Archive for Italy

Calabria – Sleepless in Vibo Valentia

Posted in Calabria, Italy, Vibo Valentia, Vibo Valentia Province with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Vibo ValentiaThis provincial capital is split into two parts, Vibo Pizzo at the bottom of the hill (where the station and the marina are) and Vibo Valentia at the top.

People doing my job usually use the Hotel 501 which is most of the way up the hill, about ten minutes walk up to the town. It would take about an hour to walk down the hill to the marina and there are no pavements.

The 501’s location isn’t ideal but bear in mind it has a pool and free internet. The only other options are a more centrally located 3 star without those facilities or the noisy Locanda (see review below).

La Locanda di Daffina (Intermediate B), 160 Corso Umberto I (entrance at the side), Vibo Valentia,

Had a pleasant meal on the terrace here. To start, some fresh young pecorino with some red onion chutney (both local specialities) followed by Tagliolino con Gambero Rosso e Pachino ((excellent red prawns (A) and cherry tomatoes (B+)) and my friend the Tagliate di Filletto con Tartar di Verdure di Stagione (strips of steak with seasonal veg with tartar sauce (B+))

This was washed down with another Ciro from Tenuto Iuzzolino (B+) which was good, but not a patch on the classico version by the same cantina.

Three of us stayed here for one night, thankfully not longer. The level of disorganisation was such that we got the feeling they had only just opened. The attractive double rooms were quirky, (eg bunk bed over the bathroom!) and had beautiful vaulted ceilings, lovely bathroom tiles and tasteful period decor, but weren’t particularly practical (old creaky beds and floors, no shower curtains etc).

The biggest problem however was the scraping chairs upstairs in the restaurant keeping us awake till past midnight, and then a piano recital at 2am from the owner’s son! By all means come to eat but it’s probably best to stay at the 501 if you want a decent night’s sleep and modern facilities.

L’Approdo (Advanced A+), 22 Via Roma, Vibo Pizzo, Tel. 0963 572640, www.lapprodo.com open every day.

GEM ALERT!

Don’t come to this formal place if you are on a budget, three of us spent €25 each way in a taxi from the top of the hill to Vibo Marina and another €55 each on food and wine, but it was worth it! It’s the kind of posh place that has individual cotton hand towels in the loo. The wine list was a 34 page book with an index.

We started with the Antipasti di Mare (€22) (A) which included Alici Ripiene (stuffed anchovies), Mazzancolle Merosta di Lardo di Colonnata (king prawns with Tuscan fatty pork), Spiedino di Pesce Spada (chunks of swordfish on a skewer), Totuni e Pomodorini al Basilico (a type of squid with cherry toms and basil), Insalata di Pesce Castagna (fish, egg, cheese, chestnuts) and Gratin di Bianchetto (whitebait baked with cheese). Due to the nouvelle cuisine presentation, we couldn’t work out what was what on the plate, but it was all delicious!

My main was Capretto del Monte Puro alla Brace, Timo, Menta e Balsimico (grilled goat from Mount Puro with a local red onion chutney) (B+), and Alison’s Trancio di Pescatrice all Arancia con Lenticchie dei Pollino was very nice (A), but the best main course was Nicky’s Medaglione di Filetto ‘Chianina’ Gratinato ai Funghi Porcini, Radicchio Brasto al Vino Rosso (chianina is beef from highly pampered cattle, similar to Kobe beef) (A+).

The highlight for all of us were the white and red wines, both Ciro Classico (€18) (A++) from Tenuta Iuzzolini (the red was 2006), startlingly unique, and some of the most delicious wine I have ever tasted. (NB although difficult to prove, Ciro is believed to be the oldest wine still being produced in the world.)

I finished with a local grappa (Ronco dei Quattroventi) (B+) but coveted my neighbour’s Cognac Park (cigar blend 40 vielle fine champ). You can also get set course menus for €30 to €45 and a tasting menu for €90.

