There was a time when I could have been labeled the most picky eater alive. Anything with a weird texture, look, smell, or even name I wouldn’t go near. But I like to think that travel has broadened my tastes (and probably my ass too) and allowed me to break down the taste bud barriers — and now I am proud to say that I am usually up for trying most anything. Just keep Vegemite away.
During the 10-day tour through Italy with a group of bloggers I tried more types of foods, flavors, cooking styles, and cultural dishes in a short span of time than any country I’ve been to so far. And I put on more weight than any other I’ve been to. The best kinda’ weight possible — Italian food deserves an extra corridor in your stomach for excess.
While on Isola di Ponza (Ponza Island) I expanded my food adventures even further as the group every day visited a restaurant on the island to try their unique dishes, and met with the chefs/owners to learn more about the foods we were eating and what made them special.
I mean, after an entire day of exploring ancient Roman sea caves, scuba diving in underwater cave networks, and hiking around, you definitely work up a ravenous hunger. But besides the weight that stuck with me, one thing that was so amazing about the food in Ponza was the freshness of the seafood, and the fact that I enjoyed seafood there much more than I do in the States.
So grab your drool rag and come check out the food adventures I had in Ponza over the three days we were there and discover the best seafood I’ve ever had in my life. Most dishes I do not remember the names since they were given in Italian, so i will do my best, but this is a feast for your eyes!
The most memorable part of the first restaurant we visited in Ponza, Il Tramonto, was the view; clinging to the side of a cliff overlooking the sea. After a long day of trains and ferries to get to Ponza, and getting settled into our amazing beach villa, seeing this sunset painted over the silver ripples of the sea made the stress of transit drift away. Ivan Altieri, the owner of Il Tramonto, came and welcomed us at the table.
After we stopped taking thousands of photos and selfies with the sunset, we drank champagne as Ivan told us about his humble beginnings. He actually came into ownership of the restaurant after working as a waiter for years before the original owners decided to give it up. Ivan beamed stories, told jokes, and kept the appetizers, and eventually entrees flowing. Even when our bellies were full to the brim, out came a full range of deserts for us to try. I’m surprised we could walk after. Favorites included the mozzarella cheese rolls in pistachio crumbs and the molten cake.
Cheese rolls covered in pistachio crumbs.
A grilled white fish in a zesty tomato sauce with pine nuts.
Stuffed bread puffs.
A seafood pasta in a creamy sauce with basil and tomatoes. Sorry, I can’t remember the fish!
Molten chocolate cake covered in caramel.
Candied caramel topping a cream puff with sweet crackers.
After a full day on the open water cruising around the island and exploring caves, we were all fiends for food. We taxi boated into port and walked to Orestorante, once a night club, it now gives breath-taking views of the town and port. As the sun set, we settled into our table and immediately all of us were drawn to the amazing handmade plates adorning the table — brightly colored and vibrant, each dish that was served popped in contrast to the plates. It was as if each dish was its own art piece.
As each plate came out, we tried the various seafood native to Ponza and the waters around and admired the unique presentations of the dishes. Swordfish served on a hot rock to cook on, calamari pasta ringlets, and even special dessert goodies. Oreste Romagnola, owner and chef at Orestorante, came by the table to talk a bit about the restaurant and show us a book based on dishes he created and the restaurant itself. Just like Ivan above, he started off learning the ropes in the kitchens at the bottom and worked his way up to own restaurants around the island, including Oresteria down on the port itself.
Though most locals prefer traditional dishes and methods of cooking, Oreste Romagnolo decided to stand out and create interesting seafood concepts using the freshest and best catches of the day from the market just below.
Handmade and hand-painted plates on every table. Oh, and starfish.
Swordfish sizzles on skewers cooked over a hot rock. My favorite part of the experience.
White fish, grilled, over kalamata olive puree.
Calamari pasta ringlets in a light tomato sauce with dill. Something I thought I’d never like,a nd it was delicious!
More white fish sliced and served raw like a ceviche.
Chunks of buttery white fish over a risotto topped with cream sauce.
Oreste hanging out with our crew and telling us about himself and the history.
Adriano Bacchella’s book of recipes based on the restaurant.
My second favorite bit of the night, homemade strawberry shortcake in a glass jar!
Da Enzo al Frontone
On our last night of the blog tour and of our time in Ponza, we only had to make a short walk to Da Enzo al Frontone, located right near Frontone beach and ruins of an old grotto from ancient Rome. Tucked literally into the cliffside, the restaurant feels like you are dining in a cave, with sand at your feet, the breeze coming through, and the long melted candles around.
At this point, I didn’t think there would be seafood I hadn’t tried yet, but I was wrong. The owner of the restaurant, Enzo, came by and we got a chance to pick his brain. His main concept for the restaurant is “zero kilometers” which means that what they serve in the restaurant that day and night, is what they caught that morning.
You could taste the freshness of the dishes; flavors stood out like I had never had before. The swordfish, steaky and delicious. With the recipes, the ingredients tend to be minimal to let the flavor of the fish and freshness shine. Oh, and I can’t forget about the massive crawfish, which this species is only found around the Pontine island — it was naturally buttery in flavor and by far my favorite dish.
The bar, carved into the cliffs, with melted candles setting the mood.
The chefs whip up salads as appetizers for us.
This dish, packed with tons of different types of fish, was almost like a ceviche but not too overpowering on the acidity. I would normally avoid dishes like this, but I’m glad I didn’t!
Skewers of breaded white fish and grilled bell peppers, another favorite.
Anchovies. Whole anchovies. I NEVER thought I’d eat them. After learning how to remove the bones, I devoured one after another because they were so damn scrumptious.
The favorite…a filet of swordfish and the native prawns with an arugula and clementine salad. Just give me a bucket of the crawfish!
Cheers (now wipe the drool off)
Looking back on the time spent in Ponza, it will forever change the way I eat. Even though I am pretty adventurous when it comes to foods, I tend to fall back on things I’m familiar with normally, and often that doesn’t involve seafood. Plus, to have seafood like this — caught every day and served that night, with exciting blends of recipes from skilled and unique chefs, that makes the difference.
Which dish looked most delicious to you?