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AMALFI and around...Part One of 5 days of fabulous eating

  • erica May 5, 2008 09:50 AM

Just back (Late April/early May 2008) from 5 days in Amalfi and two in Naples (I will post a short Naples report separately). I want to thank JenKalb and everyone else who was so helpful in offering suggestions prior to our trip. This will be the first of two Amalfi area reports.

The town of Amalfi proved to be an excellent base for 5 days on the Coast. We found it easy to explore nearby towns on the blue SITA buses and Amalfi itself is a marvel..the piazza in front of the Duomo and the main street runnning north from here might be clogged with tourists, but there is another world waiting beyond, so take time to explore the stepped streets and covered passageways that climb the hillsides rising from the port areas.

A PARANZA, ATRANI.

..A SlowFood pick located in the tiny town of Atrani, about a 15 minutes walk from Amalfi's main square, this was one of our favorite restaurants of the week and we had two dinners here. Lovely, whitewashed, arched room; extraordinarily friendly service; English spoken; lovely white plates with hand-painted fish. We noticed that few diners actually glanced at the menu, preferring instead, to confer with one of the owners about the best dishes on offer that day.

Dinner #1. (all dinners were for two persons with house wine)

Bruschetta served before meal..topped with chopped tomatoes and (I think) colatura of anchovy. Excellent bread.

Fiore di Zucca Ripieni in Pastella (please forgive any mistranslations and spelling errors!) Fabulous rendition of a popular local dish..zucchini flowers stuffed with a mixture of fresh ricotta and anchovy and lightly fried. Wonderful!

Spaghetti Vongole. Excellent rendition of this classic..made with two types of clams: vongole verace and tartufi di mare (hard shelled).

Grilled Scampi. Very good. Scrumptious meat inside the heads. So wonderful to be served shrimp with heads on!

Scialatella a la Siciliana. Wonderful dish of thick flat long pasta made in house, served with light sauce of eggplant, mozzarella and tomato. Everything you have read bout the tomatoes of Campania is true! And it was not even the season! Wonderful!!

House white: Colli di Castelfranco Falango (100% Falanghina).

Total with cover and water: 55 Euro

Dinner #2 at A PARANZA in Atrani

Plate of Bruschetta (complimentary; see above)

House Falanghina (see above)

Fiore di Zucca (see above)..as great as the first time!

Mixed clams (vongole and tartufi) sauteed in oil and garlic...one of my favorite dishes of the week. A wonderful alternative to the spaghetti with vongole..just pure clammy goodness. Miraculous!

Gnocchi with tomato and mozzarella (not on the menu but prepared to accommodate the non-fish-eater at the table). Superlative.

Paccheri Amalfitana. Paccheri are short, wide tubes. Marvelous combination of pasta with arugula, cherry tomatoes and chunks of head-on shrimp. One of the best dishes in a week of fabulous food.

Lemon cake..sinfully delicious house special composed of cake with lemon cream on top.

Total with cover and water..68 Euro.

CUMPA COSIMO...RAVELLO (Lunch)

Quintessential no-frills 80-year-old trattoria presided over by the daughter of the original owner, Cosimo.
Just tell Netta what you are in the mood for. Trust her. Great renditions of local favorites.
Many of the vegetables grown on her farm in nearby Scala.

Orata..simply prepared with wine and lemon, fileted at table.

Canneloni with meat, tomato, mozzarella...wonderful; a far cry from most renditions of this classic.

Green salad

Salad of tomato and mozzarella..(complimentary) Impeccable ingredients..

With carafe of white wine and water, 35 Euro.

AL CONVENTO, CETARA

I highly recommend driving or taking the SITA bus to this fishing village celebrated for its anchovy and tuna, where there are 3 SlowFood restaurants. This was the first of two meals we ate in Cetara and was another highlight of the week. Formerly part of a 17th-Century convent, the arch-ceilinged dining room decorated with frescoes is a lovely setting for pesce azzuro in various permutations. Prices here are quite a bit lower than in the more touristed towns of the coast. A CH classic.

