Thanks for the great tips! Amalfi Coast 09 Dining Report (long)
Thanks to everyone here who posted about their Amalfi Coast meals, and everyone who helped give me guidance -- we had some seriously amazing food on the coast. Here's where we ended up, and what we had. I’ve added stars next to dishes I found to be particularly outstanding or memorable, so that others can look for those when they go.
Barillotto del Nonno (Positano)
A cute little place up the coast road from Positano -- the type of place where mama comes out from the kitchen to hug all the guests and make sure you loved your meal -- this was just what we needed after a very long journey to the coast. We had a bottle of the house white and...
Bruschetta di pomodoro -- complements of the house
Octopus salad -- very light, fresh and perfectly tender, dressed with just lemon, parsley and oil; made me wonder why I see so little octopus on American menus (we can handle calamari, and this is so much better – just ask the Spanish, Italians, Koreans, Japanese, Mexicans…)
Seafood risotto -- the BF had this one. It was less ooey-gooey than what I think of with risotto, and the rice was more al dente than expected (not that I'm Italian, just going by what I've had stateside), but it was still very tasty, and he liked it
Spaghetti marinara with vongole e cozze -- again, very light and simple preparation, but the tomatoes where so flavorful and fresh, and the frutti di mare were lovely; as with much of the pasta courses we had in Italy, I didn't want to eat the entire giant plate, but it was just too addictive not to
Pezzonga (?) Acqua Pazza -- this was a local fish we weren't familiar with, but it was very good, in a simple reduction the fish's own cooking juices with a hint of tomato, parsley and lemon (maybe some capers too, can't recall); we saw this preparation again and again on the coast, not always called Acqua Pazza, but it was always a perfect match for the seafood; the BF was in love with this dish
Roasted Pepperoni -- the peppers, not the meat, as a contorno
*Chocolate cake -- this was incredible, and I don't even like chocolate cake; it was more like a slice of gooey uncooked brownie batter, with a crisp, thin crust; so rich! my BF thought it was ideally suited to his customary glass of Fernet Branca (and he doesn't like chocolate cake either)
Al Convento (Cetara)
Cetara was one of the stars of the week -- its a long haul to get there from Positano, but it was interesting enough to warrant two trips. You see stuff on the menus in Cetara that you just don't find anywhere else. This was the more casual and family friendly of the two restaurants we visited, and we hit it on a Sunday afternoon, when all the local families are out and about for lunch.
*Bottarga di tonno with cabbage, bread, raisins -- I can't recall what they called this, but I adored it, and tasted nothing else like it anywhere else on the trip. My BF wasn’t wild about it and thought it needed something -- probably spice. It was a dome of cabbage and soaked pieces of bread, dotted with raisins and bits of bottarga. We had bottarga again at Acquapazza, but I enjoyed this dish more.
Mixed antipasti -- The standout here was the *smoked tuna*, which was to die for, and remains my BF's favorite bite of the trip. There was also a sheet of sliced octopus carpaccio in lemon, which he liked but I found a bit tasteless, a fried anchovy bread ball, like a hushpuppy, with raisins, and a couple of nice anchovies. If we went again, we'd just get a plate of the tuna.
Spaghetti with Colatura di Alici -- I ordered this because the Colatura is Cetara's claim to fame, and I love anchovies, but the dish itself was overwhelming. It was basically spaghetti with anchovy flavored oil and garlic. It was a huge portion, and the flavor of the Colatura was over-the-top salty and rich. I liked it, but I needed to alternate bites of gnocchi and bites of spaghetti to avoid mouth burnout from the salt, and it was desperately in need of more complexity and balance. I wouldn't recommend it to others -- we had a Colatura dish at Acquapazza which was much more successful -- but I'm glad I tried it.
Gnocchi with tomato and basil – The BF had this and was likewise overwhelmed by the size and flavor intensity, but much less so than the Colatura dish. The tomato flavor was super intense, so bright and fresh – concentrated, and yet without any cooked tomato flavor – with added lemon for zip and a few leaves of basil. I thought it was delicious, but I can see how he thought it was too much. The gnocchi themselves were super soft. I would have loved this in a smaller portion (with more basil), but we couldn’t eat it all as it was.
Bread – just a side note, the bread they put for us on the table was superb here – head and shoulders above the rest -- I’m betting their pizzas are also great
Mixed grilled fish -- with (one) *shrimp*, sepia and a mystery fish. The shrimp was amazing – so sweet and intensely flavored – but the sepia and the unidentified fish were just ok. Along with the smoked tuna, this one shrimp was my BF’s favorite of the trip. Again, I’d skip the mix and just get shrimp next time.
