First - thanks to all of you who answered my vague and unfocused questions regarding this trip. I am fully committed to eating well when I travel, but sometimes it's best to just fall into things along the way. And that's what we did a lot of the time.
Although I've been to Sicily, I had never travelled much in the mainland part of Italy south of Naples. This was a revelation in many ways - so crazy geographically, culturally varied and really wildly regional foodwise. I guess most of Italy is rabidly regional, but for some reason the contrasts were extra stark in this part of the country. We ate a lot of REALLY excellent mozzarella and prosciutto and seafood. It was the end of tomato season, so those were in full swing. And the summer truffles still showed up from time to time. I was travelling with two vegetarians so there were times when we had to adjust our food itinerary in order to accommodate them - and we were mostly successful. Anyway here's the list.
We rented our car on arrival in Napoli, and hightailed it out of there to a little agroturismo - Locanda Marzi - about 1-1/2 hours away. It was fantastic. Driving up the lane to the old family home surrounded by fruit trees and a lovely terrace was the perfect antidote to an overnight sleepless (for me, anyway) flight. We had prearranged dinner and it was fantastic. Everything was homemade - the whole family was involved (I peeked into the kitchen). Dinner consisted of a whole succession of small plates that included smoked mozzarella on a lemon leaf, bruschetta, gnocchi with sage butter, some kind of beans (can't remember), some amazing confited peppers that I still can't figure out. There was a plate of perfectly cooked pork of some sort and a bunch of other stuff I really don't remember anymore. Maybe we were just exhausted but it seemed that everything was delicious. Neverending wine from their own property. Ended with tiramisu and limoncello. I think dinner was about 44 euros per person on top of our accommodation.
From there we went to Polignano a Mare on the Adriatic coast. Lovely touristy place with remarkable beach and beautiful old town. First night dinner we chose badly. I don't know why we picked a place that's mostly meat in a seaside town, especially with 2 vegetarians, but we went to Osteria Piga. It was recommended by some friends and I guess we were going on faith, plus it does get good reviews. Had the antipasti for 2, which easily fed 4. To be honest I just don't remember much of the meal - the food was ok, not great. I remember having some kind of lamb dish as a main but no idea what anyone else ate. Sorry - I've been home for about a week and didn't take notes.
Second night we had our "fancy" dinner. I had asked for recommendations from CH before leaving and Antiche Mura was our choice. It's a beautiful space and our dinner was wonderful. Started with some kind of lovely sparkling rose, as well as an amuse bouche that really was almost gaspacho. Then there was an absolutely perfect tuna carpaccio and a caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella. One of us had a sea bass with olives and zucchini, I had pasta with prawns, and the rest is a blur. Except for the desserts, one of which was called Nun's Tits which of course we had to try. They were delicious. Food was wonderful, ambiance was lovely and service was good right up until the big group at the other end of the restaurant left, at which point the staff decided to forget about us entirely and basically abandoned our table. It was obvious they just wanted to go home but it felt weird.
Third night we ate at a place I found during my daytime wandering called Il Grottone. It's off the regular tourist zone, down in an area that has the "other" beach - not the pretty instagram one. We loved it. Very casual, beautiful view of the sea and we had the big place nearly to ourselves. Good fresh seafood - fried anchovies, mussels, grilled prawns, all the things. Loved our meal there.
Lecce - we took a day trip there and had a great time wandering the streets, ogling the Baroque town and doing some window shopping. On some weird recommendation we went to the Museo Archeologico Faggiano - a private museum that is in a building where, less than 20 years ago they discovered the remains of many layers of habitation including underground rooms, escape tunnels and evidence of use by the Templars. That was fun! And strange. And the family who discovered it still runs it. On the way out, we chatted with the son of the owner who sent us to Il Ristoro dei Templari just down the street. We had a great lunch - amazing grilled vegetables, I had a wonderful agnolotti with pork. One friend had a beautiful "pizza" that was mostly a flatbread heaped with wonderful vegetables, another had tuna carpaccio salad. Delicious, nice outdoor seating.
Report continued in Part 2. I don't want to give anyone a headache.
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