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6 DAYS OF EATING ON THE ISLAND OF ISCHIA--BRIEF REPORT----9/09

Before my memory fails me completely, I will offer a brief report on our dining discoveries on the island of Ischia. This being Campania, there is superb eating to be found. This being a heavily touristed island, it takes some seeking out and we had two somewhat unexciting dinners before we struck gold. I will proceed with the first two reports here and follow with the others, including the two standout experiences, in the near future.

LA CASARECCIA in the Hotel Poggio del Sole, outside Forio.

We took a taxi from the port of Forio (12 euro; taxis are costly but the local bus system is very efficient, as we later learned) but the restaurant is accessible by a bus which runs once an hour. (ask for the bus to "Via Borbonica"; see further directions on the website linked below)

It was surprisingly difficult to find reliable information on the dining scene on Ischia, although I spent hours online and own the Capalbo and Plotkin books and the SlowFood Osterie guide. I took a stab here, thinking that its out of the way location and a couple of reviews online sounded promising.

The restaurant was deserted when we arrived on a Sunday evening about 7:30pm, but would eventually fill about halfway with a mix of locals and tourists with the latter appearing to predominate.

Wanting to sample a famous Campanian staple, I foolishly began with Insalata Caprese. The tomatoes were shockingly, astoundingly poor, and the mozzarella di bufala was served too cold. My spirits sunk.

We fared better with another shared appetizer, eggplant parmesan, served with mushrooms but without the expected mozzarella. (As far as I know, there is no cheese making tradition on Ischia and the local staples--mozzarella, provola and the like-- generally are "imported" from Agerola or the Battipaglia area. This was a good dish.

Further disappointment followed when I learned, upon inquiring, that many of the shellfish dishes listed on the menu--scampi, calamari, etc--were frozen.

The swordfish, however, was fresh and was absolutely stellar--a hefty grilled slab served with a lusty garlicky sauce also flavored with parsley. (My new staple at home!) Excellent!!

My partner was equally pleased with his rich Spaghetti al Limone, which he had as a main course.

The kindly proprietor presented us with a complimentary dessert of fresh figs from his own tree which, if I understood correctly, had been smoked in what sounded like a laborious process.

With a carafe of the excellent local house wine, and a bottle of Panna, the total came to 31 euro. In short, I think that one could have a very good meal here--better than we had-- with careful consideration of the menu and consultation with the owners; no English is spoke,however, which was generally the case at the establishments we visited.

http://www.lacasereccia.com/

ZI CARMELA

We chose this restaurant after paying a visit to Umberto A Mare, a seafront restaurant considered to be the finest in Forio but whose prices seemed very high to me (pastas around 25 euro) and which was virtually deserted when we peeked in around 8pm.

Economy won out and we ventured to Zi Carmela, a casual trattoria right on the main bus route that was mentioned in a couple of guidebooks and that is attached to the hotel of the same name. I had reservations about the place going in—right in the center of the action; menu posted out front translated into 4 languages, but Forio center is not exactly filled with promising looking spots, so we took a chance. (There is another local option next to the main covered food market, on one of the pedestrian streets).

http://www.zicarmela.com/ischia-a_tav...

Zi Carmela is a informal trattoria enclosing a large, airy dining room topped by a beamed ceiling from which dangle an array of ceramic cups.

We began our meal with a pizza Margherita to share. First rate ingredients and a touch of smoke from the wood-burning oven made this one of the hits of the evening.

My fish-shunning partner (who, I am happy to report, has made progress on that score since we returned home) requested a primi with no elements from the sea and was rewarded with a very good cut pasta brimming with tomato, eggplant, and mozzarella. Very good.

My primi—the Zi Carmela house special of tagliolini with mussels, clams, and shrimp—was slightly less successful.

My partner called a halt after the pasta course and I forged ahead, purely in the interest of research, with the gamberoni—head-on shrimp which were very good.

Despite the central location, our fellow diners appeared to be locals.

With a water, the bill totalled 49 euro; we had ordered a liter of the house white wine (very good) which the congenial owner, Nicola, removed from the bill for no reason other than pure generosity.