Fillipo’s (Intermediate B), 128 corso Umberto I, Vibo Valentia, 0963 44870

Had an ok ;ate lunch here that started very well but the quantities seemed to tail off towards the end. Starters included bull salami, mortadella, local sautéed Tropea red onions, stewed pumpkin with cumin, cheese and potato soufflé, vegetable omelette/frittata, pasta with cream, rocket and grana, pasta in tomato sauce and fried fish with raw fennel (all B +/-). The Cauro IGT red (Statti ’05) (B+) and Mantanico white (B) were both from nearby Lamezia Terme. Mentioned in Gambero Rosso and owned by the brother of the Locanda above, it is principally a wine bar that sells food.

Specialities of Vibo Valentia province:

According to legend, pecorino cheese-making originated during the Greek period in a small village called Zaccanos (now Zaccanapoli) which literally means sheep corral, and later spread to the Poro, a mountainous area of VV. When it is young and fresh (‘green’) it has a sweet flavour with a sour aftertaste and can be served in slabs as antipasti. The older version (aged 6-8 months) tastes salty and spicy and is grated on to pasta. It is sometimes also used in desserts.

‘Nduja is a huge sausage with a sweet, peppery taste, made from a mix of pork meat including fat, bacon and cheek, blended with salt and red chilli, which is then smoked and hung. It can be spread on fresh bread or bruschetta, or combined with fileja, (the local handmade pasta which is formed by rolling around a small stick), and topped with grated pecorino. The DOP for ‘nduja is around the village of Spillinga where they celebrate the “sagra della ‘ndjua” festival every August.

The coastal town of Tropea is famous for ‘la cipolla rosa di Tropea’, which looks rather like a red spring onion with a white centre. This unique onion has its own DOP from the E.U. which takes in the Tyrrhenian coastal area from Nicotera to Pizzo Calabria. It has a strong and sweet aroma which makes it good for chutneys, omelettes and salads. The flavour can be made stronger by storing. You might see plaits of onions decorating shops and houses in the summer.

Mostaccioli (“pupazzo” in dialect) are hard biscuits formed into decorative shapes with symbolic meanings. They are made by expert artisans called ‘mastazzolari’ from flour, water and honey and originate from the small village of Soriano Calabro. They are considered a symbol of love in Calabria and heart-shaped biscuits are traditionally given as presents to celebrate engagements and weddings. They can also be shaped in the form of saints for religious days or as animals, such as a horse, goat, cock or fish, to celebrate the beauty of nature.

Olive oil production is important throughout the province. One of the most famous extra virgin oils is made from cold pressing the ‘ottobratica’ variety. Other famous varieties include ‘cecerello’ and ‘miseo’.

The villages of Joppolo, Maierato, Soriano Calabro and Piscopio are also famous for honey which comes in acacia, orange blossom and chestnut varieties.

The Serre highlands in the east of the province are known for mushrooms, primarily Porcini, but also the Gallinacci, Pratioli and ‘Drum and Nail’ varieties.

A famous dessert is ‘il tartufo di Pizzo’, an icecream with chocolate inside.

Written November 2009

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.

Calabria – Reggio di Calabria

Posted in Calabria, Reggio di Calabria, Reggio di Calabria Province, Villa San Giovanni with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Lungomare and EtnaAlthough Reggio is the second oldest city in Italy, it’s a fairly unpretty town with few old buildings. However, it’s still popular with tourists who come to see the famous bronzes (see below) on their way to Sicily or elsewhere. Consequently it’s quite expensive. For me, the nicest thing about it is the long pedestrian boulevard along the seafront where you have fantastic views of Sicily looming large across the straits of Messina with Etna dominating the skyline. I love running along here in the dusk with the sun going down behind the volcano. It can be a bit edgy down here at night though with gangs of pushers peddling around the RC Lido station.

Generally I found it pretty tough to find a good value-for-money restaurant in Reggio. This first place is the only one I would really recommend.

