Sardinian trip report
We just returned from a 2-week trip that included 4 nights in Sardinia and 5 in Corsica. So this is a note on the Sardinian portion of our journey. As we were part of a group (a special trip focused around world music), we didn’t have quite as much time as I would have liked to explore restaurants on our own. But even so, this was an interesting trip food-wise.
We began in Calgliari, the capitol city and on the coast. Here the focus was seafood – and fregola, a small rough pasta somewhat like Israeli couscous in size and form but more tasty (and often containing saffron). We first got to sample a number of artisan-produced breads, sausages, beer, and other items the next night at a small cultural evening in a tiny village up the coast, which apparently takes place 3-4 times a year. This was before a special concert, and afterwards we had a late night seafood banquet which included a wide variety of shellfish, octopus, cuttlefish and fish dishes, including a lovely whole grilled fish and roasted slices of excellent swordfish. Stand-out for me among the first course dishes was a marinated shark (dogfish) in a sauce of walnuts, vinegar, capers and the fish liver. This turns out to be a Sardinian specialty and is worth seeking out, in my opinion.
The next day we enjoyed the first of two Agriturismo meals. This one, at place whose card I unfortunately did not get, made me finally understand what the cult of the pig is really all about, as the main dish of the meal was the most delicious spit-roasted pork hocks imaginable – well laquered, crispy skin and falling-apart, juicy meat. The meal itself was very traditional and created from meats and produce raised and grown on site: a starter of delicious salumi: cured ham and multiple types of sausage with accompanying small pickled and fried vegetables, especially artichokes. This was followed by a pasta: malloradeus, a form of Sardinian gnochetti, with a delicious tomato and ground meat sauce. The roasted pork came next, then good pecorino cheese. The meal ended with melon, followed by a wonderful assortment of Sardinian sweets. Standouts were large crisp meringues shot through with whole almonds, and small spice cakes with lots of fennel seed. We also enjoyed our first introduction to Mirto, a Sardinian liquor/digestif made from myrtle berries. This version was more liquor-like than ones we’d enjoy later, but still with a strong herbal finish and it worked marvelously as a digestif after the big meal.
We enjoyed dinner on our own in town at Café Antica, where we shared a tasting of seafood as an antipasto. This included such items as the marinated dogfish described above; excellent mussels and clams in a tomato saffron sauce; a good octopus salad; and another item I forget. I followed this with a fregola with a lamb and tomato sauce dusted with pecorino (which was very good), while my husband was disappointed by a mediocre salmon. We passed on dessert, but enjoyed an excellent Vermentino.
The next day, we traveled to the Nuoro region within the mountainous interior of Sardinia. While one can get a wide assortment of seafood on the coast, the Sardinian people were historically primarily shepherds and the cuisine of the interior is definitely centered around meat, cheese and wine.
One of the highlights of our trip was the 2nd agriturismo dinner, at Calavrina www.calavrina.com – an exceptional agriturismo owned by a member of the Tenores di Bitti, one of the music groups we had come to hear and meet. This agriturismo produced it all: pork, wild boar, goats, sheep, their own flour, great wine (and their own corks!), olives and much tasty pecorino cheese, both hard and fresh varieties. While the form of the meal was similar to our previous lunch, the variety of things served was even greater. I loved the little empanada-like pies that were part of the salumi plate, and the many little vegetable-based items served along side the sausages. The wine was a really delicious cannonau (same grape as Grenache). Delicious pasta course: this time hand-rolled noodles with the ubiquitous meat sauce that included both bits of roast lamb and ground meat. The roasted pork, along with grilled, marinated eggplants and zucchini and perfectly ripe tomato slices dusted with pecorino, was excellent. This was then followed by melon and a dessert that consisted of a little fried pastry stuffed with a tart, ricotta-like cheese and drizzled with honey. The Mirto here was a more herbal one, and we ended the evening with their own grappa-like brandy.
We also had one dinner at the country resort Su Gologone, where we spent two nights. This place was beautiful and restful, with a fabulous kitchen that included an open spit for roast suckling pigs and another roasted meat – which was kid roasted with herbs and vinegar the night we ate there. I enjoyed the tender, delicious goat meat, along with a wide variety of antipasto offerings from the buffet, while my husband was overwhelmed by the (all excellent) offerings included in their Sardinian tasting menu. That latter was similar in form to our agriturismo meals, but with some different appetizer items, and pastas that included very tasty Sardinian ravioli. We also loved the breakfasts here, which included not only a wide range of pastries and salumi, but some of the most beautiful and delicious fresh fruit ever... including my favorite fresh black figs. A most highly recommended hotel/restaurant with fabulous mountain views, great service, plenty of optional adventure trips available, and a good, large pool.
Sadly our last place in Sardinia was more forgettable. Near Alghero, El Faro has a beautiful, seaside setting and views and excellent service. The food, however, is more conventional Italian and not worth the price, although one of the luncheon pastas – with tuna – was quite nice. Wine mark ups were outrageous, based on the retail prices we’d seen during a visit to winery Sella & Mosca. Sadly the hotel was too far from town to walk in and a cab would have been expensive.
So... while I can’t report on too many specific restaurants per se, I would definitely recommend the agriturismos in Sardinia, along with truly great salumi, cheeses, breads and sweet baked goods and many excellent wines.