Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her best seller, Eat, Pray, Love of her time in Italy “But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Just for a few months of one’s life is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal?“. My resounding answer to this would be no and especially not when in Italy. A trip to Italy is a lot about the delights that await at each meal.
Chestnut pasta with clams and pesto
I have just got back from a week in Italy starting in the Cinque Terre area, a collection of five villages clinging precariously to sheer cliffs that drop down into sparkling blue ocean. You can walk between the five villages and of course you can also expend a large part of your day eating and drinking. MTV boyfriend and I stayed in Riomaggiore where we discovered Il Grottino a restaurant serving proudly local dishes.
Situated on the main street of Riomaggiore, Il Grottino is a modern restaurant with a large outdoor patio that spills onto the street. The interior of the restaurant is carved into the cliff face which is evident from the exposed rock in the restaurant. On a summer night the restaurant is full although mainly full of tourists. Perhaps the locals are not quite so keen on eating these “typical dishes”. To begin, the blackboard special of stuffed mussels is described as typical of the region. The mussels are stuffed full to bursting with a dense mixture of eggs, parmesan, parsley and breadcrumbs and then placed back in their shells and teamed with a napoli sauce. The mussels are briny and the stuffing adds a welcome texture.
The mains on offer are mainly seafood or pasta. Grilled sea bream is butterflied before serving and as fresh as you would expect from this coastal town although smaller in size than the sea bream on offer at other restaurants in Riomaggiore. A local speciality that I have been told to try is the chestnut taglioni. Chestnuts are used in the freshly made pasta mixture and the taglioni is served with clams and a dollop of pesto sauce. The simplicity of the dish is admirable however it is hard to identify the chestnut flavour in the pasta.
Cheesecake with fresh strawberries
The dessert menu lists classic Italian dishes such as panacotta and tiramisu but it is hard to go past the cheesecake served with fresh strawberries. The cheesecake is served without a biscuit base although I am not sure whether this is typical for the region. A drizzle of an intense strawberry reduction adds sharpness and bite to the creamy cheesecake.
In a simple trattoria such as Il Grottino it is often best to order the house wine which is invariably decent however I ignore my own rule and instead opt for a bottle of Chianti which almost burns as you drink it. I will try not to make that mistake again in a hurry. There are better restaurants along the Cinque Terre than Il Grottino however it does provide an opportunity to sample some regional specialties at very reasonable prices. Meanwhile our search continues for that next lovely meal.
Details: Riomaggiore, Cinqueterre, Italy (Ph 0187 920938)
If you liked reading this you might like this review of the famous Donna Rosa restaurant on the Amalfi coast.