Saturday, July 14, 2007

S. Pietro

On my second official day off, I returned to the Amalfi Coast to no only revisit its picturesque beauty, but to redeem the pedestrian meal I had the first time out. San Pietro, in the non-touristy town of Cetaro, not only served exquisite food, but was the first distinctly “haute” meal of my journey in Italy so far. To be clear this does not mean “fusion”, rather, local ingredients and traditions updated and plated with color, progressive techniques and flair. Negate the pretense and ride with me! Instead of taking you through the whole meal I would prefer showcasing each plate from the surprisingly varied Antipasti Misto. Usually served as a busy plate of competing nibbles, San Pietro brought out each striking dish on its own. 4 in total, not including the Anchovy stuffed bread which began the meal (Amuse Bouche). In addition to enlisting trust in the chefs and elongating the meal, I also learned new tricks which I will share with you. There was no menu, so some ingredients I had to infer or give up on ;).

Editors note: The pics are questionable. As much as I try, snapping photos at restaurants can be annoying, a bit like singing happy birthday; you have to, but feel somehow unsophisticated in doing so.

The first dish was a subtle zuppa (soup) with a hint of the sea and a heavy olive oil finish. Made from what I believe to be Bulgur Wheat, the broths distinct character was equal parts aqua de mare and the juice from within vongole (clams). The wheat’s tenderness was almost meaty and much like a risotto provided continuity with the brininess from the sea. I loved its simplicity, but more than anything its consciously sophisticated and light introduction to what was ahead.

What followed was an inspiring plate with two distinctly different elements. The first was a Lemon leaf (not to be eaten and thick like a fresh bay leaf) which was folded and pressed like a Panini. Inside were anchovies sandwiched between two pieces of Mozzarella. The Lemon leaf’s oil penetrated what was inside leaving a charcoaled aroma of lemon; a brilliant use of the omnipresent citrus too often negated from Southern Italian cooking. Beside this was a piece of brined fatty tuna atop fresh creamy Ricotta. Although I would have preferred the Tuna more tender, its saltiness paired with the buttery cheese was brilliant!

The next dish was Anchovies wrapped and baked in a thin, pita like bread. It sat atop coagulated (great word) olive oil with a sprinkle of fish roe which tasted like a cross between small capers and poppy seeds. The Olive Oil’s consistency reminded me of savory custard and is something I will definitely explore in my own kitchen. Thick about it, there is so much more that can be done with Olive Oil, especially once you change its preferred texture.

Tuna began to take the spotlight from the anchovies, but for the next dish it was the soaked bread which had me excited. (Likely) Day old bread was soaked in the water from fresh Tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Its accompanying sauce too was made with fresh Tomato puree and (er) olive oil and/or egg whites (or both). The bread tasted like a soft cous cous; lighter than rice and more absorbent than pasta it was a beautiful testimony to adventurous starch alternatives. Its texture outshined the small Tuna fillet which it accompanied. The sauce took on the sweetness of the Tomato and was seductively creamy sans butter or cream.

The last dish in our Antipasti Misto was the most fascinating. Its tanginess, crunch, sweetness and presentation was as educational as it was titillating. Lightly boiled vegetables, first marinated in white wine vinegar (remember that folks!) were perfectly cooked. They included Pepper and Carrots. I kept trying to place the sweetness but couldn’t. What I later learned realized was that the carrots flavor was adjusted with the vinegar. Though still sweet, they could have been mistaken for corn, which I had originally thought it was.

All of this was shared with a beautifully crisp and effervescent local Falanghina white wine from Campania; perfectly complimentary and drinkable and neither showy nor tepid.

Two pastas and a shared secondi followed, although lovely, they were outshined...

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