Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Si Food

A certain sadness greets us on Saturday morning, in part because we are saying goodbye to the group we have spent the past week with and partly due to the long drive that awaits us.  Our destination is Friuli, the northeastern most province of Italy, a strange, quasi-Italian region that borders Slovenia and which is an usual mix of the Italian and the slavic.  It is a region we visited for the first time in February and one whose unique vibe, as well as its world class white wines has beckoned us return.  We are looking forward to our five day return visit to the region's Collio zone, but are not particularly looking forward to the six hour drive from Cannara.

To break up the drive and to satisfy our hunger, we have decided to overnight in Cesanatico, a seaside town a little less than halfway to our destination, in the region of Emilia-Romagna.  We visited Cesanatico on our previous trip as well, at the recommendation of our Italian friend Andrea Tossolini, an Italian food importer living in Gainesville, Florida.  Andrea had suggested to us a meal at Cesanatico's Osteria del Gran Fritto, one of several restaurants in the area created by the highly regarded Stefano Bartolini.  It did not disappoint.  It impressed so much, in fact, that we built our itinerary around a return visit.

The drive north goes quickly and without incident and as hoped, we arrive in Cesanatico around lunchtime, delaying check in at our hotel until after lunch.  We park near the train "station" and wander along the main canal, which is lined on either side by the town's fishing fleet and which runs from the center of the town to the ocean.  In addition to the fishing boats, a dozen or so old sailing boats, beautifully restored and with sails unfurled are moored along the canal, making up a maritime museum of the region's fishing fleet over time.  The colorful fleet sports enormous canvass sails that are covered in mesmerizing designs, making a most unusual and impressive first impression on a visitor to this peaceful resort town.

Indeed, despite the large crowds along the canal (and as we are to discover a few hours later, the even larger crowd at the beach), the atmosphere here is calm and tranquil, even while it is active and outdoorsy at the same time.  It is a town given over to sauntering rather than running and as we meander to the Osteria del Gran Fritto, we are passed by numerous bicylces along the quay that glide quietly by with an occasional dring dring of their bells.

Arriving at the Osteria in this state of serenity we are greeted by a tranquil waitress who shows us to an outdoor table that is shaded under a large open canopy.  For the next couple of hours we successfully recreate our original tour de force lunch from four months earlier at this seafood mecca, this time prepared for four people instead of two.  The perfection of the fried seafood is exceeded only by its quantity, but we manage to finish everything, including the bottles of Muller Thurgau that are refreshed every time they are emptied.  Sated, we return to our car and pick up our luggage, bound for the Casa Dodici, the nearby guesthouse that is our destination for the evening.

After phoning the owner, we are greeted by Maurizio (I think that was his name) and let into the guest house, whose entrance is along an alley just off the main canal and adjoining his restaurant of the same name (Ristorante Dodici).  Maurizio is a laid back man sporting a mane of graying hair, fashionable Italian glasses and a penetrating stare.  He greets us warmly and shows us into the building and to our rooms, which are named for famous actresses (ours are Gretta G. and Sophia L., respectively).  The bedrooms and hallways, indeed every interior space of the building is adorned with the most beautiful and tasteful artwork and decoration, every piece slightly trendy and a little offbeat, making a feast for the eyes equal in every respect to the feast we have just enjoyed at the Osteria.  Maurizio asks us if we want to borrow some of the hotel's bicycles and visit the beach.  It is a wonderful suggestion.

A few moments later we decamp from our bicycles at the beach, a vast stretch of white sand covered as far as the eye can see with umbrellas and chairs arranged geometrically, rented to beachgoers by the wall to wall concessionaires that line the road along the beach.  Most everyone at the beach has arrived by bike or motorcycle and the entrance to each of the beach bars is choked with swarms of bicyles and scooters, requiring you to pick your way through to enter the bar, which serves as the entrance to the beach.

We choose the bar nearest to the canal, which we have traversed from our hotel and past the Osteria, a neat white wooden structure calle Mare, with an open air restaurant/snackbar on one side of the walkway and an outdoor fitness center and spa on the other.  In front of the spa a dozen or so Italians are intently watching a big screen broadcast of the Tour de France, cheering as though it was a soccer match.  We find the concessioner and pay for a pair of beach chairs (the umbrellas are all rented for the day, most of then being under contract for the entire season) and proceed to sleep off lunch under the warm sun, a light breeze keeping everything comfortable.  Jammed in around us, for the Italians do arrange their beaches with little regard for personal space, the mostly Italian crowd of sunworshipers chat and laugh among themselves, completely unconcerned over their mostly naked state, while nearby other groups play paddle tennis, beach volleyball and other sports that allow them to bounce and flex away the afternoon.  Around 8:00 the British expat who showed us our chairs and who has given us the skinny on the tanned and skinny crowd over the course of the afternoon finishes putting away the chairs and we head back to the Casa Dodici to get ready for our second big meal of the day.  Tonight we have decided to pull out all the stops and have a grand seafood dinner at a restaurant right next door to the Osteria, the upscale sister restaurant of the Osteria called Buca.