After dinner, we ambled along the pedestrian streets to the center of Forio and enjoyed a superb gelato at an elegant bar whose name I neglected to jot down. Walk up the pedestrian street leading from the port area and turn right at the pedestrian street running at a right angle. The bar will be on your right.

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  1. IL LIMONETO, near Forio, Ischia

    After our two less than stellar dining experiences on the two preceeding nights, we decided to consult with the owner of the small hotel where we stayed for the first half of our trip. He proceeded to recommend two restaurants to us and both were exceptionally satisfying. The first was this beautiful and romantic restaurant located about a 10-minute walk from the bus stop at Campo Sportivo, between the port of Forio and Lacco Ameno.
    The bus ride from Forio takes no longer than ten minutes; you then walk away from the water, past the sports stadium, until you reach the restaurant. (More precise directions can be found in Italian, on their website, linked below)

    There is both indoor and outdoor seating; we chose a table outside, set beneath the lemon trees that give the place its name. Our fellow diners were Italians and appeared to be locals. Some English is spoken here; service was good although we felt a definite lack of congeniality as compared to the other place we visited on this trip.

    The food, however, was excellent. My partner began with fried zucchini flowers stuffed with anchovy-laced ricotta cheese. A marvelous rendition of a local favorite.

    I could not decide between the octopus or the vongole veraci, so I chose to begin with a half order of each. Having seen little variety in the fish market we visited in Ischia Porto, I asked the server, "Are the clams local?" His answer reveals a lot about the meaning of the word "local," in Italy: "No, the clams are not from around here, they are from Naples."
    Naples, of course, is just across the bay from the island of Ischia.

    This dish was spectacular. Dozens of tiny clams bathed in a light, garlicky tomato-based sauce studded with cubes of toasted bread surrounded one lone octopus, served in intact with the head, that tied for the honors of THE best octopus I'd ever eaten. (Its competition was the moscardini I had devoured on the Ligurian coast two years before) The essence of clams and octopus. Simple. Worth a detour!

    I continued with a plate of gamberoni. Served heads on, these were the reddest shrimp I'd ever eaten and were, again, superb, served with a disc of white rice.

    My partner chose a primi as his second course: Fusilli with ragu di coniglio, the twisted pasta sauced with rabbit-meat-studded tomatoey goodness. Excellent.

    We drank a half carafe of the unmemorable house white wine. The bill for two totalled 68 euro.

    http://www.ristorantelimoneto.com/ind...

    17 Replies
    1. re: erica

      Erica ... it is freezing here now in Washington, DC and reading this report, I can only imagine those glorious views in Ischia sitting under the lemon trees. Based on your description, I have Il Limoneto on the top of my list for next Amalfi coast trip. We thought Capri was soooo jammed with tourists that Ishia is our next adventure trip ... glad to have some restaurants to add to the list in case we stay overnight. Did you visit food shops or outdoor markets while staying there?? Thanks as always for your very descriptive report. Peggy

      1. re: PeggyD

        Peggy, thanks. I am glad you enjoyed! I saw only one mobile outdoor market--a farmer parked in the lot where the Sant Angelo bus stops who was selling fruits and homemade wine and honey from the back of his truck.

        There are a collection of food shops just to the east of the docks in Ischia Porto--at least one fish market and a few fruit and vegetable shops. I bought a string of fresh peppers at one of these. Also a couple of more upmarket shops in Porto and Ponte, especially. But overall I did not think that the food shopping was nearly as exciting as Naples, or course, or even as exciting as Amalfi, for example. Remember that cheese is not produced in any quantities on Ischia and the locally produced products of the pig--salumi, etc-- are used for home consumption, or so it seemed from my brief exploration. So most of the interesting foodstuffs are "imported" from Naples or Agerola or Battipaglia, or even further afield. There is, as you know, a tradition of winemaking on the island, but we did not visit any wineries.

        Let me look for the name of the one really good food shop that I did visit in Ischia Porto and I will post back if I find it. I think it was on Via delle Terme just off the main pedestrian drag. I will also return with details on the restaurant where we had two splendid dinners...

        Also, I highly recommend the Carla Capalbo book on food and wine in Campania.

        One more detail: This agriturismo outside Forio was recommended to me, but I have no further details because, while we passed it en route to our favorite restaurant, we did not visit:

        http://www.agriturismoilvitigno.it/in...

