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Five Favorite Restaurants: 2016

We, like millions of Italophiles worldwide, were saddened last week by news of the terrible loss of life and property in the bucolic villages in the Appennine mountains straddling the regional borders between Lazio, Umbria, and Le Marche. The earthquake which struck this area was one of the country's most serious in recent years, and was a stark reminder of how precious - and how tenuous - Italy's cultural heritage and historic landscapes are.

As our thoughts turned to selecting the favorite restaurants we've enjoyed in the past 12 months for our annual short list, we remembered the two Sunday lunches we have enjoyed in the towns of Amatrice and Accumoli, both of which were largely destroyed in the initial quake and aftershocks. This area is about an hour and a half from our home in Foligno, the perfect distance for a Sunday drive and lunch, with breathtaking scenery of rugged mountain slopes dotted with tiny, rustic villages along the drive.

amatrice-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Amatrice was the home of the iconic Hotel Roma, famous for its Spaghetti all'Amatriciana and a beloved destination for families and groups of friends looking for a break from the city. Over the years, the hotel's restaurant expanded a bit too much for our taste, becoming more of a “dining hall” than a restaurant, and its Amatriciana probably suffered. That said, Hotel Roma was a landmark, serving traditional cuisine to a dining room teeming with extended families enjoying Sunday lunch in the countryside. It has now been completely destroyed.

good-times-accumoli-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

For Pasquetta two years ago, a friend invited us to his hometown of Accumoli, a tiny village not far from Amatrice, and the family served an unforgettable rustic lunch of lamb chops. It was a perfect day, with a bright blue sky overhead and fresh mountain air ideal for working up an appetite. Over the years, this hill town had become primarily a country respite for Romans, with a heavy migration of locals moving to Rome for work. It was heavily damaged in the earthquake, and almost a dozen locals were killed in collapsed houses.

lamb-chops-accumoli-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

It is hard for us to contemplate the scope of the tragedy that has befallen these two beautiful towns, but we hope that the spirit of family and community that they nourished over the years will inspire a commitment to rebuild so that one day we can return.

In the meantime, here are five restaurants where we have had unforgettable meals recently:

Ristorante Amare (Verdura Resort) - Sciacca, Sicily


We don't usually have high expectations for hotel restaurants - aside from the prices - but were pleasantly surprised by two fantastic hotel meals over the past year. The first was Amare, the Verdura Resort's casual fish restaurant located right on the water. The restaurant offers a “fish market” service, so diners can personally select their fresh fish and seafood from a large open chest on display.

verdura-fish-market(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

crudo-gamberi-verdura(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We chose 3 types of shrimp, including the local red variety caught right off the coast of Sciacca, which were then served both grilled and raw, tossed with the traditional combination of Sicilian orange and wild fennel. We also selected a large dentice (dentex), which was caught in the waters off the resort and served roasted “in guazzetto” a stew of tomatoes, potatoes, and olives. Brian proclaimed it “beyond a doubt the best fish I've ever eaten.” In addition, we enjoyed the steamed clams tossed with garlic and parsley, and steamed mussels scented with wine and rosemary.

al-guazzetto(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though Ristorante Amare is definitely a splurge, and we found it was worth the investment to experience fresh fish and seafood of unsurpassed quality prepared impeccably.

Location: S.S. 115 Km 131, Sciacca
Website: https://www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/verdura-resort/restaurants-and-bars/amare/
What's local: Much of the fish and seafood is caught right off the coast of Sciacca, a historic fishing village.
Our tip: Though the atmosphere is casual, the prices are fine dining.

The Cesar (La Posta Vecchia) - Ladispoli, Lazio


Our second surprising hotel meal was at La Cesar, the veranda restaurant overlooking the sea at La Posta Vecchia just outside of Rome. Here you can watch the sun set over the Mediterranean and the moon rise over the coast, with the twinkling lights of Rome in the distance. The service is exemplary, and the clientele a mix of hotel guests and well-heeled Romans and VIPs. The food is excellent, though you can expect the bill to reflect the real estate you're occupying, unbeatable for being that close to Rome.

