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An "Italian Crab House" in Rimini: Italy's Best Seafood Restaurant?

La Puraza serves "fresh seafood" in a run down bunker of an old farm house two blocks from the Autostrada on the onskirts of the Italian Riviera in Rimini. A plain, nondescript building with fraying paint and a gravelled lot the low ceiling entrance leads into an expansive room lined with huge fish and lobster tanks flanking numerous cases of seafood and a small cooking and grilling area. In a country where almost every Italian is fit and is known for favoring modest portions of food La Puraza's 250 seats are stocked with countrymen who resemble the more than Rubenesque Americans who swear by Calabash.

At 6'1" and 205 I felt comparatively emaciated looking around the room.

La Puraza serves only seafood. Recently alive fresh seafood. There is no printed menu. On entering the room you are led to the cases and tanks in the rear to tell them what you want: there are about 20 "courses" which can vary in the size of the portion; generally they are portioned for the number in the group having them. You are shown fat, four inch long sardines and told they can be served marinated or lightly breaded, drizzled with lemon and oil and grilled over charcoal. They are eaten whole. Gambero are fresh head on shrimp (comparable to 5-10 in size here) which are grilled then encased with coarse salt: these are one of several specialities of the restaurant. Another tank holds live 1 1/2 to 2 pound lobsters which are grilled, then chopped in large pieces and mixed with fresh pasta and tomato sauce. Calamari, razer clams (tiny clams steamed with olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs), diver scallops in their shell, frito misto, whole 3 and 4 lb fish which are baked, "red" or "white" seafood risotto (red with tomato sauce, white with wine and a bit of cream) which has huge chunks of a half dozen seafood mixed in it and cooked to order, mussels in one of three or four preparations. Pale gray rectangular metallic platters of these or combinations of them are brought to the oversized wooden tables every fifteen or so minutes until you tell them to stop. There are no sauces other than olive oil, garlic, lemon, wine and herbs. I didn't see much in the way of sides: just huge, endless trays of marinated, grilled and baked seafood and a packed room of garrulous, ravenous people gorging on it.

The overall ambience had a lot in common with the "live seafood" halls of Vancouver and Hong Kong. Or, despite being off the water, this felt a lot like a real Maryland crab house. Shells and whatever are thrown into bowls, baskets and trashcans.

And the food? The best shrimp I have had anywhere. Perhaps much better than I have had anywhere. Tiny, but extraordinarily flavorful clams, sardines that induced moans, mussels that were plump, juicy, delicious. Pasta with lobster and red sauce that may be the best I have had. This is truly fresh, literally hours out of the water seafood brought to the restaurant from the many fishing boats docked only miles away in Rimini.

This is also a Rimini tradition which we were told rarely has an American visit them. I have never seen it written up anywhere; yet if you google La Puraza you'll find numerous entries in Italian which can be roughly translated (they are all raves) by Babelfish.

Rimini is a more than worthwhile destination in Italy. Almost unknown to Americans it is also home to a pizza that is better than I have had anywhere in Naples and, yes, I think better than New Haven: La Posada which has a decades old brick oven and lines out the door every minute they are open. (subject of another post to come).

La Puraza has lines out the door, too. Every minute that it is open. It is nationally known and, for me, I would drive the 300 miles round trip from Venice or Florence just for the experience. It is that incredible. There is "properly served" seafood as good elsewhere in Italy but the communal excess of this place is an experience almost worth crossing an ocean for. I can only wonder how many other places there are like this around the earth that no guide book has ever turned up.

And are missed by us. As I first introduced Chowhound to da Fiore, Alle Testiere and Sostanza five or six years ago this should not be either.

Joe Heflin

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  1. Although they might be a little more expensive, Lorenzo in Forte Dei Marmi and Romano in Viareggio offer up Tyrenean catch that is executed to perfection. I have not been to La Puraza but I look forward to doing so.

    1. YUM. It sounds like these places alone would be worth a trip there!

      6 Replies
      1. re: ChefJune

        I printed out the top post and tried like the devil to find La Puraza last March but could not ever locate the place. I finally gave up and drove south and accidentally stopped in Riccione, where we had an outstanding seafood lunch. There were 3 restaurants at the yacht harbor doing a big business on a warm, sunny Sunday. We had to wait about 45 minutes at Ristorante Da Gher, Via Galli, 2, but they gave us free wine while we waited and watched them BBQ shrimp and sardines on skewers stuck in the coals. I think the owner knew everyone else in the restaurant but us. Absolutely stuffed after an outstanding meal (we and our waiter lost track of all the different fish courses we ordered), they made us promise to return next year, which we may try to do.
        http://www.agendafiera.it/struttura.p...

