And now for the more detailed report on Amalfi Coast dining.
A Paranza (Atrani): This town is 1 kilometer east of Amalfi. Some time ago, Jen Kalb had written that there was a well-marked route from one town to another that avoided walking on the road. Although we asked three or four people for directions, we always got the road version. On the return trip, our waiter in the restaurant at least acknowledged the existence of the inland route, but claimed that the route was very complicated and that we’d get lost. As a result, we walked on the road. That route isn’t particularly safe since it lacks shoulders much less sidewalks for much of the route. However there are enough other people doing the same thing that we just did the same. Still, I would never make the walk at nigh.
The most unsafe part of the route is through the tunnel immediately before the town. On the return trip, we found an alternative to the tunnel that takes walkers directly through the outdoor dining area of a restaurant. As demented as that sounds, this route is not something my husband and I invented. Going to Atrani, we noticed that several other pairs of walkers who were behind us made a turn off the main road that put them ahead of us on the road that zig zags down to the water level. Walking back, we noticed that a small ceramic plaque set into the wall with a drawing of stairs, the word “Amalfi” and an arrow pointing up the stairs. We followed those stairs and found ourselves in the middle of a restaurant. No one even blinked as walked though. There was no equivalent sign walking to the town; folks just have to know to go through the restaurant prior to the tunnel.
Now to the food: Our first course was a shared dish called Fantasia, a mixed antipasto platter including 6 items: carpaccio of tuna; mozzarella baked in a lemon leaf; zucchini flower stuffed with anchovy, breaded and deep fried; marinated anchovies; marinated cubes of octopus, shellfish, and artichokes; and baby shrimp with a puree of peas. Everything was delicious; however, I’ve decided that dishes with that many tastes are ultimately frustrating, especially when shared. Each taste is over too quickly.
We shared a tasty dish of Chitarra pasta with clams, prawns, cherry tomatoes, and black olives.
As mentioned in my abbreviated report, the best dish of the meal was Prezzogna with sauteed, butterflied prawns and shrimp.
Il Trani (Amalfi): Our meal at this restaurant produced the most frustration since the food was so delicious, but the mechanics of dining there were the most problematic. The restaurant is staffed by too two few people for the number of diners: one waiter, one runner, and the owner who seats guests and handles the clean-up and set-up of tables. Since we were seated somewhat outside the mainstream, we were more easily ignored than others in the active traffic pattern. The restaurant smoothly delivered whatever was ordered in the first go-round, but the waiters don’t return to each table to check on things when the place is busy.
We ordered gratineed mixed shellfish to share and two pastas .The word “gratineed” was used in Italy in its most limited sense, that is to run food under a gratin flame – in essence to broil. In America, the word most often includes a style of preparation in which shellfish is removed from the shell and, then, broiled. The antipasto included a nice variety of shellfish and the cooking time was spot on. Yum. Our fabulous two primi include a story I’ve detailed below.
Here’s another source of frustration: changes in policy about the pasta dishes without any indication on the menu to that effect. There were so many appealing pasta dishes that my husband and I felt we had achieved a major victory simply by narrowing down our choices to four or five. We were prepared to let the waiter’s recommendation decide the matter for us. When we placed our order, the waiter informed us that only four of the pasta dishes could be ordered for one person. Only one of the solo pasta dishes included any seafood: Scialatiella alla Saracena (which is Il Trani’s name for frutti di mare). The remaining solo dishes included gnocchi with tomatoes gratinee, spaghetti with tomatoes, and pasta Ortolano (pasta with eggplant, tomatoes, and provola cheese cubes). Since only one of the pasta dishes matched our list of four-five possibilities, we asked for a few minutes to make up our minds. We decided on the ...alla Saracena and Ortolano. Just wonderful! Great taste and a generous ratio of goodies to pasta.
The menu was very clear that seafood risotto – and only the seafood risotto – required an order for two persons. Furthermore, the price of the supposed “for-two-only” dishes were priced as if they fed one. As a result, we had paranoid thoughts that as tourists we were being treated differently. For what it’s worth, the American family at the table next to us in the alcove received the same treatment.
