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Sicily, please


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#1 tsquare

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Posted 05 November 2011 - 07:37 PM

Well, it's going to happen, second half of this month. All I know is we are flying in and out of Palermo (some day I will get the hang of returning from another city. Maybe not.)

We've got Lonely Planet and the internet. The two recent NY Times pieces (Addiopizzo article and Almond Granita sidebar). No car. Nope, not doing it. Had a line on a private tour guide, but that would double the cost of the trip, so we'll take it slow and easy and miss a lot.

Recommendations welcome.

#2 FoodDabbler

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Posted 07 November 2011 - 06:17 AM

In three words: spleen-sandwiches, gelato-in-brioche, swordfish-heads-in-farmers-market:

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Oh, also this:

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We've ingested our spleen at the conventional place: Antica Focacceria San Francesco.
The gelato sandwiches are available all over Palermo. You'll see people eating
them for breakfast (at least in the summer). The swordfish were at one of the daily
farmers markets. The markets are worth a visit. They are not your refined Union Square
or California greenmarkets. You'll walk on ground wet with blood.

We've eaten at places with tablecloths and cutlery, but have found the street and
street-level food more interesting.

Palermo is not an accessible, walking city the way that lots of Florence is.
You need to plan how you'll get around. Once you do, it's a lot of fun -- if
you can call the harshness of the rocky landscape fun. You might also consider
a boat trip to islands off Sicily.

There's a very interesting museum of antiquities in Palermo. It's worth seeing.

#3 tsquare

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Posted 07 November 2011 - 07:31 AM

I've heard about spleen - I doubt I will try it, but M may.

Last year we were in Mexico and the mercados - can't imagine markets any more real!

So, the ankle supporting hiking boots might be a good idea for Sicily, even if we stick to the more urban areas? I left them home for Mexico - Central Highlands, but urban areas only - and was fine.

#4 FoodDabbler

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Posted 07 November 2011 - 11:19 PM

Good walking shoes will be fine. I'd also suggest studying the bus routes in town.

The chickpea fritters called panelle are another street food worth trying (when fresh
from the fryer):

Posted Image

#5 Chambolle

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 06:15 PM

I'm willing to go to bat for you once.

Just to confirm: Second half of November. You are only interested in Palermo. You don't have a car.

I know some very knowledgable, hyper-foodie Sicilians here in Paris. That said, they are not from Palermo but I'm willing to bet that they have easy access to the info that you are looking for. My instincts tell me that their recommendations would be as good as gold for a visitor.

I believe that I'm going to see one of them this evening. Hence, respond quickly if interested.

What exactly do you want recommendations for ?

#6 tsquare

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Posted 10 November 2011 - 07:16 PM

Wrong assumption oh Chambolle. We will travel by train or autobus to other parts of Sicily including Catania, Siracuse, and Ragusa. Perhaps day trips from these locations to other towns as well. When I originally posted, I did not have that much of an itinerary, now I do, so I don't need to hear that we must go to Trapani, Marsala, and the Aeolian Islands. And of course, Agrigento (we may.)

We are not fancy eaters - I am no longer able to eat multicourse meals and sadly, even wine is taken in minimal amounts. I just read that the alcohol consumption in Sicily is lowest in Italy, despite the vineyards and wineries. Perhaps we fit in well.

I can't imagine any situation where we will not eat well, but since there was nothing on the board about eating in or visiting Sicily, I thought I'd start a thread.

Thanks

#7 Chambolle

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 12:42 AM

1. We will travel by train or autobus to other parts of Sicily including Catania, Siracuse, and Ragusa. Perhaps day trips from these locations to other towns as well. When I originally posted, I did not have that much of an itinerary, now I do ...
2. We are not fancy eaters - I am no longer able to eat multicourse meals and sadly, even wine is taken in minimal amounts. I just read that the alcohol consumption in Sicily is lowest in Italy, despite the vineyards and wineries. Perhaps we fit in well.
3. I can't imagine any situation where we will not eat well

1. My friends are from Ragusa. They know that part of the island especially well. If you are willing, quickly lay out of your itinerary (how many days in each locale) and where you might be staying and they will attempt to give some focused feedback. I'm going to fire off a quick email tomorrow. Hopefully they'll respond by Monday.

2. Hence, you want some nice casual dinner places serving good product, cooked with care in a pleasant local ambience and where to buy some good charcuterie and cheeses and where to get a good cappuccino for that toast with blood orange marmalade and where to get a refreshing glass of blood orange juice or maybe a winter salad with sliced blood oranges. Anything else come to mind. Speak now or forever hold your peace.

