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Sicily & Pisa trip report (long)

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Just back from 2 weeks in Italy; one day in Pisa and the balance of that week in a villa (!) with the second week in Sicily. Disclaimer: I have celiac, so no pastries, and that's why there's no discussion of pasta shapes, only sauces. For any celiacs considering going to Italy, GO - it's so much easier to dine out there than in the US!!!! (also of note, my "food Italian" is pretty robust, which helps.)

TAORMINA
- Osteria Nero d'Avola: fine but not up to high expectations. Pasta with tuna, bottarga and tomatoes did not create the synergy I was hoping for; seppie with mushrooms was just odd and the seppie were overcooked. Waiter in super-tight tee and strolling musicians made it feel more of a euro trash tourist place than I had hoped for, given that we were a bit off the main drag.
- Casa Grugno, nka Santanera. (Both signs are on the wall). Lovely outdoor terrace, widely-spaced tables. The anchovy amuse was the first anchovy I've ever actually enjoyed. Very interesting risotto with shrimp, tomato and candied ginger... I thought it was weird but I'm glad to have tried; BF found it a highlight of the trip.
- L'incontro: off the north/east end of the main drag. We ate there twice... It was that good. First lunch: pasta all'incontro, just tomatoes, basil, almonds and cheese - which we licked the plate of, and pasta al nero de seppia. To be honest, neither appeared super-appetizing upon arrival, but both were outstanding - really best in class. Both lunches: sautéed chard with garlic and just a touch of red pepper flakes. Second lunch - caprese, another pasta, equally delicious; fish of the day, fresh and lovely; a giant cannolo for the BF. Really welcoming staff.

AGRIGENTO
- We dined at our hotel, Forestiere Baglio Della Luna, at night because we were a bit off out of town... And were thrilled to have done so. Terrific risotto with asparagus and pasta with tomatoes, plus a secondo of tender beef with beautifullyq roasted potatoes. Beautiful garden and view of the temples lit at night; lovely staff.
- Lunch the next day at Il Re dei Grigenti. Zucchini with mint, orange salad, and one of our top pastas: anchovy juice ("colatura dei alici") and tomatoes... Sounded like a risk, but we took it and it paid off in spades.

PALERMO
- CinCin - sformato with pumpkin, zucchini and herbs was outstanding; delightful pastas; semifreddo with Marsala and raisins was a terrific end. Proprietor is super-interesting.
- Osteria Ballaro - beautiful space; risotto with pumpkin and ricotta and cinnamon was not at all sweet but very delicate and a bit hot from the cinnamon; paccheri with black pork was reported to be outstanding; beautiful anchovies and clams for starters.
- Ai Cascinari - the reports are true - it's that great. Welcomed by one of the brothers, with the other running the kitchen and all always in motion; instead of bread, we got chickpea crepes and potato croquettes, then the widely-recommended (with just cause) eggplant meatballs; a pesto pasta and a marinara with tons of seafood, and swordfish involtini with a light stuffing. All was outstanding; one of our best meals in total. EUR 50 including a bottle of Nero d'Avola. The neighborhood is dark if not dangerous; I'd suggest a taxi or going for lunch. (I'm from New York.)

NOTO/RAGUSA
- Trattoria Crocifisso in Noto - the chef came over, pulled up a chair, and walked through the entire menu with me to explain what was or could be gluten-free. We also had Grillo for the first time here - rather than the ubiquitous and to me insipid Insolia. The polpo appetizer was tops, and a seafood risotto (off the menu) was perfect for the hot day; the rabbit was outstanding.
- Ristorante Duomo - we had booked to go, but on walking by, the menu looked over fussy and unappealing. A quick doorway conversation with a sous chef was not encouraging, either, so we canceled the booking.
- We visited, instead, Ai Lumi. Best gluten-free bread of the trip; super-hearty cheese plate (with four or 5 varieties of Ragusan cheese, which is pretty bland) and super-hearty lentil soup, plus pastas, made for a very filling meal. Good but not great.

SIRACUSA
- Best meal was at Osteria da Seby. Really charming brothers, outstanding pasta with tomatoes and swordfish, and some great sardines and mixed grill of fish which was swordfish, shrimp and a small fish that I think was a treglia. Really simple, really good.
- Worst meal, though with enthusiastic service, was at a place called O'sciena. What was on the menu as "risotto" was really "rice" - like a 50s side dish; the alchemy of creaminess that happens in risotto had not been achieved. Arancini were apparently good, but my caprese was drowned in oregano that had little taste but lots of twigs.
- Fine time at Tavernetta da Pietro - linguine alle vongole was great but overall a bit meh.

PISA
- Osteria da Bernardo was terrific. Two wonderful pastas and a pistachio-covered tuna that was one of the best secondi of the trip. Very nice space and good staff.

PIAZZA ARMERINA
- we had to have some lunch before visiting Villa Romana del Casale (absolutely worth a visit). and chose da Gianna from Trip Advisor. Cute older couple; the tagliatelle al limone - reported specialty - was heavy and not a hit; I did have the largest shrimp of the entire trip, with roe, which were sweet and kind of great.

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