We spent much of our first morning wandering around the narrow tourist packed streets of the village of Sorrento. We stumbled onto a flea market which is always a pleasant surprise. After finding the perfect tablecloth for our terrace dining table we were able to muster up enough Italian to ask the vendor where we should eat lunch. She immediately suggested a place that, unless researched on the internet, we would have never chosen or even noticed. Oddly, there is nothing from the street side that would beckon any tourist to stop and consider the menu. The main event is much deeper into what is really an expansive indoor/outdoor restaurant with beautiful gardens well dressed with garden sculpture and fountains. It is worth noting that much of the exterior garden dining is really sheltered by arbors and lemon trees.
Don’t get me wrong; we soon learned that tourist are brought in for a tour which included bread and wine and an audio presentation by the matriarch of the establishment. This included an oral history of the place dotted with some amusing stories about the opening and origin of the restaurant. The restaurant takes great pride in being recognized in Wikipedia for being the inventor of the cannoli which is still served today using the original recipe. Thankfully, these interludes are short lived and frankly most of the tourists don’t stay for lunch. Also those coming in unannounced as we were are seated among the Italians, local or otherwise, who had either reserved or were known by the restaurant staff.
We promptly ordered wine and a bottle of sparkling. The traveler ordered the risotto with seafood (you may recognize a pattern forming here) and I ordered the grilled fish fillet with a side of baked eggplant and mozzarella. This last side dish turned out to be the real show stopper. Don’t misunderstand. The grilled fish was excellent and fresh and perfect for a hot late Summer day. The risotto, too was rich and delicious; filled and garnished with seafood.
All main dishes aside this eggplant dish was captivating. Many might just, as I did in the beginning, assume it was Eggplant Parmesan. However, the menu pointed in a slightly different direction when instead of Parmesan it called out Mozzarella di Bufala. The Mozzarella paired with the rich and tangy tomato sauce with a hint of Basil and then baked and served in its baking dish became a creamy tomato and eggplant dish to savor and remember for my own version at home. So stay tuned in the Recipe section for my version prepared in our kitchen in Rome.
Last weekend we were able to escape the vicious heat of urban Rome and head south to Sorrento where, though still quite warm, we were able to enjoy the sea and sea breezes that makes the late Summer heat seem a little more bearable. The truth of the matter is that we had always wanted to visit a modern icon in the arena of hotel design. So what a better time now that we are in Italy for an extended stay? The hotel, Parco dei Principi designed by Gio Ponti and build in 1961, is truly remarkable in its modernist design if not in its location. It is perched high above the sea imbedded in a cliff facing the sea on one side while the entrance side is surrounded by lush tropical gardens. The design of the hotel encompasses much more than just a modernist shell; it also has custom designed tiles, lighting and furniture throughout.
One very interesting aspect of the hotel is its famous pool and of course the diving platform.
Since our arrival here in Rome we have been blessed with wonderful warm sunny days (one might even say hot). However, Saturday changed all of that at least in part. We awoke early Saturday morning to downpours like we haven’t seen since leaving the States. So what better to do than duck into a museum and spend the morning inside while it rains and clears off outside? We headed for the National Museum of Rome which really far exceeded our expectations. The collection is divided into four main categories: Sculpture, Mosaics, Frescoes, and coins. We were able to easily and enjoyably take in the sculpture and most of the mosaics and frescoes before hunger and sunlight from the skylights got the best of us. We will definitely be returning to finish at some point.
Leaving the museum we headed over to one or our favorite spots for lunch, Osteria Gusto, which actually took more time than expected but it was good to be out and about as it was really turning out to be a beautiful day in Rome.
Osteria Gusto is one of our favorite places to lunch. We always start with one of the Fritto Misto plates to share. This time we tried the whole shebang which included fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and anchovies, fried zucchini, and the usual fried shrimps and calamari. The zucchini flowers and zucchini were a little too heavily battered for my taste. The seafood on the other hand were fried in a light tempura style batter which was really delicious.
For our next courses I ordered the Tonnarelli with Pecorino and Pepper which is a very classic Roman pasta dish. The pasta is somewhat like a thicker spaghetti and of course is cooked al dente. It is a sturdy and very filling dish.
We then ordered a risotto with shrimp and lemon sauce that was very luxurious in texture and taste. The texture was not like so many risottos that are rich and creamy. The rice/risotto in this dish still had its own identity, cooked al dente, and the sauce applied much like a dressing. It rather reminded me of a pilaf instead of the more creamy risottos that I sometimes find a too creamy and mushy.