Vecchia POSTA - Ladispoli(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The Cesar recently lost its Michelin star, and is working hard to win it back. One change was the chef, with young Antonio Magliulo taking the helm after years training under Alain Ducasse, Enrico Crippa e Gaetano Trovato. The menu concentrates on fish and seafood, with innovative preparation and spectacular presentation, and features produce from the hotel's organic garden.

Though all of our dishes were delicious, the cheese plate nearly ruined our meal. It included three varieties, one of which was a goat cheese the waiter warned us to save for last because it was very strong. As Brian tells it, “I smelled it...nothing too pungent. Saved it for last and the flavor was so unbelievably sharp and almost toxic tasting that it erased my palate. No water or wine could wash it away. So disappointing. I asked the waiter about it and he said it is aged in the goat's stomach and that gives it the strong flavor. I think it was Calgiù from Sardinia. Some tastes in Italy are acquired.”

Location: Palo Laziale (Rome)
Website: http://www.pellicanohotels.com/hotel/la-posta-vecchia/dining/the-cesar-restaurant/
What's local: The gourmet menu uses produce from its organic garden.
Our tip: This is a great romantic spot for a special evening outside Rome, but beware of the cheese plate.

Antica Trattoria Moreieta 1890 - Arcugnano, Veneto


Five generations of the Costa family have been welcoming diners to their classic mountain trattoria high in the hills above Vicenza for over a century, and the friendly service and fantastic view down the valley to Vicenza from the patio make it a great spot to try local fare while visiting the Palladian Villas and other sights in the Veneto.

Try the traditional venison gulash with polenta, a reminder that this area was once part of Austria, black truffle dishes made with Colli Berici truffles, and local soppressata salame.

Location: Via Soghe, 35 Arcugnano, Vicenza
Website: http://www.moreieta.com/
What's local: This area is famed for its porcini mushrooms and Berici truffles.
Our tip: A great lunch spot for views over the valley.

Podere Spedalone - Pienza, Tuscany


pecorino-di-pienza(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We stopped in at this agriturismo in the Val d'Orcia countryside on a warm winter day, and were taken by the rustic charm of the historic farmhouse and warm welcome of its Tuscan hosts. Our risotto alla milanese and steak grilled over the coals were simple, yet perfect and highlighted the excellent local specialties and ingredients.

risotto-milanese(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

beef-spedalone(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Location: Strada per Cosona SP71, Pienza
Website: http://www.poderespedalone.it/
What's local: Like most agriturismi, Spedalone features their own farm products, including olive oil, produce, charcuterie, and eggs.
Our tip: This is a beautiful area for a drive, so combine your lunch with a meander through the Crete Senesi.

L'Orto di Silvia (Tenuta Cammarana) - Ragusa, Sicily


papa-al-pomodoro-maritata(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Our meal at this country estate was very hands-on, as Brian cooked dinner alongside the owners, Silvia and Giuseppe. He learned to prepare pappa al pomodoro maritata, or the traditional pappa with egg mixed in, which was fantastic, in addition to a Sicilian pasta dish featuring fried sardines, fennel fronds, and raisins. Silvia's neighbor came over to guide us in the making of scaccia ragusana, a type of flatbread stuffed with tomato, broccoli and other veggies.

l'orto-di-silvia(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

l'orto-di-silvia-spaghetti-sarde(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The hosts at L'Orto di Silvia were warm and welcoming, and the conversation and wonderful meal stretched late into the evening. This was an excellent way to spend time with locals while learning about the area cuisine and savoring some of the best dishes from Ragusa.

Location: C.da Cammarana, Ragusa
Website: http://www.tenutacammarana.it/
What's local: L'Orto di Silvia uses a number of products and ingredients from the estate, and fresh local fish.
Our tip: Plan for a leisurely afternoon of cooking, eating, and conversation.

Related posts:
Five Favorite Restaurants
Deciphering Your Restaurant Bill in Italy
Ordering at a Restaurant in Italy

Contributor: Rebecca Winke

Concierge in Umbria
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