Wine tastings, a restaurateur who doesn't trust journalists, and impressively fresh seafood make for a full culinary itinerary
After breakfast midway through my recent trip to Sicily (a press trip Sicilia en Primeur), we listened to a presentation by professor Attilio Scienza on Sicilian wine, genetic varietal improvements, and eco-compatible winemaking. My favorite line of the morning: "The best way to know the future is to invent it." It was followed by an open tasting with producers and their wines.
I bumped into the Tasca family—Lucio, Giuseppe, and Alberto, and tasted their new white made with Grillo grapes from historic vineyards on the island of Mozia. I recognized Salvatore Geraci, who'd been on my flight from Florence to Catania (snappy dresser, cool carry-on luggage) and tasted his Palari Faro DOC and Rosso del Soprano from the province of Messina. I've got to visit. Elena Graci gave me a taste of her brother Alberto's Etna Rosso and Quota 600 Rosso and Bianco.
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I couldn't face another golf resort buffet but didn't have to since the village of Scoglitti, with three fantastic fish restaurants, was nearby. Massimo, my husband, rented a car, and we were joined by renegade wine writers Herbert and Greg. I adore Sakkaleo but didn't have enough time to do the restaurant justice. I've enjoyed Viri Ku C'e (no website), especially since there's a warning sign at the entrance—the owner (Turi Giarratana, nicknamed u pazzu, the crazy guy) isn't interested in journalists. He considers them scoundrels, and they're not welcome. I dined anonymously, off season, sitting on a terrace overlooking an empty beach, on many many courses of super-fresh fish, classic preparations, although the wine selection (no list, check the fridge) isn't a thrill.
I also wanted to try Fichera, which was recommended by Gaetano Jacono. And I wasn't disappointed. We opted for the mixed appetizers, raw and marinated seafood with stellar raw red shrimp and langoustines drizzled with extra virgin, deep fried sardines and the tiniest of squidlets called cappuccetti, skipped the pasta course but couldn't resist the mixed grill, paired with an Etna Rosso from Vivera. Herbert and Greg headed back for more tasting. I rested up for dinner.
It was billed in our program as a gala, at the fine-dining venue of the resort, with local star chefs preparing the food. Thoreau distrusts any enterprise that requires new clothes; I distrust any meal called "gala," but after my wonderful lunch I didn't really care about dinner. Which was a good thing since I encountered two of the worst dishes of my trip—beef tartar surrounded by a band of cold lard on a puddle of mustard sauce, topped with mustard gelato, and a complicated reinterpretation of an arancino with an inedible garnish that can only be described as baroque. The meal concluded with a golf-themed dessert—white chocolate golf ball suspended on a glass, flanked by a spoon subbing for a golf club (whack the ball with the spoon and the liquid filling should dribble into the glass). No one at my table succeeded. I had the great fortune to sit with Fabrizio Carrera, who knows all about Sicily, so the dinner wasn't a total loss. I checked out his website and was impressed.
Sicilia en Primeur concluded the next morning in Ragusa Ibla at the Donnafugata Theater, journalists in the audience questioning winemakers on stage, followed by a tasty rosticceria-type lunch—scacce, arancini, panzarotti, sausage and greens, pasta timbale and, of course, cannoli and cassata for dessert.
Massimo and I were finally on our own program. We headed for the COS Locanda, settled into our room, and went to La Piazzetta, everyone's favorite local trattoria in nearby Pedalino, for dinner with Giusto and Titta, Arianna and Faustina. I told them my plans for the rest of my trip. Giusto, claiming I knew more about Sicily than most Sicilians, begged me to create a culinary program for them. How could I refuse? Check out my website for details.
Next stops: Gela, Licata, new hotel, unknown vegetable, an amazing cookbook, cookies, and the Planeta Foresteria. Images: Faith Willinger.