Thursday, November 12, 2015

La Tradizione: Unforgettable Restaurant Experience

When people ask me about the highlights of our trip, I usually mention the same handful of things: Climbing the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Our incredible B&B in Rome. Hiking Path of the Gods. The Chianti Wine and Food Safari (post on that coming). And...this hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a rundown suburb of Naples.

Our B&B in Portici offered dinner for €20 per person, and reviews said the host was a fabulous cook, but when we asked, she said dinner was unavailable that night due to a business dinner they were hosting. She recommended La Tradizione instead--right on the way from the train station back to the villa.

When we walked in around 7:30PM after exploring Pompeii, we knew we were way too early for Italian dinnertime, so we weren't surprised to be one of the only two occupied tables in the restaurant. The menu didn't have a word of English, and most of the wait staff didn't seem to speak much English.

Not being overly hungry, we ordered two antipasti and a pasta dish. The first priority was to try bocconcini di mozzarella di bufalita--mozzarella cheese made from buffalo milk, so fresh that the milk leaked out when you cut into it and it squeaked between your teeth. Unbelievably delicious.

Our other appetizer was misti fantasia di mare, literally "mixed fantasy of the sea." Tiny fried squid, something else fried, and fried cake of whitefish. Since we were on the coast, all the seafood was very, very fresh--displayed on ice just a few feet from our table (no picture of that, unfortunately!).

I like a few kinds of fish--whitefish, salmon, lobster, crab--but I'm not very adventurous when it comes to seafood. I didn't know if I could get past the appearance of the miniature squid:

But when I finally found the courage to ignore the eight intact tentacles and just pop the whole thing in my mouth, it was actually pretty good.

As we were enjoying our food, the owner came over with a complimentary serving of eggplant parmesan. I'm not normally a fan of eggplant, but this was delicious, and we were surprised and delighted by his kindness.

The next thing we knew, another complimentary plate of antipasti showed up:

This one had, from right to left in the photo above, fish parmesan; squid stuffed with some sort of fish paste; something shrimp-like in a mayonnaise-ish sauce, and octopus. We couldn't believe how nice they were being to us! It was really fun.

When the owner--whose name was Luigi (of course, right?!)--came to check on us, we asked him about the different foods. He explained them to us, and then he brought out a larger portion of the shrimp dish (I don't think it was actually shrimp, but it was similar) and two pieces of crostini, so that he could show us how it should properly be eaten!

Meanwhile I tried to work up the nerve to try octopus. I couldn't get past the suction cups, so Steve kindly cut those off for me and gave me a bite.

 I can't say I loved it, but am glad to have tried.

Then our pasta came out: gnocchi alla Sorrentina, or "gnocchi in the style of Sorrento"--a basic tomato sauce with mozzarella and basil. This was my first time eating gnocchi, and it was amazing. Pillowy-light with an absolutely delicious sauce. We ate every last bite, it was so good.

After that experience, we left with full bellies and smiles on our faces. Clearly we had been a novelty as American tourists in a place that doesn't see much tourist traffic at all, and we'd had so much fun being doted on. We were amazed by their generosity and hospitality and felt so glad our host had recommended such a great place.

(Incidentally, when we got back to the villa, we got to enjoy live Italian music floating in our window from the business dinner out on the patio below!)

But that wasn't even the end of it--we returned two nights later, and the second time was even more wonderfully memorable! I think I'll save that for a separate post soon :)

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