3. I can. It's a myth that you eat well in any random local joint.

Chambo at your service.

#8 tsquare

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 07:46 AM

We will spend approximately 3 nights in each city. I realize the distances between Catania, Siracusa, and Ragusa are not far, but I think the locales will have enough variation to make it interesting. We will be staying at nicer B&B's in each city.

I take it, it is blood orange season! I have been reading about lemons quite a bit and wondered if citrus would play a big role at this time of the year. Unfortunately, we won't be spending time in the Nebrodi and Madonie areas - is black boar available in Ragusa as well? And what is the appeal of almond milk as a beverage?

Is Ristorante Duomo Really so wonderful? I'm not sure it is the cards for us, but I am curious about it.

Olive oil - seems like a good area for it, though I am not convinced lugging it back in luggage is worth the effort, no matter how good.

Random restaurant selections are not typical for us - but we are far from educated for this trip so your assistance is welcome. You are quite correct in your 2nd suggestion.

#9 fentona

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 12:53 PM

I'm completely jealous of your trip; I love Sicily. I don't have recent restaurant recommendations (other than the one I always make to Italy-bound travelers, get the Slow Food Osterie d'Italia book).

Syracuse is a charming town, and one of my favorite cities in Italy. They've got a great fish market there too. I don't know how interested you are in antiquities, but the Syracuse archaeological museum is one of the best in Italy.

Catania isn't that exciting, but I guess you can do day trips from there: Etna, Taormina, Piazza Armerina.

I think that November is a little after the cactus pear season, but there may be some still around. I wouldn't bother with olive oil- you can so easily get good olive oil in the US that I figure why bother schlepping it? But keep your eyes open for good pistachio and almond oils. Eat as much granita as you can, especially the seasonal flavors. Have fun!
Andrew Fenton

#10 balex

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 02:45 PM

For Palermo have the spleen (milza) sandwiches.
Buy some 'strattu' which is the sun dried tomato paste and also some pesto palermitano,
which is an oil based pesto with herbs, quite spicy.

Then go to Mondello, which is a beach resort nearby and have cous-cous di pesce,
or spaghetti con ricci (sea urchins); and there is a joint on the beach (or was) called
Da Calogero which does awesome octopus.

Taormina is worth a trip too -- Etna is worth looking at.

(ETA: Da Calogero seems to still exist but gets bad reviews now so maybe get more recent information than mine)

#11 tsquare

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Posted 11 November 2011 - 07:39 PM

Catania isn't that exciting, but I guess you can do day trips from there: Etna, Taormina, Piazza Armerina.


Yes, I am a little afraid of that - but had Taormina and Etna in mind. We can move along if we find it uninteresting.

#12 Chambolle

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Posted 17 November 2011 - 01:50 AM

By the way tsquare, I'm pretty furious that I haven't gotten an acceptable response to my email that I sent last Friday.

These guys responded but they responded with Roman info for me as opposed to the Sicilian info that was specifically requested. I have kicked the ball back into their court. The lack of response is frustrating.

In the intereim, at dinner tonight in Rome, one of the knowledgable servers was from Palermo. I got the following Palermo info from him with the caveat that it is 3-4 years out of date. With the additional caveat that things don't change all that rapidly in Palermo.

1. Cafe Alba for breakfast.
2. One must go to the Vucciria market. Explore bottarga.
3. Next on his piece of paper re Palermo is Caccamo to bay buy cheese and salami and all nice special food. When I inquired what Caccamo was, he told me it was a city 20 miles away. I said that's not the greatest Palermo recommendation. He insisted that it was a worthy day trip and that it's scenic and that there are lots of nice little shops to buying interesting food items. I'd research this one and double check it before heading out for the day.
4. For good fish restaurants, go to the Messina Marina area. When I asked which restaurant, he said any one. They are all good. Just use your nose and sniff out the one that you like.
5. He said to go to Trattorio Pino, piazza Sturzo. He said it's cheap and it's good. I asked if he was sure about that. He said he damn well was because he used to eat there every damn day. I asked how cheap is cheap. He said 8 to 12 pounds (he used to work in London, hence the pounds. When he worked in London, they used to procure Sicilian goods from Caccamo. He was the point man for that). Concerned that his info might be deemed inaccurate, he quickly mentioned that his bills were from 3-4 years ago, so assume that it's closer to 15 pounds now.
6. He said DON''T GO to the 59 Restaurant, piazza Massimo. I said why not. He said the quality of the ingredients are terrible even though it is popular and famous. I said why is it famous. And he started talking to me about the movie Godfather and Al Pacino and at the end of it something or other happens either in the piazza or the restaurant, blah blah blah. I said how do you know for sure that the quality of the ingredients are not good. He said cuz he used to work there and they used crap stuff. I said okay. Got it.

