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Trip report - Naples, Fondi, Amalfi coast, July 2011 (long)

I've been a lurker rather than a poster, but having found these boards so useful in trip planning (thanks esp. _emilie_ and erica) thought I'd write up the food experiences from our most recent holiday whilst they are still very fresh in my mind. I wrote most of these on the journey back - hope I haven't gone into too much detail...

Is it useful to introduce myself? I'm Joëlle, late 20s Londoner, travelling with my husband Adam. We both love food, and generally see it as one of the highlights of a holiday being able to try new things. I try to seek out 'authentic' local places, try local specialities and things I've not tried before, and also not to spend too much. So you'll usually find me happier munching on street food or drinking local ale in a old man pub than in some starchy restaurant where you fight for a reservation - though they are nice as a treat sometimes.

On this holiday I'm also pregnant, which didn't cause much issue with food in Italy at all really apart from prosciutto type things (tho I believe us Brits are slightly less strict than Americans on some things, like we just avoid mould ripened cheese rather than anything unpasteurised thank goodness - I love fresh mozzarella!), though it means I can't really comment on the booze.

Anyway, onward we go to Napoli, full of excitement for three days in this noisy, crazy, vibrant, food loving city... Watch out for the scooters, and I hope you can hear me over the car horns and the shouting.

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    Di Matteo:
    We arrived late evening, and first things first, of course, we set straight out in search of pizza.

    Wherever I read about food in Naples, or whoever I spoke to, three places were repeatedly recommended for pizza. Sorbillo and Di Matteo, both on Via dei Tribunali, and Da Michele, on Via Cesare Sesale. We walked along Via dei Tribunali, which is the central one of the three old Roman roads which cross the atmospheric Centro Storico (old town), and finding the queues gathered outside Da Sorbillo to be huge, continued to Di Matteo.

    Adding our names to the list, we waited in the narrow street for about 20minutes, watching people come and go from the takeaway counter in front - men on scooters collecting boxes of pizza, lively gaggles of tanned teenagers sharing arancia and croquettes.

    Finally, just before we succumbed to starvation, our name was called and we were ushered to a table in a brightly lit room upstairs. It's a mid sized and simple place - maybe 25 tables spread across a few rooms, with crinkly paper table cloths and tatty cardboard menus, and packed with all kinds of people chatting away and scoffing pizza.

    Pizzas are great value from €4 for a margherita to €6 for one with more elaborate toppings. My margherita con funghi was delicious, with the perfect thin base, crispy on the bottom and slightly gooey in the middle, just how I like it. I particularly liked the tomato sauce on it which tasted extremely fresh, like it had just been pureed up from a big pile of very flavoursome tomatoes and gently cooked, rather than the more concentrated, cooked down sauce that you more often get. Adam had a 4 stagione, which had artichokes, aubergine, mushrooms and ham, the four sections divided up by little dough barriers on the pizza.

    I think we're generally used to a margherita type tomato and mozzarella topping being the base for most pizzas, with other toppings added to that. It's not necessarily the case in Italy, where many pizzas are 'bianco', coming without tomato sauce, but instead maybe just with cheese or topped with fresh cherry toms added after cooking. Absolutely delicious, but if you crave that tomatoey taste, look closely at the list of toppings.

    Note: People eat pretty late in Italy, so generally to avoid queues, arrive earlier, say 8pm or before, but for more atmosphere, go after 9pm. (We didn't go anywhere requiring reservations this whole trip but we did see some queues)

    Di Matteo again
    The next day we were exploring the Centro Storico, and happily passed by Di Matteo again just as we were in need of some lunch, so we were able to try some of the snacks from the friggitoria (deep fryers) counter out front.

    At €1 each, we tried two types of arancini (deep fried rice balls, with meat sauce in the middle), the orangey tomato one being the tastiest, a very satisfying frittatine di pasta (deep fried pasta, in this case a creamy macaroni, again with meat sauce in the middle), and a potato crocché (deep fried potato with mozzarella in the middle). All were delicious, still warm, and with a crispy coating. Huge as well, we barely managed to eat three between us. I may be wrong, but I think they had a bigger variety of snacks laid out the evening before than they did at lunchtime.

    There's shady benches in the small square by the church just nearby to sit and eat, and you should definitely wander down Via San Gregorio Armeno and check out the shopfronts of the nativity scene craftsmen all down the street.

    Da Michele
    Via Cesare Sersale, 1, Naples, Campania 80139, IT

    Via dei Tribunali, 32, Naples, Campania , IT

    Di Matteo
    Via Tribunali, 94, Naples, Campania , IT

    1. NAPLES

      One of my favourite things to eat was sfogliatelle - a typical neapolitan pastry. They are a crispy puff pastry shell, filled with sweetened ricotta, softly flavoured with vanilla and zesty candied orange. Mmmm, so delicious. These two places mentioned below both bake their own and are yummy. Adam also tried a babà, oozing rum and syrup, which looked really good, and a choux pastry filled with the ricotta was also very nice, but the sfogliatelle were the bees knees. €1.50-2 each.