        1. re: BN1

          I'm sorry that I didn't see your or ChefJune's posts earlier. La Puraza is actually very easy to find-if you know where to go. It is literally adjacent to the Autostrada at the exit for Rimini. This is the link to its address and phone number along with a map and specific directions on how to find it: http://www.duespaghi.it/ristoranti/em... It is about as nondescript and uninspiring of a location as you can imagine: no water, just concrete and traffic lights on the road that runs by it. Fortunately, it is set back from the road and represents almost a kind of farmhouse oasis where, inside, you have no idea of what is travelling 150 km an hour outside.

          BN1 your lunch sounds similar to the kind of experience we had in some ways. I believe that there is a kind of seafood restaurant in this part of Italy that is not generally known by Americans, or even the English. At La Puraza I asked them how often an American would stop by and the answer was almost never! But charcoal grilled fat sardines, bbq'd fresh head on shrimp are truly delicious-and almost impossible to find in America. Great to read about your experience. I've written it down for a future visit.

          By the way, there is a fantastic seafood restaurant on the beach in Senigallia called Uliassi that has a Michelin star; some have said it should have two while adding that it is one of the best restaurants in Italy. I agree. This is an especially good review of it: http://www.alifewortheating.com/italy... I must add that Uliassi is entirely different from La Puraza. The latter really does feel like an "Italian" crab house of sorts. Uliassi is a serious restaurant in an idyllic location worth crossing the Atlantic to have dinner at. Or, if not the Atlantic, leaving the traditional American destinations of Rome, Florence and Venice and searching out this beautiful part of Italy rarely written about in the American press. If anyone goes there is a great wine from the Marche region: Kurne. It's about E 80 a bottle but one of the best red wines in the world. The '04 rated 98 points in one publication (Veronelli)

          1. re: Joe H

            Joe,
            Thanks for linking to my review of Uliassi. I definitely agree with you that it's worth crossing the Atlantic for. It's the very best meal I had on a nine week Italian vacation full of great food. I also agree with those who say that it should have two Michelin stars. But regardless of what Michelin or Gambero Rosso or whomever says, Mauro Uliassi is brilliant. I absolutely cannot wait to go back there, and I plan to do so this summer. (FYI: There is also nice review in Italian on a page I check out from time to time: http://www.altissimoceto.it/2006/12/0.... He calls it his "meal of the year" (2006), and the guy seems to get around, so I would not take that praise lightly.
            )I'm glad I came across your glowing recommendation for La Puraza. I'll try to visit this summer as well.
            And one favor deserves another. Next time you're looking in Italy and looking for great seafood, a trusted chef friend of mine tells me it's absolutely worth it to hop on a quick train over just past the French border to the town of Menton, France and a restaurant called Mirazur. Every report I've come across has been a rave, and I can't wait to try this place out.
            One last thing, re: pizza. Which New Haven pizzeria claims your allegiance? And do you really enjoy Sally's/Pepe's/La Posada more than anyplace you've been in Naples? Having tasted the best pizza in NYC, New Haven and Naples (see here: http://www.alifewortheating.com/italy...), I must say I'm almost shocked! Very intriguing.

            1. re: tupac17616

              A sincere apology for not writing sooner but this is the first time I've seen your response.

              I've spent far too much time thinking about the pizza I like the most. In truth American and Napolitan/Rimini pizza are very different. My wife and I went to La Posada two nights out of three and left feeling that, at a minimum, it was equal to the best we had in Naples. Expectations could factor into this (we'd never heard of it before going; the second visit found an enormous wait in a city where waits of any length are unusual ((excepting La Puraza)) ) but I do believe it was legitimately outstanding. A huge wide wall of clippings, all in Italian, seemed to confirm this.

              New Haven is another matter: Sally's is the most individualistic pizza place in America (I include DeLorenzo's in this) where, on my first visit, I remember the pizza maker smoothing the sauce on the pie with the palm of his hand, picking out "tough" bits of tomato and throwing them away. I've never seen this anywhere else. Pepe's over the years has been somewhat inconsistent: a number of pies have been incredible with perhaps as good of crust as I've ever had. At other times (one in particular where I raved about this place to my wife who had never been) I left disappointed.
              Still, at their best, I believe that I now prefer the New Haven places. Probably, Sally's because of the "style" and tradition. Pepe's seems more mass market today, especially with a second (third? counting the Spot) in Fairfield.

              Still, La Posada was awfully good. I remember thinking at the time it was my favorite. Today...

