Ligurian Fish Restaurant
On the way home from Piemonte, stopped for lunch at Conchiglia D'Oro which, along with La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona, is our favorite fish restaurant in Italy. It is in Varigotti, a small seaside town 10 miles west of Savonna. We've been there more than two dozen times over the past 15 years. With all sincerity, we have never had one single meal where we would say that it was less than excellent. You walk out of the restaurant and you wonder how Enzo does it i.e. how he keeps his standards so high.
A large open airy modern space with a dozen or so well spaced tables, the restaurant faces the lungomare and the sea just beyond. Beautiful view with scattered palms enhancing it.
An overlooked gem of a restaurant. A real gem. Enzo doesn't care what the guides say (although they are always very positive) or even if the guides drop the restaurant because he hasn't responded to some form or other. He just continues to do his own thing, day after day. And what a thing. Menu changes every day. Really. Depending on what is in the market, that is what he makes, on a large open grill in the dining room (with the fish and shellfish in two large ceste filled with ice, in front of him) and in the kitchen proper behind the dining room. Everything is cooked to order and with exquisite care. Seven or eight antipasti, and the same number of primi and secondi. Desserts, surprisingly for an Italian restaurant are fantastic.
Extraordinarily careful preparations and great skill. He really lets the first class ingredients shine and he plates the dishes very appealingly. The pasta, whether trenette, spaghetti or one of the stuffed paste, is ethereal and I know of no "grill man" in France who comes close (and I mean that as a high compliment) in cooking fish and shellfish. A good wine list, all whites, mainly from Liguria, but also from Piemonte, the Alto Adige and Friuli.
Whether it is :i fietti di mormora alla ligure with pomodorini, patate, olive, pinoli, capperi; trenette alle cozze, aglio e basilico (which I had yesterday); gnocchi di patate con triglie di scoglio; stoccafisso in Buridda; orata al sale; il passato di pesci di scoglio; i gamberi alla griglia;
spaghetti alle acciughe; trenette con le triglie; in the Spring... rigatoni with tonno e piselli; San Pietro with onions from Tropea; the flavors are just incredible.
Varigotti is about an hour from the French border, about an hour from Genova and an hour and a quarter from Bra.
Up again to Conchiglia D’Or in Varigotti. Another great meal as have been all our meals there over the last 15 years.
Enzo at the grill and his wife in the kitchen are simply wonderful cooks. With the menu changing every day, on Friday evening here were some of the dishes which were totally different from a several months ago: bucatini ai gamberi; maccheroncini al granchio; trenette al polpo e pepperoni; zuppette di accciughe; filetti do mormore alle cipolle rose di Tropea; piccole pescatrice in padelle ; calamari e piccolle pescatrici alle griglia and many more. The mere listing doesn’t begin to describe the dishes. Simply outstanding in the cooking skill, the combination of ingredients, the quality of the ingredients and the plating.
We always marvel at Enzo’s skill on the open grill in the dining room. The real heart of the restaurant, however, is his wife in the kitchen who makes and sauces pastas (and the non grilled fish dishes) on par with Bruna Santini and Romano Tomani, which is the highest praise we can give.
Enzo often (but not always) turns away people who did not reserve, as he did Friday evening, so reservations are a must. Expensive in price. Excellent quality fish and seafood in central and northern Italy is always expensive. When it is not expensive, in restaurants, it is not of first rate quality.
Conchiglia D’Oro is at the top of its game. The fish restaurant in Italy we enjoy the most (with La Pinetta second) and think has by far the best food.