Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Italy >
Aug 15, 2011 07:53 AM

*Surgelato (frozen) notation on Italian menus......(??) (Calabria)

In researching restaurants for an upcoming trip to Italy, a question arose in my mind when I noticed this notation on the menu of a seafood restaurant in Calabria. I understand that restaurants are required to note which items are frozen. But when a seafood restaurant in a coastal town notes that it is offering several frozen items, I cannot help but wondering why this is the case and exactly what this signifies. Should the restaurant be commended for being honest? Or should take this as an indication that they are not seeking out fresh fish and seafood? Perhaps they feel they must provide an online menu and a diner should disregard these items and merely ask what is fresh that day.

I am appealing to those more knowledgeable than I. Would you be leery of a place whose menu lists such items? The restaurant in question is a SlowFood place on the Calabrian coast. The items indicated as possibly frozen include: Shrimp, whitebait (rosa marina); swordfish, calamari.

The menu is here:

Extra points if anyone has dined here and can offer opinion on this, or other Amantea eateries.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It is not offering several frozen items. It says that the items CAN be frozen. I still would never, and have never, in 37 years of eating lots of meals in Italy, ever go to a place that could use frozen fish.
    It shows that the restaurant thinks it is more important to serve certain dishes, even if the ingredients of the dishes are not to be had except frozen. It is an attitude that leaves me cold (pun intended).

    2 Replies
    1. re: allende

      Thank you all. I did realize that they are saying that they MIGHT be frozen, as I mention in my post ("indicated as possibly frozen"). You (Allende) put into words exactly the reaction I had to seeing the items noted as such on the menu. Curious, as this is a SlowFood restaurant.

      And then there is the matter of the whitebait..perhaps they have been in the freezer for a long time!

      Very interesting, Katie, about the pesce crudo having been frozen, as at least one place I know of in Puglia makes a show of offering crudo straight from the fishing boats! Or perhaps they have been frozen onboard (??)..

      1. re: allende

        the Mediterranean is increasingly empty of fish, and in many places the supply of purely local fish is limited. I think that with full disclosure iuse fo a frozen item is a reasonable business cholce for a restaurant that wants to continue to serve throughout the year regardless of market fluctuations. especially at a reasonable price point.

        I prefer a purely market based menu myself, but the ultimate test is the quality the restaurant delivers on the dishes I do choose,, not whether they offer a couple of dishes that I might avoid.

        I think I have seen this type of notation, in a limited way, in at least one good restaurant on the Amalfi coast.

      2. Heh heh -- if you tried to serve frozen fish to anyone around these parts they'd slap you across the face with it.

        1. if you've ever had sushi, sashimi, or pesce crudo in italy, you've had frozen fish. by law fish has to be frozen before it can be served raw. Cibando did a nice piece on the topic recently

          also, if im not mistaken, the EU banned whitebait (bianchetti) fishing this year...places should not be serving them at all if they are following the laws

          19 Replies
          1. re: katieparla

            Was just about to write this, too. What katie says is 100% right.

              1. re: katieparla

                Katie, you're right of course and make a good point, but there is a big difference between flash freezing for crudo ed altro, and serving fish that's been frozen solid as fresh -- or serving farm raised as wild, for that matter.

                I just wanted to say that Venice locals know their fish, and demand that it's fresh, whether they eat it at home or at a restaurant. Well-reputed restaurants take pride in serving just that -- laws or no laws -- their reputation depends on it. (Doesn't mean that laws aren't crucial to prevent the less scrupulous from trying to get away with murder from the deluge of one-time diners, anzi...)

                @Erica, I think I would be more leery if the notation wasn't on the menu -- they seem to be being quite honest about it all. Perhaps for the best fish and meal, you could simply ask what is fresh that day and to from there?

                1. re: livingvenice

                  @ barberinibee,

                  You hit it exactly right re the Slow Food Osterie guide. We've bought copies every year since it first appeared and the biases are noticeable, particularly in some areas (Emilia Romagna being a prime example), where it loses its value when it strays from what "Slow Food" purports to be.

