Before my memory fails me completely, I will offer a brief report on our dining discoveries on the island of Ischia. This being Campania, there is superb eating to be found. This being a heavily touristed island, it takes some seeking out and we had two somewhat unexciting dinners before we struck gold. I will proceed with the first two reports here and follow with the others, including the two standout experiences, in the near future.
LA CASARECCIA in the Hotel Poggio del Sole, outside Forio.
We took a taxi from the port of Forio (12 euro; taxis are costly but the local bus system is very efficient, as we later learned) but the restaurant is accessible by a bus which runs once an hour. (ask for the bus to "Via Borbonica"; see further directions on the website linked below)
It was surprisingly difficult to find reliable information on the dining scene on Ischia, although I spent hours online and own the Capalbo and Plotkin books and the SlowFood Osterie guide. I took a stab here, thinking that its out of the way location and a couple of reviews online sounded promising.
The restaurant was deserted when we arrived on a Sunday evening about 7:30pm, but would eventually fill about halfway with a mix of locals and tourists with the latter appearing to predominate.
Wanting to sample a famous Campanian staple, I foolishly began with Insalata Caprese. The tomatoes were shockingly, astoundingly poor, and the mozzarella di bufala was served too cold. My spirits sunk.
We fared better with another shared appetizer, eggplant parmesan, served with mushrooms but without the expected mozzarella. (As far as I know, there is no cheese making tradition on Ischia and the local staples--mozzarella, provola and the like-- generally are "imported" from Agerola or the Battipaglia area. This was a good dish.
Further disappointment followed when I learned, upon inquiring, that many of the shellfish dishes listed on the menu--scampi, calamari, etc--were frozen.
The swordfish, however, was fresh and was absolutely stellar--a hefty grilled slab served with a lusty garlicky sauce also flavored with parsley. (My new staple at home!) Excellent!!
My partner was equally pleased with his rich Spaghetti al Limone, which he had as a main course.
The kindly proprietor presented us with a complimentary dessert of fresh figs from his own tree which, if I understood correctly, had been smoked in what sounded like a laborious process.
With a carafe of the excellent local house wine, and a bottle of Panna, the total came to 31 euro. In short, I think that one could have a very good meal here--better than we had-- with careful consideration of the menu and consultation with the owners; no English is spoke,however, which was generally the case at the establishments we visited.
We chose this restaurant after paying a visit to Umberto A Mare, a seafront restaurant considered to be the finest in Forio but whose prices seemed very high to me (pastas around 25 euro) and which was virtually deserted when we peeked in around 8pm.
Economy won out and we ventured to Zi Carmela, a casual trattoria right on the main bus route that was mentioned in a couple of guidebooks and that is attached to the hotel of the same name. I had reservations about the place going in—right in the center of the action; menu posted out front translated into 4 languages, but Forio center is not exactly filled with promising looking spots, so we took a chance. (There is another local option next to the main covered food market, on one of the pedestrian streets).
Zi Carmela is a informal trattoria enclosing a large, airy dining room topped by a beamed ceiling from which dangle an array of ceramic cups.
We began our meal with a pizza Margherita to share. First rate ingredients and a touch of smoke from the wood-burning oven made this one of the hits of the evening.
My fish-shunning partner (who, I am happy to report, has made progress on that score since we returned home) requested a primi with no elements from the sea and was rewarded with a very good cut pasta brimming with tomato, eggplant, and mozzarella. Very good.
My primi—the Zi Carmela house special of tagliolini with mussels, clams, and shrimp—was slightly less successful.
My partner called a halt after the pasta course and I forged ahead, purely in the interest of research, with the gamberoni—head-on shrimp which were very good.
Despite the central location, our fellow diners appeared to be locals.
With a water, the bill totalled 49 euro; we had ordered a liter of the house white wine (very good) which the congenial owner, Nicola, removed from the bill for no reason other than pure generosity.
After dinner, we ambled along the pedestrian streets to the center of Forio and enjoyed a superb gelato at an elegant bar whose name I neglected to jot down. Walk up the pedestrian street leading from the port area and turn right at the pedestrian street running at a right angle. The bar will be on your right.
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