Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Last July, I flew to Italy and spent ten days in Positano with some friends who were there for an extended vacation.* I had long wanted to go to the Amalfi Coast, and I was pretty sure I would like it, but it turns out I absolutely loved it. It is of course a beautiful coastal locale, and for that reason I was expecting more monied excess - the jet set crowd, etc. As it turned out, there was virtually none of that in Positano, and though Capri has been a favorite vacation spot of the rich and famous since at least the 50s, it was suprisingly low key too. Maybe because part of the appeal of the area is its lack of pretentiousness and slower pace of life. My perceptions might be a bit skewed because I did not stay in a hotel, and I was there with friends who had been before and were familiar with the restaurants, beaches, etc. - so that certainly helped - but all of that can be figured out fairly quickly, and I'm here to tell you about it anyway. :)
The town center of Positano is roughly arranged around Piazza dei Mulini. It's the closest stop for the buses (and cars) to the main beach - about a ten minute walk further down the hill. Around Piazza dei Mulini you'll find our favorite coffee bar - Bar Mulino Verde - a newsstand, a church, and some assorted boutiques. Just up the hill to the south (left as you face the beach) is the famed Le Sirenuse hotel, another much less expensive hotel called La Tavolozza, and a string of shops and boutiques selling ceramics and gifts. (More on that later.) Just a few steps down from the square toward the beach is the Enogastronomia Delicatessen. It's actually part of a two story complex - on the bottom is a shop selling ceramics, homewares and a well assembled collection of all the "limone" products your heart could possibly desire - from soap and candles to candies (which, incidentally, can be difficult to tell apart.) On the top is the "delicatessen" selling prepared foods, produce and groceries. (Protip: the lower floor also houses a bathroom and a back staircase leading up to the deli.)
Climb the steps and you'll be greeted by bins of beautiful fruits and vegetables, including these local Sorrento Lemons with the leaves still attached. These are everywhere in the area, which I absolutely loved. It turns out the two "mascots" of Positano are already favorites of mine - Sirens (mermaids) and lemons. The reason for the Sirens is that the "Le Galli" Islands just off the coast are said to be their home in the Odyssey by Ulysses.
The produce in Italy was almost unbelievably wonderful. This was high season for tomatoes and stone fruit, and they were the best I've ever had, anywhere. The tomatoes really are that red. I think it may be the rich volcanic soil - many of the area's tomatoes are grown on Vesuvius for that reason - San Marzanos in particular - but there is clearly something different about them. The nectarines were equally amazing and also come with leaves attached. So beautiful.
Inside is a large refrigerator case filled with prepared foods like fat, eggplant-stuffed meatballs, marinated anchovies and vegetable salads. We developed a habit of swinging by here on our way down to the beach and ordering food - having them hold it for us for the day, and then picking it up on our way home. When we returned each afternoon, the cases were nearly empty.
The highlight of the trip though, the place I simply can't wait to go back to, is Da Adolfo. To get there, you go down to Spaggia Grande - the main beach - and walk around to the dock to catch the little skiff boats, which leave every thirty minutes or so. They take you for a fifteen minute ride down the coast to a small beach near Laurito (almost to Praiano) which offers some of the prettiest views of the town you'll see. The picture up top was taken on our way out.
You absolutely must have a reservation, so make one the day before. You'll see the La Sirena hotel next door to Da Adolfo - but you don't want to take their boat to get to Da Adolfo. If you use the boat of a restaurant or beach it's expected you'll eat and drink there too and they can get pretty upset if you don't follow those rules.
When you arrive, you'll pay the attendant about 15 Euro to rent a lounge chair for the day on the pebbled beach. You can drop your things and head straight in for lunch, or go for a swim.
Lunch is served above the beach under a large awning - the floor is the same pebble surface as the beach, and the menu is on a chalk board on the far side of the dining area. You don't really need to look at it though - just order a pitcher of the house white wine with peaches and ask them to bring you some pasta pomodoro and seafood. They will ask you what you like and suggest some specialties. They're known for the mozzarella grilled on lemon leaves - which is fine, but honestly not one of the best things they offer (don't eat the leaf!)
The spaghetti pomodoro is perfection. I don't know how they make their sauce but I really wish I did, because it's spoiled me for all others. It's a real lesson in the seductive power of a simple perfect dish.