                  Somewhat surprisingly, the tre, due and uno "gamberi" in The Gambero Rosso, are much more reliable when it comes to trattorie and osterie; not infallible, but very good. Again, it is really important to read between the lines over a period of time.

                  @ katieparla,

                  We both live in Italy. We both know that Italians look at laws as things to be ignored. I'm very good friends with some of the chefs at well known restaurants in the north of Italy. I can tell you with absolute certainty that their pesce crudo, sushi and sashimi is not frozen, flash or otherwise.

                  Of course, this begs the question that Maureen Fant and I have addressed on more than one occasion here. Why are otherwise good restaurants serving pesce crudo, sushi and sashimi with such gusto? It has no historical basis in Italian cuisine, it is a cop out with regard to cooking skills and in fact does not typically meld with the rest of an Italian meal.

                  My answer is twofold. The Gambero Rosso and The Michelin encourage certain restaurants to have sushi, sashimi and pesce crudo on their menus so that they can be looked at in the same way as restaurants in Tokyo, New York or Paris. It is similar to the rule in place (dictated by the guides) that if you want a high rating, your wine list has to carry "name " wines, not only from all over Italy, but from France, California, Spain etc. as well (even though those wines will more than likely be "off "years). Just plain stupid.

                  Secondly, those Italians who have eaten expensive meals in those cities, want to show that they are worldly (another bella figura moment) and demand that the fancy restaurants they frequent in Milan, Rome etc., serve it.

                  1. re: allende

                    Funny, Allende, but by the time you finished writing, the Chowhound monitors had already removed my post. Better luck to you! I do think a free-to-the-user food recommendation website should encourage discussions about how to be smarter about what you are getting when you are paying for food recommendations, but I don't control the delete buttons here. Glad I saw the top paragraph of your post.

                    Around here in Liguria (where we have two restaurants serving crudo named "SoHo"), eating sushi and such is a date-type thing popular with the young, and restaurants compete for their business. Having New Yorky-type words in the name or ones associated with Miami (we've got another one that just opened up named "Blue Marlin") is fashion-conscious, snob appeal youth targeting -- not at all unlike all those restaurants in New York called Babbo, Moto,, Becco, et cet. The young also like to graze rather than order the full meal, and the ones who want to stay model-thin are sticking to low-carb. Sushi or crudo ticks all those boxes

                    1. re: barberinibee

                      Very good, particularly with the grazing aspect of a meal.

                      I agree that there should be discussions about how to be smarter when you are paying for food. That adds enormous value, much more so than some of the nonsense about "best" restaurants for caccio e pepe east of the Vatican or the thousandth iteration of "please help me plan my Florence meals." If this site is primarily functioning to be of help to people, that type of discussion would certainly qualify.

                      Another new restaurant to recommend up here in San Cassiano. Right in town, La Sieia. Classic well prepared mountain food. Lovely venue, nice owners, very good, moderately priced wine list. Opened in the last few months. More on the menu later.

                      1. re: allende

                        Thanks to all who contributed to what has become a thought-provoking thread.

                        If anyone of you happens to have the Gambero Rosso guide, could you tell me if there are any listings in Amantea or Maratea? I do not have the book and I do not think that the listings are online....

                        1. re: erica

                          I think this place is in Gambero Rosso - with maybe a 71 total score - will confirm later

                          1. re: jen kalb

                            @ Erica
                            In Maratea, there is a one gambero trattoria Cesare and a ristorante Villa Cheta Elite.

                            In Amantea there is nothing.

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              ps in my 2010 Gambero Rosso Locanda Delle Clarisse (in Amantea, Calabria) scores 71/50 maybe its dropped in 2011?

                              In viamichelin La Tonnara (another hotel restaurant seems to be an Amantea fave.

                              For Maratea (in Basilicata)
                              Villa Cheta Elite is 71/49 below average value rating, in an elegant liberty villa,60E, Cesare looks the better bet with its one shrimp tratt rating, above average value and 35E meal price (2010)

                              Seems like mostly hotel dining in these resort towns with a big wedding/function trade.

