Una Buona Forchetta

At a dinner party in Positano, a friend’s four-year old daughter cleaned her plate of mozzarella and tomatoes, octopus salad and anchovies and asked her mother for more, twice, before the main course even came out. I was simultaneously impressed and charmed.  A girl of my own heart. I asked, “How do you say ‘good-eater’ in Italian?” “Una buona forchetta.” A good fork. Yes, I can certainly relate.

I often tell people that eating is my hobby. A far more poetic description is that for me, meals solidify memories. The most memorable meals of my life, I can tell you not only where I was, what I smelled and what I tasted, but who I met and how I felt.

So not surprising then that my life in travel revolves around food. 🙂  During my summer in Positano, I had the pleasure of adding to my restaurant recommendation list.

Il Ritrovo: After a beautiful hike on the Path of the Gods, we ended back in the main piazza at Montepertuso for a late lunch at Il Ritrovo. Chef Salvatore and his lovely brother Paolo made me feel right at home bringing me a glass of refreshing prosecco as I looked out to the ocean from our table on the terrace. I started with a beautiful grilled octopus recommended the chef and sampled a few of the sautéed local shrimp – to die for. Then Chef Salvatore surprised me with bruschetta and zucchini flowers (after saying they were my favourite) and for a main course sautéed mussels and clams. Fresh ingredients are the star here : On my most recent visit, Paolo convinced me to have a special pasta made with mushrooms he had gathered that day.  I don’t have a picture because I was too much immersed in bliss, savoring this creation to come up for air, but it was quite possibly the most delicious pasta I’ve ever had. I heard this sentiment echoed by a whole group at the table next to me. Il Ritrovo is about a 10 minute drive above Positano but like most restaurants in Montepertuso, it has a complimentary shuttle that will pick you up and drop you off if you make arrangements. It’s definitely worth getting out of Positano center for this gem.

La Sponda: Smack in the center of Positano at the famed Le Sirenuse hotel, is Michellen-starred La Sponda. Admittedly I was always intimidated of both the hotel and the restaurant on my early visits to Positano but I really had no need to be. I first visited the Champagne and Oyster Bar a couple of years ago and was surprised at how even in the most elegant atmosphere the staff put me at ease.  It’s the same in the restaurant as the maitre d’ welcomed me warmly and showed me to my table where sommelier Cristian greeted me with a visit from the champagne trolley.  The champagne, Jack Legras, was a creamy delight that was the most beautiful champagne I’ve ever tasted. Normally I would choose the tasting menu with wine pairings but I actually felt that it was too much food for me on that particular night so I chose to order a la carte and let Cristian choose wines to match each course. I had a lovely tuna starter, then pasta with fresh fish (again convinced by my server), John Dory with saffron sauce for a main and then finally the lemon soufflé with lemon granita. Every course was presented beautifully by the attentive staff and everything was tasty and fresh.  My one criticism is that the soufflé was a bit too eggy in texture for my liking, but otherwise tasty. La Sponda prides itself on the romantic atmosphere – lit by 400 candles nightly according to their website – and on this particular night when rain kept the outside dining terrace closed, it created an intimate glow. Now I did have some special treatment, my visit arranged by the sommelier himself, but I can attest that everyone is made to feel special at La Sponda. The staff doesn’t take for granted that a restaurant of this calibre and reputation is an occasion destination and they endeavour to make everyone have the once-in-a-lifetime memories every night.

Casa Mele: Opened in June 2014, Casa Mele is Positano’s newest culinary offering. Just off of the main road up from the Sponda bus stop, you’ll first notice the chalkboard painted pig greeting you at the entrance. The interior is clean-lined and modern with a few vintage touches like the floral lampshades arranged into a chandelier. There’s no sea view or terrace here, but Chef Raffra does one better with his sleek open kitchen and huge window so you can watch all of the action. I went with three other diners on my visit so we were able to share and sample a range of dishes.  To start, we were treated to a little cheese with peppers and tomatoes. Then it was on to the seafood salad and fresh grilled vegetables.  A seafood risotto followed. For a main, I had a beautifully cooked seabass while my friends shared the seafood soup. You can’t usually go wrong with seafood on the Amalfi Coast as its freshness lends itself to simple preparations which allow the ingredients to shine. Chef Raffra elevates even the simplest ingredients with attention to flavor combinations and elegant preparations. For dessert, I chose my favourite delizia al limone, a local lemon cake which Chef Raffa serves in a kind of deconstructed version of light cake layered with lemon crème. I find that most restaurants in Positano, while skilled at savory selections, struggle with desserts – the exceptions being the tiramisu at Da Vincenzo and basically everything at Casa e Bottega.  But Chef Raffra excels in his inventive takes on regional classics. Bravo, indeed.

Il Ritrovo
Via Montepertuso, 77
84017 Positano, Italy
Phone: (+39) 089-812005

La Sponda
Via S. Sebastiano, 2
84017 Positano, Italy
Phone: (+39) 089-875066

Casa Mele
Via G. Marconi, 76
84017 Positano, Italy
Phone: (+39) 089-811364

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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#onemonthinItaly was just the beginning…

I’m convinced that in order to deserve spending now the vast majority of my summer in Italy, I must have rescued puppies from drowning in a previous life. I can’t just be lucky, right?

After a purely magical month of May in Positano (with a quick stop in Rome in the middle), I was back in Italy for most of July.  First, it was Franciacorta and Lago d’Iseo for my friend Giovanna’s wedding, back to Verona for the Opera Festival, then back to Positano. Because, again, the puppies.

The great thing about my summer in Italy is that it’s been a wonderful combination of new experiences and old favorites. So, dear reader, you’re in a for a treat: A series of posts about my favorite place on earth!

