Sunday, June 3, 2007

Cinque Terre, Italy

Grant, of Grant's Prague Bike Blog, returns today with a guest post from his trip to Italy (with bad captions by Brewsta):

High above Vernazza, on Italy's Cinque Terre coast, on the narrow trail to Corniglia, is a restaurant called La Torre. It's only a 10-minute hike out of the village, but the entire route is up steep stairs and trails, and that seems to be enough to discourage many of the tourists flooding the tiny streets below from overrunning the place. (Or maybe it's the restaurant's unpredictable hours.)

At a small table overlooking the Ligurian Sea, glittering in the early evening sun, Daisy and I ordered a carafe of the house white wine and a plate of anchovies.

Yes, anchovies.

Now, anchovies -- or acchiughe as they are called -- are thought to be an acquired taste, like Tori Amos. Almost everyone, when anchovies are mentioned, thinks of those salty little fish on top of pizza, as in, "Hold the anchovies."

A visit to the Cinque Terre quickly puts all such thoughts out of mind. In Vernazza and the surrounding villages, the anchovies are served fresh from the sea and raw -- first butterflied and then drizzled in olive oil and lemon juice. They are slightly salty, a little tangy, and totally delicious.

They're also delicious fried or stuffed with herbs and bread crumbs.

And the version at La Torre is as good as they come. (A plate will set you back around 8 euros, or around $10.75 In fact, it seems almost every appetizer or entree in the Cinque Terre seems to be 8 to 12 euros or so.)
Spooning at La Torre

Daisy and I spent three nights in May hiking and eating in the Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The five villages are, in order from east to west, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.

You can read more about our hiking adventures here. This post is all about the food and the restaurants of the Cinque Terre. The nice thing about eating in the Cinque Terre is that you feel you've really earned your food and drink because of all the hiking you've done.

Culinarily speaking, the Cinque Terre and the surrounding Liguria region is known for, among other things:
  • Its dry, crisp white wine, the grapes for which are grown on the steeply terraced hillsides that surround the five villages.
  • Pesto, because basil is said to grow especially well in the soil and climate of the region.
  • Trofie, a type of pasta unique to the area that is first rolled, then twisted and which goes very well with pesto. It's a little like gnocci.
  • The olive-oily flat bread known as focaccia.
  • The honey-flavored gelato in Corniglia (miele de Corniglia)
  • And, of course, fresh anchovies.
  • Lemons. GIGANTIC lemons. Used in the local limoncino liqueur (only liqueur from the Amalfi Coast can be called limoncello).
Sour power

There are dozens of restaurants in each of the five villages to tempt you with all of these offerings, and many other dishes.

It's difficult, though (or at least we found it so), to steer away from the crowds and eat where the "locals" eat. The villages are so small, and the restaurants are all pretty obvious. The locals, it seems, are either at the next table or cooking at home.

We've been to the Cinque Terre twice now, and I can say we've never had a bad meal.

On this trip, we splurged on spaghetti with lobster for two at Il Moretto di Barbados on a tiny piazza in Monterroso al Mare, the largest of the villages, which has a lovely and vast waterfront.
Therein lies the tail

I enjoyed a wonderful bowl of mussels and sweet baby clams and herbs at Gambero Rosso, on Vernazza's cozy harbor front, beneath the village church's noisy bell tower.
Daisy had the trofie with pesto, which she didn't care for. It wasn't the restaurant's fault. She's just not a fan of doughy pasta. I thought it was very, very good.

We shared a giant plate of Parma ham and juicy melon at a restaurant in Corniglia whose name I have lost (ask me and I'll tell you how to find it).
But what we really couldn't wait to taste in Corniglia, though, was the miele de Corniglia, gelato made from the local honey. Most gelato is very good. Some gelato is great, either because of the texture or the intensity of the flavors, or both. And then there's miele de Corniglia.
Gelato, honey?