Delicia di limone – from De Riso in Minori. I had read about this place, so had to try it, but it was actually a little dry and lacking a really intense lemon flavor (that gnocchi had more lemon than this thing!). Maybe they are better if you get them fresh from De Riso.
Saraceno d'Oro (Positano)
This was the one flop of the trip. We thought we’d give inner Positano a try, even though it’s more than a little touristy. The menu here looked good enough, but the actual food was no better than what we (non-italians) can make here at home in the states, and our waiter was British. Plus they were out of everything, and basically told us seafood is not in season – meanwhile we had amazing fresh seafood everywhere else, so what the…? The one highlight was scamorza grilled in a lime leaf. Simple and great.
Cupma Cosimo (Ravello)
This place made up for the lousy pasta the night before with some of the best pasta I have ever had. Plus it was another one of those places where mama comes out to dote on you. Love that. It’s worth a trip to Ravello even if you don’t stop and look at the view.
Prosciutto & melon – basically what you expect, very tasty
*Piatte misto di pasta – Wow, this was a home run. You cannot come here and not get this. Mama is back there making this all by hand and it is all delicious. Don’t share – you will want it all to yourself. I think there were five or six tastes of pasta: pesto fusilli, fettucini bolognese, mancotti with pork (?), fried/baked(?) pasta stuffed with ricotta, fusilli in a very savory tomato sauce and onion mushroom orchietti
Penne a la arrabiatta – the BF got this, and it was good but nothing like my misto, and not as spicy as we would have liked
Torta with cherries – a nice little sour cherry pie
A Paranza (Atrani)
This place felt a little more dressed up, and it was the only place where the waiter humored my attempt at Italian and spoke back to me in Italian the whole time, rather than lapsing into English to put me out of my misery (though I heard him speak English to others who didn’t attempt the Italian). I needed the practice and was grateful. We had the house white and…
Fried zucchini blossoms -- stuffed with fish and ricotta; the fry on these was perfect; my BF loved them
Mixed fantasia of seafood – this was recommended by the waiter, but overall it was kinda meh. There was something in a shell, maybe scallop gratinée, but we couldn’t tell, a nice anchovy, another anchovy wrapped around cheese, some baby octopus on pumpkin purée, baby shrimp on fava bean purée, butterflied tomato shrimp gratinée, and bacalao in some sort of leaf.
*Scialatielli with cockles (?) and clams a la Siciliana – this was great. The sauce was kinda like an acqua pazza, very simple, full of the sea, the seafood was super fresh and flavorful, and I just fell in love with these homemade scialatielli noodles. They are fatter than pastas we’re used to here, thicker than udon in even, and very irregular.
*Scampi gratinée – This was amazing too, and recommended by the waiter. The scampi were exploding with flavor (so much so that my BF thought it was too rich – but he also complains of that with lobster), and the crispy, salty, buttery breadcrumbs on top were divine. It was by far the best scampi I’ve ever had, probably better than any lobster or langustine I’ve had too. At this point I was speaking only in mmms and devouring things on my plate with my bare hands.
Mixed fried calamari and shrimp – The BF got this, and it was disappointing. Not much different than what you’d get in the US when you order fried calamari.
Il Ritrovo (Montepertuso)
Another solid meal – and they were nice enough to drive us down the hill after! This was the one place we opted out of the house white wine, since we wanted a break from the seafood, and they had a great wine list. We got a Sagrantino di Montefalco (2001 Adanti Arquata) that was very nice. They also send guests home with a bag of dried ingredients for pasta sauce – which we made this week, and it was quite good!
Mixed seafood crudo salad – Came with shrimp, arugula, smoked marinated salmon, mackerel(?) likewise marinated, scampi, octopus, clams, mussels, almonds, lettuce and too much salt. Really it was delicious and huge, but I was oversalted by the end.
Meat/sausage rigatoni – BF got this and liked, but I honestly can’t remember it
Fusilli w/ pumpkin, truffle, shrimp, arugula and parmesan – This was very nice and I would have just loved it if I hadn’t had those amazing pastas from Cumpa Cosimo the day before. This was overall a more inventive dish – less like what mama would make, and more “next generation” Italian, but it was missing something to give it that spark.
Steak with porchinis in cream sauce with potatoes and vegetables – This steak was cooked perfectly and was delicious, and the mushroom sauce was beautifully rich. I didn’t eat much of it as I was stuffed from the pasta and the crudo, but I was impressed that a seafood town did steak so well.
Frutti ripiena di gelati – This was just too cute, and the gelati tasted just like the fruit. There was a little kiwi hollowed out with kiwi gelato inside, a strawberry with strawberry… you get the idea.
We had two digestifs on the house – a fennel and a strawberry. As digestifs are not my thing, I defer to my BF who adored the fennel.