Cannelloni con ricotta e stracciatella di bufala. Marvelous dish for the shunner of fish.

Tortino di Scarola e Bottarga di Tonno..chunky flan/pudding of escarole and raisins (reminded me of dish made with red onions at Tattoria Monti in Rome) topped with generous shavings of bottarga. Innovative and wonderful.

Spaghetti con Colatura di Alici..the descendent of the Roman garum used here to flavor spaghetti. Wonderful, classic dish, listed on the menu as one of the "Piatti della Tradizione"

Pizza Margherita (Al Convento is also renowned for its pizzas and we were not disappointed)

Bottle of house white wine..Sammarco from Ravello. Good enough.

Total with cover and water: 30 euros.

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  1. Just to add to the above: Al Convento in Cetara is closed on Tuesdays and A Paranza in Atrani is closed on Tuesdays as well. These closings may change during holiday and "bridge" weeks.

    MARINA GRANDE AMALFI

    This is a lovely white-tablecloth place right on the main beach, Marina Grande, in Amalfi. I read about it on the Pignataro website and it did not disappoint. If you plan to dine here, you might consider asking for a window table overlooking the beach and the sea beyond. You definitely need to reserve in advance; we saw many hopeful diners turned away during our time here. The restaurant serves lunch on the beach to people who rent beach lounges here, as we did. So you can spend the day on a lounge with an umbrella and have your lunch brought right to your chair. There are showers and changing rooms under the restaurant which can be used by chair-renters.

    Dinner at a window table began with Scamorza alla Griglia nella Foglie di Limone con verdure grigliate (8 Euro). Two of us shared this hot, partially melted cheese wrapped in lemon leaves and then grilled, and served with shards of grilled zucchini and roasted red peppers. The combination of the red peppers and the melted cheese was a happy marriage. Excellent! (Reminded me of the grilled scamorza served with red peppers and black olives at Roberto's in the Bronx which I have unsuccessfully tried to replicate in my own kitchen, resulting in a sea of unappealing melted cheese).

    The meal continued with Mezzelune di Ricotta di Bufala con Polpa di Ricci e Pomodorini..half moons of house-made pasta filled with a combination of ricci (sea urchin) and ricotta (who says that seafood and cheese are never combined in Italy?)
    Excellent flavors although I thought the pasta could have been rolled thinner. (13 Euro)

    Rigatoni con Melanzana, Pomodoro Fresco e Provola Affumicata...Superb rendition using the amazing local cheese, smoked provola. This cheese was one of the culinary highlights of our week here. (13 Euro)

    Pizza 4 Formaggio (7 Euro) Excellent. Many local places on this coast and in Naples serve pizza at night and we never had one that was less than superb.

    With cover, water, and a bottle of local Ravello Klingson white wine, the bill for two totalled 61 Euro, one of the most expensive meals of our week. Well worth it.
    Service is very friendly and the three brothers who own the restaurant speak English. Note: They serve Mariage Freres tea.

    http://www.ristorantemarinagrande.com/

    2 Replies
    1. re: erica

      RISTORANTE SAN PIETRO, CETARA

      Ristorante San Pietro (closed Tuesdays off season) is a family owned place, one of three SlowFood picks in this unspoiled fishing village, with an interior dining room and an open-air terrace. The ambience is slightly more “fancy” than that of Al Convento, where we had dined two days before. We had phoned ahead to reserve, which I would suggest even on a weekday at lunchtime, as the restaurant is not large.

      Upon arriving we were presented with a brief menu of daily specials. Much to the dismay of my supposedly fish-hating travel partner (“supposedly” because he does make exceptions once in a while, as long as no shells are visible), every dish contained seafood of some kind, mostly the pesce azzurro (dark-fleshed fish: sardines, anchovies etc) for which this area is famous. No worries! After recovering from his surprise that anyone not enamored of fish would choose to dine here, the owner suggested a pasta dish of paccheri (short, thick tubes) in a sauce of mozzarella and tomato.