I cannot begin to describe how exquisite this honey gelato is, how subtle and tantalizing. It's made from honey, but it's got a special something that could be because some of the local honey is made by bees who have visited the flowers of the local chestnut trees. I'm not sure. I only know that it's in my Top 10 All-Time Taste Memories.

For one of the best sandwiches you'll ever have, stop by the train station in Monterroso al Mare. There's a little sandwich shop underneath the station, facing the sea. Order the focaccia with tomato and mozzarella. The tomatoes are juicy, the bread is heaven, infused with olive oil and slightly salty. It's heaven.

It's a great place to grab a sandwich to go as you're taking the train back to Milan, as we did.

As they say, all good things...

Bar Ristorante La Torre
Via Carattino 64

Ristorante Gambero Rosso
Piazza Marconi 7

Ristorante-Pizzeria Il Moretto di Barbados
Piazza Colombo 1 e 3
Monterosso al Mare

* Grant wrote more about Cinque Terre on his blog.


Anonymous said...

Great piece. Brings back fonds memories of when I spent a few days there. Still remember the steep hike up from the train station to Corniglia and how greatful I felt to make it to the top.

Also, very much remeber the dry crisp white wine with grilled fish. Have been trying to find the wine from that region in Prague stores, but to no avail. (Some owners have told me they don't stock it because 'it's not as good as others'. (Maybe or maybe not, but suggestions on where to get some in Prague would be most appreciated.)


Nomes said...

No suggestions on Italian wine - sorry pivobud.

But BREWSTA! Come on. Captions!!!

Am off to Die Netherlands next week. Apparently there will be dinners. You might receive an e-mail. And did you ever hear back from Jase at re restaurant reviewing?

Brewsta said...

I know.. I know.. bad jokes and puns.. I was weak.

Re: Amsterdam.. Try Sama Sebo for rijsttafel. Near the Rijksmuseum. Wait for a table in the bar. The waiters are nice guys. People say Tempo Doeloe is the best, but I think Sama Sebo is more fun.

Knew is looking for someone, but never heard anything about that.

savannah said...

i'm so entire summer travel plans have changed :( i had visions of touring....maybe i need to just have themed dinner parties and cook lots of different cuisines...or maybe i'll just read your blog and imagine myself there... :)

Anonymous said...

I went to Tratoria Ciclala, on Zitna( New Town) Really tasty. We had Antipasta, Starters, Soup, Main Course & Dessert. We met a famous film star ( Morgan Freeman) and the saff were very friendly and it was just a lovely experience. Brush up on your Italian and they will be very happy.

Its prob not as nice as the "Real Italy" but we enjoyed it very much and if I go back to Prague I will go back here. Has anyone else been there?

Brewsta said...

We ate at Cicala years ago and enjoyed it. I always seem to hear good things.

Grant Podelco said...

Tratoria Cicala is very good, and the folks who run it very friendly. Nowadays, it seems as famous for attracting famous clientele (Bruce Willis, Johnny Depp, etc.) as for its food. I've always enjoyed my meals there, though, the last time being in late April. It also doesn't have the greatest location, on busy, rather scummy, Zitna. I always wonder what some of these movie stars must think when their drivers drop them off there. I think there's an Erotic City a few doors up. They must be doing something right, though, to have been there so long and to keep attracting the "in" crowd.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog while searching for the Cinque Terre and am so happy that I discovered it. I have been to Prague many times over the past several years and what continues to draw me back is at once mysterious yet obvious at the same time. I love Prague, love food and am thrilled that I discovered a place that covers the best of both. Thanks!

Brewsta said...

Thank you. I'm glad people are finding this useful.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brewsta,

stumbled upon this post while surfing. May i know how much did you spend per meal on the average in CT?


Brewsta said...

Jason -- it's been almost three years since I was there, myself. So I don't remember at all. But I didn't even write this particular story -- it was a guest post by Grant.