After a pleasant drive from Rome down to Naples, we stopped at Il Cristo Velato. We were not able to take pictures there so this video will have to do, but this was the most life-like sculpture I have ever seen. Cultural landmark if you are in the area. Now on to more important things, food.
After this long drive, we had the best Neopolitan and supposed original Margherita pizza, at Da Michele. I took a few pictures, but the images would never do the amazing flavor of this pizza justice, so I decided to just forgo a blog post on this place. We not only ate the restaurant, but we each ate a whole pie on our drive to Di Prisco and Luigi Tecce, wineries in the mountains of Campania, to have my favorite, Taurasi wine. Again, there were not enough details nor photos to do a separate blog post for that either.
Once we arrived in Sorrento, we had dinner at the one Michelin star Terraza Bosquet, which was so underwhelming that I did not even think it was worth the energy describing the plates. If you are stuck between Terraza Bosquet and something else, pick something else. It was the run of the mill one-star place, nothing creative, same formulaic approach. I usually try to find the silver lining in my posts, but if you don’t even try to be creative and underestimate me I just have to be honest. La Sirenuse in Positano was our lunch the following day and though the scenery was great, food was straightforward and good, wine even better with some Gravner orange wine, overall it was nothing to write home about. Our photos there, except maybe this one:
were very touristy and would do nothing more than prove that we were there. So, I decided to forgo all these posts until I met a worthy subject.
Yes, this is a worthy subject. Though this was already on our radar when planning this Italy trip, we have to thank Judy and Marvin Zeidler on this one, owners of the legendary Capo in Santa Monica, and dear dear friends of ours. Judy Zeidler is a food authority on her own and has cooked with so many chefs throughout the years from Julia Child to Thomas Keller, and on and on. They knew the chef Gennaro Esposito personally, and we received VIP treatment here.
The setting of this place in Vico Equense, slightly north of Sorrento where we stayed, was quite special. It was like something out of the Talented Mr. Ripley. Having all you can drink 2006 Dom Perignon with appetizers until you say stop, watching the sunset was the best return to some civility since we left La Pergola.
For the first appetizer, we had prawn with citrus broth, which was this amazing reduction of prawn, with the umami of the ground down shells. Oh my, went so well with the champagne.
I believe this restaurant used to be an old grain tower, hence the name. I love when they make glass structures connected to ancient buildings, love that mix of ancient with ultra-modern, like those Ligne Roset ads where they display their high-end furniture in a cave or something.
What a table to watch the sunset.
More 2006 Dom, please…
Here is what was just disappeared from my plate.
Red squid ragu with bean cream. So amazing, seafood ragu, red squid on top of that, surely a squid variety I will not get back home.
Mini-bagel with smoked salmon and caramelized sunchoke. Nice pairing of the sweet salmon with the savory cooked-down, caramelized sunchoke. Reminded me of the Father’s Office burger with caramelized leeks. Chef Gennaro later fondly recalled his LA trip and how he fell in love with Father’s Office’s burgers. He also kept raving about Mori sushi in Santa Monica, which was one of the last LA restaurants to receive a Michelin star before they stopped coming to LA.
More amuse bouche of crispy bread crostini with medlar and salted anchovy. Medlars are fruits native to this region of Italy and are almost like a persimmon, perfect balance with the saltiness of the anchovy.
Then an Italian interpretation of a bun, but with rabbit and escarole Ischia style. This was very tasty. I remember putting several stars next to my notes with regards to the flavor that just punches you in the face, like the prawn reduction shown earlier. I also love escarole. When I lived in Philly I would eat at this Greek place called Dimitri’s that did the best calamari with escarole. It’s like a bitter collard green.
This dish was a sea veggie salad with ricotta and seaweed merengue. Their local balsamic vinegar was out of control, especially with that ricotta. The cheese was very special here as you will soon find out.
This dish was heavenly. Veal dumpling with a tuna sauce and black olive ice cream. What a bizarrely unique combination of flavors, but really highlighting the local terroir. This was the last of the little bites before we head in for dinner.
We recieved our restaurant tour early so we could walk it off before the main course.
We walked down a serpentine stairwell that would induce panic in anyone with claustrophobia.
But oh what a lovely cellar. It seriously looked like a pirate’s bounty down here. Like we was transported into another time by entering the bowels of the earth.
This was their outrageous grappa selection.
Then their whiskey and bourbons.
Then their rum.
Not to mention the wine. It went on for days.
We were happy campers.
Here is chef Gennaro behind the scenes.
Here came olive oil #2 for Erika’s smuggling list.
Not a very expensive, but very nice, white varietal of the Campania region called Fiano di Avellino that paired with the food nicely due to it’s minerality. We wanted to stick with only Italian wines for most of our dinners and mostly local varieties if possible.
This was shrimp in its own broth with dark bread biscuit served in a seaweed and spinach cream with oil of the prawn and some concentrated shrimp powder. So good, just wish there was more than a few bites. It’s like a spectrum of macro-view of the shrimp itself, swimming in the seaweed broth, with the micro-view of the oil of the prawn with concentrated powder above. Very nicely colored plate, further sending associations of bright orange to amplify your crustacean experience.
Local smoked Bonito with dark bread cream with slices of tomato and jalapeno served with red pepper paste.
I love bonito, hard to come across in the US, usually have a lot of this in Japan at sushi places, but this was full on smoked all the way through, like smoked salmon, which was well balanced by the cream, pepper paste, and vegetables. This reminded me of a Mediterranean salad my grandmother would make with smoked sardines, tomatoes, onions, olive oil and stale crunchy bread. Again, highlighting regional ‘peasant food’ for an irreverent lack of a better description, and serving it in a lofty molecular way.