      I inquired about the artichokes we had seen near Paestum, only to be told that this was a specialty of Paestum and that the season was coming to a close. (This underscores the emphasis on local fare: Paestum is about an hour away and thus, artichokes from that area were viewed as coming from afar!)

      At the recommendation of the owner, I selected the Antipasto Cetarese (10 Euro) which represented the area’s specialties in various guises. First came a dish of farro with pesce azzurro..delicious and unusual (to me) combination of fish with this ancient grain (according to Lidia Bastianich, who features a farro/mussel/chickpea dish in her “Lidia’s Italy” book, seafood combined with farro is a combination also prevalent in Puglia).

      The next plate to arrive was a superb Tonno sott’ Olio--marvelous local tuna preserved in olive oil, reminiscent of the fine product available in glass jars in local food shops. (I recommend bringing some home, as prices are much lower than those in the US; I wish I had done this!). Truly wonderful.

      Two types of anchovy, dark meat preserved in oil and white skinned fish in a vinegar base, came next, followed by a wonderful strudel of tuna and ricotta (here we have the fish/cheese combination again!)

      This plate was served with a plate of small, hard biscuits studded
      with anchovies..pane de pescatore. You can imagine how these would be a staple of fisherman who spent long periods offshore but they must be an acquired taste. Interesting, though. I tried to find a recipe but those I saw had sugar and raisins, which these did not; apparently there are versions in several coastal regions of Italy.

      After the antipasti, I had an excellent rendition of spaghetti vongole and my friend enthused over his paccheri.

      Most of the diners at the other tables (the place was full; everyone else appeared to be local) were enjoying various pastas followed by fish, which I would sample on a future visit.

      With water, but no wine, the bill totaled 54 Euro. Recommended!!

      http://www.sanpietroristorante.it/

      1. re: erica

        adding your links and others on this thread

        -----
        Al Convento
        Piazza San Francesco, 16, Cetara, Campania 84010, IT

        A' Paranza
        Via Dragone 1/2, Atrani, Campania 84010, IT

        Cumpa Cosimo
        Via Roma 48, Ravello, Campania , IT

        San Pietro
        Piazzetta San Francesco, 2, Cetara, Campania 84010, IT

        Hosteria Toledo
        Vico Giardinetto, 78, Naples, Campania 80132, IT

        Osteria de Luisella
        Piazza Umberto, Atrani, Campania 84010, IT

        Marina Grande
        Corso delle Repubbliche Marinare, 4, Amalfi, Campania 84011, IT

    2. Erica, I'm really enjoying your reviews. I'm going to Praiano in August, in the middle of planning where I'm going to eat, and its great to hear about your experiences.

      1. Erica,

        Many thanks for your very fine and detailed reports! I got married in Ravello and have spent a fair amount of time there and in Amalfi, Atrani, and Cetara, but you have provided some new places to try on our next trip.

        Best,

        Jeremy

        1 Reply
        1. re: Jeremy M

          I can't imagine a more beautiful place to be married! Glad you enjoyed the report..I will write about our two nights in Naples in a new report soon...the food in that area is amazing! I am interested that you spent time in Cetara as I think that town would make a great base!

        2. I recognize the food descriptions, dear ekscrunchy from Fodor's! I read your report there as well. I always love your trip reports. Thanks for the winderful info -- my mouth is watering. Husband and I will be in Milan, Bologna and Bellagio shortly, anticipating 14 glorious days of food and wine. Hope our experience is as divine as yours.

          1. This lovely report is very reassuring. We're beginning to plan a similar itinerary for mid-April/early May 2009 and we were having misgivings -- worried that hotels and restaurants might not yet be open. Obviously you discovered many appealing restaurants. Just out of curiosity, did you find that you could have chosen among many more open restaurants or were many more yet-to-open later in the season?

