By Elena del Valle, photos by Gary Cox
Ristoranti da Vincenzo
Finding a good meal in Rome, Italy proved to be a greater challenge than we had anticipated. One evening, after exploring and discarding a number of options including two well known gourmet venues, we called Ristoranti da Vincenzo, a restaurant that had been recommended by my travel agency among others. It was within walking distance from Regina Baglioni Rome, our Via Veneto hotel. Because we had been walking all day and needed a break from walking we took a taxi. A few minutes later we were comfortably seated indoors (there was an appealing outdoor area but it was chilly and we preferred to be far from smokers). It was a weekend night and soon the place was packed. A combination of tourists, seated near us, and locals, seated upstairs, filled the restaurant which was larger than we first realized.
Smoked swordfish with roquette
The two-story restaurant was at the end of a quiet one way street. It had an urban setting with a street view and simple decor. What we liked most was that the staff were friendly and spoke English, and most importantly the food was surprisingly, and unpretentiously, good. We started with a shared Smoked swordfish with roquette followed by Linguine with lobster in tomato sauce. For mains my dining companion had a sea bass and I ordered a mixed grilled. At the server’s suggestion we ordered artichoke sides to accompany our main courses but there was plenty to eat in the main dishes and we were unable to do justice to the sides. We wrapped up the meal with berries and ice cream for my dining companion and lemon and vodka sorbet for me. Everything from beginning to end was fresh tasting and well prepared.
Mixed seafood grill
We went back for lunch a couple of days later. It was a quiet midweek day allowing us to chat a little with the servers from the weekend. We were pleased to discover the staff remembered us and the food was just as good. We even met Vincenzo, the restaurant’s owner and namesake. Ristoranti da Vincenzo (Castelfidardo, 6, Rome, in English www.ristorantidiroma.com/davincenzo/homeeng.htm.
By Elena del Valle, photos by Gary Cox
The dining room in Canova restaurant
It was our last night in Venice and it was raining. Again. For three days, in between showers and intermittent sunshine, we had walked mercilessly through the city. As much as we loved the pedestrian benefits we longed to enjoy a quiet dinner that didn’t require an outing or getting wet. Fortunately, our hotel had a ground level restaurant. Ristorante Canova, named for Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova, was just what we wanted. It had contemporary decor, wood floors and wood and gold colored walls, Italian porcelain dinnerware, silver cutlery and helpful staff.
Shrimp with olive oil and artichokes
We began with a prosecco aperitif and a pre-appetizer morsel. While we pondered dinner options we observed the L shaped dining room. A simple orchid in a square vase adorned our table set against the wall in the back of the room. It was a perfect location to savor our quiet meal, see the rain fall through the nearby window and watch guests at the handful of nearby tables that shared the restaurant with us that night. From the Baglioni Caffe across the other side of the entrance we could hear the pleasant sounds of live music by Stefano. Three types of warm bread and break sticks and two types of French butter (lightly salted and unsalted) kept us entertained.
Spaghetti with clams in a light tomato sauce
We shared local shrimp over artichokes, olive oil and lemon. My dinner partner tried the Ravioli with spinach and ricotta and I had Spaghetti with clams in a light tomato sauce. For mains I had Mixed grilled seafood of scampi, monkfish, sea bass and scallops and he ordered Sea bass with potatoes. Both mains were satisfying. To wrap up our meal we had strawberry and green apple sorbet. Click here to read about our stay at the Luna Baglioni where Ristorante Canova is located.
Sorbet dessert at Canova
By Elena del Valle, photos by Gary Cox
The fish market in Venice
We easily made our way on foot from our hotel near San Marco Square on the southern side of Venice to our meeting point, a quiet piazza where we easily found Damiano Martin, the son of the owners of Osteria da Fiore and our guide on a brief culinary stride through the streets of Venice, Italy. As we quickly walked to the fish market Damiano talked about some of the old and faded signs for bakery, fish shop, meat shop and so forth on the buildings of the city. One narrow street followed another and eventually we reached the covered market where the citizens of Venice bought their fish.
Soft shell crabs fresh from the ocean
It was from those same vendors, Damiano explained, that Mara Martin, his mother, the chef and part owner of Osteria da Fiore restaurant, purchased seafood for the restaurant every day. She and other chefs in the city would be in contact with the fishermen very early in the morning to buy the freshest and best catch. What remained was sold retail in the fish market. What was amazing was the lack of fish smell in spite of the sunny morning and plentiful seafood in the stalls.
Next to the fish market there were produce vendors selling all kinds of fruits and vegetables from near and far. It was fun to watch the colorful display and ample selection as we walked by. As we turned, Damiano stopped to show us a corner vendor who sold the best (and priciest) produce in town. He also carried specialty and hard to get items. Before we knew it it was time to meet the chef.