                              localita Cersuta,Contrada Cersuta, Maratea, Basilicata 85046, IT

                              Villa Cheta Elite
                              Acquafredda,Via Timpone,46, Maratea, Basilicata 85046, IT

                              Locanda delle Clarisse
                              Via Indipendenza,27, Amantea Cosenza, Calabria 87032, IT

                              1. re: jen kalb

                                The 2011 Gambero Rosso has Villa Cheta at 73. Locanda Delle Clarrisse in Amantea has been dropped.

                                1. re: allende

                                  Many thanks. What is the score range--is it 73 out of 100, for example? And what are the two numbers in the scores? What would be the range for the top places and what is a respectable score? I suppose the fact that they are included at all means something, no?

                                  1. re: erica

                                    The score of 73 at Villa Cheta is out of 100. I'm not sure what the 49 is that Jen showed from last year's guida. There are numbers for cucina, wine, service and bonuses).

                                    Scores should be taken with a grain of salt. Over a long period of time we've gone to most of the restaurants (in the north) with scores over 90 ("top" scores). We've done it mostly out of curiosity. Most of those we'd never go back to, nor recommend (e.g. Uliassi and La Madonnina, both coincidently in Senigallia). There have been plenty of restaurants with scores of 75, that we've enjoyed (e.g. Il Cigno in Mantova; Nona Nina in San Rocco near Camogli; La Dogana in Camaiore, to name just a few).

                                    The main thing is to read the text, not just look at one number. One number really doesn't convey what the restaurant is about. We've done this very carefully for the 22 years the guide has been published (we have all of them). When you read between the lines and then go to the restaurants, you get an indication of what you think of the guide's views and biases.

                                    In the case of Maratea, just from reading this year's guide (I do not have the other years with me), I would try Cesare and skip Villa Cheta, but I could be all wrong.

                                    1. re: allende

                                      the 49 for La Cheta was the food (cucina) number. Maybe the were upgraded, onthe other hand, their featured item on their website,along with an absolutely stunning view, is a dish of gnocchi with scallops and strawberries, yuck. I agree with Allende, Cesare (the book says to reserve well in advance in season) would be my pick too, and is significantly cheaper

                                      the Gambero Rosso formula has separate scores for the cooking, wine, service and ambience which aggregate to the total score. for example Vissani, which is the top rated one in my 2010 book at 95 has has 66 for cooking,10 for service, 17 for wine and 2 bonus points, for a cheap prix fix lunch deal; it looks like service and wine top out (subject to bonus points) at 10 and 20 respectively. Since Gambero Rosso favors innovation in its scoring. you cant count on the higher scores bringing you a better meal, necessarily. Its essential to read the description of the cuisine, and not look at the score alone, as Allende says, but in general.if the score gets up there, you can pretty much (tho not absolutely always) assume that there is a chef-driven cuisine and a high price.

                                      HIgh wine scores usually mean they have prestigious international or out-of region wines - for example,in the south, wines like Barolos.

                                      To give an example of a typical non-superluxe score range, those places in Cetara in 2010 were scored as follows: Acquapazza 72/51/13 (wine)/7/1 z(bonus for good wine by the glass); Al Convento is a twoshrimp trattoria and San Pietro was ranked 74/21/13/7/2with a bonus for location and celiac menu.

                                      I usually look mainly at the food number, which is why I list it in entries on the restaurant page.

                                      1. re: jen kalb


                                        Gambero Rosso has changed its scoring again this year.

                                        You max out at 103 in theory. 60 points for the cucina, 20 for the cantina, and 20 for the service. And three bonus points.

                                        Vissani has a 94 this year.

                                        Acquapazza, in Cetara, is gone (the other two remain), which is why it is not a good policy to use outdated guides (or recommendations from people who haven't been to a restaurant in five years plus) for restaurant recommendations (Plotkin and Willinger are very out of date; use them only for descriptions of the regions).

