I went to the real deal Fish spot last night in Gallipoli (just outside of Lecce); a no frills waterfront “joint” specializing in local Mussels (Cozze). The kind you conjure up in your head when you think about “freshness” and not city pretense. The Vino della casa arrived in a plastic measuring container, Bravo! Brazen locals anticipating their tables packed the steps leading into the restaurant. The days catch staring you in the face with the proximity of a scuba diver. Raw Mussels in abundance everywhere, I had arrived!
A moment of spontaneity reminded my amico that he knew the host, Mario; A large, cheery, loud fella. 5 minutes later we meandered to a table coyly skipping the intensely long waiting list. Already it was abundantly clear that this was THE destination for raw Mussels.
A platter of of Cozze Nero (local Black Mussels) arrived alongside an additional plate of delicacies (Oysters & Pelose). I had familiarized myself visually with Pelose while documenting the shucking at the entrance. I was ready to look more closely at this entirely new Mollusk. Fleshy with a spectrum of pink and orange hues, it was a wonderment of the sea, a reason in and of itself to be exactly where I found myself on this beautiful night. I drank wistfully, gulping the vino before each plentiful bite.
For all of my overpriced Raw Bar experience, never have I seen Mussels represented so proudly. Their texture, a moist symposium of lightly sealed brine, exploded like grand caviar. Easily I could have only feasted on these two dishes, but my experience here begged me for a bigger narrative. I needed to know firsthand if they could outdo the best Spaghetti de Mare’s I have tasted (which there have been many, too many perhaps).
Alas, a simple but silky, extravagantly rich Spaghetti con Vongole and Cozze forced me into gastronomic subservience. There was no Parsley garnish, no sprinkle of Pepperoncino, no color…simply spaghetti drenched in local Olive Oil. Sometimes words and pictures can’t truly represent taste. Yup, such is the case here. Perfetto!
An arrosto mista followed (Octopus, Shrimp, Seppia & Calamari), but my memory is fixed on my primi. The meal came to €28 (w/ 2 caraffe’s of Wine). That’s $40!