Fruit and vegetable stalls in Venice market
Mara Martin is one of those people that is easy to like. She has a ready smile and radiates Italian charm. As soon as we arrived at her home, a cozy and immaculate penthouse apartment in an old Venetian building (a former noble home on the Grand Canal), she handed each of us an apron and showed us around. Our favorite place was an open terrace reached by crossing through her kitchen with a striking view over the rooftops of Venice. From there we could see forever or at least a good part of the world famed town.
Everything was ready and time was short so after a quick drink of water she began her cooking demonstration. The plan was for her to show us and for us to try to prepare the dishes with her help. Instead we watched with admiration as she whizzed through the meal preparation, explaining what she was doing in Italian while Damiano translated into English. In between her explanations and demonstrations we peppered her with questions and enjoyed the moment. It’s not everyday that a well known chef makes you a private lunch!
Sweet and sour bream Marco Polo
That day in early May, Mara prepared Sweet and sour bream Marco Polo (with leeks, ginger, raisins, citrus juice and pine nuts), Venetian black squid risotto made with Aquarelle Rice from Piedmont, Tempura fried softshell crabs and sardines (a favorite) served with with arugula and plain salad with citrus slices and Ratafia coffee dessert, a coffee and sugar syrup sorbet. The secret to the tempura batter, she explained with a twinkle in her eye, was her personal blend of sparkling water, sparkling wine, and flour. Her tempura batter was exceptional.
Mara making those exceptional tempura crabs
At the conclusion of her cooking demonstration, the four of us sat down on stools in the small kitchen and enjoyed a savory and joyful meal, the fruits of several hours of her labor the previous day and that morning. She accompanied the four courses with a bottle of 2008 Frescobaldi white wine, home made crunchy and tasty bread (a favorite) and grissini (bread sticks). After the dessert Mara served bite sized home made Tuscan almond biscotti and almond flour nuggets (a favorite). Kudos to Chef Mara Martin, for a fun cooking demonstration and a beautifully prepared northern Italian meal!
The Osteria da Fiore 214-page cookbook, in English
The recipes for our meal were published, along with a host of others in a 214-page hardcover cookbook available in English and Italian for cooking course students and at the restaurant. The book was divided into four main sections: Antipasti, Primi Piatti, Secondi Piatti and Dolci (Italian for appetizers, first courses, second courses and desserts). The Sweet and sour sea bream Marco Polo recipe was on page 57; the one for Venetian black squid risotto appeared on page 107; a recipe similar to her Tempura fried softshell crabs and sardines appeared on page 157 and instructions for the Turkish Style Espresso Sorbet appear on page 183 which seems very much like the dessert she made at lunch.
The following day we visited Mara at work where we sampled a tasting menu of her choosing. Click here to read about our lunch at Osteria da Fiore.
Photos by Gary Cox
The distinctive rock Fungo is just offshore of Lacco Ameno
The ferry from Naples to Ischia
Earlier this year, one of our teams visited the island of Ischia near Naples best known for its thermal springs and spa facilities. While in Ischia, our team stayed at the well known Albergo della Regina Isabella in the tiny town of Lacco Ameno on the island’s northern coast. The seaside hotel had a large health spa and in house dining options including Ristorante Indaco, a gourmet restaurant (see A surprisingly delicious dinner at L’Albergo della Regina Isabella). Click here to read about their stay at Albergo della Regina Isabella and their spa treatments at Terme Della Regina Isabella, the hotel spa.
The Regina Isabella sits right on the water in Ischia
Chef Pasquale Padamaro, a native of Ischia
By Elena del Valle, photos by Gary Cox
Naples was one of the stops in a spring multi-city trip we made to Italy earlier this year. Although in past years my travel partner and I had visited the region more than once, it was the first time we stayed in the coastal city. We arrived by train from Rome on a bright and sunny Tuesday at lunchtime to discover a lively and colorful city.
On a clear day we could see Mount Vesuvius from our hotel
Within minutes we had maneuvered through the heavily trafficked central area to the quieter port district where our modern 10-story glass fronted hotel stood. The interior was art filled and cool. We relied on Only in Naples, a 107-page book of favorite places at our hotel, and staff recommendations to plan our discovery of the city. An hour after we stepped off the train we had settled comfortably in our hotel suite and gone for a two-hour walk near the hotel and on Via Francesco Caracciolo, a busy water hugging road where many of the tourist hotels were located. The sky was a perfect Mediterranean blue although outdoors and by the sea it was chilly and breezy. On our way back we stopped at the Gran Caffe Gambrinus in the San Giuseppe area of the city center where we had Neapolitan snacks and espresso.