The spaghetti ala vongole is almost equally good - as is the spaghetti ala cozze (mussels) - they cook their pasta to the perfect al dente every time. (Why is that so difficult for every other Italian restaurant in the world, when a rangy band of handsome beach bums can do it in a tiny kitchen without electricity?)
They don't need electricity for the crudo plate - with perfect cured salmon, alici marinate and pulpo (octopus). The little fried shrimp are bliss too - eat them whole, the shells are delicate and crunchy.
The people watching is superb too. We took a photo that included some people sitting behind us at a table and posted it on Instagram, only to have the woman in the photo comment - her name is Gillian and she has a blog of her own focusing on Rome, though she knows the Amalfi Coast well too - I got some good tips for Capri from her. (This isn't the photo, incidentally, I just loved this picture of these beautiful Italian girls chowing on some pasta at the beach.)
After your multi course lunch - revive with some perfect espresso - or better yet - this affogato made with a puck of chocolate chip semifreddo. Pure bliss. Sleep, swim and sun the rest of the afternoon away, and you will understand why Ulysses chose this area for the setting of his Sirens' song.
The marvelous thing about eating, is that even if you've already done it once in the afternoon, you get to do it again in the evening. We stayed up in Nocelle - a small village located just above Positano - for the first part of the trip, so one evening we traveled halfway back down the road to Positano to the restaurant La Terra in Montepertuso. The view at La Terra is breathtaking and the atmosphere the simple and elegant. It's completely open and sits perched right over the spectacular cliffside sea view.
There are no bad tables in this restaurant and my seat was absolutely perfect.
The food was very good - the Aperol Spritzes and the view were a bit distracting - but I seem to remember that the spaghetti ala vongole was very nice. I ordered a tomato salad that was a bit wan - only notable because that's unusual around here.
They also have a gorgeous seafood and oyster bar, but the prices for both the champagne and the oysters were breathtaking - so we stuck with cocktails. My drink was their signature limoncello martini, and Jora had a Negroni. They sell the beautiful hand-blown Carlo Moretti glassware in their boutique across the street for around $100 per piece. God knows how many people try to slip them in their bags. Mine was too small. :)
After our cocktails, we cabbed halfway back up the road to Donna Rosa - on the other side of the road a few minutes away from La Terra. This is one of Jora's favorite restaurants in the area - and we had a lovely meal at an outside table in the small dining room. This is another place where reservations are a must - in fact, I think reservations are a must wherever you go. The locals say you don't need reservations, but even if the restaurant isn't crowded, they will always give you a better table and welcome you more warmly if they are expecting you.
Donna Rosa is on the main square of Montepertuso, and was lively and crowded but not too hectic. It's a popular place for good reason. As is common in the region, they have an open kitchen you can see into from the dining room. It really adds to the convivial environment when the barrier between front and back of the house is removed.
The handwritten family recipes handed down by previous generations are on display in a book in the dining room.
One of my last dinners in Positano was at another of my host's favorite restaurants, Da Vincenzo. We also went for lunch earlier in our visit and I thought it was equally good. The only drawback to Da Vincenzo is they don't have one of these terraces overlooking the coast - their outdoor seating is all on the road, and the indoor dining room doesn't have a view.
Don't let that deter you, though. It's a family run place and the fantastic food is enough of a draw in and of itself. We started with a selection of verdure from the bar near the door, then moved on to some alici fritti (fried anchovies) and cozze (mussels). On our lunchtime visit, I had a perfect Caprese salad. Caprese is on the menu almost everywhere here. Most places it is excellent and this was the best one I had.
We had eaten our fill of pasta by this time, so we started with a visit to their "verdure" bar near the entrance, and split these fresh fried anchovies with garlic lemon and parsley, and a big bowl of mussels with tomato sauce.
One of my favorite things about Positano was that despite eating all of this amazing food and drinking lots of wine, I never gained a pound. With all the stairs in Positano and swimming at the beach I had actually lost a pound or two when I came home, which is virtually unheard of. Next time, I'll have to stay even longer!
There is more, but this post has gotten long enough, so I'll be back in a few days with more about Positano and our daytrip to Capri. Baci!
*Where have I been you may wonder? Well, nowhere special, really. I haven't written a blog post in over a year, but I've never stopped eating and traveling. I am going to do a little catching up and then try to update weekly with restaurant reviews and travelogues, time permitting. If you want to follow my mundane daily doings, feel free to find me on Instagram, Pinterest or my Alice Q. Foodie Facebook page. :)
Posted by Alice Q. Foodie on Tuesday, May 20, 2014