I Tre Farfalli (Intermediate B+), 47 Via del Torrione, reservations recommended, Tel 0965817667 or 3389897788.

This is the best all-round place I found here, very atmospheric with lots of dark wood and low lighting. Popular with the locals, I had a family of twenty-six for company on the next table. The menu is fixed so you just decide which courses you want and eat what you are given. Although I had to wait till the kitchen was open at 8.30, whilst munching on some very tasty miniscule olives, the waiter was very helpful, giving me a running commentary on everything that came to the table. The antipasti included capocollo, two types of croquettes, carciofi, pan fried greens, a bowl of bean stew, deep fried bread, a pecorino dipping sauce, ricotta and half a grilled potato. The primi was two kinds of pasta on one plate, ‘macaroni’ (long, thin twists) in tomato sauce and gnocchi with aubergine and peppers, and the secondo was three types of pork (thick pancetta, sausage and a chop). Except for the capocollo and secondo everything was veggie. Along with a bottle of the house red and a bergamot liquer the whole bill came to a very reasonable 25 euro. To be honest, the food was ok but not amazing, hence the B+.

Revisited the next year with five others and had an even better experience because we could share everything. The experience was as good as last time, nice atmos, friendly staff, generally good food and lots of it. My only criticism was that they was a bit too much fried antipasti, which included three kinds of vegetable polpetti (aubergine, broccoli, ricotta ‘balls’), potato and cheese cakes, plain deep-fried lumps of dough (all B/C) with a declicious cheese sauce, caponata (aubergine stew), capocollo (cured ham) and a fagioli soup (all A/B). We couldn’t manage a pasta course and went straight to the mixed grill of beef, pork and sausage (C/B/A). Their delicious house red (B), bearing the restaurant name, was ‘Terramia’ from the Agrila(?) IGT in the nearby hills. To finish fresh fruit and the local bergamot digestive which was clear on this occasion. Total cost, a stunning €20 each. I also bought a bottle of homemade bergamot liquer a from here too for €10. There were fennel, liquorish and plain flavours too, as well as peperoncino (a local speciality) flavoured grappa.

There are a couple of friendly bars just a few doors down, and a shop that sells all things bergamottian. Bergamot, by the way, is a citrus fruit found only in this province. It’s kind of a cross between a lime and a lemon and is mainly produced for the perfume industry, and also for Earl Grey tea. The liqeuer is very tasty too, drunk chilled and similar to limoncello. Ask for a bergamino in restaurants (grammar note, one bergamino, two bergamotti).

Da Giovanni (Intermediate B), 77 Via del Torrione

An old school restaurant complete with bow-tied waiter and pictures of clowns and kittens on the walls, no TV or music, but reccommended for its seafood. This is a good place to taste spada (swordfish) which is supposed to be ‘the best in the world’ in the sea around here. I had a nice Critone white wine from the Val de Neto IGT to wash down the seafood antipasti (delectable octopus, prawns and smoked spada), grilled spada steak, an overdressed salad, fresh strawberries and a berganino. The handwritten menu was unreadable so I got shock when the bill came in at 48 euro. Don’t think I would go again as it was expensive and stuffy.

Osteria Symposuim (Intermediate B), 6 Vico le Roma, left out of the Hotel Royal and second left.

A modern place with light jazz and a sullen waitress (probably sick of being ordered around by the affected owner). I had an excellent steak, salad and chips with a couple of glasses of red Ciro and a grappa. Again it was expensive, 32 euro, so another one to maybe give a miss. First courses were 8 to 12 euro and mains 8 to 15.

La Rosa dei Venti (Intermediate B), Piazza Monsolini – Lido Communale, (go to the other side of the RC Lido station entrance on the lungomare, take the stairs down towards the sea, the restaurant is on the far side of the car park).

