Whenever asked which is my favorite part of Italy to travel and dine in, I always hem and haw and wax poetic about the vast variety of flavors, wines, people, art and rich traditions throughout the entire Italian peninsula. How could you really choose from such an incredible variety of magnificent options?? But if it ever comes right down to it, I sheepishly admit one place… the Amalfi coast. Along the central coast of Campania, south of Napoli about an hour in a quick car, lies one of the most beautiful stretches of coast I have ever seen. The Amalfitana is the place where “eat well and live long” makes more than intuitive sense. Driving from Sorrento all the way down to Salerno there lie a plethora of exquisite towns and small cities, each wrapped around a little inlet or a natural port, each with it’s own flavor, and each worth a visit.
For eating I have always tended to dine near my hotel in some of the larger towns so these include…. In the town of Amalfi, my faves are da Gemma, (on the terrace just up from the duomo), da Zaccaria, (literally on the water, on the outside of the tunnel on the road south to atrani), and for modern food and the best wine list in town, la Caravella.
In the town of Positano, my faves are Il Capitano, high above the sea, with a breathtaking view and Chez Black, right down on the sea. Though filled with tourists most of the time, the food is still spot on. The restaurant in the Hotel le Sirenuse is quite tasty, if slightly Americanized. (Skip the Hotel San Pietro at all costs, where American faux heiresses and trust fund travelers abound.)
In the “unlikely and difficult to find” department is the town of Massa Lubrense, where there are two great places, Taverna del Capitano and Quattro Passi, both worth the journey, as Michelin might say. Not so worthy of the journey is the Michelin 2 star Don Alfonso, where the stars have blinded the traditional menu with smoked crab and caviar, and where eggplant and caprese should reign. However, the people are very nice and the cellar alone is worth a trip, so I hope that tradition sneaks back into the menu when the French stop coming in.
In the world of wines, look for Fiano del Avellino, particularly the slightly fancy offerings from Feudi san Gregorio, and do not skip the simple wines from Ischia. On many menus, the alici marinati are the best anchovies you will ever taste. Often the owner of the restaurant you are in will come over and simply ask how hungry you are; trust them, as they are artists. In the traditional meal, antipasto can be a lot of small dishes, followed by a taste or two of pasta, followed by a small mixed grill or fry or a simple fish baked “sotto sale” (under a salt crust… my fave) Gelati are great, but watch out for the traditional eggplant and chocolate thing, because it tastes just like it sounds. Wash all desserts down with the obligatory locally made limoncello, but watch out for hangover hell if you exceed the personally discovered limit of five.
The dining experience is truly heaven on the Amalfi coast, especially if you go to places without a wine list and few foreigners in the dining room. Just trust your nose, it will never lie.