La Puraza serves "fresh seafood" in a run down bunker of an old farm house two blocks from the Autostrada on the onskirts of the Italian Riviera in Rimini. A plain, nondescript building with fraying paint and a gravelled lot the low ceiling entrance leads into an expansive room lined with huge fish and lobster tanks flanking numerous cases of seafood and a small cooking and grilling area. In a country where almost every Italian is fit and is known for favoring modest portions of food La Puraza's 250 seats are stocked with countrymen who resemble the more than Rubenesque Americans who swear by Calabash.
At 6'1" and 205 I felt comparatively emaciated looking around the room.
La Puraza serves only seafood. Recently alive fresh seafood. There is no printed menu. On entering the room you are led to the cases and tanks in the rear to tell them what you want: there are about 20 "courses" which can vary in the size of the portion; generally they are portioned for the number in the group having them. You are shown fat, four inch long sardines and told they can be served marinated or lightly breaded, drizzled with lemon and oil and grilled over charcoal. They are eaten whole. Gambero are fresh head on shrimp (comparable to 5-10 in size here) which are grilled then encased with coarse salt: these are one of several specialities of the restaurant. Another tank holds live 1 1/2 to 2 pound lobsters which are grilled, then chopped in large pieces and mixed with fresh pasta and tomato sauce. Calamari, razer clams (tiny clams steamed with olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs), diver scallops in their shell, frito misto, whole 3 and 4 lb fish which are baked, "red" or "white" seafood risotto (red with tomato sauce, white with wine and a bit of cream) which has huge chunks of a half dozen seafood mixed in it and cooked to order, mussels in one of three or four preparations. Pale gray rectangular metallic platters of these or combinations of them are brought to the oversized wooden tables every fifteen or so minutes until you tell them to stop. There are no sauces other than olive oil, garlic, lemon, wine and herbs. I didn't see much in the way of sides: just huge, endless trays of marinated, grilled and baked seafood and a packed room of garrulous, ravenous people gorging on it.
The overall ambience had a lot in common with the "live seafood" halls of Vancouver and Hong Kong. Or, despite being off the water, this felt a lot like a real Maryland crab house. Shells and whatever are thrown into bowls, baskets and trashcans.
And the food? The best shrimp I have had anywhere. Perhaps much better than I have had anywhere. Tiny, but extraordinarily flavorful clams, sardines that induced moans, mussels that were plump, juicy, delicious. Pasta with lobster and red sauce that may be the best I have had. This is truly fresh, literally hours out of the water seafood brought to the restaurant from the many fishing boats docked only miles away in Rimini.
This is also a Rimini tradition which we were told rarely has an American visit them. I have never seen it written up anywhere; yet if you google La Puraza you'll find numerous entries in Italian which can be roughly translated (they are all raves) by Babelfish.
Rimini is a more than worthwhile destination in Italy. Almost unknown to Americans it is also home to a pizza that is better than I have had anywhere in Naples and, yes, I think better than New Haven: La Posada which has a decades old brick oven and lines out the door every minute they are open. (subject of another post to come).
La Puraza has lines out the door, too. Every minute that it is open. It is nationally known and, for me, I would drive the 300 miles round trip from Venice or Florence just for the experience. It is that incredible. There is "properly served" seafood as good elsewhere in Italy but the communal excess of this place is an experience almost worth crossing an ocean for. I can only wonder how many other places there are like this around the earth that no guide book has ever turned up.
And are missed by us. As I first introduced Chowhound to da Fiore, Alle Testiere and Sostanza five or six years ago this should not be either.
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