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Amalfi Coast Report (1 of 2)

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Normally, on our trips in Europe, we are constantly on the go visiting sites and walking the neighborhoods. On the Amalfi Coast, we did nothing cultural, unless you want to make a case that eating is a cultural experience. We walked, rode the SITA bus nominally to visit Positano but more to enjoy the scenery en route, or sat on benches in the Amalfi harbor and read. This was by design. My husband enjoyed this part of the trip more than I did. If the weather had been better – warmer and drier – I might have been more enthusiastic. Still, the eating was great.

Now to my restaurant report...

Marina Grande (Amalfi): Our hotel was up the hill in Amalfi and Marina Grande is one of several beachfront restaurants. The two locations are about as far apart in Amalfi as possible. In spite of the pouring rain on our arrival day, we decided to eat dinner at this restaurant. Stunning success!

The waiter was charming and very eager to steer us to make good choices. He took our enjoyment very personally and beamed every time we demonstrated obvious enthusiasm for the food. We began the meal with a trio of tuna: tuna tartare with julienne carrots, tuna carpaccio with celery, and seared tuna with sesame crust. The last item was pretty boring. The crust was too heavy and we couldn’t detect any seasoning beyond the mixture of black and white sesame seeds. However, the first two preparations were excellent.

For primi, we shared two pastas. The first was ravioli stuffed with zucchini in a sauce of clams and thyme with slivers of bottarga. (I can’t remember whether the dish included clams in their shells or clam infused broth.) The second pasta was Calamarata con Scorfano e Patate al Vino Rosso. The pasta in this dish is ring-shaped which gives rise to its name. Scorfano is scorpionfish, a delicious local fish that is somewhat inexplicably named given its mild flavor. The Calamarata preparation consisted of a mixture of the pasta and flakes/chunks of fish in a lovely light sauce. The mound of sauced pasta was topped by a huge nest of deep fried “threads” of potato with a red wine sauce drizzled around the mound. In my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have ordered a pasta dish with potatoes listed as an ingredient without prompting. If so, I would have missed out on great eating! The potatoes were perfectly fried without a hint of oil. Furthermore, they had a hint of earthy sweetness that was a perfect foil for the other flavors. We liked the first dish, but it was clearly overshadowed by the second dish. I know we were swooning.

We shared one portion of secundi, the peculiarly named “Roast Beef di Pezzogna e Fiori di Zucchine e Zucca con Mousse di ricotta.” Pezzogna is a local fish that is a sweeter version of Rockfish, the local name for Striped Bass in the Middle Atlantic region of the US. Our waiter reassured us that we were ordering a fish dish, but the treatment was like that of roast beef. In fact, the thick filets of Prezzogna were wrapped in leeks like the turbot at Agata, nothing I consider to be particularly roast-beefy. Naming issues aside, this was fabulous eating.

Not that I think anyone is planning his/her days around my posts, but several Hounds have written to say they're heading to Italy shortly. I'm heading out of town for a few days so I won't be posting a detailed report for a while. Here's the really, really, abbreviated version of my remaining Amalfi restaurant report.

A Paranza (Atrani): excellent; best dish -- Prezzogna with sauteed, butterflied prawns and shrimp

Il Tari (Amalfi): totally bi-polar; the absolute best of the trattorias in Amalfi but totally understaffed turing the meal into a service nightmare; there are more frustrating details about this restaurant that I'll share in my long report

Ristorante Bucca di Bacco (Positano): wonderful food in spite of its location overlooking the main beach in a hotel; superb fritto misto; inventive pasta combination: paccheri, shrimp, walnuts and capers -- Yummy!

Trattoria del Teatro (Amalfi) at the waiter's recommendation, we ordered the same dishes we ordered at Il Trani although one had a different name; the versions at Il Trani were better

Da Gemma (Amalfi): upscale restaurant serving refined version of classics; lovely outdoor terrace one flight up overlooking the main north-south street; two great pastas: (1) paccheri filled with a mixture of ricotta and broccoli with a sauce of shellfish broth and wine topped by cherry tomatoes and an unknown shellfish and (2) paccheri genovese -- sauce made of long-simmered meat and onions. In this case, the meat was veal, although we saw this listed on other menus with the meat being lamb. The one constant is onions which earns the dish the "Genovese" label.

ETA: My husband and I thought the shellfish might be a cockle, but a check of wikipedia said cockles are bivalves. The shape of these shellfish didn't seem like they'd come from a bivalve. A short tubular shaped shellfish is the more likely candidate. The texture was somewhat chewy. Any suggestions?

Cartolina (Amalfi): acceptable trattoria food; killer dessert -- lemon-orange marmalade torte -- amazing contast between the somewhat dry crust and topping (texture a cross between streusel topping and shortbread) and the sweet, intense flavor of the fruit filling; swoon time!

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