Best of- Food

Not that this came as a surprise to me, but a major focus of this trip was food.  Many people seem think that just because you are in Italy, amazing food is going to be all around you and all you consume.  Like anywhere, food in Italy varies.  Not every bite you put in your mouth is worth the calories or the euro….so I tried to be selective.  I researched, talked to locals, checked out plates as I passed.  However, some of my best bites were serendipitous..  Grazie mille San Lorenzo!  As I answer my own “Best of Food” questions, I am not looking back at photos for reminders.  These answers are based solely on sweet (and savory) memories!

Best Pizza– Pizzeria Franco, Sorrento

I’ll start with the question I get most, “Where did you have the best pizza?”  Without a doubt it was  in Sorrento.  Even though Sorrento is not on my list of cities to return to, catching a train just to eat at Franco’s is!

Peperoni, salsiccia e formaggi

Peperoni, salsiccia e formaggi

Best Gelato– CCC, Capri Crema Cafe, Anacapri

Capri Crema Cafe

Capri Crema Cafe

I loved the whole vibe here;  a little retro but definitely cutting edge, clean and crisp. Presentation is spot on and taste….molto buono!

Best Pasta Gnocchetti fatto a mano…..le mie mani!!

Gnocchetti Sardi fatti in casa con Ragu alla Bolognese

Gnocchetti Sardi fatti in casa con Ragu alla Bolognese

I am sure the fact that I/we made this in our cooking class and the love and laughs that went into the preparation flavors my perspective…..but this truly was the best pasta I had during my trip. I could have easily made myself sick on it.  But being in the company of “strangers” and needing to save room for all the other dishes we prepared, tempered my portion.

On my first Sunday back home, I prepared this for my family.  It received rave reviews here as well.

Fatto in my Texas Casa

Fatto in my Texas Casa

Best Street Food–  Frito Misto, Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Fritto Misto calamari e gamberi

Fritto Misto
calamari e gamberi

This is one of those places I roamed into.  The calamari was the freshest I have ever had.  It is pretty much a given now that I love my food in a paper cone.

Best Ristorante– Al Pozzo, Monterosso   Trattoria Mario, Firenze   Trattoria Katti, Firenze

This category has a three-way tie.  All three are here due to the quality of food but also because of the personal attention/willingness to interact,  and for me, both are key in creating a memorable experience.

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Al Pozzo has previous memories attached to it.  I have enjoyed beautiful evenings seated in the street here my family.  I have a photo of Chef Gino preparing his famed frutti di mare risotto (which I have yet to try).  Both of my children fell in love with gamberetti gnocchi here.                                         Wonderful memories can be a tough thing for a place to live up to as well.  On my first night in Monterosso, when being presented with my gamberetti gnocchi, my heart fell…. the gnocchi failed to sport its tell-tale ridges.  I guess as a time saver, instead of hand rolling each gnoccho on the ridged board, they stopped at the step before, creating a less appealing looking dumpling.  I so wanted to inquire, but I knew my question could only be taken as a complaint (which to be honest….it would have been) and I chose to make new memories instead of trying to relive past ones….that’s growth huh!?

Not to be Missed!

Not to be Missed!

Trattoria Mario is just one of those special places.  Yes it is packed with tourist that have read about it, but it is run by locals that I think are there for the locals….we just happen to be a byproduct of their love of Firenze and its food.

Now Trattoria Katti is all me.  I did not read about it, I did not hear about it, I just roamed into it and I am so glad I did.  As you know, I enjoyed a dinner there twice.  Both times the food was very good, but the dish that put it over the top for me was the Pappa al Pomodoro.  I have since longed for a spoonful often!!  The fact that when I would walk by (countless times…it was on “my street”) and Katti or her mamma would see me and say “Ciao!” didn’t hurt either.

Comfort in a bowl!

Comfort in a bowl!

Best BItes– Fried Calzone, Anacapri     Coccolo, Firenze     Papa al Pomodoro, Firenze       Panino, Firenze

I had a lot of wonderful food during my trip…if I look back through my photos, I am sure I would add more to my list, but again….I am going with my memory and my gut here.

To me, this is what it is all about…that first bite….the moment you put something into your mouth and you are simply sent….the second bite or the second visit may not compare….but it is that first bite that you remember…

When I first bit into the fried calzone in Anacapri, right then, I knew it was the best thing I had eaten in Italy yet….I will admit, when I finally found the bakery the 2nd time, after days of trying to retrace my steps….the 2nd experience did not measure up to the first.  It was still wonderful….but just not the same…

Fried Calzone...need I say more...

Fried Calzone…need I say more…

Coccolo, dusted with salt...

Coccolo, dusted with salt…

OK…there is a trend here….more fried dough.  Hey, I am not proud…IS there anything better!?  I have yet to make these, but I do have a happy hour on the books and am planning to serve Aperol Spritz and these!

I have already shared the photo of Papa al Pomodoro, but it makes the list again….

And last, but certainly NOT least was my amazing panino in Firenze….

All'Antico Vinaio

All’Antico Vinaio

Once again rewarded for roaming on!

You will notice that most of my BEST BITES are from my eats in Firenze…another reason the city is a fav of mine!