Three of us had the €18 Menu Fisso (fixed menu) here. We shared Insalata di Polipo, Pepata di Cozze and Alice Marinate to start (all B), followed by Risotto ai Frutti di Mare (B), Tagliatelle all Ancona (olives, toms, uninteresting lumps of swordfish) (C) and a delicious Pesce Spada Arrosto (swordfish steak)(A), with a green salad and a 1/4 of white wine each. Strange that the swordfish was so variable, especially as the straits of Messina are supposed to be the best place to fish for them. Uninteresting decor, rather dark except for all the tellys (at least five) but ok reasonably priced food.

Gelataria Cesare sells ‘the best icecream in Calabria’ according to one of the teachers I worked with, and it is very nice. It’s the green hut just over from the RC Lido station.

Untried:

Baylik, 1 vico Leone, (the best place in town but a long way?) not Thurs (from Gambero Rosso and internet)

Le Rose al Bicchiere, 118 via D.Tripepi (from Gambero Rosso)

Bronzi di RiaceThe ok but nothing special Hotel Royal is literally next door to the archaeological museum which houses the famous Bronzi da Riace, two wonderful greek bronze statues found by a scuba diver in the sea nearby during the 70s. They are a big tourist pull which is probably why everything is so expensive in the area. The museum closes at 8, entrance is 4 euro.

The sister hotel of the Royal, the Excelsior just over the road, has internet for €5p/h.

Buffet Stazione F.S. Villa San Giovanni (Elementary D-)

Villa San Giovanni is the ferry port next to RC where you catch the ferry to Sicily. This hole surely has to be a contender for the grimmest station bar in the country. We had to spend an hour here having missed the ferry to Messina which left 5 minutes early, by their own clock. Bastardi! The mistake we made was trying to buying our tickets from the bookstore on platform one from the pretentious proprietor who wanted to demonstrate his (bad) English. We decamped to this grimy dark hole to wait for an hour till the next ferry. To pass the time we invested €8 in possibly the rankest Nero D’Avola ever bottled, something like a fizzy rose laced with Benolin. No wonder the girl on the till looked at me as if I was insane when I asked for it. All the same, we flopped onto the Coca Cola high chairs and did our best to drown our sorrows under the searching stares of various misfits and scornful bar staff, one of whom suggested a spag bol might help the wine down. One look at the food on display was enough to dispel that idea. Glistening processed cheeses nestling against sweating mortadella, flapping between slices of wonderloaf with the crusts cut off. Buxom cakes with beige cream fillings, topped with glinting glace cherries, cosying up to huge canolos with ricotta oozing from within. Singed grey croissants sat in a glass case like a museum display. Once on board though we were cheered up by the recorded Inglish safety instructions which were hilariously incomprehensible. For future reference you can buy your tickets on board, the crossing takes 25 mins.

Updated Nov 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.

Pozzouli, Arco Felice, Lucrino, Baia and Cuma

Posted in Arco Felice, Baia, Cuma, Lucrino, Pozzoulli with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Pozzuoli has lots of clubs for the crazy Neopolitan kids on holiday, but for more mature, outdoor drinking, head into Baia, there are lots of popular bars around the marina. You will see large crowds of people standing along the sides of the main road as you go through. There is they a ‘mini Pompei’ nearby and the marina is also the place to get the glass-bottomed boat to see the sunken underwater Roman ruins, including many beautiful mosaics. There’s lots of sightseeing in the area but be quick before it all sinks into the sea! The whole region, known as the Campi Flegrei is a vulcanologist’s fantasy land. I love this area but sadly they have the same problem with the Camorra as Naples so there are  piles of uncollected rubbish lining the roads. It’s a very sad sight and a reminder of the problems that exist in this paradise. I have stayed twice at the unremarkable but convenient La Tripergola in Arco Felice on the main coast road.

Il Capriccio (Intermediate A), in Lucrino near Arco Felice, 1 Piazetta Italia, on the land side of the main drag, near the station just by Lago Lucrino. Any local will point you in the right direction. Tel 081 866 2984. GEM ALERT!

