First, thanks to Elaine Snutteplutten for her extraordinarily helpful advice in advance of our trip. Here's an overview.
Taormina, overall, had the lowest quality food of the cities on our trip. I regret to say that Elaine's concern that Al Duomo might be very different for locals ended up being on the money. We had a regrettable meal there: it was quite expensive and overall poor. The spaghetti con bottarga was mediocre, and the fish tasting menu (which David had) was also simply poorly prepared. I don't doubt that Elaine has had marvelous meals there: ours was just not particularly good. Our trip the second night to Casa Grugno was similarly expensive, and though not bad -- particularly the tuna -- neither was it memorable. Our favorite meal in Taormina -- and the place where all the locals seemed to go -- was at a focacceria/pizza place right off the Duomo. It's in a side street, south of the piazza, just west of San Domenico. The spinach and ricotta pizza was tasty: it was greasy but satisfying, and we were the only foreigners in the joint.
In Siracusa, we had a truly exceptional meal at Don Camillo. David had the zuppa with neonati, outstanding pasta with tomatoes, and a very nice veal dish. I had an excellent risotto with shrimp and asparagus, a swordfish with rosemary, and a first-rate cheese course. A meal to remember. Other meals were less successful, but we had an okay lunch at a place called Archimede off the plaza; the antipasto assortment was the way to go.
We stayed outside of Cefalu in Pettineo, at a guest house on an olive farm called Casa Migliaca, and had dinner there both nights. The place is quite charming and we'd very highly recommend it. The food is not precisely Chowhoundish, but the vegetables from the farm were delicious. We took a quick detour up to Castelbuono, where we were very disappointed to find Nangalarruni closed, at least for lunch (we really should have checked in advanced). Had an okay substitute lunch at Vecchia Palmento (the ricotta and porcini ravioli were fine but unexceptional). But we did have a nice stop at Fiasconara for sweets.
In Palermo, we found the chow to be consistently good. We did indeed follow Elaine's advice and went to La Traviata for Tunisian couscous, and had another very good to excellent meal at Osteria Del Vespri in Piazza Vespri. I had a baked mushroom/cheese dish and excellent bombolini con bottarga; David had an amazing octopus dish with potato and fennel and a pasta dish with sausage. A very good and affordable wine list.
Our Chowhoundiest moment: a Sicilian friend had drawn me a map suggesting that we walk 40 meters past a "penguin bar" and duck into a courtyard for little fried things -- he said that anyone could direct us there. Well, lo and behold, at 68 Via R. Settimo (what Viale Della Liberta turns into south of Politeama), half a block south of Politeama past the "Penguin Bar" (which is actually a Spinnato gelateria), there is an apartment building with a courtyard. The sign on the apartment building is something like "cucina." Anyway, walk into the courtyard, and on the right, through a beaded entranceway, there is a little stand with fried goodies galore, including excellent arancini. We would highly, highly recommend a stop here.
Again, all praises to Elaine -- we're incredibly grateful for her advice.
- Melissa and David