Starting with #onemonthinItaly in review – my month in Positano!

Positano is easy navigable by its two bus stops: Chiesa Nuova (at the top of town where the bus drops you off in front of Bar Internazionale) and Sponda (on the other side just up from Li Galli bar). In between there’s a one way road which winds through town, culminating at Piazza Mulini. I rented a gorgeous apartamentino in the Liparlati area of Positano, just a 10 minute hike up steep stairs from the center of town between Piazza Mulini and Sponda. I had a teensy Juliet balcony with French doors that opened on to blooming bourganvilla with a sea view and within chiming range of three churches. So you know, a shack really. 😉

I quickly got acquainted with my local market and vegetable shop. My friend Luigi drove me up to the fish market at the top of town, where Nicola and the crew expertly cleaned and filleted my fish for me, because I of course could not be trusted with such a feat of culinary expertise. But while I was self-sufficient as I could be, I soon found that working from home every day meant that social interaction over meals every day was essential. And so, a normal day looked like this:

  • 9am: Wake up, get ready, check some emails.
  • 10:30am: Walk down to Collina for a cappuccino and cornetto.
  • 11am: A quick little passegiata on the main beach.
  • 12pm: Back up to the apartment on the local bus to continue working.
  • 2pm: Lunch at home. My favorite: Clams sautéed with garlic and cherry tomatoes.
  • 4pm: A little rest at home or on the beach.
  • 5pm: More work until Italian dinner time.
  • 9pm: Back down to town for dinner, then drinks with friends.  If I had an earlier day and could finish around 7 or 8pm, I threw a little aperitivo in there for good measure.

I have a little collection of friends in Positano since I’ve visited once a year since 2007, but what a treat to meet i miei nuovi amici! There was always someone at the bar having an espresso or at La Brezza having a beer and I was always welcomed to join in. I thought I might get bored in this town of 4,000 people over the course of the month, but I settled in quite naturally to the slower pace of life complimented by the buzz of the social nature – what’s not to love about saying “Ciao!” to five or ten people on your walk to town?!

And because I wasn’t cramming my visit into four days and therefore only having time for my favorite restaurants – Le Tre Sorelle and Mediterraneo – I was able to try a whole host of new, both to me and in general, eateries. Tanina’s healthy fare and delectable sweets at Casa e Bottega was a multiple times per week occurrence.

More to come on the foodie adventures, but first, actual adventures! With all of this time in Positano, I knew I would make the compulsory trips to Sorrento, Amalfi and Ravello, but I also wanted to try some new things as well.

First it was off to Praiano, Positano’s sister town just a short 15 minute bus ride from Mulini. I rode the bus all the way to the top of town to take in the breathtaking views, then walked back down to the Chiesa San Gennaro with it’s majestic mosaic piazza overlooking the sea with Positano in the distance.  I visited on a Sunday so several of the shops and eateries were closed, and I didn’t make it down to One Fire Beach so I don’t feel that I experienced the best of Praiano, but that’s something to look forward to on the next trip! 🙂

My lovely friend Suzanne came to visit mid-month and as we sat over breakfast at Casa e Bottega, we got a recommendation to forgo Positano’s main beach and even the more low-key Fornillo, and head to Laurito.  This tiny beach is a 15 minute (free!) boat ride away from Positano’s boat dock – just look for the boat with the red fish sign for Da Adolfo, one of two restaurants on the beach.  You hop off unceremoniously from the boat and within seconds are ensconced in a sun lounge. Lunch is at the spectacularly tasty Da Adolfo which is nearly always packed.  It’s a bit comical really as tables are full at Da Adolfo and empty at the neighboring Le Sirene.  On my first visit, we stuck to chef Sergio’s special eggplant parmagiana which was creamy, cheesy and surprisingly satisfying for a hot day in the sun. When I went back with my friend Antonio, a Positano native now living in Milan, the spread was decidedly more of a celebration of local specialties: mozzarella on grilled lemon leaves, carpaccio, seafood salad, grilled local fish and white wine with peaches. With Laurito, boats start running at midday, stop between about 1:30 and 4 for lunch, then return to Positano between about 4 and 6pm.  Be careful on the weekends as this little oasis gets busy and you may be in for a let down if you don’t make a reservation for a sun chair or lunch.

Throughout my month in Positano I’d been asking around for a guide to take me to hike the Path of the Gods, renowned for the bird’s eye views of Positano. A friend offered to take me in lieu of an official guide the Monday of my last week, offering a much needed physical exertion after a few weeks of delicious food and gelato. We started from his home village of Montepertuso, about 10 minutes drive up from the top of Positano, hiked for over an hour toward Nocelle, then turned around and came back, where we rewarded ourselves with lunch at the incredible Il Ritrovo, just on Montepertuso’s main piazza.

Finally, on my very last full day, my friend Alberto picked me up for the drive to Praiano’s Praia marina, where he guided me on a private sea kayak tour to Laurito and back. It was my first time in a kayak, and after I got the hang of how to steer myself (and push myself off rocks when steering failed me, let’s be honest), we weaved through some spectacular little caves, waved to yachts and earned our 11am beer at Da Adolfo. The trip back to Praia was a bit rough due to wind and rolling seas, so poor Alberto had to tow me most of the way. I’m shocked really that he had the patience and energy to share a yummy lunch with me at Da Armandino (oh dear lord the lemon risotto with shrimp!) before driving me back to Positano.

The best thing about my new experiences in Positano is that I shared them with old and new friends! Thank you to Lorenzo, Luigi, Fanny, Suzanne, Antonio, Cristian and Alberto for making my month truly magical!

 

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.