In spite of the glitches, the food was so outstanding that my husband and I were considering returning there for a meal even if it meant ordering two portions of the same pasta. As things worked out, we never worked up the proper frame of mind for poor service.
Ristorante Bucca di Bacco (Positano): This restaurant had it all: delicious food, attentive service, attractive surroundings, and a great view of the beach. We shared the following dishes for lunch: Bresaola di Bufala with arugola and Parmesan; Paccheri with shrimp, walnuts, and capers; and Fritto Misto. The bresaola was absolutely the best I’ve ever eaten. It was sweeter than any other version I’ve ever tasted. I don’t know whether the fact that it was bufala was the explanation, but this version reminded me of culatello. The whole dish was topped with generous shavings of high-quality Parmesan. The pasta dish was a delicious combination of flavors and we loved different textures in the dish: the dense, toothy pasta loops of pasta, the crunch of the walnuts, and the soft shrimp. As I mentioned in my Rome report, the fritto misto won third place frying honors among all the restaurants on our trip.
Trattoria del Teatro (Amalfi): This is definitely a restaurant for locals. I’m reasonably confident that we were the only tourists in the entire restaurant. Many of the tables were filled with multi-generational groups eating pizza on a Saturday night. The food was acceptable but not fantastic. The waiter recommended the same two pastas we had eaten the night before at Il Trani. We followed his advice, but the Il Trani versions were better.
We selected this restaurant because it was relatively out of the way and its posted menu was unique in offering grilled seppie and calamari rather than fried. My husband ordered Saltimbocca all Romana. His was better than mine. An elderly mandolin player strolled around the restaurant. In general, he was ignored, but one elderly woman dining alone sang along with more enthusiasm than talent. We enjoyed the scene, even if the food wasn’t spectacular.
Da Gemma (Amalfi): This was a lovely restaurant with superb and beautifully plated food, polished service, a fun location on a terrace overlooking the main north-south street in town. We began our lunch with an amuse: arincini filled with cheese and fresh peas. There were stripes of pureed peas with mint on the plate. Next, we shared a delicious order of zucchini flower stuffed with mozzarella and ricotta cheeses and anchovy. Each flower was plated on a mound of marinated diced tomatoes, capers, and black and green olives. For primi, we shared two pastas: Paccheri da Gemma (a slow-cooked sauce of onions and lamb strips) and Stuffed Paccheri filled with ricotta and broccoli, sauced with a seafood sauce consisting of wine, seafood broth, cherry tomatoes and an unknown shellfish. Both dishes paid attention to details like texture contrast. The da Gemma pasta was topped by thinly sliced battered onion rings and the Stuffed Paccheri included pleasantly chewy shellfish chunks. Finally, we were given a thank-you plate of cookies, and lemoncello. What a civilized and delicious Sunday lunch experience.
Cartolina (Amalfi): This trattoria is at the northern end of the commercial district. I don’t know if it gets tourist business during lunch when the town is more crowded, but the evening we ate there, we were the only eat-in patrons. The staff was probably only too delighted to have a light customer load since major league football/soccer games were taking placed. After cooking/serving our food, the staff stood transfixed in front of the television set that faces the kitchen. (The night before, the night clerk at our hotel could barely bestir himself to acknowledge our presence when we got back to the hotel after dinner. Then, the next morning, he was seriously depressed since his beloved Roma football club had lost badly.) Two apparent locals came into the restaurant to pick up take-out food. I say apparent locals since both were very chatty with the staff and one walked into the kitchen to slice bread to add to his take-out meal. Between the football game and the behavior of the locals, this was a slice of Italian life. We chose this restaurant on the recommendation of a sales person in a ceramic cooperative. She said this was the only restaurant in which she has 100% confidence in the quality of the ingredients.
The food was pleasant enough, but not distinctive. We began our meal with a dish of roasted eggplant halves topped with fresh diced tomatoes and olives. We then shared the following two pastas: Paccheri Genovese and Paccheri with Clams and Mussels. The former was tasty but not as good as the lunch-time version at da Gemma. (Il Trani also had a version of pasta Genovese on its menu and that was one of the pastas we had under consideration before we were told it was unavailable in a solo portion.) As I wrote in the first section of my Amalfi trip report, the house-made lemon-orange torte was world class.