Tuesday, June 21

Pansoti al sugo di noci

A trip to the Cinque Terre last week brought me, my wife and two friends to one of my new all-time favorite restaurants: A Cantina de Mananan, in the tiny cliffside town of Corniglia.

Corniglia is in the midpoint of the five Italian towns that make up Le Cinque Terre, and it is by far the least touristy and crowded.

The other four towns, while beautiful, feel a bit like they only exist to be seen by tourists, but Corniglia has a life of its own -- families strolling around the village at midnight on a Saturday, kids riding their bikes down the immense hill that leads down to the train station, and a bus driver bringing groceries back up the hill to his wife.

We spent our days hiking from one town to the next. Some of the hikes are pretty intense 2-hour affairs that left us more than a little exhausted. But in the end, all those calories gave us ample metabolic reasons and moral justification to stuff our faces at Cantina, which we did almost every night of our trip.

The restaurant is tiny, with only about 9 tables that definitely need to be booked in advance, if only by a few hours.

The first night, we spent an hour or two watching the sunset from our hotel terrace across the way, then crowded into the cozy dining room.

Cinque Terre being a series of isolated fishing villages, the seafood was the first thing up. We shared a massive bowl spaghetti al mare, with pounds and pounds of mussels, clams, shrimp, squid, octopi and langoustines.

Then my friend Catherine and I each had a bowl of mussels, while her boyfriend Ed and my wife Kelly opted for rabbit and beef, respectively.

Too full for dessert, we lounged for another hour over grappa, biscotti and coffee. By the time we rolled out it was midnight -- we had been eating for more than 3-1/2 hours.

Two nights later we were back. This time we had a pre-dinner drink at the wine bar next door, and when we walked in we were ready for business.

Ed and I had the best food of the whole trip. Pansôti al sugo di noci: beautiful handmade ravioli filled with herbs and ricotta, and covered in a delicate, tasty walnut sauce. My salivary glands are in overdrive as I remember it.

When dinner was over (after I sucked in the gut and ordered walnut cake for dessert), we chatted a while with the owner. She found out we were from London and mentioned the River Cafe as her favorite place to eat. We all swooned. She was friendly and seemed to love talking with people who were enthusiastic about food -- and after a meal at her restaurant, who wouldn't be?

Link to more pictures from the trip.
Link to additional mentions of Cantina de Mananan.

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