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Eight Days in Liguria, part 1


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Eight Days in Liguria, part 1

jen kalb | | Oct 21, 2012 06:09 PM

I need to get my Liguria report up here before I forget the details. We really had a lovely and interesting trip with some fine eating – and we certainly missed a lot more. Sorry for the lack of pics – as my husband commented, I never started taking pics till the dishes were half eaten, which did not result in very appetizing images. I hoped to taste many of the typical dishes of the region, to have some excellent seafood, and to have some wonderful meals; we satisfied the first and the last, but for various reasons, we did not wind up eating the scampi, gambero rosso and top flight fish I had hoped for.

First, the basics – we stayed in two places, Chiavari and Genoa, for this 8 day visit, so the visit only included the Riviera Levante – the portion from Genoa S. toward Tuscany, and not the Riviera Ponente –the portion from Genoa to the French border. In fact, since we did not eat anywhere south/east of Chiavari, it covered even a smaller portion of the map, and given the small number of meals we ate, did not do even this small but fascinating geography justice. The David Downie Terroir Guide to the Itialian Riviera and Genoa was an invaluable resource ) we carried along xeroxed pages) . Fred Plotkin's book and Colman Andrews cookbook, Flavors of the Riviera were also a help - as well as the advice of barberibee and others in this forum.

We reached Chiavari (accent on the second syllable) and Hotel dell’Orte located on a square close to the Station, in the evening. Chiavari was a great for touring and and was charming and interesting in itself. We wound up eating all 3 of our dinners in Chiavari at LUCHIN, which captured our interest on the first night,, and offered a great range of regional dishes at a reasonable price to a lively crowd of locals and tourists. We were also able to snag a table as walk-ins each time - hours earlier than Rome at least at Luchin, where tables started to fill as early as 7 pm. Note, since they also serve lunch and have a takeout business (worth visiting) quite a number of their daily specials can be unavailable by dinnertime. Id recommend trying them for lunch if you want to sample their dishes like stew (they had goat and beef specials on offer when we visited) or coniglio – all were finished by the time we arrived for dinner.
On the first evening at Luchin, husband chose the minestrone, which was much creamier than the emilian version I usually make and was truly outstanding – reputedly these soups are cooked in their wood oven – I had a slice of torta pasqualina. This torta was made by baking a filling of chopped swiss chard, fresh white cheese and some hardboiled egg – fairly austere – in a rather lean dough. As I continued to realize through this visit, I prefer spinach to swiss chard in pasta fillings, so it was good but not great. We both followed with anchovies – he, simply fried, and I the double stuffed version. They were both very tasty and well cooked but not exciting. The young proprietor teased and encouraged us to have some “schnapps” he was a character and made a great parody of the effects of drunkenness, actually they were offering sweet wine with cookies, tried on the last night, excellent.

The following day we visited the wonderful daily market and then headed off with some apples and our water bottles to walk the trail from Levanto to Monterosso, which took around 4 hrs with a lot of halts, beautiful and highly recommended. We were back to Luchin in the evening, after enjoying the extended passagiata in the town, what a terrific custom. This time we were intent on ordering the farinata, which is on display in the front of the restaurant in its huge tin at least 3 feet across and which is cut up and served out to eager eaters almost as soon as it appears. The farinata is an unleavened crepe or pancake made with chickpea flour, olive oil, water and salt – of somewhat variable thickness and doneness – cooked by the an expert farinata-maker in their wood oven. The farinata we got that night was quite crunchy with nicely blackened spots – we liked it tremendously. We followed with an order of another of their specialties, ravioli al tocco which was absolutely delicious; I think the ravioli pasta at La Brinca, a couple days later, was more delicate, but this meat sauce won the prize, with delicious pork and mushroom flavors. We then ordered the cima and Jim stocafisso (a cold salad version, he liked it; Im a bacalao fan but found the stoca, at least in this presentation, not that interesting) along with an order of verdure riepiene, stuffed vegetables. I would say that the cima was good but, like the pasqualina, not exciting, I think I would have liked a more baroque version more – in this case the filling was pretty simple and part of the outer casing meat was a little dry. It was served however with excellent peperonata, peppers in a tomato sauce, and together with the focaccia accompanying the meal, compensated me. By the time we were brought the verdure, we were fairly sated – and found it fairly pedestrian with a minimally seasoned bread crumb stuffing. I think it would have impressed more as a first dish than the last phase of an ample meal.