Then grilled cuttlefish with black ink chip also served with a ball of steamed cuttlefish, with tomato ragu reduction dotted onto the plate. The white powder on top of the black ink chip is the crushed bones of the cuttlefish that I usually discard. Loved the complete cuttlefish integration in this dish.
Here is aerial view.
Let the carbs begin. Spring garlic and lemon risotto with marinated amberjack and tomato with oregano flowers. So fragrant and aromatic. Totally captures the scents and smells of summer. Lemon, spring garlic, perfectly al dente risotto, sushi grade amberjack. Damn.
Then spaghetti with sea urchin and whelk. OMG, this tasted so amazing. The memory of this meal as well as the caption was so hilarious. The server walked up to the table and says, “The chef likes the intense aroma of the Beeee-ch!” I’m sure he meant to say ocean, but we all looked at each other and started busting up in laughter as soon as he walked away from the table as it sure smelled like either one of those meanings. But, intense it was; the essence of the ocean. Oh, wow, what I would do to just eat pasta by people who serve it perfectly al dente.
This next dish looks as good as it tastes. Just look at the color of that sauce, it was so rich. This was 12 different kinds of pasta with shellfish and rockfish broth.
It had this mouth coating effect, like eating oxtail. I wish I could go back there and just have a giant bowl of just this to go.
Some nice 2001 Taurasi, Campania gem of a wine. Complete earth and barnyard wine. Right down my alley of dirtiness.
Right in time for the heavier dishes like this Turbot below. Turbot in my experience has always been best paired with a medium body red, like a medium bodied Burg or a Taurasi, as we did.
This was served with zucchini flower, or flor de calabaza as my wife and I affectionately refer to this. The fish was steamed and then grilled, still, one of my favorite ways of cooking a fish like this, fuck sous vide, just turns it into plastic mush.
Look at that crispy skin. Not to mention it also had oyster sauce and watercress. I wondered if it was the Chinese American oyster sauce you find in the shopping aisle.
Now for some of their famous Caserta black pig. I really appreciated the geography and history lesson I got from this restaurant, it was more like a museum of food anthropology almost. He really teaches you about and highlights all the special products of the Vico Equense region, this black pig for example, or the amazing Provolone Del Monaco, which I will discuss shortly, to the ricotta del buffalo.
Look how juicy that meat and the fat cap look with the caramelized skin, like lechon amplified by ten. It’s sitting on top of some apple chutney. Conjure the classic image of the boar with an apple in it’s mouth. OMG, this is like the Italian cousin of the belota eating pig that is used for Iberico jamon serrano, but the cooked version.
Here is an article about how special this pig is.
Look at this damn cheese, it’s bigger than my head, almost the size of my torso. This was the best damn cheese I had the entire trip. It was intensely grass, spicy, salty, and unbelievable. It was aged 1 year and served in its own shell. When I heard provolone, I just thought wtf! Why the hell is American provolone so damn bland? This cheese comes from the milk of a certain cow breed from the Naples region called the Agerolese. A judge had to make a law to protect the fraudulent use of the title Provolone Del Monaco to prevent fakers from biting this name as it was so rampant. They had to create a cheese consortium. Look at this angry monk about to slam some heads over stealing his cheese.
OMG, I thought the different varieties of real authentic parmesan in the Emelia Romagna region were the cream of the crop, but this cheese was invented in this city of Vico Equense, from this ancient breed of cow called the Agerolese. This is why you travel to these remote places, I had no clue this existed, but the concept that I can randomly go somewhere and eat an unpasteurized cheese that just unexpectedly rocks my world is so exciting. There are so many places in the world like this that you have to go to and taste for yourself. I cannot tell you how pleasantly surprised we were. Again, terroir is not just about describing wine, these cows are eating grass in the cliffs of the Sorrento region with grass that is dusted with the ocean dew every night, and all of this gets into the cheese, just amazing.
The name of this cheese originates from the sackcloth mantles the cheesemakers would wear to go into the city of Naples and sell their cheese. People would then think that they were buying the cheese straight from the hands of the monks. Hence the name in Italian, Provolone Del Monaco. When I googled this, I saw a few links to how you can buy it on Amazon, but given that they used unpasteurized milk and it is aged 1 year, I’m sure it will get confiscated in customs. This is why you must travel to eat stuff like this.
Then came another mind-blowing cheese integrated into an ice cream. Buffalo ricotta with seaweed ice cream. Unbelievable flavor and texture profile. This is only milk from water buffalo. I cannot tell you how much different and better this was than any other ricotta I have ever had. I mean, even though he made it into an ice cream, you can still get all the fatty mouthfeel on this. This picture does no justice to this colossal flavor and sensory experience I had with this pre-dessert.
Paired so perfectly with a 1985 PX sherry. I am such a big fan of this producer of sherry for the whiskey that gets its flavor from this. So many of my favorite whiskey’s are PX sherry cask finished.
What a glass.
Look at that engine oil/rust color.
The nose on this thing was so dirty. I had an intense look on my face as I contemplated the depth of this filth. Look at the legs on that thing on the glass.
The debauchery continues with more dessert. Luckily we all got different items, so there was more eye candy for photos.
Followed by a stero-glass bio-dome of diabetic coma. We were very pleased.
Thank you Gennaro! He really likes the “intense flavor of the Beeee-ch!”
On a more serious note though. This was such a unique place. I have not been to a Michelin restaurant of this caliber that had so many local prized animals, cheeses, etc that came from this town alone that is trademark protected. Not only the food, the ambiance, the friendly non-rushed service. Gennaro’s hospitality. You just cannot miss this place. I remember seeing people just walking in and asking for a seating and being turned away one after another, please do not make that mistake and book well ahead.