Postcard from Lecce, Italy: Sampling seafood and pasta served Apulia-style

lecce seafood ravioli radici

Seafood Ravioli at Radici – Market, Food & Caffetteria

With only skimpy sandwiches for lunch, we were ready for a sit-down meal after arriving in Lecce well after nightfall. We walked out the door of our apartment and crossed the street upon the recommendation of our landlord and entered what became our favorite restaurant in Lecce, Osteria 203.

The intimate restaurant had us hooked with the contorni, a varying trio of seasonal vegetables. Unlike in Naples, vegetable sides and antipasti were easy to come by in Lecce. But Osteria 203 also provided the Mister with his favorite dish of the entire trip, stinco di maiale. The enormous braised pork shank was falling-off-the-bone tender and was served in a pool of a rich red wine sauce. The fried young artichokes were highly addictive, and how can one resist trying purple gnocchi. Our only disappointment with the Osteria 203 is that it closed during our final week to repaint the interior, depriving the Mister of his third order of stinco.

Il Rifugio della Buona Stella is an unpretentious family-run restaurant with generous antipasto plates and regional pasta dishes, such as pasta with rape, turnip tops, all offered at resident-friendly prices. On our second visit there, we were accompanied by our daughter and fidanzato, and it proved a most pleasant experience.

Next to us was a family birthday celebration, a table of about 16 from multiple generations. The group was not rowdy at all, just enjoying exchanging family stories. We lingered sharing multiple courses, as did they. When it came time for them to cut into a luscious cake, they sent the youngest girl over with plates for us. And then they poured glasses of prosecco for us to share in toasting the young woman who was their guest of honor. There was something so warm and touching, and we felt so flattered to be embraced by locals instead of being dismissed as just tourists at the next table. It helped our standing that the Mister was able to go to the other room and ask the owner for a simple birthday toast and thank you he offered to them in Italian.

Other spots we visited represented by photos above:

  • Crianza – If you are pining to sample some of Italy’s prized Chianina beef, the Mister swears his was about the best hamburger he has ever eaten.
  • I Latini  – This spot felt touristy, but it was always open when others failed us. Despite that initial feeling, we must admit the seafood dishes, such as linguini, pistachio-crusted tuna and clam and chickpea soup, were delicious.
  • La Cantina delle Streghe – A good spot for wine and bruschetta
  • La Cucina di Mamma Elvira – Great vegetables and pasta, but do not fail to order the eggplant polpette.
  • L’Ostrica Ubriaca – We trekked to the one way outside the walls. It was a little spartan, but the seafood was always fresh. A new more upscale version recently had opened right outside the old city gate, but we did not try that location.
  • Radici – Market, Food & Caffetteria – Contemporary and casual, attracting a host of locals. The fidanzato highly recommends the seafood ravioli in the featured photo.

Hopefully, all of these restaurants made it through quarantine times and are beginning to welcome diners back.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Opting for neighborhood comfort over anything near the Michelin trail

Having already posted about paella and our favorite restaurants, will mainly let photos do the talking for some other restaurants you might want to try if you are staying in Valencia for more than a few days.

Our neighborhood was so comfortably casual, and somehow we quickly developed almost a reverse snobbery when we ventured into tonier neighborhoods to eat. We had an excellent lunch at Seu Xerea during restaurant week, and the service was perfect. Pumpkin croquettes with blue cheese and curried meatballs were among our starters, and the Valencian rice with mussels and saffron was well executed. But, we ended up not returning because the restaurant was a bit more formal than our hood in Carmen and a bit pricier as well.

Hamburgers are everywhere in Valencia, as they are all over Europe, and Mar Cuatro Cocina Mediterranea presents an upscale opportunity to experience flavorful oxen burgers. But, again, we were out of our adopted neighborhood and the price crept up, particularly the wine, as a result. For great burgers in a more laidback setting closer to our apartment, we preferred the Martinez brothers’ popular Lamburguesa Urban Food.

For a total change of flavor, we recommend delving into Moroccan dishes at Restaurant Dukala. Both their chicken croquettes and pastilla – in this case the sweet and savory chicken mixture completely encased in flaky pastry – have loyal followers crowding into the restaurant on weekends.

Here are a few more places to consider exploring if the related food photos above seem appealing:

Postcard from Bergamo, Italy: Final meals in Italy

The porcini man. We never learned his name. He slices fresh porcini throughout the day, places them in boxes at the door of the store and lets the distinctive woodsy scent announce to the locals the arrival of their supply.

The seductive ploy worked on us. We would sautee what for us was a luxurious mushroom with some of his rich dried tomatoes for a light supper. We visited him almost everyday.

Okay, not everyday for his porcini. His wine beckoned us to cross his threshold. He had the best prices and selection in the high, walled section of Bergamo. We could have bought wine down below, but it would have been a long haul back up the hill. And he was less than a block away from us on the narrow main street of the Alta Citta. A truffle store was a block away the other direction, but we limited our intake to shavings applied in restaurants.

There was a dangerous shop nearby that I tried to avoid. A storefront with two full windows of licorice candies. That business model would never fly in the United States.

Although there is nothing in my blood, I must have been born with Italian taste buds. The Italians seem to love the flavor of anise, and their licorice is the real thing. I crave the intense flavor but worry about the impact on my blood pressure. The memory of staying up half the night in a wide-awake state after a waiter in Ferrara left a full bottle of licorice liqueur on the table for me to self-serve reminds me to temper my intake. I asked the Mister – who absolutely has no hankering for licorice – to restrict me to a pastille or two a day.

While we continued to enjoy the traditional pumpkin-filled pasta, risotto, grilled vegetables and pizza we became accustomed to during our sojourn in Italy, our favorite restaurant in Bergamo was outside the walls in the city below. Monna Lisa successfully and subtly marries the flavors of fresh products and traditions of Lombardy tinged with accents from its owners’ native turfs – she hailed from Sicily and he from India. Results might include sea bass and ginger ravioli in a delicate mint and pea cream sauce; lentils dhal with smoked herring and coriander; or purple potato flan with gorgonzola and hazelnuts. So worth the hike down and the climb back up to the Alta Citta.

And, am embarrassed to admit, during our eighth week in Italy, a brand, new hamburger spot – Goss Grill – opened up almost across the street from us. We were among the first customers, ordering one to go to split hidden away in our apartment. It truly was as good as any American hamburger, yet tinged with an Italian accent of grilled eggplant and sun-dried tomato on top.

The subversive hamburger diversion should not be misconstrued to mean we do not continue to bow at the altar of alta cucina. Everywhere we go, we seek out Italian food after a week or so of immersion in any other cuisine.

It’s embedded in our taste buds.