      - La Sfogliatella Mary, Galleria Umberto I - worth a visit just to see the beautiful arcade it's in, and lots of choice of other tempting looking pastries too.

      - Pintauro, Via Toledo 275 - just around the corner, the sfogliatelle from this unassuming little pastry counter were even better - more yielding to bite into, with lots of still-warm filling inside. I wonder if they were better because we got there earlier in the day so they were fresher?

      1. NAPLES

        This place was probably the highlight of my trip, it's amazing. A popular, rowdy, family run place, with cheery, hard working waiters shouting or singing across the restaurant, and Mama in the kitchen churning out plates of food at lightening speed, I loved the atmosphere. It felt like being in the kitchen of a loud Italian family, where you felt very welcome, but could hardly keep up with everything going on. Definitely not the place for a romantic meal, but a must-go if you like a bit of drama and people-watching with your meal.

        The food was also delicious, and incredibly cheap - just €10 a head got us 4 courses, a large bottle of water and a beer. We didn't have any but I think the house wine (in unlabelled bottles - a home brew maybe?) would have been included in the price too.

        The menu was full of typical local dishes - a few, good ingredients simply cooked and served. I've saved the photocopied menu and can upload a pic if anyone would like me to.

        Starters were salads or pastas. I had pasta con zucca which was a mix of pasta shapes bound together in a smooth pumpkin sauce. The waiter demonstrated it by throwing the bowl in the air upside down and keeping the food inside. It was tasty comfort food served warm (deliberately I think) which I think would have been better hot. Adam had linguine with a simple tomato sauce splashed on top - a sweet, fresh sauce with cherry tomatoes. The most popular starter around the place looked to be one with salad leaves, mozzarella balls, crispy croquettes, and, if I noticed it right, slithers of prosciutto, which looked really good. I'd go for that next time.

        The best bit was the secondi. My salmon came in thin slices, marinated with thin slivers of onion in lemon juice until cooked through by the acid and served on a bed of very fresh rocket, a sort of mediterranean ceviche. It was incredibly good, clean and fresh tasting.

        My husband had the sausage which was also amazing. One large pork sausage, split lengthways and grilled, served with a big chunk of lemon to squeeze over. But what a sausage! It was really chunky and meaty, with a much coarser texture than normal minced sausages. Utterly simple, but honestly, it was wonderful.

        Accompanying the secondi were contorni - a choice of vegetables cooked in local style and served cold (both ours were served cold at least, and I saw this at a number of places so I think it is typical). Adam had his favourite carrots in vinegar and chilli, I had zucchini alla scapece, which means roasted then marinated in vinegar. Both were very tasty.

        To finish, very simply, was frutta - a choice of a big slice of watermelon or a banana (which for some reason appeared to be stored in a large cardboard toilet. I have no idea). If you wanted something more elaborate, there's great ice-cream places nearby on Via Toledo, but by then we were stuffed.

        It's not the sort of place really where you'd be expected to tip, but we enjoyed ourselves so much, and the food had been so cheap, that we left €5 for our waiter, the youngest in the place, and as we walked away we heard the other waiters give him a big cheer.

        Vico Lungo Teatro Nuovo 103, Naples, Campania , IT

        1. NAPLES

          Hosteria Toledo, Vico Giardinetto
          This place is also in the Quartieri Spagnoli, just a few blocks down from Nennella. It's down a narrow, flag festooned street opposite the Banco di Napoli. A tiny place, with just six tables, mostly occupied by couples, under a ceiling hanging with trinkets and postcards. The rather hard faced waitress suddenly softened when I explainined 'sono inceinte' and over the evening became extremely jolly, joking with the customers and handing round glasses of chilled limoncello when we were joined by the chef.

          We found the food fantastic - its a Slow Food pick I believe. Starters were a simple salad of tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil, all extremely good, and a large salad of small octopus and crispy lettuce, tender, fresh and drizzled with lemon, which was heavenly.

          For mains Adam had a very good spaghetti alla vongole with parsley and punchy cherry tomatoes, and I chose rigatoni with ragu, which was wonderful - a meltingly soft piece of beef I could pull apart with a fork, in a rich, slightly sweet tomato sauce. Yummy! Contorni came from a chiller cabinet of bowls of veg prepared in a similar way to what we had at Nennella - carrots, courgettes and aubergines.

          They also had some delicious looking puddings on display, but alas, we didn't have room.