                                        1. re: allende

                                          wow - I had seen the announcement of the new scores last year, but didnt see the announcement of a change in methodology. The change seems to have mainly shifted points from the cucina to the service score - the range of cuisine scores is lower and appears flatter. since most places changed little in their overall ratings -. It will be interesting to evaluate more fully. I decided to skip 2011 and wait til 2012 GR and Slowfood Osteria book comes out to re-buy and revise the Restaurant pages (the Mangiarbene Lowcost info will be updated shortly for ihe new publication). Plotkin's book has been revised and reissued several times, the latest last year. Although the scope of the revision isless than might be hoped for.

                                          By the way, please feel free to update any Restaurant page that is incomplete or contains out of date or incorrect info,

                                          Gambero Rosso is a relatively slim and selective book given the size of Italy and doesnt seem to grow that much year by year- I dont draw too many conclusions from a place on the margins being dropped since someone is making an editorial decision how many restaurants to include in a city or region. it always makes sense to look at the online italian reviews to see if something changed at the restaurant. Re Acquapazza,I could see them being dropped given that they seemed to be trying to go upmarket and there were some complaints about prices here. Assuming there have not been management/chef changes, places that have been in guides (but arent listed any more can still be reliable and good choices; in lieu of other alternatives its at least a useful data point.

                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                            I have Plotkin's 2010 revised edition. As mentioned, it is very much out of date with regard to many restaurant recommendations.

                                            1. re: allende

                                              in the current publishing environment a full refresh is probably not in the cards. There are some recent additonal reccomendations on his website

                                              but sadly, no deletions of places that have closed or are no longer reccomendable. Several of us have found one or more such

                      2. re: allende

                        I agree with your sentiments, but need to raise a few questions. I've always been disappointed to be served something non-local when that's what I want--for example a 375ml screwtop Soave in a Calabrian seaside trattoria when all I wanted was a cold bottle of Ciro bianco (didn't have it, nor did they have house wine). Similar examples are too numerous. But I also remember a delicious smoked swordfish app in a smart and, for Calabria, ambitious but still traditional ristorante in Palmi--followed by a very, very localized pasta with anchovies.
                        I guess I wonder what we should make of those Italian places that do heed globalized pressures--after all, we embrace and encourage creativity and reach in similar places in NY. Why not in Milan? Should an ambitious trattoria in, say, le Marche, serve only Rosso Piceno, Rosse Conero, and their relatives--even if it's a deep, deep list? Why not a creative mix, say, of Tuscan or even Romagnan sangiovese-based wines or even a brace of dolcettos to mirror and contrast local offerings? What's wrong with trying for worldly excellence, assuming you do it well? And aren't there enough CH posters who bemoan the ennesimo litany of pasta with seafood followed by grilled branzino (or orata or ricciola) that are the almost universal staples of coastal dining? Travellers might always want to think they're enjoying a uniquely local and unrepeatable meal (even if it's repeatable in many similar places); locals might want a change now and then, even if the new doesn't always work. Just asking--this is indeed an interesting, fresh, and provocative thread, and thanks to all for making it so.

                  2. I have a lot of Calabria dining experience (Calabrian husband) but unfortunately not in Amantea, I know the Ionian coast. Regardless, for Calabria I would ask the locals, any local, for their opinion of the best restaurant around before looking in any book. That's just how it works there. You might find some hidden treasure that way.

                    Also in terms of frozen fish, a Roman tourist docked in his boat on the Calabrian coast in a small town told my brother in law that he saw a truck pull up in the early morning, unload frozen fish, rinse them in the water right at the port (!) and set them up in sytrofoam boxes, that were later sold at a fish market as "fresh". Boh. There was a lot of talk also about the bianchetti and sardella, which is made from baby sardines, that come from China.

                    In terms of freezing fish for a certain period of time before serving it crudo, the danger (among other things, probably) is anisakis, which are little worms that can form inside the fish. It happened in Eataly in Torino and showed up on this blog: I'm guessing every restaurateur would flash freeze to avoid this unsightly problem.