              You have a fantastic website, by the way!!!!!

              1. re: Joe H

                Thanks for your response, Joe, and no worries at all about its timing.

                I think my use of the word "best" in reference to a few places (most of which are in Naples) that have really wowed me was incorrect in the first place. I'm not sure "best" and "favorite" even have to coincide, anyway. As you mentioned, expectations can always factor into it. Consistency can factor into it. And we could come it with a nearly endless list of other factors.

                As much as I may try to, I'm the first to admit that I've not eaten all the good pizza in the world. My one and only visit to New Haven left only time for a visit to Sally's and Pepe's back to back, and on that night, neither really left me dying for more. Prior to your posts, I had not heard of DeLorenzo's or La Posada, but thanks to you it sounds like I'll have some nice options the next time I find myself in Trenton, NJ or in Rimini. Back stateside, I'm lamenting the fact that pizza places here in the Bay Area haven't really touched some of the places I really enjoyed in NY while I lived there. And I can only hope that my next hop over the Atlantic includes stops at Da Michele, Salvo, and Antica Costa in Naples. But in the mean time, the thrill of the hunt will always be there, and my pedestrian attempts at turning out good pies at home will hopefully continue to improve!

                Lastly, thanks very much for the kind words on my website! I appreciate it.

                1. re: tupac17616

                  DeLorenzo's on Hudson which is their original. There are also several other really good "tavern" pizza places I've found over time: Wells Brothers in Racine, WI, Zaffiro's in Milwaukee, Arcaro and Gemelli's in Old Forge, PA (but, honestly, their pizza is not in league with the first two yet the restaurant has a great deal of character and history), Santarpio's in Boston, etc. If you have a chance stop in at one of these during your travel.
                  Take care.

      2. For anyone exploring the Marche region of Italy I would urge consideration of this restaurant which is almost totally unknown by tourists. Simply, it is one of the best restaurants in the region, rarely explored by Americans but worth the trip alone to Rimini to have dinner, to even gorge there.

        Uliassi mentioned by me and elsewhere in the thread is one of Marche's best restaurants; two Michelin stars and worth the frustration of reserving in advance to dine literally on the beach-an extraordinary experience.

        If you go please report your thoughts on here.

        Joe Heflin

        3 Replies
        1. re: Joe H

          I completely agree with Uliassi, anyway without forgetting close to him La Madonnina del Pescatore by Moreno Cedroni..
          Soon, meaning less than 2 months from now, I will be ready with a short list of the best restaurants located in an area whose shape is a triangle and whose points are Cervia - Ancona - Arezzo.
          It is going to happen that this area is becoming the most interesting area of Italy for the best and not yet well known restaurants.

          1. re: vidanto

            Your "short list" is going to be taken from the new Guide, correct?

          2. re: Joe H

            Joe,
            I know you really like Uliassi ( I don't, but that is neither here nor there). If, however, you are going to report on it, it would be nice for you to get your facts straight. It does not have two Michelin stars. There is no need to pump it up, and it is really unfair to all those restaurants that have two Michelin stars.

          3. As I am thinking about going there during my coming-up trip in May, I just looked at the reviews on Tripadvisors, there are two, both miserable. The complains is about the price, no menu or no price on the menu. I depend on google translate to read those reviews, so some might lost in the translation. What was your experience?

            5 Replies
            1. re: kyeblue

              Uliassi *does* have two Michelin stars. You just have to look at the restaurant listings at www.viamichelin.com. (It may have gotten the second since 2008.

              )

              Which reviews on which TripAdvisor site are you looking at? There are seven reviews on the American site, all of them positive, including the one from someone in Newcastle who found it pricey. But you can't expect trattoria prices at Michelin two-star restaurants.

              1. re: zerlina

                I am talking about La Puraza, the "Italian Crab House" in Rimini. I would assume that there are many similar places along the Adriatic coast. And seafood cannot go wrong as long as they are fresh. I probably will consult more locals before going there.

                1. re: kyeblue

                  not a bad idea, since the italian language reviews on tripadvisor are scathing (no menu, high prices, frozen seafood) but as regulars on this Board know, Joe's recommendations are usually spot on.