A very famous seafood restaurant, informal and popular with families (ie lots of noisy kids!). You can sit outside under the awning. Start with some pizzette (deep fried balls of dough infused with seaweed) or the bruschette. Risotto alla Pescatore was good, washed down with a nice Fiano. Wasn’t too impressed by the Greco di Tufo white (Montesole for €12), and the local white is just about drinkable for only €3. Also good is the octopus salad and the deep fried prawns with rucola. Profiteroles and a free grappa or limoncello to finish. Ate here most nights. Coperto is €1 and service 10%. Go to the bar next door for a good coffee.

La Nunfia (Advanced B+), opposite the above, on the lake.

Great seafood but at a price. It’s too formal and lacking in atmosphere for my liking. Better to go over the road.

There is a public indoor swimming pool where you can do lengths. It’s on the coast road in Arco Felice, just before Lake Lucrino on the sea side.

If you turn off the main road by Lake Lucrino and follow the side road that goes between the two restaurants above, you will get to another lake in an old volcano crater. It’s a nature reserve so very nice to walk or jog around. Lots of vinyards, moorhens, frogs, lizards and the odd tramp! The Temple of Diana is here though there is not much to see.

There is a very long sandy beach at up the coast Cuma but you will need a car to reach it (I hired a car from Hotel Europa in Caserta for €150 for the weekend). La Plage was a fairly nice beach club but I wouldn’t recommend Papete. To get to the beach road, take a left turn as you come out of Cuma.

Home Cooking in Lecce

Posted in Lecce with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39
Trattoria Le Zie – Cucina Casareccia  (Intermediate A+), 19 Via Colonello Costadura, Tel. +39 083 224 5178. GEM ALERT!

Just outside the historic centre in a rather dingy part of town, this place unexpectedly provided me with one of the best eating experiences I’ve ever had in Italy. Spartan, traditional and friendly with fantastic food, it’s basically a family house with twelve tables crammed into their dining room and hallway. You have to ring the doorbell and someone comes to let you in. All the family are in the kitchen and greet you as you enter.

The son is a lovely guy and helped me decipher the hand-written menu as we massacred each others languages. I ordered antipasti (beans, aubergine, ricotta) and a primi (‘orecchiette o sagne’ ie pasta with veal meatballs) and would have ordered the horse steak for my secondo had it not been for the plate of pittuli (olives and other things in deep fried doughballs) and and bowl of  ‘tria’ that showed up unordered.

‘Tria’ is an ancient dish, possibly Greek in origin, which consists just of chickpeas and pasta, but a third of the pasta has been deep fried to provided a crunchy contrast to the softness of the rest. Really simple but so deliciously cooked here. Chickpeas (cece) are a staple everywhere in this part of Puglia, as is chicory.

The house red was really good too. I finished off with a sublime cheesecake and a glass of pomegranate liqueur, all made on the premises.

You have to reserve as there are only a few covers, so have the hotel reception call them first. They were empty when I arrived just after 8pm but full by 9.

So in a nutshell, I love this place! It’s not in the old town, it’s a bit of a grotty area actually, but really worth the effort of finding it in my opinion.  I went originally in 2008 so I hope they are still as good.

When I last looked 2014 I was glad to see they are only #117 on Trip Advisor so they hopefully haven’t been spoiled by an oversupply of tourists. Most of the complaints seem to be from Italians who accuse the food of being too simple, or not as good as at home, but then what would you expect? It’s not haute cuisine, just good home cooking.

There are other nice places in the historic centre of Lecce too but they can be a bit hit and miss by all accounts.

Trani

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


Trani is an absolute gem, a beautiful little fishing port, originally founded by the Greeks but with examples of several architectural styles in the old centre. The unusual Romanesque cathedral should certainly be visited.

 

Local food products include fruit, olive oil, and the famous Muscat di Trani, a fortified dessert white wine, for which the town has its own DOC. The hotel is next to the harbour, and there are several restaurants around the marina, although I avoided these as they were empty and looked like tourist traps (I was there in November). The better places are generally down the backstreets but there is a huge choice.