      2. re: erica

        Erica - Thanks so much for your detailed reports. I'll be visiting Ischia for my first time next week and this is an invaluable primer.

        1. re: triple creme

          Triple: Let me know where you are staying and how you plan to get around. I did not finish this report but I do have other suggestions.

          1. re: erica

            Erica - You are too kind. We'll be staying at the Albergo San Montano, which I hear is up on a very steep hill above Lacco Ameno. We'll be with an older couple so I think we'll be taking taxis quite a bit. Based on what I've read so far, I expect we'll eat a fair amount of our dinners in Forio.
            Thanks!

            1. re: triple creme

              I did not get around to writing a review (yet) but since you are leaving soon, I will tell you that since you are already planning to take taxis, you should include this restaurant in your dinner plans; it is outside Forio and located a very steep and fairly difficult walk of about 20 minutes or so from the main road. With a taxi it would be no problem:

              Da Peppina di Renato. The taxi drivers will know it. Closed Wednesday. Trust me on this one.

              1. re: erica

                Great minds think alike -- We found Peppina di Renato in a guidebook earlier today and emailed them to request a reservation for Thursday.
                Will let you know how it goes. (But I would have trusted you even w/o the guidebook rec!) thanks again.

                1. re: triple creme

                  One more question Erica: How did you arrange a reservation at a Peppina? The prenotazione form on their website is quite out-of-date (2006 is the latest option for year on the date menu), which is why we emailed them directly. And we don't speak Italian.

                  1. re: triple creme

                    We had our hotel phone and book a table. You do need to book and I am not sure whether or not they will respond to e-mail, although the proprietor speaks English very well. If he does not respond, ask your hotel to book for you, or phone yourself.

                    Although they do have a printed menu, you should not even consult it. Let Renato choose for you--take what he recommends. You definitely want to have a pasta and the rabbit (or the roast chicken if you cannot have rabbit).
                    Again, you do NOT need a menu. Prices are not expensive so do not worry.
                    I will try to write a report this week--I do not have my notes with me now...

                2. re: erica

                  DA PEPPINA DI RENATO, near Forio

                  As promised, here is the report of the first of two dinners we enjoyed at Da Peppina, outside Forio on the western end of the island. This restaurant was, by far, our favorite find of the week:

                  Da Peppina is located about a 20 minute walk up a VERY steep hill (actually the lower slopes of the island’s volcano) from the main road and, therefore, from the bus stop. The road (the same one that winds upwards to Mt. Epomeo) is indeed, narrow and dark. And did I mention that it was very steep? We huffed and puffed for about 20 minutes, past private residences, a couple of guesthouses, and the agriturismo Il Vitigno before finally spotting a sign pointing us in the right direction.

                  Da Peppina is located down a flight of steps that leads to a pair of dining areas—one inside and one partly open to the air. As soon as we were shown to our terrace table, we knew that the walk had been worth the effort. Here was the fantasy of an Italian restaurant hidden in the hills and presided over by a congenial owner-chef who greeted us in perfect English, and inquired if there was anything particular we felt like eating that evening. We told Proprietor Renato that we wanted to sample his famous rabbit, and that we would leave the rest up to him. (There is a printed menu but we noticed that the other guests also deferred to the chef).

                  Virtually everything on offer with the exception of cheeses from the mainland near Amalfi, comes from Renato’s land, or from the nearby hills.
                  The enchanting candlelit terrace—tables cloaked in rich gold cloths, chairs crafted from old iron headboards, stone walls embellished with colorful ceramic tiles, massive terracotta urns nestled in niches—is shaded by a twig-thatched canopy and overlooks the hills and the bay of Citara in the distance.

                  We began with a platter of affettati misti which were, in a word, sublime. Tiny polpettine marinate comprised of three different finely ground meats in a light tomato-based sauce; the celebrated bocconcini of mozzarella from Agerola; delicate crepes encasing eggplant, zucchini and mushroom; crespelle of house-cured ham bathed in a light besciamella; and an involtini of eggplant that was beyond fabulous.

                  For my primi, Renato brought mezzemaniche (stout tubular pasta) with cherry tomatoes, (ribbons of drying tomatoes festoon the kitchen area) and eggplant, infused with a smoky tinge from the addition of provola affumicata (smoked provola cheese).

