Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Exceptional Restaurants in Lazio
During a recent trip to Lazio, we found restaurants that have excellent food made from prime local ingredients, at prices that varied from medium to a bit pricey, considering what the prices of restaurants of similar quality are in New York City or other major world destinations..
In the seaside town of Formia, we had excellent dinners at both Da Veneziano (Ristorante Da Veneziano, Via Abate Tosti 120, Tel 0771-7771818), and the next evening at Ristorante Chinappi (Via Anfiteatro n. 8, Tel 0771-790002).
The name Italo Veneziano has been for years synonymous in the area with terrific food. We were at the restaurant for dinner on a Sunday evening, and the downstairs room was full to capacity with locals enjoying fare made from local vegetables and day-fresh seafood. Though Italo is no longer personally cooking in the kitchen, his creative recipes and cooking methods are still followed to the letter.
Amongst the Antipasti we tried, we found both familiar dishes, like Mozzarella in Carozza con Acciughe (a Mozzarella di Bufala sandwich dipped in egg, then fried with salt-packed anchovies) and specialty dishes, like Calamaretti Fritti con Acqua e Farina (fried baby squid in a very light batter). The Primo Piatto was Paccheri con Cozze di Gaeta e Pomodori (large tubular pasta cooked with Gaeta mussels in a wine, tomato and mussel-liquid sauce).
The house wine we had with the meal was 100% Falanghina, an indigenous grape cultivated in Campania and Lazio that makes wines with real personality. Falanghina, a lovely white wine, has emerged in the last 25 years from complete obscurity, to a sudden stardom. It is now being produced by some of the most prominent wineries of Southern Italy, most located in Campania, north of Naples.
Sannio (Roman Samnium) is a hilly region of Campania, with a wine-growing history so ancient that it was mentioned in the works of Pliny and Cato. Some say that the Falanghina of Samnium may have been the grape used in Falernum, one of the most highly regarded wines of the Roman Empire.
The next evening we dined at Chinappi that has been a historical landmark in Formia since 1957; it is the Formia outpost of a classic Roman eatery and is located near Da Veneziano.
We started with “nodino di bufala con panzarella”, buffalo mozzarella on what we would think as sliced bruschetta; the locals call it a bread salad and it is made with saltless week-old Tuscan bread, cubed tomatoes, red onion, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. Very similar – though made with old bread, not barley rusk – to a Cretan “dakos”.
The primo piatto was described as “Fancy of Variety of Mrs. Anna”, a seafood dish made with grilled octopus, pickled grilled baby calamari with vegetables, small shrimp, gravlax with acacia honey, and fritters of algae. Talk about gilding the lily!
There were other interesting dishes like various crudo di pesce (raw fish) with leaf vegetables in a citric sauce – similar to a South American ceviche but marinated for a minimal time, long enough for the plate to go from the prepping station to your table.
The piece de resistance was the desserts. Pineapple raviolis stuffed with lemon sorbet with a very aromatic mint sauce, and sour cherry of mountain Aurunci tart.
The wines were a Moscato di Terracina from the Sant’ Andrea winery, a lovely, aromatic white that paired beautifully with the seafood; and Cervinara Rosso, a wine from the province of Avellino. I did not care much for the red, perhaps because it was light and too young; also, it had a rather acidic backend that would make it more appropriate for fatty meat courses, like pork chops or other pork-based dishes.
On another day we had a tasty buffet lunch at Il Carpaccio, the restaurant of the 4* Hotel Torre del Sole (Via Pontina, 106.50, Terracina, Tel: 0773-764076).
Again, a plethora of seafood and fresh cheeses. Very interesting were the saltimbocca of fish and artichokes, large prawns wrapped in bacon, marinated white anchovies, Neapolitan octopus salad, anchovy balls and fried Bianchetti (whitebait). The primi piatti were Lasagna Bolognese, and seafood rice, the last a cold-rice dish studded with fish, seafood and radicchio. The main course was a stuffed pork fillet with grilled and roasted vegetables. There was a red Chianti Pontormo, a rather earthy light Chianti and a white that I thought was exceptional, the 2007 Circeo DOC, a blend of Malvasia and Trebbiano, from the Sant’ Andrea winery.
At another lunch at the 4* Grand Hotel Virgilio (Via Prima Romita 04029, Sperlonga), a resort hotel and conference center, the main courses consisted of: Tielle alla Gaetana (with baby octopi, endive, broccoli and sausage), a number of seafood risottos and an assortment of pizzas that included Margherita, Potato and Onion, and Marinara. The chickpea soup was very flavorful. There were lots of local cheeses with Gaeta olives, and grilled vegetables..
Good, honestly made food and good wine. You can’t beat that combination… and the prices were right too!
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