Best Sips– A Pie’ de Ma’, Riomaggiore    Caffe Gilli, Firenze

During my previous trip to Italy with my mom and kids, I would look at people just sitting, enjoying a glass of wine or an aperitif, perhaps reading a book….I longed for that experience, that pace.  This trip, I enjoyed many such moments.

a Pie' de Ma

a Pie’ de Ma

I am thankful for the tip to look for a Pie’ de Ma….it isn’t a place you would just stumble on.  Definitely a place to return to.

My first Aperol Spritz...and more coccolo!  Heaven or What!?

My first Aperol Spritz…and more coccolo! Heaven or What!?

During my evening at Gilli, I just kept pinching myself….I was so happy.  Seated outdoors overlooking Piazza della Repubblica…people watching…pretty much heaven for me.

Best New Discovery– Fresh Cherries  and Fresh Anchovies

I know you are probably thinking, “How can cherries be a discovery?”  Well, I am not a fruit person.  As I have gotten older, I have tried to broaden my fruit horizons (remember the fig….).  I tend to be attracted to “pretty things”.  When I was younger, I put a tomato slice on my plate simply because I thought it needed the color.  So with cherries being in season, stacked and piled at every stand…I had to.  And once again…rewarded.  Cherries became my staple snack.  I am sad to say that I bought some here at home…and they did not compare.

It is art!

It is art!

The moral of my italian eating is that fresh is key….my anchovy experiences speak to that as well!

Shrimp, Calamari and ANCHOVY!

Shrimp, Calamari and ANCHOVY!

I know I am leaving something (many things) out…I could probably give everything its own category….my picnic on the beach in Monterosso….so perfect….the limoncello Franco unlocked from his “private collection”….so-a strong-a and-a so-a beautiful-a!….the warm, oily bag of pane in Trastevere…..ALL my CAPRESES!!!…..

As you read, if there is a category you would like me to award…please…let me know…

My plan is one more post from this trip….The Best of…THE REST.

Una Passeggiata Serale

I took a bit of a nap, a local custom, then hit the road again for my afternoon stroll.

20130624-213807.jpg Look… it is the same lady I followed into town earlier. Only now she has added a new pattern to her ensemble. When I passed her this morning I said, Buongiorno, she replied, “giorno”. This evening I said, buonasera, “sera” was her reply.

20130624-213931.jpg No these are not parked cars, this is a traffic jam. They both sat and stared for a moment, then one began to back up a bit.

20130624-214111.jpg The local tailor.

And now to find the gelato spot I had scoped out earlier. I napped in order to prepare for this!

20130624-214256.jpg Aah…qui e.
I chose a bit of cafe and a bit of panna cotta. I got quick lick of both, confirmed my choices. And then…

20130624-214615.jpg Che e la vita!
Must be a sign that I need to walk more….so I grab an espresso instead and did just that.

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As the campane di Chiesa rang seven, the streets and piazzas filled with young and old. The beautiful wooden doors opened and men and women with canes emerged muttering “Buonasera”. I love watching the locals. The small children never tire of chasing the pigeons. One little one, about 2, popped collar on his polo, chased after one taunting, “donna uccello, donna uccello!”.
All ages seem to enjoy this time to come together.

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With plenty of sun still up, I ventured a bit beyond the centro citta and braved a bit of the road between Anacapri and Capri.
On our drive up Sunday, Franco had pointed out The Caesar Hotel. He told me he had worked there for 47 years. There seems to be 2 parts to it. One on the far side of the road and one on the ocean side. What a beautiful spot it is.

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When I returned to my guesthouse that evening. I asked Franco about the hotel. I wish I could recount all his dialogue. Between each sentence, and often during, he would take a deep breath, look off, let out the air and shake his head. He worked at The Caesar for 47 years. “I know every tile-a” he says. “Paige, Paige….can you imagine what all I saw?”
I asked of all of the people who stayed there, who impressed him the most. Without hesitation he said, “The Loren.” Again, a couple of inhales and exhales with accompanying hand gestures. He told stories of how real she was and how she would tease the young men, like him, when they stared at her…….well at her. She would ask them, “You are staring at my breast?” He said they would reply, “No Donna Sophia! You are beautiful Donna Sophia!”
The conversation moved from Sophia Loren (he pointed out the town she is from across the bay, lights now twinkling) to cruise ships (we had to go up to the rooftop for a better view). Franco has never been on a cruise and cares not to go on one with more than a few hundred people. “God made us,” he began, “and he gave us brains.” pause “And I think” pause “He would like for us to use-a them some-a times-a.”
Then there was a discussion of how “calchium” was made from rock around here and how it was used as a cement, Tiberius’ villa and the tunnel to his grotto he would swim in, how the island is moving into the ocean, the recent “shaking” in Northern Italy and Tuscany (didn’t know that, did you?”). During his speeches, he would effortlessly change his language, German, Italian, English, French….depending who would walk by. I asked him how many languages he could speak, he simply shrugged his shoulders.
Question…why is it that most of us only speak “our” language? To do it over again, my children would take language classes from birth.
Like Franco, I have gotten off track….the walk continues a bit. The view a bit further past The Caesar was amazing.

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20130625-104555.jpg Looking back at the edge of The Caesar. Although I was far away and using my zoom….I captured this guy striking the pose…I wonder how many a day do just that?

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On the walk back, I was inspired by this poster.

20130625-104812.jpg Of course Franco had some in the freezer, his grandson presented it to me on a tray (I love the way they do that!) as Franco declared, “So strong, So beautiful theesa limoncello!”

Buonanotte!