                  For my partner: the island’s signature pasta, bucatini al sugo di coniglio, or long, hollow strands of pasta bathed in a tomato rabbit sauce.

                  Next to arrive was a terra cotta vessel containing the famous Ischian rabbit in a tomato and herb cacciatore sauce that allowed the flavor of the rabbit to shine and bore no resemblance whatsoever to the myriad of cacciatore dishes served at Italian restaurants back home. Taking one taste, my partner declared that he had never eaten a better dish in his entire life! Accompanying the rabbit were sublime roasted potatoes.

                  Renato’s daughter is the pastry chef and we could not close our meal
                  without sampling the two special sweets on offer that evening: Cheesecake and a Delizia di Cioccolato.

                  With our dinner we drank the middling house local white wine.

                  The total, with a carafe of house wine and bottled water, was 58 euro.

                  Da Peppina is closed Wednesdays off season. Dinner only, except by prior arrangement.

                  http://www.trattoriadapeppina.it/inde...

                  1. re: erica

                    I am very grateful for Erica’s suggestion of Da Peppina di Renato in Forio, Ischia. Four of us had dinner there last week and enjoyed a meal of very high quality and originality, in a quaint setting with a rustic feel.

                    As Erica recommended we did not look at a menu but rather put ourselves in the chef’s hands. What followed was a multi-course sampling of antipasti, among which my favorites were the crespelle with a lemon cream sauce and a variety of vegetable roulades. We mentioned to our very genial server that one of our party prefers to avoid meat, and the selections reflected that. We had intermediate courses of onion and cheese pizza and one bruschetta with beans and another topped with an herbed, creamy cheese; these were almost too much food but still delicious. The pasta which came next was served in a strong-flavored but simple tomato-based sauce -- the best part of an overall outstanding dinner. Last came Renato’s signature take on the traditional Ischitan rabbit dish, which arrived sizzling at the table in a tomato, cipollini, and olive base. Even our mostly-vegetarian DC couldn’t resist a few bites and was glad he did.

                    We skipped dessert, and our server persuaded us to try a couple of glasses of Amaro bitters, which were quite good. In the end we were astounded at the reasonable price tag for such a special – and generous – dinner. The cost, including several bottles of wine, was 44 Euros per person. In fact the evening’s only splurge was the round-trip taxi fare from Lacco Ameno (60 Euros total).
                    If I am lucky enough to visit Ischia again, I will eagerly return for another superb meal at Peppina.

                    1. re: triple creme

                      sounds absolutely delicious! Wondering how the rest of your eating went?

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        I am SO glad you dined at Renato's. For me, this is the quintessential trattoria that I spend my days searching for in books and online, in preparation for not-frequent-enough trips to Italy. The only less-than-superb item, to me, was their house wine so you were smart to order labeled bottles. It is just a shame that the taxi fares are so steep on Ischia!

                        We walked there from out first island base, just off the main road outside Forio (Villa Melodie). We loved the place so much that we took the bus back from our second hotel, Il Moresco, in Ischia Porto, two nights later. I will give details of that meal when I get back to my notes.

                        PLEASE tell us more about where you ate---there is so little information here.

                        1. re: erica

                          Jen and Erica,
                          Mostly we ate unremarkable but very fresh seafood, pizza, and pasta at various restaurants along the shoreline in Lacco Ameno. All perfectly tasty but not worth blogging about.

                          But we did do one other special meal, also in Forio: Melograno, which has a Miichelin star. Eight of us dined there; each of us ordered a different (fish) main course and we all shared the same pasta course (and a raw-fish amuse bouche). There is no English-language menu so half the time I didn't know what I was eating -- if our very gracious server couldn't translate an ingredient I just blindly and happily munched away.
                          The server warned us that the pasta sauce would be very strong-flavored and she was (delightfully) correct. It featured anchovy roe and something else that I am blanking on right now.

                          All the wines she recommended were excellent complements to each course.

                          My entree was a light, white fish broiled in a fascinating coating or crust that I couldn't identify. Sorry I know this is not particularly informative or evocative!

                          Although we decided to have cheese instead of dessert, they brought us out a sampling of small tastings of various desserts once the cheese was finished. I especially liked a tangy citrus yogurt confection, and the panna cotta.

