Monday, April 30, 2007

Cinque Terre, pt. 4

You know when you're looking for something, and you get close but are just missing it? Like you're trying to remember a song, or a movie, and it's on the tip of your tongue but you just can't quite get there. That's been happening to me here, but of course it's food related. Disregarding the horror show that was Marina Piccolo last night, we've generally had some really good food in the CT. Well prepared fish, fresh, vibrantly bright pesto, a fritta mista that was exceptional. But it just seemed I hadn't had that experience. That one food moment that gives you a total sense of place, one of those “wow” moments that seemingly happened daily in the Piedmont. Whether it was the places, or the food, probably a little of both, it seemed I had just been missing.
The castello above the harbor of Porto Venere

Until today. We had on the agenda all along a boat trip a few kilometers down the coast to the unofficial “6th Terre”, the charming, bustling seaside town of Porto Venere. Leaving Manarola, we walked the path to Riomaggiore to buy our train tickets for tomorrow’s 6am train to Milan. We also caught the boat to Porto Venere there for the quick 30 minute trip. I love being out on the water to get a different perspective on the lay of the land. If anything it is even more impressive that some brave, half insane souls way back when decided to build their villages on this steeply hilly landscape. Must have been the water views. Coming around the point to Venere you pass by their impressive medieval castello and pull into the Portofino-like harbor. Getting off the boat, we wandered down the harbor front, passing the kind of touristy places that are always on the avoid list, where the menu is in Italian, German, and English...never a good sign. We headed up toward the castello, then down through the warren of streets, heading more or less in the direction of the waterfront. We were stepping down this steeply inclined walkway, and rounded a corner with a tiny sign pointing up another small set of stairs that said “Bar”. Putting that sign in front of me in the middle of a warm midday walk is like throwing raw meat to a grizzly, so we beelined to the very cute Bar Genio . At the top of the short staircase was this absolutely picture perfect terrace, set above and back from the harbor. A grape vine arbor was starting to fill in, their were inviting chairs and tables set out, and if ever bubbles were called for, this was the moment. Surprisingly, and thankfully, the only other people out there were two women at a far table. We found the proprietor, asked for a couple of glasses of prosecco, and had one of “those” vacation moments. Ah, the life.
Doing "research" at Bar Ginio in Porto Venere

The downside to this moment, though, was that we both found ourselves ravenously hungry, and since we hadn’t passed any likely candidates to fill our needs, we reluctantly headed down to the waterfront. We walked up to one place that looked fairly acceptable, only to be told they had just closed for lunch. I thought that was a bit odd, seeing as how it was about 1:15, but what the hell. We walked aimlessly around, me of course getting that “oh, no, this doesn’t look good” feeling. Then w, god bless her eagle eye, pointed out a sign that said Osteria Something-or-Other (not where we ended up) up this side passage. We followed this street, and walked by a place that just looked right, called Osteria Bacicio, which had a simple chalkboard menu out front.. We went in, looked at the four tables filled with what looked suspiciously like locals, and spied in the back a tall bar table with a couple of empty chairs. Eureka! Our seats were in front of a deli case filled with fried anchovies and filetti bacalao (salt cod fritters) that I immediately targeted as part of our meal. I adore salt cod fritters! We sat down, asked for menus, which they didn’t have, but luckily our cute, very nice server had everything written down on the back of her order pad. Through her Italian and great patience and my tiny bit of understanding, we managed get our order in. Coming up were two pastas, w’s a local specialty, I can’t remember the name, but a broken up flat sheet pasta about 1/8” thick. Lots of texture, and a great vehicle for transporting Bacicio’s zippily fresh pesto sauce into one’s mouth. My pasta was a terrific as well, a simple, absolutely fantastically flavored plate of tagliatelle with tuna, olive oil, capers, chopped cherry tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and onion. I can’t wait to make this at home. The tuna they use is oil packed Spanish tuna with great flavor.
w's pasta with the freshest of pestos!

Next up, a basket of the anchovies and bacalao fritters, which I proceeded to gorge myself on. w had the self-control to stop when she was full, and while this is a skill I admire in others, I have to admit I am weak and prone to succumbing to temptation, especially when it takes the form of these little bits and balls of salty goodness that were so fucking good!
fried anchovies and fritelli bacalao

We had a bit of house vino bianco out of a tap, finished with an espresso, and wandered out into the mid-afternoon sunshine blissfully satisfied.

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