Magical art deco door opens as you approach.
Here is the entrance from afar. The name of the restaurant comes from it’s proximity to the actual Duomo in town.
To keep our buzzes going we were more than happy to drown some Sicilian spumante aperitifs.
Chef Ciccio Sultano greeted us from the get-go. He spoke some English, and was very personable and surprised that we sought him out all the way from LA. It’s funny how the grass is always greener. Everyone gets star-struck when we tell them we’re from LA. In the case of LA, the grass is actually always greener elsewhere, literally. I get so depressed landing in LAX and seeing the brown grass.
Besides obviously La Pergola, the dining room here was quite elegant. I felt underdressed after being smashed drunk in a van all day. Bring on the cocktails.
I had a Mishima, sake cocktail with a carrot inside as I am the Japanophile. Erika had the Quant, obviously because it had Mezcal. Roubina had the Moscow Fresh because her drink of choice is Vodka. Aren had the Barnum as it was refreshing and light, with fresh fennel sticking out of the glass.
Amuse bouche of a marinated watermelon with a swordfish crudo underneath. On top there was some spice like cumin or saffron. The red prawn 69’ing a cannoli deserves its own close-up.
Oh ya, food porn. Literally. Looks like the red prawn deposited its babies on the cannoli’s face. Caviar on top of cow’s milk ricotta cream cannoli. It does not get better than this. Rock solid start so far, keep it coming. Pardon all the puns, I can’t help myself.
A pretty display of more palate cleansers. A deconstructed olive stuffed with pistachio, and a prawn with its own blue roe. Reminded me of the Botan Ebi in Japan. Keep that seafood and caviar/roe coming.
Here was the beef tartare with faux truffle-scotch egg on top of two sauces, one with citrus herbs, the other with zabaglione aromatized with Marsala wine. What a concept! Totally fucks with your head and expected flavors. You put it in your mouth thinking it might be an entire truffle. Then you think, that’s too audacious, can’t be real, then you taste the truffle cream oozing out from inside like the texture of egg yolk running down your chin, and you are like, “oh ya, just as good”. He combines the flavor you were expecting from the fake truffle with the texture of egg yolk. It reminded me of my all-time favorite dish I have ever eaten in Italy overall, at Le Calandre in Padua, the hand cut beef on bark with black truffle that you dip in the egg sauce.
And the faux-truffle reminded me of this Apicius magazine cover.
I guess this is the gastronomic interpretation of magic. Slight of hand and psychological manipulation meant to deceive yet please at the same time. It was like a Michelin Magic Show.
Their place setting is preparing you for what is to come. So, Bottarga, for those who don’t know is the actual ovary of the fish. It’s shaped like a little tongue that they shave over pasta that has an intensely fishy taste and smell. Whereas roe and caviar are the actual fish eggs, this is the entire organ.
Paired very nicely with a Sicilian white. We got the wine pairing, and oh was it good. We told the som, only Sicilian wine, as we wanted to explore what we could never get back home due to such small production. I was like a wine virgin again, not able to impose any biases from what I know about French, Californian, Spanish, or even well know northern Italian wines for that matter onto what was being served. Sicilian wine is in its own league. I was somewhat familiar with the Etna wines but had no idea about some of the whites, and other reds other than the region immediately surrounding Mt. Etna.
Spaghetti with bottarga, citrus pesto, and carrot juice. The citrus and carrot juice mellow out the fishiness and salinity of the bottarga, which might be too much for a novice to handle, even though I myself loved it. I realize that this may be an acquired taste. This is when we all looked at each other and recounted the inside joke that made us all laugh at Torre del Saraceno, “The chef likes the intense aroma of the beeech.”
Followed by a more golden wine, with refreshing acid/apple notes from the Carricante grape, but also well rounded due to the Chardonnay. More like a Corton Charlemagne or similar white Burg, maybe a Chablis, if I had to make an analogy. More delicate, chalky and mineral. It is a Chardonnay-Carricante grape that is from the Mt. Etna region. Not very expensive, bottle in the $20-30 range.
Next was the seafood orgy in a pile of cream. The red prawn 69’ing the cannoli was just foreplay, here was the main show. Octopus, squid, oyster, clam, and prawn going to town on each other. The dish is actually called Insalata di Mare. In English, Sea in Salad. Here was the description I found on his twitter account as I forgot what was in here.
A little bit of infinity, taste, and horizon was added to this seafood salad. It appears, therefore, as a very white island on which canonical dances are dancing: mussels, clams, octopus, and squid.
They dance on a cicada meat sauce, a soup, whipped in mayonnaise.
Next to it, in the empty spaces, there is a second sauce, this time made with olive oil, carapace and soy milk, on which sprouts of portulaca.
Portulaca is a weed succulent plant that covers Sicily between July and August.
It has a salty taste, almost from terrestrial seaweed. In Sicilian, it is called porceddana.
This was a very nice white wine that was very biologically in style, with a lot of barnyard funk, almost like an orange wine, probably due to the maceration with the skin left on. It was more yellow than orange in color but it looked more like a urine sample from a dehydrated person with a urinary tract infection.