            3 Replies
            1. re: Indy 67

              Every restaurant as far as I could tell was already open by the last week in April. I suspect that any that are closed in winter would reopen by Easter. I found it the perfect time to be in that area, since the weather was great (but the sea still too cold to swim, my one regret) and the main tourist crush had not yet descended. I had been worried about May 1 closings, but we found all restaurants (and shops) to be open on that date. If I were to return, and I hope to do so someday soon, I would certainly consider that time of year!

              Another worry of mine had been that all of the restaurants would be hopelessly oriented towards foreign tourists. Some, especially in Positano, appeared to be that way, but we were able to find great local cooking, as I mentioned, in places that appeared to have many local, or at least Italian, patrons. All in all, a great place for a Chowound!

              1. re: erica

                Thanks for this additional information.

                Did you ever post part 2 of your trip report? I didn't pull it up in a search of the board? Since your information is so useful, I'm hoping for the best but understand how the press of real life takes over after coming home.

                1. re: Indy 67

                  Indy 67:

                  I actually put the second part above, as a reply. It begins with the San Pietro in Cetara.

                  We also had two nights in Naples, so two dinners and one pizza lunch and some splendid pastry. I will try to write this up within a few days but meanwhile I would be happy to answer any questions..

            2. Wow, so nice to hear that other people are enjoying A PARANZA. We were there back in Aug. 07, visiting friends in Naples & Amalfi coast...and this was one of the best finds! I was craving spaghetti alle vongole (very typical regional dish)& my Italian friend said this was the place to have them. We also had the fiori de zucca and bruschetta and drank the house white. Definitely worth searching out. It's a good idea to phone in advance as it's quite popular Tel. +39 089 871 840.

              1. Thanks so much for the great report. I am heading to Naples this Friday, and am itching for some recommendations. I'll be traveling with my wife and 4 year old son and we are just longing for good, simple, delicious food... Any chance you can post your report on Naples...?

                1 Reply
                1. re: piroshki

                  I highly recommend the pizza (we thought both Umberto and Sorbillo were excellent).

                  And you must try the sfuzzi fritti, the small friend treats on offer at streetside stands in the historic district: Spaccanapoli, and probably in other areas as well.

                  I just wrote a long report on one place only to see it disappear when I tried to edit!

                  Briefly:

                  If you are looking for good, simple food at a reasonable price, I would recommend Hostaria Toledo, a SlowFood pick a block or two west of the Via Toledo in the Spanish Quarter. We had one dinner here. The place is casual and service (by a husband and wife team) is friendly and unpretentious. Diners are a mix of locals and tourists; be sure to reserve on weekends, as we watched many non-reservation-bearing local being turned away on a Saturday night.

                  Here is what we ate; they seem to excell at vegetable/cheese preparations.

                  Salad of provola cheese with roasted peppers and tomatoes
                  Bucatini al forno with provola and tomato (stellar)

                  Eggplant parmesan..excellent
                  Saute de vongole..excellent
                  Paccheri Toledo..short, wide pasta tubes (popular in the region) with sauce of tomatoes, mushrooms, peas and mushrooms...good

                  With unlabeled house white wine and water, the bill for two of us totalled 55 euro.

                2. In Atrani, we ate at another great restaurant: Osteria de Luisella, on the main square. It was our favorite meal on the Amalfi coast.

                  As a primi, I had large tubular pasta stuffed with fish , tomato, and ricotta on a bed of pureed eggplant. My husband had linguine with clams, his favorite rendition of the dish that he had in Italy. We split a secondi, which was highly entertaining: fritto misto, consisting of whole fried small fish, in addition to other seafood. Delicious.

                  The amosphere can't be beat: we sat at a table overlooking the small central square, and were able to people-watch while eating. A great meal and experience. Atrani seemed to us to be a magical town.

                  Erica, we will have to try A Paranza when we go back (not for another 9 years, for our 10 year anniversary!).