Corteinfiore (Advanced A), 18 via Ognissanti, tel 0883 508402 , closed Monday. GEM ALERT!

This is a wonderful place, bright and modern with an internal garden which is heated in the winter. The service is excellent and the owner very friendly and helpful. We went for a shared €10 Antipasti di Mare Cotto, which included ricotta wrapped in smoked swordfish (A), cod (stockfish) and potato patties coated with polenta flour and fried and served with sundried tomatoes and a hint of chilli (A), marinaded tuna with zucchini (B), roast octopus with rape (B), seared tuna (B) and prawns wrapped in pancetta (C). I also had some Antipasti di Mare Crudo which consisted of tuna, swordfish and prawn sashimi (B). My first course was “Caramelle” di Zucchine e Ricotta con Gamberi su Vellutata di Zucca Gialla (A), which was homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and prawns and served in a seasonal pumpkin sauce, for €10. Alison Slade had some huge langoustines, fresh from the quay, which were €20 for 250g. To drink we were recommended to start with the very original and different tasting Come d’Incanto (€10, B+), a white made with the Puglian red Nero di Troia grape from Cantina Carpentiere who have only been making it for the last two years. We followed with “Canonico” (B+), a Negroamaro from Cantine due Palme in the Salento IGT (B+). It cost €13 but my friend Nicky saw it later for €4 in the supermarket. To finish we had a glass of delicious Muscat di Trani, a famous local dessert wine with a lovely perfume and not too sweet (see enoteca note below). A real winner overall for service, ambience, food and value for money. Also Gambero Rosso recommended.

Trattoria U’Vrascir (Intermediate A), 9 Piazza Cesare Battisti (near the cathedral), Tel. 0883 491840, closed Tuesday.

Nicky went here and said it was even better than the place above! You can opt for Antipasti from the sea or the earth. She went for the latter and had six delightful vegetable and meat dishes.

Locanda Pesevenghi (Intermediate A-), 80 via Marittimi (on the harbourfront), Tel. 347 0303458, closed Tuesdays.

This tiny place (20 seats) was recommended by reception, but I didn’t get in the first time I went as there were no single tables. I went again for lunch and had an excellent local spaghetti-like pasta dish with squid, tiny prawns and baby clams. The house white would have been nicer more chilled but it was ok, and the homemade bread was some of the nicest I have tasted in Italy, soft and still warm. The attractive interior has the feel of a library, shelved books interspersed with knick knacks and nudes. The lady proprietor was very friendly and helpful. A nice little spot.

Ristorante Torrente Antico (Advanced A-), 3 via E.Fusco (bit hard to find, it’s on a backstreet near Piazza Republica).

Found this place by chance and went in for lunch, even though it was empty, due to the window being plastered with guide book stickers. On entering I was hit with a slightly musty old-building smell but it wasn’t intolerable. The walls are covered with shelves bearing a huge array of wine bottles and grappas so I think it doubles as an enoteca. The bow-tied silver service waiter was a very pleasant and helpful chap who spoke a little English. I received a complimentary salt-cod pattie while I was waiting for my Mezze Maniche ai Frutta di Mare (half tubes of medium-size pasta with several clams, squid and a solitary prawn) which was very nice (A-) although the pasta was a little hard. The menu had only three meat options but twice that number of ‘sea fruit’ dishes. Would definitely go again.

La Locanda (Intermediate B), 10/12 via Zanarelli (off the harbourfront, just after Piazza Teatro).