              2. re: kyeblue

                The mistake I may have made is in linking a post about an experience at a restaurant from the fall of 2006. I looked at the TripAdvisors site and noted the two posts you mentioned. Curiously, their #1 restaurant in Rimini is the Michelin starred Guido which we went to on the same trip. It was excellent. We liked Puraza better in part because of the experience. No, there was no menu: you go to cases of fresh fish and seafood that literally may still swimming. You pick it out and they prepare it for you. Price? Nothing posted anywhere but the place was an incredible bargain! I also suspect that these two posts were exceptions since http://www.baltazar.it/ristoranti-rim... has thirteen PAGES of reviews. One that I translated on Babelfish said this:

                "You council to reserve with some gionro of advance payment because also being to us gone we of thursday, the place were I overwhelm and to feel the waiters this was not nothing." Simply, when they went it was mobbed and the waiters said this was typical.
                It was when we were there, too.

                Yes, several more posts were critical. Someone (not me) also inserted my original post on here. (I found that really interesting!

                )

                Puraza is one of only a handful of places that then placed a great deal of emphasis on extremely fresh seafood. If the lines are still there and there are 13 PAGES of reviews, probably not a lot has changed. Especially if the seafood is still fresh from the night before. Literally. And, no, this is not as easy to find on the coast as you might think.

                If you are uncomfortable with not having a menu this may not be an experience to explore. If the two reviews are claiming frozen seafood, well, then maybe the tanks and cases have disappeared since our last visit although their website still shows them. Maybe Puraza really has gone down (Balthazar did have some critical reviews also) and is living on its reputation. But when I wrote this it was incredible. Today, it may be different. However, if it is the same, it is not to be missed.

                1. re: Joe H

                  Joe, thanks for finding the reviews on baltazar, it is no doubt a local favorite with its food from good to great and its price being reasonable at least. The freshness of the fish could vary so I guess one needs to be lucky. I probably will try to find similar places along the coast between cervia to cesenatico, which are closer to where will stay, and are right by the water, .

              3. We were on vacation in San Marino 9/3/10 before we went to Rimini we had lunch at la Puraza and we arrived at 12:30 and left 3:30, needless to say it was an experience. We sat and was greated by our waiter Rocco with a smile and a plesant way about him. Of course we read Joe's review and also read reviews on other sites, many written by Italians and nost were negative. I have no idea why anyone would write anything negative about this place. We sat outdoors under an arbor and while the place was busy there were many seats, it is a very large building with inside and outdoor seating.
                We did not order off of the menu and were given suggestions because we looked around and saw the giagantic platters coming out of the kitchen we ordered in waves. 1st the hot annd cold appies. Almost every type of sea food on earth, It's very big for two people but we managed to eat every thing on the platter, anlong with starters on the house. We had for our primo a pastaa dish served on a large platter with a large whole fish in the flounder family tRocco deboned the fish served the fetticini and placed athe white meat of the fish on top. It was as good as anything I have eaten in my 60 years, After THAT WE WERE STUFFED BUT MANAGED TO ORDER TWO other fish dishes grilled and fried , we had a bottle of local white4 and coffee desert and an after drink, when the bill came I told my partner it's either very cheap or overly expensive, I was right the total was 47 Euro's for the entire lunch, 3 hours worth. I spend that for a small lunch in New York. It was so good we asked Rocco to reserve a table for us the following night.
                When we arrived for dinner ay 8:30 the place was startingto fill up. Some how we were not seated on Rocco's table but the waiter was just as much fun as Rocco. WE spreak Italian so we ordered water and spakling wine He brought over a menu, so for those who claim there is no menu they are wrong. We noticed on the menu they have a full course tasting menu so we order two, the waiter asked us if we wanted to share one because it is really alot of food, but we thought we wwould rater have too much than too little, well was that a mistake, the food started to come out 5 full courses of it everything in the kitchen, it's really not a tasting menu its the whole kitchen menu, we ate for 3 1/2 hours it never stopped ubtil we asked them to stop, coffee, cake, icecream cookies and any after dinner dirink we wanted I had not eaten llkie that since I was 20 and never so good. This is a MUST, regardless where in the US you live you will never find the quaility of seafood like this, not in San Fran, nowhere in NJ, CT or Fla. nowhere! . Thereis no comparision belive me. I have eaten in every sea food rest. in New Yok and in italy this is the best experience I have had . To call it an Italian Crab House is almost an insult as the cooking is far better that 99% of the fish houses I.ve eatten in.and believe me I did not get to be 290 pounds by not eating. One dish you nust try is the smoked lagostinos unbelievable. Forget the menu let them suggest for you. They will not push you to order more that a person should eat, Thanks for letting us know about this great place, let's keep it quite so all the american 30 somethings don't find it and distroy it for the rest of us.

                1 Reply
                1. re: busterkittycat

                  Thank you busterkittycat, an absolute pleasure to read your comments. We loved this place and are really happy that you enjoyed it so much. It is indeed special.