Here is the first report, with more to follow. (The companion report about eating further south has been posted: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7370...
IL RITROVO DEGLI AMICI Martina Franca (Corso Messapia, 8, in the town center)
After two nights outside Otranto, we relocated to a countryside masseria hotel near Cisternino. I had planned to dine that evening at Trattoria Le Ruote, which had been recommended on a couple of online sites and by CHer JeremyM, who was very helpful with suggestions on this forum. But when I mentioned the idea to the proprietress of our hotel, she suggested that a better option would be Il Ritrovo degli Amici, the SlowFood-listed restaurant in the center of Martina Franca. And so, off we went. (As I mentioned in the thread accompanying this one, we found that hotel staff often steered us to more upscale places than we might have chosen on our own)
After a few hair-raising minutes, we found parking near the center of MF a few blocks from our destination, and found our way to this well-reviewed restaurant, which comprises two tiny dining areas on two different levels. Chef-Owner Anna Ancona has created an enchanting all-white setting where every glance reveals another gorgeous visual vignette. Massive silvery mirrors, dramatic arrangements of white-painted branches, wine and spirits bottles artfully displayed on a burnished walnut table, , chunky white ceramic pieces, ..the place is worthy of a design magazine. We normally shun decorated-to-the nines spots in Italy, fearing that the artistry will not be replicated on the plate, but this was not the case here.
There was only one other table of diners on that evening—a table of visitors from Germany. There was no written menu. The amibale young woman who comprised the entire front-of-the-house staff recited a very brief list of choices, in English.
We chose to skip the antipasti, but if you have not sampled the famous capocollo from Martina, made from pigs who feed largely on acorns, this would probably be a good place to do so. (We had had this luscious meat earlier in the trip and would have it again as it appears on many antipasti spreads throughout the area).
We both selected the same primi: Pasta (I forget which type) with eggplant, basil, tomatoes, and smoked scamorza. Superb! Perfectly textured pasta with just a sprinkling of cubed eggplants and tiny tomatoes. Feathery light. Not in the last bit oily (in other words, not in the least bit like the pasta/eggplant dishes made in the erica household).
For secondi, we were offered a choice of beef, lamb, or pork. My partner chose the tagliata di manzo, served over arugula with parmesan shavings (15 euro) I had what just may have been the best baby lamb rib chops I’ve ever eaten (15euro) (The lamb is usually offered for two persons; they accommodated me with the rib chops, scotaditto di agnello, because my dining partner does not like lamb).
For dessert: An order of an incredibly rich and incredibly delicious molten chocolate cake infused with orange.
Service was charming, the restaurant is beautiful, and the bill for two of us with water and two glasses of wine for me (none for the driver, alas) amounted to 65 euro.
Highly recommended. Closed Sunday dinner and Monday.