I am lost (yet again) in Palermo, Sicily. The windy city streets, Saffron tinted, pave my way towards Antica Focacceria S. Francesco. Framed Saint’s watchful eyes protect Palermitans from inside decaying buildings and on the corners of the Piazzas. Abandoned buildings, stray Sicilian cats, burnt out vehicles, children unattended; these elements pervade rich dishes built from sordid histories and residential rituals. Bakers churn out local Panella (Chickpea fritters), families gather for extended dinners, lovers zigzag redundantly on their Vespa’s. I will soon eat these surroundings, with respect to all that I see.
Antica Focacceria S. Francesco (opened in 1834) is a Palermitan institution. Run by brothers Fabio and Vincenzo Conticello, it is considered the best example of Palermo’s culinary traditions by locals and adheres to the Slow Food principles by which “any traditional product encapsulates the flavors of its region of origin, local customs and ancient production techniques”.
I sit “solo” quietly observing the dishes as they are served. I first order a Carafe of Vino Blanco and take in the ancient surroundings of the Church of San Francesca. I am in no rush. Notebook in hand I begin to notate the busboy’s keen eye; he is a disciple being trained to observe and react gracefully to the customer’s countenances. Never to rush nor ignore, he’s obedient to the restaurants traditions. Only his slight smile informs his choice to satisfy as a profession.
One thing that I (and therefore you) will have to accept about blogging about food is that there will be times when images will do nothing to describe taste and texture. Nor am I a professional photogrpaher ;)
I order the Antipasti Rustica. A crowded plate of Rice Balls (Arancine), one with Mint the other a Meat Ragu, a Fried Chickpea Fritter, Cardoons in batter, a Pani Ca’meusa (a sandwich of Veal lungs and spleen garnished with a hint of Lemon and shaved Caciovalla cheese) as well as a small Pizza. A meal in itself. Drunk on the first course, my antipasti is taken away just after I drench my bread in the remaining juices of my first course. Bravo!
Deciding to return for Secondi’s my last night in Palermo, I choose two Primi’s because I can’t decide ;) and because I feel (and likely look like) a food critic, The Tonno (Tuna) Ragu Spaghetti and an Anchovy Pomodoro Pasta. Each bite of Tuna is from a different cut of the fish. The Steak is meaty, stringy, pork like. Then there is the belly; buttery and tender and lastly the discards whose role is to congeal the dish and provide the base flavor. Pine Nuts, Peas and a hint of Parsley finish the dish. The Anchovy pasta is a dense concoction of subtle flavors and crunch. A buttery paste of Anchovy and reduced Tomato coats coarse curls of Parpadelle. Breadcrumbs bring the dish to cohesion. I pass on dessert. Next time…
I smile and it is as if the whole restaurant is mi familia…from the line cooks, to the waiters, the other customers, the head chef, the busboy, the farmers who supplied the produce…to the pigeons, stray cats, unattended children, lovers, The Conticello Brothers and lastly Antonio Alaimo (the restaurants founder). Gazie!
Now, all I want to do is cook!
Now, all I want to do is cook!