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General Discussion

Sicily trip report (January 2020) (Siracusa, Agrigento, Palermo)

synecdochehk | Apr 10, 202010:50 PM     1

Thanks to the many helpful posters here, I had a fantastic food trip in Sicily in early January 2020. Whilst I did not take detailed notes in most places, below are some of my general impressions of the restaurants visited.

Siracusa (1-2 January)
L'Insoletta - first meal upon arriving Sicily. Originally wanted to visit Caseficio Borderi, but it was closed that day. It was a delightful surprise, the fish ragu spaghetti particularly impressive (Spaghetti all' Isoletta). This meal also introduced me to the fascinating quality of the Sicilian oranges which were in season.

Dioniso - based on prior CH reviews I visited Dioniso as my first dinner. Unfortunately, other than an exceptional beef meatball dish, the experience was underwhelming. It is quite likely that chef Torrisi was not in the kitchen that day; in fact I am not sure if he is still the chef - the waiters seemed perplexed when I asked about him (or maybe I mispronounced his name). Had an excellent bottle of Salisire Etna Bianco Vivera 2014 at ~35E - full of springy minerality and a beautiful nose, which outperformed many of the more expensive whites I later had in this trip.

L'Ancora - best meal in Siracusa. It appears to be a local favourite - I was turned away the previous day without a reservation, and was quite full the second day I visited. The sea urchin pasta (Spaghetti con ricci di mare) is one of the very best pastas I had this trip. Unlike the Japanese sea urchin which often has a airy/creamy texture with a more structural flavour, the sea urchin in L'Ancora is inky and strikes the tongue with in-your-face umami that meshes wonderfully with the pasta. Priced at 19E, which is higher than other pastas in this restaurant, but highly recommended. Another pasta with tomato sauce and bottarga was brilliant as well.

Macalle - all dishes were consistently at a decent standard, though nothing stands out. An interesting interlude: I bought a bottle of Graci Etna Bianco Arcuria and brought it to Macalle (they had a 10E corkage policy), and chef Maurizio, upon smelling the cork, helpfully told me that the bottle was flawed and I should return the wine immediately. So I took it back to the wine shop, the people there argued the wine was good and had a call with Maurizio (he seems to be quite well-known), and ultimately the wine shop salesperson walked to the restaurant to sort it out. (Charms of a small historical town!) In the end I had a new bottle, though I found the price/quality ratio poor considering the retail price of over 40E.

Agrigento/Licata (3 January)
Caico (San Leone) - Squeezed in a quick lunch before heading to the Valley of Temples. Vongole was really good, clams not meaty but impeccably fresh - I would not be surprised if they were caught from the sea right outside the restaurant earlier that morning. Strangely, the mussels in the Zuppa di Cozze were of lacklustre quality, though the tomato sauce was sumptuous.

La Madia - I planned the Sicily trip around this meal, and fortunately it totally lived up to the expectations and the high praise it had received from gastronomy critics. I must start off by saying that the restaurant was extremely accommodating - despite the regular menus on offer, there were a number of a-la-carte dishes which my dining companion and I specifically wanted to try, and the waiters kindly helped us fit them into a multi-course menu without any pricing supplement.

My favourite dishes include: (i) "cloud" tomato caprese - instead of sliced tomatoes, a concentrated tomato juice and dried tomato was used to accentuate the foaminess of mozzarella - clever and sensible reimagination of a classical recipe; (ii) steamed artichoke with anchovy cream and shrimps - it was a daily special which the waiters repeatedly urged us to try, and they were correct as the artichokes were of glorious quality, tender and moist, complemented by the savouriness of anchovy cream and shrimps; (iii) pasta "minestrone" with scampi and tomato stock, almonds (Pasta minestra di crostacei)- a "simple" dish which lets the ingredients sing, addition of almonds providing crunchiness to the divine scampi soup.

Whilst not every dish was of a similarly high level (for instance, the immensely Instagrammable-"Quadro di Alici" was screaming for more tomatoes and red onions to balance the saltiness of anchovies), the overall standard and ingredient sourcing remained excellent throughout. Wine list was decently priced - we had a bottle of Stephane Bernaudeau Les Nourrissons (can't remember the vintage) at 100E, which seemed to be a bargain considering how difficult it is to find it in retail. Obviously a quality wine, which gradually developed over the course of the meal, but I am not sure whether it's worth the significant price difference over other Loire producers like Boudignon and Chidaine who equally excel at Chenin Blanc.

Part 2 on Palermo to follow.

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