Our second trip to Cetara led us to this more upscale and slightly less traditional little place. It was packed for lunch on a Wednesday (most other places we ate had 2-3 other parties dining, max). We were in search of more smoked tuna but alas, they didn’t have it. It was still a very interesting meal though. I have to warn my fellow English speakers that there was not a speck of English on the menu and I do not believe it was spoken by the staff either. The BF saw another couple come in and have to leave, as they were unable muddle through. I would have just pointed randomly and nodded a lot, but oh well! We had the house white and…
An interesting little plate of puffed, fried pasta, instead of bread. These were great!
*Baby squid in crostini on polenta – Wow, this was stellar, and so unexpected. It was a recommendation of the waiter. The presentation was beautiful. The polenta was runnier than I’m used to and reminded me of grits (I love grits). The squid was nestled into the curve of a super thin crostini that was shaped to form a sort of bowl on top of the polenta, and it was covered in a deeply savory tomato sauce with who knows what else. So good.
*Linguine with tomato, pine nuts, raisins and Colatura di Alici – If you’re going to try Colatura, this is the place. This was a perfectly balanced dish, not too much salt, only hints of fishiness, great texture from the pine nuts and raisins. This was also recommended by the waiter.
Paccheri – The BF had this. Flat pasta tubes with baby squid in a sweet red sauce. It was very nice, but I liked mine better. Paccheri, like Scialatielli, seem to be traditional pastas of Campania, and I loved both. Wish I could get them at home – I’d never even heard of them.
Merluzza with riced potatoes and bottarga – I decided to have another go at bottarga, but this dish was a little bland honestly. It needed something to give it a kick in the pants. I preferred the bottarga preparation I had up the road at Al Convento.
Buca di Bacco (Positano)
I actually had not planned on coming here based on the mixed reviews, but we were walking around and this menu looked better than Max, so we gave it a try. I must say, everything we had was lovely – don’t count it out! We had a bottle of a local rose and…
Carpaccio di finocchio (fennel) -- with shrimp, capers, olives, sundried tomato. This was light and fresh and very nice. The presentation was a bit foofy and French looking, but there was nothing else to criticize.
Salmon tartare with pickled onions, olives, frizze – this was great too, but perhaps not something you couldn’t find elsewhere. Same kinda stuffy presentation (you know, molded into an unusual shape).
Paccheri con gamberi, with cheese and walnuts – The BF got this, and it was good but a little one-note and couldn’t compete with my scialatielli.
Scialatielli con fruti di mare – By now I knew I could not go wrong with this, and boy was I right. It was probably almost as great as the one at A Paranza. It had the kitchen sink of seafood in it -- scampi, shrimp, mussels, clams and razor clams or cuttlefish (I thought they were razor clams, BF said cuttlefish) all in that now familiar acqua pazza type sauce, with a light hint of tomato. If I were giving out half stars, I would give this a half or ¾.
Baba con rum – this was fine, nothing special
Donna Rosa (Montepertuso)
So I was ready for this to be disappointing somehow, much like Buca di Bacco, but again I was so, so wrong. It was incredible. It was by far the most expensive meal, but so worth it. We had the house white and…
*Scallop gratinee – This blew me away, it was so tasty. Huge scallops, on their shells, with spectacularly flavored breadcrumbs.
Salad of anchovies, salmon and scampi – This was nice, probably better than most of the other crudo/misto plates we’d had as antipasti previously, but it was outshined by the scallop.
*Fantasia of pasta – This made me forget the scallop, and honestly, was even more knockout than the mixed pasta plate from Cupima Cosimo. There were three tastes – a giant ravioli in a tomato cheese sauce, a truffle and mushroom linguine and a tomato shrimp fettucine. This was lick-the-plate-in-a-white-tablecloth-establishment good. I have never had such good pasta. You cannot miss this if you are in Positano.
Branzino with salad – This was understandably boring after the fantasia of pasta. It was however, perfectly cooked.
Good luck to all my fellow trip planners -- I miss all that delicious pasta already!
My God, what a great dining trip and a fine report. My hat is off to you.
Can you describe that bottarga/cabbage bread dish a little more? It sounds like something Ithat might be reproducible and delicious.
My husband had spaghetti with colatura at Viva Lo Re in Ercolano a week or so ago - thought it was fantastic, - its a very simiple garlic - oil -fish sauce fmaybe a little chopped parsley on perfectly cooked pasta - so I guess its all in getting the right balance of ingredients. I just picked up an expensive little bottle of colatura at Fairway and am going to give it a try - tho I suspect could do a respectable job with some of the good asian fish sauces.
re: jen kalb
I'm afraid I'm going to fail to get this dish right but I will try. The cabbage was cooked, probably lightly braised, and then layered with chunks of bread (maybe 1"-1.5" square) into a dome-like shape with about the total mass of a softball. The bread was probably soaked before the dish was put together, perhaps just in cabbage juices, more likely in some kind of stock, to soften it up. The flavor reminded me a bit of this Jaime Oliver bread cabbage soup that I adore (honestly Jaime's is better! I could eat that every day), if its of any help to you http://wickedflavory.com/2008/03/ital... . Anyway, I know there were raisins sprinkled around, and there may have been some inside the dome too. Then the entire thing was topped off with shreds/bits/flakes (?) of bottarga, which gave it just the salt it needed. I'm probably missing key ingredients, but hopefully that gives a better picture. If you like cabbage, this will probably hit the spot.