                          The bill came to just over 50 euros per person, another very reasonably priced, very special meal.

                          Both Melograno and Peppina offered memorable dishes which bowled us over with originality, but I have to say I preferred the Peppina experience overall, partly for the rustic ambience and partly for the mix of creativity and comfort food. Melograno is more elegant, but equally warm and welcoming.

                          Before returning to the US we had another special dinner at a restaurant in Naples. I'll try to refresh my memory about that meal and post about it if you're interested.

                          1. re: triple creme

                            glad to see your very complete additional report, - it so helpful to the folks who may follow in your footsteps and have similar choices to make - and of course we will enjoy hearing about your Naples experience!

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              I echo Jen's comments and am also eager to read about your Naples eating experiences!

                              1. re: erica

                                Six of us ate dinner at Palazzo Petrucci in Naples. I see from another thread that the place has some detractors (possibly including jen kalb if I'm not mistaken). But we had a wonderful meal there. The decor is modern and spiffy, and the staff could not have been more gracious. Plus they spoke good English, which was a great relief as I found the local dialect difficult to make sense of after the clear, slow, enunciated brand of Italian I became accustomed to in Ischia.

                                Four of us arrived first and were seated, and during the brief wait for our friends a bottle of prosecco appeared, gratis. A nice touch. When everyone had arrived, we asked if there was a tasting menu. They said the degustazione would be 45 euros per person, which struck us as very reasonable.

                                An early course of raw shrimp layered with mozzarella slices was the standout. Who knew sashimi would pair so well with cheese! By the time my very tasty pasta with lobster course arrived I was too full and couldn't eat much of it. A server came by to ask whether I was unhappy with it, in a tone that suggested they would've snapped it up and replaced it with something else if I had been.

                                The final course was another lobster dish, which I suspect was substituted for the rabbit, after we warned them of a pescatarian among us. Mine was a bit rubbery, but that may have been fluky, as I offered a taste to my DCs on either side of me and they agreed theirs had been perfectly delicate and succulent.

                                I don't recall what the dessert was as I was too stuffed to even sample it.

                                Overall, it was a well-paced, very satisfying, often original meal, and I'd go back there in a flash given the opportunity.

        2. Ohhhh... I love Ischia! I was there in 2005. Shortly after I moved to Torino there was a four-day weekend and I decided to seek some sun, so I went to "Eesheea". I was so new to Italy that I didn't know the "ch" made the "k" sound! All I remember is going to the market every day and buying buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and a fresh bun and getting one of the vendors to make me a sandwich, which I would then throw into my bag. After that I would hop on a bus, ride around the island, look down towards the water, spot a nice beach, ring the bus bell and find my way down to the beach I'd seen! Actually, that's not true. I also bought some bags of tourist-oriented dried herb and spice blends, including one for spicy pasta sauce that turned out to be fabulous. Really, really, really good (helped out, no doubt, by olive oil from my friend's parents' farm).

          1. I just returned from two nights on Ischia just following New Year's 2011. My husband and I didn't make it to Forio, so we wanted a good place to eat in Porto, where we were staying. Having had a terrible tourist lunch with completely indifferent staff, we were not feeling optimistic. We set out to see what we could find, and we hit upon a gem.

            It's called Un attimo di Vino.

            It's on Via Porto (#103), which runs right along the marina/water with about 10 restaurants side by side. If you're coming from the Piazza Antica Reggia, the most obvious direction to walk from, you'll pass the restaurants on your right. Don't be discouraged by their extremely tourist vibe. Keep walking. Seriously.

            After the strip, you'll see a wine bar on the right. That's your place. Raimondo, the chef, is from Sicily and he runs the place with his Ischian wife. We picked the fish we wanted - dorado - and he made it into three simple, elegant, courses, served slowly over two hours, with the best bread I had had so far on our trip. There was no printed menu; we just let Raimondo lead us, and were richly rewarded. Of course, wine was in constant (but not overwhelming supply). The place was full of Italians who also seemed to appreciate avoiding the standard tourist fare.

            I didn't drink but my husband did, and the meal came to 45 euros/pp. Well. worth. it.

            If you go, please post here, I'd be curious to know what you think.