I'm still digging for you. I got multiple people now who owe me emails, tsquare.

I don't want my good name and reputation to be sullied because I'm not delivering for ya. Hang in there ... I'm going to start threatening horse heads in bed soon ...

#13 balex

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Posted 17 November 2011 - 11:56 AM

Yes, Messina marina is a good rec... swordfish steaks in various forms, salmoriglio is best.

#14 tsquare

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Posted 03 December 2011 - 01:47 PM

We're back. And we had a very good time. Biggest problem was a re-route on the Seattle-Amsterdam leg through Detroit due to a navigation backup system failure. We lost a day of the trip and were "stranded" overnight in Amsterdam - put up by the airline and fed, but completely dotty. Also, one bus on island never came and we waited 3 hours for the next one; the rest were prompt and efficient. Not as nice as Mexico though.

All breakfasts were included in B&B - some in house, some at a nearby bar. I prefer the nearby bar as the espresso tends to be better and the options (sometimes for a slight up charge) are greater, but that does mean getting out sooner. We had no outstanding breakfasts - generally a cornetto, maybe some cheese and ham, juice (the bars have fresh squeezed and we bought many of these), and sometimes additional sweets - jam filled cookies or tarts.

Lunches were mostly on the go - a slice of pizza or a bread or flakey pastry filled with tomato (fresh or sauce), cheese, maybe eggplant, mushrooms, olives, or meat. Perhaps a fried rice ball filled with spinach and cheese or ragu. My favorite lunch was a collection of purchases from the street market in Siracusa - thinly sliced mortadella, local bread, richly flavored cherry tomatoes, and super fresh ricotta that was baked to a golden brown, then chunked and sprinkled with EVOO, oregano, and garlic. Posted Image
And more oranges. We also went to the famous Antica Focacceria di San Francesco in Palermo where M had the spleen and ricotta sandwich and I had panelle (chickpea fritters - like falafel without spice) on a roll. We shared a huge portion of split cherry tomatoes, arugula, and fresh mozzarella salad. M likes offal, but thought this was more a tick it off the list than something interesting to eat. We ate one restaurant lunch in Siracusa - some random place where I ate an "Italian appetizer plate" or meat and cheese and olives, and about an hour later, M was served tortellinis in tomato cream sauce as well as a plater of scallopini with mushrooms. It would have been better if the timing wasn't so bad. But it was not a great meal. The waiter did comp us each a serving of lemon sorbetto which was nice since I wanted to try it but wasn't going to order it after all that time had passed.

Snacks, yes, gelato (an excellent olive oil version in Ragusa), a cannoli, panna cotta, more fresh orange juice. A big export from Sicily is orange oil for perfume - I don't know if we ate the same oranges, but they smelled fantastic and the flavor was amazing - sweet, spicy, and complex. In Modica I had a hot chocolate - the type that is just short of being warm chocolate pudding. Posted Image
Oh, also some excellent Ragusan DOC cheese.

We explored all three street markets in Palermo, the market in Catania (amazing fish), and the market in Siracusa - plus the fancy one selling only locally produced goods. Also did some chocolate tasting in Modica at Antica Dolceria Bonajuto - and brought many bars home. This is the stuff you can eat, even unsweetened. Fabulous.

Dinners:
Palermo:
1) "Casa del Brodo" - I had pasta Norma (eggplant and dry ricotta), M had fresh raviolis filled with fish in a tomato cream sauce with more fish. He thought these were remarkable. We split a huge salad (what's with corn in Sicilian salads?)
2) "Trattoria il Maestro del Brodo" - they let me make my dinner from the lovely antipasta buffet (frowned upon) and M had that as well as pasta with sardines and fennel. Sicily isn't known for antipasta, but I loved all the flavors - so bright and intense at the same time. There was octopus salad and M found a tendon salad! Small sqaures of eggy vegetable bakes, rich caponata, olives of course, and on and on.