The second day, please with our hiking success, we headed off to Monte Portofino (thanks, barberinibee for the Ruta bus advice) but it was too moist to attempt the mountain trails so we walked on the roads, eventually reaching San Rocco and NONNA NINA where we were able to make a lunch reservation. After a visit to the bakery to snag some galleti marinari we returned for our lunch. They were still offering their summer seasonal menu, and we had a lovely, leisurely meal. First I have to commend their excellent bread with a delicate crunchy crust, surely the best we experienced in the region. Then, we greatly enjoyed the bottle of Bisson Bianchetta DOP , sprightly and flavorful, with a tiny bit of spritz. For our firsts, Jim ordered the fish-filled ravioli with a seafood sauce, and I had the mixed plate of (land) appetizers – the mixed seafood appetizers served to an adjoining table looked wonderful. The ravioli was very delicate, the sauce, full flavored but light, Id say made with white wine, olive oil, a little tomatoes and odori in addition to the seafood. My mixed plate was ample, including several samples of torta, one with greens and cheese, another with a rich cheesy potato gratin mixture, also fried chickpea strips (I think panisses), vegetable fritters and, most impressive, delicate fried versions of focaccia col formaggio. The dough was gossamer, the cheese inside flavorful (they said stracchino)- it even had a flavor of blue cheese), wonderful, the work of an expert. Our secondi were coniglio alla ligure and totani ripieni, and both were excellent, rich and full of flavor. I thought the totani, which was served with some extra filling/sauce over potato rounds (were these the quarantine???, though very simple, were one of the most enjoyable dishes I have ever eaten – I ate as slowly as possible to prolong the experience. The simple excellence of these two dishes made me reflect on the importance of top flight ingredients and long experience in cooking them to a point of perfection in producing really fine cooking. Here, clearly, they were doing both of these things, and doing it well. We finished with a plum tart, that was quite excellent – usually we skip the desserts in Italy, preferring a different style (and usually we are too full!) but this was worth having. A walk down the 900 steps to Camogli, through olives groves ended our excursion. Too stuffed to consider a dinner in Chiavari, we enjoyed the passagiata, finally settled in for aperitivi at old-fashioned DEFILLA, where the 7euro price of a drink brought you a comfortable table and chair to watch the passing scene and a fairly ample selection of savory snacks including a plate of fried potatoes and carrot and celery sticks with a tasty dip. (Note we didn’t get to sample their gelato, which looked good, their winebar/restaurant, which had an enticing small menu or their pianobar (too late for us, but we liked this place, and purchased some wines for our onward trip from their knowledgeable staff

Our final night, we returned to Luchin for our goodbye meal – again after a beautiful downhill hike from Montallegra to Chiavari, recommended. We had checked out several other restaurants (Il Portico, Boccon Divino,DeFILLA wine bar) in town by this time – but we were hungry, they were empty, and we were drawn back by Luchin which was starting to fill. This time Jim ordered a homemade tubular pasta in salsa di muscoli (tasty but a couple of steps down in flavor from Nonna Nina’s quite different sauce) and their version of capponada (a composed cold dish related to capon magro – the bite I had included white fish,onion, capers, and a refreshing vinegar flavor , I had another plate of the farinata ( good but a bit moister than the first, I do recommend asking for well done), an insalata tepida of octopus and potatoes (very nice, typical presentation with good olive oil, lemon and herbs, and a full order of the peperonata. We were seated with a cultured German couple Luchin doubles up their 4tops) so it was pretty convivial as well. Interesting how much more difficult it was to remember the food when we were talking all the time! Our last visit ended with the zibibbo (sweet wine) and almond cookie (cantucci I think) we had been craving, perfect. Just to note we drank the house wines at Luchin, white and red, acceptable, both light and a bit spritzy. They do have a quality wine list which I recommend consulting –it includes the good regional houses at reasonable prices - we just didn’t want any more than a ½ liter on those evenings.