Dining Review · Italy

Mangiare in Italia – Part 1

After eating our way through the South of France, we come to the motherland of pasta, risotto, espresso and of course, gelato.

I actually have come to appreciate Italian cuisine alot since moving to Melbourne. I like the simplicity of the cuisine, and the honest, fresh flavours that are brought out in Italian cooking i.e. lots of fresh herbs, ingredients presented as they are with minimal processing and simple cooking techniques.

(I guess it also helps that I’m a big fan of Jamie Oliver and most of his recipes are inspired by Italian cooking!)

So I was more than curious to find out how Italian food really tastes like in the homeland. So here I chronicle our foodie adventures in Cinque Terre (and will do Milan in a separate post), where we truly celebrated Mangiare in Italia i.e. Eating in Italy!

Vernazza

We started off with our first dinner in Vernazza. After searching around TripAdvisor, we found this to be the top rated restaurant in Vernazza…

Il Pirata delle Cinque Terre

Via gavino 36, 19018 Vernazza

Make no mistake about the restaurant's name! Arrr...
Make no mistake about the restaurant’s name! Arrr…

To be honest, I was a little skeptical approaching this restaurant. With the whimsical outlook, it doesn’t look like a serious Italian restaurant!

You know you're dining in Italy when a good bottle of olive oil & balsamic vinegar can be found on every table! But as a heads up, this will be included as service charge
You know you’re dining in Italy when a good bottle of olive oil & balsamic vinegar can be found on every table! But as a heads up, this will be included as service charge

But talking to the owner of the restaurant, a true-blue Italian, he was confident of the restaurant’s offerings. He asked us where we were from and he recommended that we try the risotto because ‘Australians usually order it and they love it’, according to him.

Ms Gan decided to go ahead with the risotto but I was feeling quite full so I ordered the seafood salad

Seafood salad
Seafood salad

While I enjoyed the fresh seafood flavours on the plate with the good douse of quality olive oil and smattering of salad greens, I suffered serious dish envy when Ms Gan’s risotto came!

Mushroom risotto
Mushroom risotto

The dish looks so understated but once you take a bite, whoa. It was creamy without being gluggy with the mushroom taste infused throughout, and the rice was cooked a perfect al-dente. And of course, there were those sprinklings of chopped parsley for that fresh herby taste.

As Ms Gan also concurred, we’ve never had risotto like this before!

When the chef (who is actually the owner’s brother – they look alike and it’s quite cute!) came by to ask how was our food, Ms Gan said the risotto was really good. To which the chef replied, ‘Of course! Many women want to marry me because of this risotto!’ 

Hahaha. Nothing like some humour to round up a good dinner! Anyway, that really made our first night in Vernazza quite enjoyable, but I was seriously craving for that risotto after that…

So I was more than happy when we came back on our last night! And no prizes for guessing what I ordered!

Yes finally a mushroom risotto to myself! With Ms Gan's eggplant parmigiana in the background
Yes finally a mushroom risotto to myself! With Ms Gan’s eggplant parmigiana in the background

And the risotto tasted still as good as the first night! I guess this really shows the consistency of their food. Ms Gan also commented that her eggplant parmigiana was really good (silly me forgot to take a picture of it!) – again, it looked simple and Ms Gan only ordered it because the manager recommended it. But simple as it is, the dish was yum!

So since the owner’s recommendations have been spot-on so far, we asked him to recommend the desserts. I was actually eyeing the tiramisu, but to my surprise, he said the tiramisu was just average and I should order their homemade cannoli instead.

All the cannolis are made in-house
All the cannolis are made in-house

Now, the cannolis I’ve had before are quite hard and really creamy inside so I wasn’t too sure about it. But the owner insisted that this was the restaurant’s best-seller and I should go for the one with the ricotta cream filling. I was then afraid it was going to be heavy and I asked about the chocolate cream cannoli instead.

He then threw up his hands in the air, in true Italian fashion, and said, ‘Okay, I give you half and half okay?’

Haha we are such fussy customers. Ms Gan went ahead and ordered the panna cotta with fresh fruits, also upon his recommendation.

My special half & half cannoli, at no extra charge!
My special half & half cannoli, at no extra charge!
Panna cotta with an overload of fresh fruit
Panna cotta with an overload of fresh fruit

Now, the panna cotta was lovely, with a silken texture and the right balance of sweetness. The fruits and raspberry coulis also helped to give a fresh edge to the dessert, making it taste really light and refreshing.

BUT my friends, this cannoli is really something else…

BEST. CANNOLI. EVER.
BEST. CANNOLI. EVER.

Just like the risotto, this cannoli was something I’ve never tasted before. The pastry was not hard at all, with a beautiful crunch to it. And the owner was right – the ricotta cream was wayyy better than the chocolate cream. The ricotta cream was velvety and had a lovely vanilla bean taste to it, hardly heavy at all, and it went so well with the pastry.

This cannoli was simply out of this world! (But later, when we met the Australian-Italian couple on the way to Milan, they said that nothing can compare to the cannolis in Sicily itself – ah, I cannot imagine how much better they would taste!)

By the way, this restaurant serves breakfast as well, but you gotta make sure you only order the Italian stuff…

Haha they said they had to put up this sign because of the many requests from American/British/Aussie tourists
Haha they said they had to put up this sign because of the many requests from American/British/Aussie tourists

So yes, I would HIGHLY recommend this place if you ever drop by Cinque Terre – you would never guess that it houses such good, honest Italian food! And yes, heed to the owner’s recommendations!