I chose this place because it was busy when all other places were empty, but with hindsight many of the customers were probably staying at the inn, rather than being locals. The ancient stone interior is very atmospheric if a little cramped; I had to change chairs to allow the portly (but very friendly) waiter to squeeze past my table. The decor is unusual, ranging from beautiful tablecloths to more dodgy ceramic smiley suns, still life drawings of fruit, pictures of Glenlivet dray horses and displays of bar utensils in glass cases. I took a chance on the Antipasti Vari con Mare Cotto, without knowing what I was going to get. There were six dishes of cooked seafood, including smoked salmon and swordfish (A), battered chunks of white fish (A), heavily salted prawns (B), squid in tomato sauce (C), oyster mushrooms (C) and the rather tasteless Cernia con Crema di Carciofi (white fish in a puree of artichoke hearts) (C) accompanied by a bottle of non-descript €13 Puglian Chardonnay and two grappas (one complimentary). Total cost €35 with water and cover. I’m sure you can get better dishes here though, a neighbouring table’s scampi looked amazing, so don’t let my C’s put you off going, just choose something else.

Osteria ai Platani (Intermediate B), 16 via E.Comneno, left and left out of the hotel, it’s on a crossroads)

Pleasant enough food, nothing special. After complementary arancini and bruschetta, three of us had a hard time getting through all six dishes of the Antipasto Completo which included marinaded anchovies (from the tin?), prawns and barley, smoked fish with potatoes, mussel gratin, and something lasagne like. House white was fine and the Muscat di Trani dessert wine was wonderful. Nearest decent non-touristy place to the hotel.

You should really take a bottle of Muscat di Trani home with you and there is a good enoteca at #16 Corso Regina Elena which had a choice of two 500ml bottles for €10 and €8.60. However, if you go a couple of doors down to #8 and go through the bead curtain, you will find a chap sat on a plastic garden chair selling his own wine on tap out of four large tanks. He sold me 1.5 litres of nouvelle Muscat in a plastic water bottle for €6, bargain! He also has Aglianico and Montepuciliano. GEM ALERT!

Probably Greek in origin, venerated by kings and Venetian traders, the ancient Muscat di Trani comes in two varities. The ‘sweet’ (dolce)is a golden yellow with an intense aroma and an alcohol content of 12.5. The second ‘liquerish’ (liquoroso) variety is aged for at least a year and has an alcohol content of 18. It should be served at 10\12 degrees and goes well with almond cakes, fruit salads and mild cheeses.

We stayed at Hotel San Paolo al Convento, a very pleasant former convent on the harbourside. Room 204 was the best of three, with two balconies and sea views on two sides. There’s free internet access in all the rooms, just ask for a connecting lead from reception. There’s no gym but I had a pleasant run in the nearby Villa Communale and around the harbour, cathedral and castle.

Written November 2009.

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.

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.

Reggio nell’ Emilia in Lambruscoland

Posted in Emilia Romagna, Italy, Reggio nell' Emilia with tags , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by gannet39

Emila Romagna, Italy 2009

Modena, which has three DOC’s, is the centre for Lambrusco production but Reggio has the latest and only other DOC (go for dry-secco, rather than sweet-amabile). Locals tend to be quite disparaging about their own wine as they are sandwiched between Tuscany to the south and the great Barolo region to the north but it can be quite good as well as very cheap, typically €7 in a restaurant. The best I found was the Concerto 2007 (B+),others varied from poor to just ok. You can buy the Concerto for €4.50 at Bigliardi Enoteca at 21a Via Emila all’ Angelo. A good sweet white (untried) is apparently Bianco di Scandiano, and the drier Pignoletto.

Reggio doorway

The local pasta to try is Capelleti (filled with a pork ragu, particularly famous in Ferrara) and Tortelli, which look like Ravioli but have vegetarian fillings as opposed to meat. The most common fillings are the ‘verdi’ ricotta & spinach, asparagus or potato, the last being my favourite.

capelettii

Via Roma seems to have most things you might might need, a macrobiotic restaurant at number 55c, a salumeria at 53, internet at 56, a curry house at 40, North African food at 35, barber at 29a, tabbacheria at 30b, supermarket in the basement at no 1 and an antique street market on Saturdays. Avoid Trattoria Canossa (the hotels recommendation), it’s overpriced and fusty. I walked out after 10 mins of waiting for the menu and being ignored.