Cafe Gambrinus in Naples
That night we went to Pizzeria Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali, 32, 80138 Naples, Italy, telephone +39 081 446643, in Italian www.accademiadellapizza.it/), where we had the most delicious pizza we have ever tasted in a two-story pizza shop in the old town. We arrived at the third generation restaurant founded by Gino Sorbillo in 1935 in the early evening to find it was half full. We sampled three pizzas which we washed down with beer. By the time we finished dinner the restaurant was full and there was a line of people on the street in front of the entrance waiting to be seated. Our host, who lives in Naples, explained it was like that every day. With our bellies full and a smile on our faces we walked in his amiable company back to our port fronting accommodations.
The following afternoon we went walking again. This time we found Gay-Odin Fabrica di Cioccolato (Via Toledo 427, Naples, Italy, telephone +39 081 551 3491, in Italian www.gay-odin.it) described in our book as the city’s premier chocolate makers. We stopped at a shop near the big shopping center, one of nine Gay-Odin stores in Naples and one each in Rome and Milan. The artisan chocolate makers sold a variety of the hand made chocolates in individual pieces and varying package sizes. Although the bite size morsels drew my eye it was rather hot that afternoon and we were concerned the chocolate would not hold out very long. We purchased a small Foresta made with milk chocolate with the intention of returning to buy more if we liked them. As it turns out we did like it and it quickly disappeared. Unfortunately, we never had a chance to return. Next time…
The streets of Naples were vibrant with shoppers and street vendors
The following afternoon, Gaia Montuoro, public relations and events manager at our hotel, invited us to see her hometown. In her company we visited more of the old town. We descended below ground level to see ancient ruins dating to Roman and Greek times at the Complesso San Lorenzo Maggiore. The archeological site that was discovered beneath the church, convent and cloister by the same name is a street three meters wide by 60 meters long surrounded by an ancient Roman market. Under the Roman ruins history lovers discovered older Greek remains. In places we could see the colored tiny tiles which, Gaia explained, likely represented wealthy residences. It was one of our favorite stops. More information, in Italian, at www.sanlorenzomaggiorenapoli.it/
Ancient ruins underground in Naples
On our way to the Greco-Roman ruins we stopped in Ferrigno (Via San Gregorio Armeno 55, www.arteferrigno), the shop of an artisan nativity figurine maker before we were caught in an afternoon shower that sent us running in search of an umbrella and shelter. Giuseppe and Marco Ferrigno carry on a tradition that has been going on for nearly 200 years. They and their employees make some 500 rather elaborate terracotta, wood and silk nativity scene figurines. With the owner’s permission (spring is not a popular time for nativity figure purchases so the interior was dark) we visited the two-story shop where hundreds of figurines up to 40 centimeters tall were on display.
Lifelike Nativity figurines
After we exited the San Lorenzo Maggiore ruins we stopped at the alchemist chapel or Cappella Sansevero (Via Francesco De Sanctis 19/21, 80134, Naples, Italy, telephone +39 081 5518470, firstname.lastname@example.org). The small space was crowded, perhaps especially so because of the rain outdoors. It housed religious art including two sculptures that stood out, The Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino and The Veiled Truth. It was the basement that had drawn a crowd requiring us to wait for them to conclude their visit. They were observing the two anatomical exhibits of the skeletons and circulatory system of a man and a pregnant woman, Anatomical Machines, thought to have been the result of treatments on live humans; it appears scientific analysis indicates the specimens were made with iron wire, silk and wax. More information, in English, at www.museosansevero.it/index_ing.html
We then stopped at the working study and art gallery of one of Naples’ sons, Lello Esposito, a friendly artist known for his distinctive Neapolitan themed work. We were invited in to browse. As we walked through his art gallery (Palazzo Sansevero Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, 80134, Naples, Italy, lelloesposito.com, email@example.com) we saw large distinctive and bold sculptures. Esposito, who had exhibited his art internationally and lived in New York for several months, welcomed us in Italian and shared his hope to one day prepare a United States themed exhibit.
Lello Esposito with one of his artistic creations
That evening after we recovered from our extended walks we stopped at Zero Sushi Bar, a sushi bar with a Japanese chef, on the ground floor of our hotel. The few bites we had were yummy and left me craving more sushi until a few minutes later we made our way to Il Comandante for a surprisingly delicious tasting menu.
Every outing and every meal we had in Naples was surprisingly satisfying. Starting with our comfort oriented luxury suite with a view at the Romeo Hotel and the staff’s warm welcome and guidance our visit to Naples was a great success. We look forward to a return visit.