Catania:
1) "Mm Ristorante" - right in the seafood street market, a sweet little place only two months old. Address: via Pardo 34. The owners used to have a meat and cheese stall, but thankfully, they decided to open a kitchen. Fish antipasti - 5 different fish served carefully cut and plated with just some lemon, oil, and salt and pepper. We had swordfish, red tuna, tiny shrimp, cod (I think refreshed salted), and sardines. Posted Image
M had squid ink pasta - the sauce was squid ink and peas, not the pasta itself. Also two red mullets. I had swordfish. We split a tomato and greens salad. That was our most expensive dinner and it was about 50 euros.
2) "Il Borgo di Frederico" I had another antipasti bar plate that was excellent, as well as a few bites of farfalle with pistachio pesto (a bit creamy.) M had gnocchi in a tomato cheese sauce (these were very good), and a veal steak - also very good. Another salad. This place was very inexpensive considering the quality and quantity of food.
3) We wanted to go back to "Mm", but the power was out in the area - repair work in the street. We walked to "Metro" and had an awkward dinner that just didn't hit the mark. Split orange and aringa appetizer - turned out to be smoked herring. Also pasta with swordfish, eggplant and mozzarella - kind of tasted like tuna noodle casserole to me and I am not a fan of that. M had veal with porcini and cafe - an okay dish, but it looked so muddy. We pretty much left the huge mixed salad.
4) "Mm" - stuffed vinegar marinated sardine rolls fried - these were amazing! Another round of fish antipasti, M had pasta with veal ragu, I had 4 or 5 large prawns, grilled, heads on. maybe the freshest, sweetest shrimp I've ever eaten. A little radicchio and tomato salad. They brought us a slice of chestnut bundt cake to split for dessert.

Ragusa:
1)"Antares Ristorante Pizzeria" - beautiful space - all golden stone and vaulted ceilings. M had this pizza that was a crust split in two and filled with fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, prosciutto, and grana pandano. It was crispy. I had a traditional pizza with red sauce (a bit spicy), speck, mushrooms, and mozzarella. The two tasted completely different and both were very good. Happy Thanksgiving!
2) "Il Barocco". We found the food too salty, but saw lots of nice platters of grilled meats and vegetables at other tables. I ate a little pasta with fresh sausage and zucchini and had a good glass of red wine - a Nero d'Avola. M had a very good selection from the antipasti case and a plate of shrimp ravioli.
3) Locandina wine bar. Modernish food. Another beautiful space. Pork belly roll with local greens and Ragusan cheese filling with a side salad of tomatoes, raw onions, herbs, and EVOO (we bought a bottle!) Orchiette with cherry tomatoes, ricotta salata, and fresh basil. A pizza with fresh ricotta, smoked ricotta, fresh tomatoes, and basil. M loved the pork belly and was trying to figure out how to replicate the dish. Posted Image

Siracusa:
1) "Locanda Mastrarua" - "Island of Dogs" - a mixed fried small fish plate with tiny squid (super sweet), small shrimp, sardines, and fish cakes perfectly cooked and nicely plated. M had fish ravioli and a side of caponata. I picked at a pasta with vegetables.
2) After the large and late lunch, we just shared a well made calzone from the high end street market - filled with cheese and potatoes, along with more oranges.
3) back to "Locanda Mastrarua" - antoher version of "Island of Dogs" with even better squid, larger shrimp, fish cakes, and some other small fish big enough to take off the bone - sweet, white and clean. M had 'dolphin fish' - a bluefish? 3 steaks cooked with onions and vinegar as well as another side of caponata. We each had potato croquettes - small balls nicely fried, each with a little indent as though they were handled in the oil with the blunt end of a chopstick?

Palermo:
"El Magreb" random Tunisian spot. All the tables on the primarily pedestrian street. M had mutton couscous and I had mixed Tunisian appetizers - a sausage, a meatball, a carrot salad, an mixed vegetable salad, a little square of something fried, a thin dough filled with cheese and then fried, and another small something fried, a tuna and cucumber salad - each served in a separate small dish. It was very good. Posted Image

#15 prasantrin

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Posted 05 December 2011 - 01:57 AM

Mmmmmm. . . that hot chocolate looks so rich and luscious! I think I need some. . .

Did you have any fruit-shaped marzipan? My mother brought me several pieces (she just thought they were pretty), and I've eaten all but one. They're painfully sweet, but are not too bad with a milk chaser. Any delicious torrone offerings?