Panificio Foccaceria

Via Roma 7, 19018 Vernazza

DSCN3455

So I read from Ladyironchef that you have to check out the foccacia here. Again, I had some preconceptions about foccacia being a hard and chunky bread so I wasn’t too keen on it. Besides, on the first morning in Vernazza, I was still missing the French croissants so I decided to have a croissant for breakfast…

Turns out the croissants weren't as good... I guess you can't compare to the 1s in France!
Turns out the croissants weren’t as good… I guess you can’t compare to the 1s in France!

On our last day, I decided to give the focaccia a go after all (we were in a hurry to catch the train so I didn’t take a picture 😦 ) and it just blew away all my misconceptions!

The focaccia was fluffy and warm. There was a nice chewy texture with a touch of salt to make it a delightful brekky. Wow I’m glad that I tried it after all!

La Torre

Bia Carattino, 64, 19018 Vernazza

The view from La Torre
The view from La Torre

Again, this restaurant caught my attention through Ladyironchef’s post and I pleaded with non-seafood-eating Ms Gan that we checked out this place.

Bread served with good olive oil again!
Bread served with good olive oil again!

It was actually a little difficult finding this restaurant as we didn’t realise that it was located so high above the hill (eeks, as if we didn’t climb enough steps on our hike that day already!).

So was the food worth the climb up?

The 1 & only Seafood Marinara that I was looking forward to try!
The 1 & only Marinara pasta that I was looking forward to try!

This, my friends, trumps ALL other Marinara pastas I’ve had before in my life… The spaghetti was cooked to perfection with that slight chewiness, and the tomato sauce and olive oil just leap out on your tastebuds. Of course, the seafood was really fresh. It was a slightly messy business taking apart the scampi but the mussels were absolutely juicy.

With this perfect plate of pasta and the breathtaking view of the sun setting over Vernazza, what more can you ask for?

Monterosso al Mare

So after our trek which started in Corniglia, we looked for lunch in this beautiful beachside village.

Il Piccolo Diavolo

Via Vittorio Emanuele, Monterosso al Mare

Sicilian pasta of anchovies, pine nuts, red currants & pesto
Sicilian pasta of sardines, pine nuts, red currants & fennel

Ms Gan had a simple Margherita pizza while I decided to go for the pasta, in bid to try the local delicacy. I did find it quite interesting, but I wasn’t sure if I was a big fan of the sudden hits of strong fennel with the bony sardines. But I liked the pine nuts and sweet red currants with the pasta and the generous lashings of olive oil.

Slurp! Gelato Artigianale

Via Fegina 86, 19016 Monterosso al Mare 

Mango & Strawberry gelati, for €3 from memory
Mango & Strawberry gelati, for €3 from memory

Of course, when in Italy, you gotta have gelato right? So after our lunch, Ms Gan and I indulged in a cone each before hitting the waters. We quite enjoyed the texture of the gelato and I was glad I got the fruity flavours as they were so refreshing in the summer heat 🙂

Manarola 

After our 2nd trek, it was lunch business again here in this village.

Trattoria La Scogliera

Via Birolli n. 103, Manarola

Marinara pasta for me & pesto pasta for Ms Gan (in the background)
Marinara pasta for me & pesto pasta for Ms Gan (in the background)

I couldn’t go past the marinara pasta again (hey, we’re by the coast after all right?) while Ms Gan had a craving for pesto pasta. The pasta was all right but we found the dishes a little too salty. So in terms of the quality of the marinara pasta, I think La Torre still serves up the best!

Gelateria Cinque Terre

Via Antonio Discovolo 248, 19010 Manarola

We shared a cup of pistachio, lemon & another flavour that I can't remember :P
We shared a cup of pistachio, lemon & another flavour that I can’t remember 😛

Yup, we needed that something to sweeten up our day! We thought this place would be good because of the long queue. But turns out we found the pistachio flavour a little too salty for our liking. We kinda preferred the gelato we had at Monteresso!

And on our last day in Cinque Terre, I finally discovered espresso coffee!!

Changing trains at Monteresso & found a cafe at the station! If you look carefully at the menu on top, you'll see how cheap the coffee is :O
Changing trains at Monteresso & found a cafe at the station! If you look carefully at the menu on top, you’ll see how cheap the coffee is :O

I haven’t had espresso coffee since we got to Italy as our cute little accommodation provided instant coffee. But since we had checked-out, it was the perfect excuse to get a cuppa!

It felt like ages since I last saw an espresso machine!
It felt like ages since I last saw an espresso machine!

I’ve read reviews before that somehow, coffee outside of Melbourne doesn’t taste the same, even in Italy (yea, I know… like, seriously?!). So I was curious to find out…

Okay, so they don't serve their coffee in fancy takeaway cups, but what's the coffee standard?
Okay, so they don’t serve their coffee in fancy takeaway cups, but what’s the coffee standard?

It turns out that yes, while the coffee blend isn’t as tasty as some of the good cafes in Melbourne, it was still a strong good cup of coffee. It was smooth and had a slight nutty taste. In fact, I thought this was better than the one I had at the fancy cafe in Nice.

And this is just from a simple cafe-bar at a train station! I guess this is a good indicator of their coffee standards right?

So that’s it for our first half of our Mangiare in Italia adventure 🙂 And yes, we did find quite a few places that showcased the spirit of Italian cuisine didn’t we?

Next up would be the second half and my last instalment of my summer European foodie adventures – Milan!

 

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