          Our meal, with one glass of wine, a large bottle of water, and a free limoncello, came to €50 which seemed good value.

          Other things noticed in Naples:
          Loads of graffiti, most of it is declarations of love.

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

          1. FONDI

            We took a trip to visit friends and their young family in Fondi, half way between Naples and Rome, a lovely laid back old town, and home to the region's largest fruit and vegetable market.

            After aperitifs in the piazza, we ate at an outside table at a local pizzeria called La Giudea which was very pleasant, if slow. More remarkable though was that they had a small selection of craft beers from a small brewer in Rome, called "Birra Roma", which delighted Adam. He had their golden ale and heartily approved - very malty apparently. This was the only place we found anything like that om the whole trip - most places stocked just a couple of big brand lagers, and indeed surprisingly few Italian brands. We saw a lot more German and Danish beers than Peroni or Nastro Azzuro.

            I was introduced to my own drink discovery, a bitter and refreshing red soft drink called analcolico, which is a fairly popular aperitif. So now I can pretend to be drinking Campari sodas.

            La Giudea
            Via Olmo Perino, Fondi, Lazio 04022, IT

            1. AMALFI

              Amalfi is a gorgeous seaside town, with lots of pretty streetside restaurants catering to tourists - much like everywhere along this coast. We wandered round looking at menus and couldn't find much to choose between them really. They all looked to have a similar choice of somewhat overpriced Italian classics and pizzas, which from peering at people's plates all looked decent. You could probably have eaten the same thing in all of them.

              We ate at L'Abside on the top side of Piazza del Duca, which was a pleasant enough and popular spot, and a bit less pricey than some. Essentially sharing a full meal between us (we shared a caponata starter, then I had a spaghetti alla vongole and Adam stuffed squid with a vegetable side), with a small beer and a fresh orange/lemon juice came to €50.

              Another evening we ate a decent pasta bolognese and a fairly bland chicken salad at La Palma, which was just up a side staircase to the right of the main street and had a small courtyard with tables. Again, the food was fine, but not amazing and seemed a touch expensive.

              Best food experiences in Amalfi:
              Superlative homemade ice cream from the hole in the wall place by the small roundabout on the seafront; heavenly and enormous juicy fresh peaches from the fruit shop.
              Pastries from Savoia, eaten by moonlight overlooking the fancy yachts from the benches at the far end of the harbour.

              Other things noticed in Amalfi:
              It costs €1 to use the public toilet by the harbour. This includes a single paper towel but excludes a toilet seat, the use of which you can have for an extra €1.
              Someone arriving by helicopter on the enormous yacht moored just offshore, which had its own onboard helipad.

              Piazza dei Dogi, Amalfi, Campania 84011, IT

              1. CETARA

                Al Convento
                I think I may have built this place up too much, but I have to say I was a somewhat disappointed. Cetara is a small fishing town and resort, with a reputation for its food. My guidebook called this restaurant 'the best food you'll find on the coast for the price', which is a sure way to catch my eye. It certainly was a romantic spot, on a lovely flowery terrace overlooking the small square, with the buzzy atmosphere of the evening drifting up from the street.

                So, we sat and ordered the 'Cetarese' tasting menu (€30) and felt we were in for a bit of a treat.

                The antipasti didn't disappoint - a selection of very tasty fish including pickled anchovies, fish cake, a kind of fish and mozzarella croquette, tuna, tomatoes and whole fried anchovies.

                The primi and secondi were fine, but nothing very special - we had pasta tubes in a sweet beef sauce and a spaghetti with Colatura di Alici, garlic and parsley, a Cetara speciality anchovy liquid, which personally I found too overpowering in flavour. Then a large, somewhat overdone tuna steak with marinated peppers (Cetara would celebrate its tuna harvest in a festival later in July), and a decent mixed seafood fry. For pudding we both had deliciza di limone, a cream filled syrupy lemon cake in the shape of a breast. It looked very tempting but was bland, lacking the sharpness that needed to cut through the cream.

                So far, so adequate. Sadly, the poor mood we left in was due to the poisonous atmosphere amongst the staff. We thought our waitress rather surly,then realised that was the case for everyone. As the place got busier, they were running about looking stressed and fed up, forgetting orders, and being barked at by the manager. They should take a field trip to Nennella.

                We also had a problem in that the timetabled last bus we planned to get back along the coast never turned up (don't rely on these in the evenings it seems), so I had to go back and get a harassed waiter to call us a taxi. Whilst I was waiting, the manager came over and laid into him about something, shouting in a horrible way even though I was stood right there. Noone should get spoken to like that. The waiter who helped us out seemed nice enough actually, apologising and explaining that it was busy, and even rang around a couple of places as he thought the first quote was far too expensive. But altogether, we were glad to get away.

