In yesterday's post I mentioned how I had that feeling that, food wise, something had been missing, and how our wonderful lunch at Osteria Bacicio had hit all those yet-to-be-punched buttons. Well, thank the gods who watch over hungry travelers, because last night we had another huge "wow" moment during our last dinner in the Cinque Terre, a meal that was everything the food holocaust at Marina Piccola wasn't, at a place just 100 feet up the main street of Manarola from that mess. We had been by for a snack at Trattoria la Scogliera earlier in our visit. We were charmed by the place, and had planned to go back but it hadn't fit in. Thankfully, last night we made it, and it fit like a hand-tailored suit from Milano. The food was awesome! Here's the short and sweet version: a starter of the best sautéed clams I have ever had, a supremely rich, simple broth of wine, clam stock, a sprinkling of parsley, and butter...lots and lots of butter, a few halved cherry tomatoes. The tiny clams, so fresh tasting as if they dumped them right off the boat into the kitchen, we're meaty, briny little bits that I could have eaten dozens of. All too soon the bowl was empty, I'm sopping up broth like mad before they take the dish away, and we're both just wide eyed with pleasure.
I reluctantly let the remaining broth go, only because our waiter had shown up with our entrees. Mine was simply grilled branzino that had little more than a bit of oil and salt and pepper on it before it hit the grill. The meat was tender, fresh, tasting only of really fresh fish. Perfect. w had ordered their zuppa al mare, a dish that came to the table loaded with super fresh crawfish, huge shrimp, polpo (octopus), and a bit of spiny lobster, all swimming in a brick-colored broth that was astonishingly, intensely good. This was not only the best version of bouillabaise either of us had ever had, for me it was one of the best dishes of food I have ever had...period. It was crazy, the sauce (it was too rich to be merely labeled zuppa), had been reduced down until the layers of flavor had been forced into this wildly good, concentrated, soul satisfying concoction. I think about it now and I’m still blown away.
When you have a dish like that, and the branzino that I tore through, you know the people who are in the kitchen know how to handle fish with all the respect and care it deserves. No fancy flavors, no getting overly creative, doing again what the best places in the Piedmont, all of Italy, hell, any restaurant in the world do when they do it well, which is letting the best, freshest local ingredients, whether out of the ground or pulled out of the sea, speak for themselves. That’s what was great about last night’s dinner, that idea of localness, taken to its zenith. I just have to say, one more time...wow!
Oh, and then we had to finish with what turned out to be the best tiramisu we had ever had, which of course was made in house by the magicians in the kitchen. Another sweet success!
I write this seated on the train from Manarola to Milan, where we are catching a 1pm flight to Paris. And as much as I raved on about the great seafood we had yesterday, after tree days of this enforced fish diet, I am so ready for that first piece of foie gras! I’ll let you know how it goes..........