Our next drive took us to Piazza Armerina (actually, Agriturismo Bannata nearby) via Caltagirone. Caltagirone is a real , sizeable live hill town, with some nice features a fine large park, historic churches and or course the ceramics and famous steps. We planned to spend the morning nosing around with lunch (below) and then onward to the Villa Romana at Casale in the afternoon.
Remarkably (a it took us quite a while to puzzle out) the Giro d’Italia was finishing a stage at Caltagirone that day. (first time the race passed through Sicily in 25 years, we were told) The whole town was electric, and decorated in pink (rose) – at first we wondered, is breast cancer such a big thing here? Even the stairs were flowered in pink and white (we were lucky the fiorita (decoration of the steps with flowers) is at the end of may.
Lnch -our luck in getting a seat without out a res held - was at Restaurant Coria, a Michelin 1 star, with ambitious chefs, stylish decor, a fancy kitchen and Michelin level ladies room. I had wanted to sample one or two of the GR/Michelin highly rated restaurants and after missing La Madia and Accursio, this was a must to at least try this possibility in Sicily. Coria also has, in addition to a lunch prix fixe, a reputation for using the traditional ingredients, and respecting tradition (the restaurant is named in homage to Giuseppe Coria, the legendary Sicilian food figure and author of Sicily, Culinary Crossroad (about the food of the Eastern half of the Isand) and Profuma di Sicilia among other books. However we took a detour from this plan since they were offering a special “rose” menu in honor of the race, with rose wine pairings I will be linking a pic of the menu. All of the dishes included pink/red ingredients , looked lovely presented on glassware/ceramics of the town, and tasted very good (except the petit fours at the end, a proof of pastry competence but left on the plate (who likes white chocolate anyway?) We were very happy with the lovely raw pink shrimp in a scattered, decorated presentation reminiscent of the early days of this style with Charlie Trotter, the perfectly grilled cernia with its pink grapefruit garnish, the cremoso alla yogurt dessert garnished with berries and pink rose petals, and the the wonderful Franz Haas Moscato Rosa which closed the meal with a lovely violet color and the taste of roses. Exquisite. The slightly pickled red chard decorating the pink pasta was also an interesting touch to that dish. This was a very enjoyable meal, but apart from the local seafood and the breads and appetizers served with the apertivo, it could have been served at any number of international restaurants as well (for example the delicious “predessert” of mango on a base of coconut). Plus, we rediscovered how little we like rose – the franciocorta and frappato roses served were very well made but not very interesting. Definitely worth the visit – if you do, check out the ladies room definite giveaway of the Michelin aspirations.
We had a great deal of difficulty leaving the town - the main road to Piazza Armerina. While this is really a tale for a place like TA rather than Chowhound, we then had a lesson about why paper maps, GPS and the ability to improvise are all important travelling across the center of Sicily – we had to take a route that took us many miles out of our way (we could see Gela in the distance at one point) with a couple of further detours. MASSERIA BANNATA had a lovely forest site, comfortable beds, served a good value multicourse dinner (think slices of braised pork) traditional to the family (although the servers were a bit of a giggle) Nice forest walks, vegetables from their garden, we extended for a second night to spend a day at the Roman Villa (well worth the trip). At this point, we were running out of appetite and ready to get to Palermo and our own apartment where we could eat more moderately