The town centre is very relaxed, I counted four bars in the centre that were playing chilled house or live blues with the speakers out on the street. Most of them have comfortable seating areas outside.

Da Italo (Intermediate A), 14 Via Sessi, off Via Roma, look for the white awning. GEM ALERT!

I love this place, mainly for the wonderful Parisian cafe atmosphere (low lighting, wooden cabinets dark red painted walls, booths, quirky pictures, accordion music) but the food is also very good. There is no name on the outside and you have to ring the bell to be let in.

Da Italo's atmosphere

Davide the friendly owner speaks English and was happy to chat about such subjects as art deco and balsamic vinegar (I didn’t know you can put it on cheese, meat, ice cream, strawberries). I had Gnocco Frito, (a typical Emilian starter of pastry that puffs up when deep fried), accompanied by some excellent Grana cheese (put the Balsamic on it) and Parma ham, followed by Fileto di Cafe Paris (a steak with a sauce of 10 herbs and roast potatoes), all excellent. Only the Malvasia Secca (a local slightly sparkling white wine) was disappointing. Splashed out a bit and spent €48 euro, but that included an excellent grappa riserva as well.

 

La Spaghetteria (Intermediate A), 38 Via Emilia S.Stefano, about 10 mins walk from the Astoria via the park and Via Mazzini, turn right onto Via Emilia and it’s on the left.

A bright, modern place with an outside courtyard. Get there soon after 8 when it opens as it fills up quickly and it’s not possible to reserve. I had hand cut chips with rosemary to start and the wonderful Spaghetto al Chianti con Funghi Porcini, Speck e Fontina. A good wine list but sadly bereft of local tipples, the half bottle of the local dry lambrusco was ok. Total cost €18, cover and water apparently free.

A Mangiare (A+), 3 Viale Monte Grappa (not Sunday). Go straight up Via Independizia which is opposite the station and cross the main road, keep going straight and it’s on the right. Best to reserve, tel 0522 433600. GEM ALERT!

This is probably the best place in town. I splashed out €56 (€20 on drinks) here on my seven-course blowout, and it was worth every cent, however you could do it much more cheaply. Service is exemplary, it’s the kind of place where they scrape the crumbs off the tablecloth between courses. Don’t worry though, you can dress informally. The cuisine is a combination of traditional and innovative, all beautifully presented. I had the Menu a Degustazione della Tradizione (€36) and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (Collis de Scandiano e Canossa 2006) a locally produced white, slightly fizzy and cloudy, made using ‘agricolotora biologica’ (i.e. organic) methods. Although beginning with an amuse bouche of ricotta and sweet pepper, the actual starter was Spuma di Parmigiano Reggiano con Mostarda di Pere (a parmesan mousse with a sweet mustard sauce on pears, B+). Followed this with Afettato Misto (hams and cheese, B) and Gnocco Fritto (A). The pasta was the best Tortelli Verdi (A) I had had so far, and the Capelletti in Brodo di Gallina was good too (B+). The Sfilacci di Coda di Manzo Stufati al Lambrusco con Patate Cremose (oxtail with cream of potatoes, A) was wonderful as was the dessert Gelato Matildico con Aceto Balsamico (A), accompanied by Malvasia da Uve Appacessite dessert wine. Culinary bliss!

Ristorante/Pizzaria Condor (Elementary B), 3 Via Spallanzi

A popular value-for-money option, selling national classics rather than local fare. The pizza ‘Speicale’ I had for €7 euro was pretty good (I’m very fussy about pizza) but the mezzo of lambrusco was deservedly cheap at €2.50. If its full they have a sister restaurant around the corner, on Via Secchi I think.

La Tavernetta (Intermediate B),1 Via Don Andreoli

The only place I found open on a Sunday. The food and wine were ok, nothing special, total cost €12.50 for a pizza Siciliana, a mezzo of red, water and cover. It has a bar and a gelataria as neigbours so you have it all covered in one street.

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