Emile this is a stupendous report! I want to head back to that region this very minute, after salivatiing while reading all of the details. Thanks ever so much. And shame on me (sound of slap) for not yet reporting on my own early fall Campanian trip, which was taken before your own!
Thanks for all the information! We're going to Positano in April, and your reviews will help us.
In your planning thread, you indicated you checked the closing dates for all the restaurants. I'm having trouble finding this information. Did you call the restaurants or did you find a way to determine what day they close?
Modeen I cannot help with all of the closing days, but according to my SlowFood guide, Al Convento is closed on Tusedays (but not in summer) and Aquapazza is shuttered on Mondays. In Amalfi, A Paranza, which I liked very much as well, is closed on Tuesdays.
Here is my brief write-up from 2008; it covers some of the same places:
San Pietro in Cetara is also a standout. Closed Tuesdays.
Yes, this was very difficult information to come by (and I called ahead for most places the day of to be sure they were open, even if I thought I had good information). If the restaurant is in Frommers or the Slow Food guide, that's a good place to find the info -- otherwise it was a lot of scanning page after page of google results in English and Italian. Here's what I found online/in person:
I *think* most of the places IN Positano (Buca di Bacco, Saraceno) are open daily because of all the tourists. This was true for us, even in October/beginning of the off season.
Lunch service usually starts around 12:30 and goes til 2:30 or 3:00, then they open up for dinner again around 7:30 and stay open til 10 or 11. Again, some stuff in Positano is open all day to serve the tourists.
Barilotto -- no idea (we went on a Saturday and called in advance)
Il Ritrovo -- closed Wednesday (we went for dinner on a Tuesday)
Donna Rosa -- closed Monday for lunch and Tuesday all day (went for lunch on a Friday)
A Paranza -- closed Tuesday (went for dinner on a Monday)
Cumpa Cosimo -- closed Mondays starting in Nov, but open daily April - Oct (we went the last Monday in Oct for lunch)
Al Convento -- closed Wednesday (I have different information than Erica on this one, but we were in Cetara on a Wednesday to visit Acquapazza and this place did look closed that day -- call ahead to be sure! We went here on a Sunday for lunch.)
Acquapazza -- closed Monday (went on a Wednesday for lunch)
This is one of the best reports I have read!
I love that you decribed exactly what each dish was!
so many reports just list what they ate - with no description at all and half the time I dont even know what the dish is!
So thanks for that!
I am amazed that you remembered everything - or did you have a food journal with you? or did you phot document everything?
Anyway - One day I will get there - and I shall save your post to take with me!!
I did jot down what we ate for most places, and then wrote this up while it was still fresh in my mind. I'm glad I did, because I definitely would never have remembered it all! I'm sure I have some of the names of the dishes wrong -- but figured the more I could describe, the easier it would be for others to find those dishes later.
You have to go -- it was really just the most magical place. I can't recommend it enough.
We rented a small house just outside Positano (in Arienzo). For me, I would probably choose Positano again (and stay just outside it, again). Renting a house was great -- cheaper and much more spacious/beautiful than a hotel. For a honeymoon, it would give great privacy, but you might miss the "full service" nature of a nice hotel.
I personally found Amalfi way too touristy, even in the off season, but if you can stay near the town and not in it, or stay in Atrani (the next town around the bend, 15 min walk, very cute little town, with a handful of very nice restaurants but very little else going on apart from Italian "slice of life"), being near Amalfi is very convenient for catching all of the SITA buses you'll take to get around (unless you have a car). It's basically the bus depot. This does take away a bit of the seaside charm, but it meant we were there every other day trying to catch a bus.
Positano is also very touristy, but I didn't find it as bothersome as Amalfi. Beware though that Positano is extremely steep (more so than Amalfi), so you'll be doing a lot of walking up and down hills and stairs. You'll also have to transfer buses in Amalfi to get to places like Cetara, Ravello, etc. However, you are closer to Montepertuso, which also has some great restaurants.
If you are tourist averse, there are a few cute towns in between Amalfi/Positano that would be right on the same bus line that Positano is on -- Praiano is one of these towns and is very cute.
Good luck -- I'm jealous!