Postcard from Genoa, Italy: A seafood-lover’s paradise

The sounds woke me up Monday through Saturday in Genoa. The way-too-early alarm echoed from two doors and two floors down the steep 10-foot-wide street, actually only a pedestrian passageway. The fish monger hurling up the metal shutter, hauling out the trough and filling it with ice to hold the fresh catch of the day. Those jarring noises were followed shortly by the first customers, evidently all friends as interested in exchanging pleasantries, amplified by the four-story buildings, as purchasing seafood.

But the morning sounds quickly reminded me of a meal ahead and what always is central to menus in this port city – an abundance of fresh seafood. Mussels, squid, octopus, shrimp, butterflied fried sardines. The Mister often has remarked that Italians frown upon mixing seafood with cheese, but Genoa breaks that rule. Several restaurants feature striking black and white squares of ravioli filled with fish and ricotta cheese.

Also, Genoa is the home of pesto. Demanding Ligurians expect pesto alla Genovese to be made with D.O.P. basil, found only in the immediate region and terroir-dependent for its flavor. A favorite Ligurian pasta often paired with pesto is trofie, rolled out by hand on a flat surface to taper its ends and then twisted. Another regional specialty sold like pizza by the slice is farinata, made from a mixture of chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt. The baked-until-golden, somewhat floppy slices are most commonly offered and consumed unadorned .

Almost every guidebook or travel feature tells you to head to Eataly on the harbor. We ventured inside, as we did in Rome, and tried to talk ourselves into eating there. The food did indeed look amazingly good and the display of high quality, authentic Italian food products were enticing. But the atmosphere felt manufactured. The customer base appeared composed of  passengers recently disgorged from the massive cruise ships docked there. Disneyland for foodies. A place to avoid crossing paths with any of the immigrant population now calling the center of Genoa home. We declined to dine. And for shopping? The alleyways in the historic center of Genoa are packed with charming and pristine specialty cheese and pasta shops and meat markets – the places where the locals go.

Instead, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at Locanda Spinola, so popular with locals on a Saturday afternoon that we felt fortunate to get a table. Parents pushed strollers in and out of an upscale cheese shop and a deli across the narrow pedestrian-only street. And now for the gritty side of a port city that keeps many tourists unnecessarily clustered near their cruise ships: a prostitute was standing on the corner. When an interested party approached, the pair subtly would disappear up the street somewhere to take care of business. Another woman immediately took up the station. But Genovesi, young and old alike, were unfazed by their presence. The prostitutes were not harassing or blatantly soliciting passersby, and most locals walking by took no more notice than they would a door of a shop selling products they did not want. The only gawker was me, albeit screened from being caught by the restaurant’s curtained window.

We enjoyed the slow-rise gourmet pizza topped with seared tuna at Savo Pizza Gourmet, and the Mandarin shrimp at Pesciolino were tasty. The casual Le Piastre di Emma is always packed; expect waiting lines. Contributing to the bustling confusion inside is one of the flamboyant owners who dramatically scurries about like a mother hen, perhaps almost to the point of flapping like a chicken with its head cut off. But the place that kept drawing us back was the family-run Trattoria le Maschere. The almost-homely décor fails to draw in many tourists and leaves the tables with their inexpensive platters full of perfectly prepared fresh seafood and classic pesto to the locals. And us.

 

 

Postcards from Rome, Italy: Foraging off the beaten track

Taking another quick food break.

Glancing down the street from the corner, one would not be at all tempted to turn down Mantova street in Rome. We only found it because we wanted a lunch spot in semi-close proximity to MACRO and noticed a Berbere Pizzeria was nearby.

We previously had become acquainted with a Berbere in Bologna. The pizzerias are known for the slow-rise, highly “digestible” (We have never understood this foodie-ism issue.) crust topped with fresh local ingredients. The zucchini pie did not disappoint.

Eating outside, we noticed locals going into two establishments on the other side of the street. Looking online for reviews of them later, we found the super-majority of the contributors posting in Italian. Via Montova is not in the tourist zone.

The chef at Il Salento in una Stanza Vini e Cucina seduced us quickly with two amuse bouche offerings – cute little puffballs of fried bread and the best fried anchovies we had on the trip. I wanted to cancel my order and beg for a plateful of anchovies. The meatless-balls in a red pepper sauce were composed of eggplant, and the photo of the fish soup shows its amazing bounty. Looking back at the photos, I’m wishing we had made it back for another lunch.

The pasta with Sicilian tuna at Osteria Via Mantova was a refreshingly different seafood dish, and the flavorful chestnut gnocchi with a hearty lamb ragout was the only such offering we encountered.

And to think we ate it all on Mantova Street. The rewards from venturing away from the crowds often are savory.

Postcard from Mexico City: ‘For Main Course We’ll Have That’

Am slinging out these final food shots from our fall visit to Mexico City like a short-order cook in a bad diner, but I am off taking new photos of meals in an entirely different spot on the map.

Most of these are from the Roma Norte neighborhood where we stayed. Am keeping my comments at a minimum, so the pictures will have to serve in helping you decide about restaurants when journeying there yourself.

Particularly enjoyed the abundance of vegetable dishes, including a no-pasta spaghetti, at Bowie Cocina de Humo, but the restaurant does take its name seriously. Every course is tinged with smoke-infused flavor. By the end of the meal, my mouth almost felt as though I’d been smoking. We found the much-heralded Nudo Negro with its show-off parade up to the kitchen to receive your amuse-bouche from the hands of a chef a tad bit pretentious, but the long-roasted eggplant, split open and topped with humus tableside, melts in your mouth.

There must be thousands of less expensive places to eat a Mexican-style breakfast in Mexico City, but the park-facing patio of Café Toscano on Orizaba is so pleasant the higher price tag was absorbed without question. Both the red and green chilaquiles are wonderful, and the fresh juice combinations round out the meals.

We loved the neighborhood comfort feeling of having pizza on the patio at Cancino Roma or shrimp arancini and a bowl of robust roasted tomato soup at Macelleria, where, as you can see from the featured photo, the restaurant correctly profiled us with the name of the house wine. Few tables at the popular Huset fail to order avocado pizza.

The variety and freshness of ingredients and recipes never disappointed us at Delirio. Fresh salads and sandwiches, moussaka and falafel and fresh meringues are among the celebrated bakery’s fare.

Veering even farther away from stereotypical Mexican food, the curries and toms at Galanga Thai Kitchen are worth seeking. The green papaya salad in particular drew us out for a return visit. With its flavorful chicken, roasted eggplant and falafel moistened with spinach, Paprika enticed us back for multiple meals as well.

From there, jump into downtown for the old-school formality of service in the high-ceilinged Casino Espanol, worthy of entering for viewing the stained-glass in its Porfirio-era home alone. The croquetas, boquerrones and seafood soup transported us to Spain.

We almost avoided Casino Espanol after reading a review describing it as the type of restaurant attracting old suits entertaining young mistresses, but there were only a pair or two seeming to fit in that category. The poor Mister and Vic, unsuited and in the company of old wives.

Whether squiring old spouses or young paramours, diving into a throwback to the past is a recommended ingredient balancing out all the trendy contemporary kitchens so abundant in this bustling culinary capital.