We arrive about 20 minutes late for our 9:00 reservation at Buca, having had to stop along the way for an aperitif at an outdoor cafe.  We are seated at one of the dozen or so tables inside, a modernish table with soft colored linens, which combine well with the clean lines and slightly modern, minimalist decor of this chic seafood restaurant.  The waitstaff is cool (as in hip, not distant) and cool (as in suave and not overeager) and speak good English, which comes in handy as we order fishes and dishes with Italian names with which we are not familiar.  We decide to go deep this evening, very deep, ordering antipasti, primi and secondi, which for the uninitiated in Italian dining is the holy trinity.  The restaurant sees our deep and raises us a profound, offering us an amuse bouche and a palette cleanser along the way.  The four of us start with an appetizer of 16 oysters and two portions of the 3 course degustazione crudo, the raw tasting menu.  The oysters are comprised of three different varieties and are absolutely magical as we slurp and chew the briny freshness with pure joy, Italian style (no cocktail sauce).  Next the procession of raw delicacies arrives one at a time, which each couple shares among themselves, so as not to overindulge.  The highlight is a plate of three raw fish, each presented in three segments with the head and tail connected by a delicious pile of marinated flesh, laid out to look like three slightly decomposed fish swimming across the plate.  This one is a little difficult to describe.  It will be even harder to forget.

Our primi come next, again two portions divided among spouses.  Pete and Nancy have a spaghetto with raw shrimp.  This is the actual name of the dish, spaghetto, rather than spaghetti.  Most Americans do not know that spaghetti is the plural form of spaghetto, which throws an unexpected challenge at beginning Italian students who frequently fail to get the subject spaghetti to agree in number with pronoun or other parts of speech.  Spaghetto in this case because the entire bowl of pasta is a single enormous noodle.  That unusual feature, however is overshadowed by the raw shrimp (shrimps?) that garnish the dish.  Judging from the eyerolling across the table, it is singularly good.

Suzy and I split a spinach risotto topped with an animal that may not yet have even been discovered.  Although it had a name (which we failed to write down), it has no description, other than that it looked a little like a snail and tasted a little like a snail.  But we are assured by our cool/cool waitstaff that it is not a snail.  Shades of Magritte.

As we race toward the finish line the only thing left in our way is our main course, the secondo.  For Pete and Nancy that means a rombo, a whole fish that has been encrusted in salt and baked.  This fat, diamond shaped fish looks more like a bedroom pillow than a fish and is more the size of a Honda than a rombo.  Good thing they had asked for one to share.  Suzy and I split a plate of assorted crustaceans.  Each plate sports three each of three different shrimp (the Italians, it seems, like the Eskimos, have 40 different words for shrimp) perfectly grilled, served whole and looking like they were just plucked from the ocean floor and perfectly dressed with extravirgin olive oil.  It's a shrimp fiesta, just like at Red Lobster.  Only not.

All of the evening's solids have been washed down with corresponding liquids, which here means white wine, with a little sparking thrown in for good measure.  Along the way we previewed a bottle of Radikon's Friulano, giving us a glimpse of what would be in store when we arrived in Friuli the following evening.
With all of this food under our belts, literally, we eschewed dessert.  Why not a grappa instead?

Sometime around 1:00 we paid our bill and said our goodbyes to the waitstaff who probably still to this day are telling stories about the four Americans who ate the entire menu.  These things tend to take a larger life in the retelling.

Even at the late hour, during our brief walk back to the Casa Dodici we encountered numerous bikers and groups sauntering down the boat lined canal in little Cesanatico, a place that is hard to find on a map but which is not hard to fall in love with.  We are already planning a return visit to this magical city by the sea.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

1 comment:

Barbara said...

Too funny! Just yesterday Art and I were talking about our next trip to Italy, and where else we wanted to go besides Umbria. Trieste was high on the list, as well as everything along the way and in the surrounding area - Croatia, perhaps? Take good notes, we made need the info!