So this was a complex little dish with what seemed like a hodgepodge of unlikely bedfellows. Potato gnocchi sitting on a bed of melted Ragusano DOP cheese, with cuttlefish and pork meatballs, sauce of clams and mussels in carbonara sauce. First of all, this Ragusano DOP, holy shit. This is what I am talking about folks, cheese you will never have again being thrown at you left and right. This is an amazingly chewy unpasteurized cow’s milk, from cows that feed exclusively on fresh grass that you can clearly taste in the cheese. It’s like cheese curds in poutine.
Getting back to this ugly bunch combination of land and sea, cuttlefish/pork meatball, it was good, can’t say it was an overreach in creativity, but there was definitely a theme of chewiness going on with the cuttlefish rings and the squeaky texture of the cheese. The ragu on top of the cheese though was very special.
Very fruit forward wine, very glycerine mouthfeel, almost reminded me of a Washington Pinot Noir, lots of spicy and red fruit, as well as cherry notes. Apparently, it scored a 91 on cellar tracker.
This was his yellowtail with brown bread over caramelized onion, in an onion broth. Though it sounds good, this dish was bland to me, maybe it was over-cooked? I see where he was going with the nod to the classic combination of Scandinavian rye bread and smoked fish with onion theme, but it was flavorless to me for some reason. It was weird having all these amazing dishes and then a flat note. I tried researching how he has done this dish in other ways, and in one post there was a dish called (Sicilian dominations, two centuries Arab) that looked amazing, but the version on today’s tasting menu may have been a blander reiteration of this. Here is the Italian blogger where I found a better version of this dish.
This was a 2015 Tenuta Di Fessina Etna Rosso, very young with dark red fruit flavors and a nice smokiness, almost like a Syrah. Way too young for a red wine like this, but it paired well with the meat.
This was like eating a still life painting version of food. First, was his prized black pig, always prepared differently, Nebrodi Mountains grown, stuffed with some sweet carob sauce with mushrooms. Next to this was a tenderloin of Bio Nero D’avola special beef he buys from a cattle rancher that is super exclusive. I tried googling the breed and the breeder Giuseppe Grasso, but the website required a login ID and password. WTF?!
Maybe this guy is a cult leader and is brainwashing all the chefs in town to only serve his meat. Look at the photo on the website, he has a bunch of disciples in black sitting on haystacks as he is preaching. Apparently, he raises the cattle in freedom all year and gives each cow its own name.
The lentil-potato cake was amazing, reminded me of an Arabic dish called Mujaddara. I was curious if this was some manifestation of the Arab influence in Sicily. He did have an Arab domination menu after all in some previous dinners.
Moving on to dessert. Black truffle ice cream sandwich topped with a nice Bianchetti truffle. Talk about decadence, doesn’t get better than this. How about a crostini instead of a waffle cone for that ice cream. You know the saying, “When in Rome, do as…”
For the life of me, I seemed to have forgotten what this was as I stopped taking notes from exhaustion. There clearly looks like some basil leaf with what maybe appears to be frozen olive oil. I tried to rationalize that this was maybe like a tomato-basil sorbet on top of cheese and bread. Is this the ice cream version of a Margherita pizza? This is the only thing that makes sense, I mean all the colors and textures appear to be there. It’s like a deconstructed Margherita pizza. If anyone reading this blog knows what this is and I am wrong, please tell me. I googled the shit out of his dessert images and I only found the facebook page of one other woman who had this exact dish but there was no description, so I doubt she even knew what this was. I did see a lot of versions of this theme where he puts some sorbet in a glass cup and changes up the flavors and image, or sticks a fried piece of bread inside.
Chef Ciccio had some of the most complex dishes of all the restaurants we went to on this trip. I felt like King Solomon solving biblical riddles with some of the dishes that I forgot to write about as I was eating. My brain hurts right now. This was a post that exhausted all my executive functioning and I think I am going to finally slow down posting restaurants for a while. I discovered a lot of other really good Italian bloggers along the way via google image and keyword searches, like this guy: Roberto Bentivegna
Here is Ragusan cow’s milk ricotta cannoli with chocolate covered almond on a lukewarm prickly pear soup with almond sorbet. The sweet, with bitter nuttiness here, was out of this world. I have never seen so many cacti and palm trees outside of Mexico or the southwest US as I did in Sicily. Given that almonds are also native here in addition to the prickly pear, there was this parallel to Southern California with regards to climate and plant life.
The final dessert was the Mediterranean chocolate tart with lemon sorbet and candied lemon jellies and prickly pears. I was dying from food coma at this point and cannot say I truly was able to enjoy this, was just picking at it, mostly finished the tart in the middle with lemon sorbet.
What a take-home box of assorted chocolates and candies. Beautiful packaging and presentation.
One more palate cleanser of a pistachio cream puff. These little tarts were amazing with coffee the next day.
Chef Ciccio was a super cool and friendly guy. I gave him a Cuban cigar at the end to show my appreciation as I heard he like to smoke cigars.
Here is the actual Duomo lit up at night.
We strolled all the way down the hill at the end of the night to walk off our dinner and meet our driver at the bottom. Along the way, we took in the culture of families, young and old strolling out on the streets well past midnight. Beautiful shrines to Saints and Virgins left and right on the side of the road. Don’t be afraid to just immerse yourself in it, you don’t need a guided tour, the only thing you need to plan for is the restaurants, everything else should be spontaneous. Usually, they are in amazing areas already, and after dinner, you just walk around and get lost like the movie Midnight in Paris. Or better yet, ask the som or waiters what to do or see in town, as they know better than TripAdvisor.