Well, I just lost about a page's worth of write-up about our favorite places we ate while here in Sicily. This time, I'm saving the work to notepad. I hate when my reponses get eaten. I know better, but that never seems to matter until I do it again.
Instead of staying in Palermo, we stayed at a B&B in Cefalu. We only did a day trip to Palermo to see the markets and found the city entirely too depressing with its dead markets and closed shop fronts. Indeed, entire vacation communities are left half-built and abandoned around Cefalu. We also took a day trip to Marsala & Erice. After Cefalu we drove to Marinella del Selinunte instead of Agrigento, and took a day trip to Sciacca. We were there for two nights before moving on to Siracusa where we stayed in a charming apartment in the Ortigea district right on the passeregio of Arteusa (boardwalk along the sea wall). Yesterday we left Siracusa for Taoromina and we're here for a few more days before we spend our last night in Catania & fly home from there.
That said, one of the charming things about Sicily has been that we've found good food most everywhere we go. We've had several disappointing dinners, but only one experience where we literally walked away. That was in Siracusa, along the Passeregio Arteusa - Lunga la Notte. Apparently you have to know someone to get a decent meal, even the spaghetti was mush. Then we ran into a chef in Siracusa - Salvo Ficara - who made the most gorgeous food, but I'll get to him later.
While Cefalu is a tourist town, it's a tourist town for Italian and Sicilian tourists as much as it is for the rest of the world. So the food was very good. We ate more than once at Il Normano and enjoyed it thoroughly. We enjoyed it more than the other places, but Il Normano set the standard for what we should expect for presentation and service in Sicily. That is, it is a very correct procession of wines, water, antipasti, primo & secundos. The seafood should always be fresh, the pasta al dente, and you should expect combinations of flavors to take you by surprise. Flavors should bite without being overwhelming.
We also had a very good pizza along the boardwalk in Cefalu at da Nino. We didn't plan on eating there, but my husband wanted pizza. Nino stopped him along the way and convinced him to give it a try. My husband was very, "Non, non, no", but Nino promised and came through. The crust was perfect, but the tomato sauce was light and fresh. He always gets his with prosciutto crudo, so it is easy to overwhelm the flavors, they didn't. Ask for their picante olio. Nino makes it himself and it's a nice hot oil to add to your pizza.
The other place worth spending electrons on was the Cathedral Coffee Pasticerria in the Piazza Duomo. Their pistachio marzipan sweet bits have amazing texture. Pair that with one a cappuccino or one of the dry Marsala wines and you've got yourself an Italian holiday people watching in one of the best piazzas.
We did eat other places in Cefalu, but remarking upon the unremarkable takes more words than I'm prepared to spend time on. We were there for four nights and two of those nights we ate at Il Normano because we were not happy at other places we'd eaten lunch or dinner at. When you have a bad run of restaurant eating while travelling (i.e., never been there, don't know except through other people's reviews, if even that), we tend to return to where we know we can get a good meal. These three restaurants delivered.
Palermo was a shortened day trip for us. We caught the 6:50 train to get into Palermo before 8am so that we could get to the Ballero market which was supposed to open "at dawn". Besides Palermo being dirty (doesn't everyone write that?), we found it nearly abandoned. There was traffic on the roads, on some roads, but most we walked down were deserted. Storefronts were closed, windows of apartments were shut not from the sun or to keep out the morning noise but because no one lives there any longer. We walked down street after street that day and found entire blocks without a single open restaurant, bar, or even people looking out their window. It was quite distressing after awhile.
The Ballero market either opens after 9 or 10am, or it's much reduced from its former "glory". We even stopped for coffee hoping we'd see more stalls open up. We walked there from the station down the nearly deserted streets. We had pastries & coffee along the way, but nothing remarkable. Frankly, we were just glad to see people. After finding the only other museum I wanted to check out was closed on a Monday, we walked back to the station and returned to Cefalu.
The next day we drove to Marsala & Erice. Uhm, about the Florio tours for the Marsala wine making - they have very specific hours where they have the tour. At the time of this writing, it's 11:30am & 3:30 or 4:30 or something like that. You have to dig to find this information and if you arrive outside the window, there is not much around that was open when we went. We went to a little cafeteria along the waterfront, but nothing remarkable.
Erice was a sweet little town with a breathtaking view of the salt flats of Marsala. We bought our sweet wines there at a pasticerria. The sweets here in Sicily are very (and that would be underlined VERY) sweet. Getting two might just be too much even if they're small. Forget eating a whole cannoli by yourself unless it's by gunpoint or eagle eye (never underestimate the power of a direct stare and a smiling face). But you're in Sicily for heaven's sakes! Let off the brakes a bit, work on becoming your own expert. We are now critics of the ricotta filling used in cannoli. If one is lumpy, or does not meet the consistency standards of the cheese place we ate at in the market in Siracusa's Ortegia district then it gets derated. If the Aracina doesn't have the exact toothy consistency of Dolce Antiqua Bonajuto's from Modica then I shake my head.
But really, when it comes down to it, what do I know? Nothing! I've just enjoyed trying a few items I've found of interest and then comparing their variations along the trip.
We left Cefalu and drove across Sicily along the back roads, north to south where we landed in Marinella del Selinunte. The devestating effects of the Euro crisis and the crash of 2008 were completely evident in and around this area. We came to Selinunte because we wanted more freedom among the ruins and it's not such a large city area. I also wanted to check out the ceramics in Sciacca.
I'll add on to this thread. At this point, we're headed out again. We're currently in Taormina, arrived here yesterday from Siracusa, so I'll post later about Selinunte and Siracusa. Siracusa will probably have it's own thread because chef Salvo Ficara deserves his own thread.