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

                1. ATRANI

                  Le Palme
                  This was by a mile our favourite place on the coast, so much we came back twice and I'd have happily returned every night. With tables huddled under the arches of the coast road, facing the sea (the view would be perfect if it weren't for the car park but never mind) this friendly, restaurant is a real gem, and a justly popular spot. The atmosphere couldn't be better - everyone seems to be happy and enjoying themselves, from the laughing waiters to the big jolly Italian family. Atrani is just a short walk around the corner from Amalfi, a small village of tangled stairs and whitewashed buildings tumbling down the hill, and seems so much more laid back and enjoyable that it's flashier neighbour.

                  Le Palme are very proud of their local seafood, and rightly so, with huge platters of fresh shellfish, fish soup, crispy deep fried seafood, along with several menu choices I didn't see elsewhere like pezzogna or fish baked in a salt crust. The meat and pasta selection was full of tempting things too, and the pizzas, which we tried, were excellent. Traditional local recipes are a speciality, and the staff seemed very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, recommending a dish using a 1000 year old recipe.

                  We enjoyed a delicious octopus salad, fresh and crispy fritto mista, very tasty stewed aubergine with tomatoes and mozzarella, and a perfectly-textured gnocchi in a delicious creamy gorgonzola and walnut sauce. Mmmm, I want to go back!

                  Prices are fair too, and would have something to suit everyone, ranging from €4-6 for a pizza, €12 ish for pasta, up to €25 for some of the special seafood dishes. Portions are generous. Throw in a free aperitif and a limoncello, and ringside seats for a huge fireworks display over the sea (ok, maybe that was a one off), and it was altogether magic.

                  Atrani - Note that Osteria de Luisella, which is much recommended on here, was shut all week when we were here, along with the mini market next door. I'm not sure how permanent that is, it still had its sign, furniture, and some bottles still in the rack, so didn't look completely closed down, but it did have a thick layer of dust on the bar so obviously had not been open for some time. I know many places close during August, but that would be very unusual in July. Do check before coming specially.

                  Also in Atrani - I feel I should mention the best hostel coffee I've ever had, and the freshly baked croissants and blood orange juice: breakfast at the charming A Scalinatella.

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

                  Le Palme
                  84010 Atrani Salerno, Atrani, Campania 84010, IT

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: joellybaby

                    Joelly thanks so much for taking the time to report back. It sounds like you had some memorable bites!

                    I am headed back to the Amalfi area in a couple of months and have made note of Le Palme.

                    Very disappointing about Al Convento, after having traveled so far by bus. do you mind sharing the price of the taxi from Cetara to your final destination, which was (??).

                    Thanks again and happy travels in the future!

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

                    Le Palme
                    84010 Atrani Salerno, Atrani, Campania 84010, IT

                    1. re: erica

                      Hey Erica, glad you enjoyed my report. Hope you have a wonderful trip in a couple of months!

                      We got a taxi back to Atrani from Cetara. The quote the waiter got for an official taxi was €60, which was so high as it was for a taxi that would have come all the way from Salerno and gone back. He called round a couple of other numbers and found us one for €30. This was with a local guy he knew from Cetara and his friend - a kind of informal taxi service. Perhaps not one to do if you were travelling alone, but got us back no problem.

                    2. re: joellybaby


                      "Analcolico" is the Italian term for "non-alcoholic," and it applies to any number of non-alcoholic concotions or adult-type soft drinks offered on a bar menu. So the next time you are in Italy, you will have to be more specific if you want that drink again. It sounds like perhaps you enjoyed a Sanbitter, which is made by San Pellegrino, and which I believe is available in the US


                      1. re: barberinibee

                        Ahhh, I see! Yes, that's the stuff, though I think it was a different brand. I saw the bottles at my friend's flat in Fondi and also in the supermarket, can't remember the brand names, something 'Rosso' I think. It's what we were given as an apertif at Le Palme.

                        Just been googling and spotted Campari brand 'Crodino' soft drink which sounds nice too - wish I'd given that a try too whilst I was there. http://www.camparigroup.com/en/brands...

                        Le Palme
                        84010 Atrani Salerno, Atrani, Campania 84010, IT

                        1. re: joellybaby

                          Look also for a chinotto, for a slightly bitter-sweet nonalcoholic drink, something like an amaro.

                          1. re: bob96

                            I meant to comment on the "analcolico" myself. This is a popular Italian brand sold here in the US; I buy it in the Italian section of the Bronx (Teitel on Arthur Avenue has good prices) but you can order online and it is delicious.


                            Another option:

                            Very good to know about the taxi fares from Cetara to the Amalfi area..thanks again for your report!