nice place for an apertivo or a digestivo. Opens 6.30.

Via dell Orologio, along with the next parallel street and the square at the end, is a good spot for bars and light night drinking. I liked the Moroccan vibe of Caffeteria il Siciliano at 37 Via dell Orologio which has outdoor floor cushions in the adjoining alleyway.

OTHER USEFUL INFO:

Filippo’s at 219 Via M. Stabile, is a great salumeria (“the best” according to the IH rep) for stuff to take home, or for self catering. He’s brusque at first but lightens up if you work on him and show some knowledge.

Vucchiria marketAnother good place for take home treats is Antica Drogheria (spelling?) at 45-51 via Porta Carini, in the Capo street market. Antonello, the shop manager (his auntie owns it), is a great salesman and an excellent English speaker (and wannabe teacher!). He proudly showed me an article on his shop in the Sunday Times magazine and was over the moon when I countered with his accolade in the Easyjet in-flight brochure. Many of the products (pesto in particular) are homemade by his family. I went for the extra-virgin olive oil, super-dense and best for salads, and the giant capers (total cost €15).courgette varieties

The Hotel Principe has a gym and internet (€4 p/h or €10 for 24 hours).

There’s a Carrefour supermarket in the basement of Oviesse at 30 Via della Liberta.

There is an upmarket internet place at 41 Piazza Sturzo (€3 an hour).There are cheaper Bangladeshi-run internet places opposite each other on Via E. Ximenes, the friendliest being at 37a, both cost €2 an hour.
sharkThis is in the Borgo Vecchio, a vibrant multi-cultural slum, with lots of street food and market stalls where you can see whole tuna and swordfish being chopped and sold.

If you’re staying at the Hotel Plaza Opera (great staff, top breakfast) you can get an hour of free internet if you ask (they don’t advertise it). It’s €4 for an hour otherwise. You also get a free welcome glass of Prosecco if you give the barman the small gold disk by your bed.

There’s another Internet place at 3a Via Sammartimo (€1 per 20 mins).

The stalls in Piazza Verdi sell international newspapers.

Huge Feltrinelli bookshop at 133 Via Cavour.

There is a public swimming pool near the stadium, but you need some kind of pass to use it. The staff said there is another at Via Belgio but I didn’t have time to check it out.

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