Author Archives: Ziggy

5 Gems in Salento

In Baseball, you bring the all dependable closer to finish the game. It doesnt have to be necessarily the best player, but one with just the right skill set for the job. Similarly, in travel, you often find just the right place to add to the itinerary, that seals the deal. It doesnt have to be the highlight, but one that checks the rest of the boxes. Salento is the Mariano Rivera of the travel closers. The plush white towns of Valle d’Itria, and the atmospheric Matera will make you want more. While the spectacular Salento coastline, and Florence of the south, Lecce, will finish the job.

There’s only one little problem with Salento. Its not exactly know for its food. The Florence of the south thing, has nothing to do Bisteccas. But the heel of the boot is not exactly lacking in quality ingredients. You got some of the finest tomatoes in the world, fantastic seafood, top tier olive oil, and splendid local Cheese you’ll find everywhere. But for some reason, its not known for a wealth of great dining destination, at least compared to the rest of the country. Maybe its a misnomer, or entirely wrong conclusion on my part. Either way, have no worries folks. Uncle Z is here to help. Here are five places that may perk your interest.

Trattoria La Puritate (Gallipoli) – Trattoria la pure joy. As beautiful as Gallipoli is, to me this is one of the reasons to visit. The famous Gallipoli shrimp baked in salt, and plated table side was unlike any shrimp dish I ever tasted. Stellar pastas like Linguine with shrimp, with fish and turmeric, or with Bonito. You cant go wrong with either of the three, or a fresher than fresh simply grilled Amberjack. Puritate is a bit old school, but comfortable and inviting. One of the most memorable meals of the entire trip.

SoFish (Otranto) – I’ve already written about this gem in the Otranto post. As the name implies SoFish is a hip, “Fast Casual” joint specializing in quick seafood. Note “Quick” in Italy is roughly an hour. It appears that this is a relatively new fast spreading concept, started by the great success of Pescaria in Polignano a Mare. Although more of a restaurant this is a sound alternative to your usual bready quickies.

The menu features a nice selection of seafood sandwiches, salads and excellent craft beer (Reminder: Italian craft beer is most underrated in the world). While everything we tried was good, the lobster roll is worth a dedicated blog post. Its one of the most outrageous Lobster Rolls I ever had. Pricy (for Puglia) but once you get it you see why. More like a well crafted lobster salad with huge chunks of meaty lobster and the rest of the lobster resting on top.

400 Gradi (Lecce) – Highly acclaimed Neapolitan, and arguably the finest pizza in Puglia. According to this well regarded list, one of the best in the world. Delicious, perfectly chewy crust, with top notch, zero km ingredients. And I suppose I reached the pivotal point in my life where I had to try pizza shaped like a star and the one here, with Ricotta filled sun rays didn’t disappoint. Its a bit outside the closest old city gate, and quite popular with the locals. So come as soon as they open or be prepared to wait.

Ristorante Blu Notte (Lecce) – If I have to pick one must on this list, this is the one. In fact I started writing a dedicated post on this one, before I quickly realized I dont have enough pictures and material for a full story. Its a relatively unknown place that I havent seen mentioned anywhere. We come from NYC where much of the seafood is imported, and so we go abroad with a certain appetite, sometimes even in areas not known for seafood (eg Bologna). Blu Notte satisfied the urge and then some.

But the best part is that we stumbled upon it by pure luck after two other places I marked were closed during lunch, and the skies were getting angrier. We watched the old streets of Lecce practically get flooded within minutes. The house antipasti alone here is worth the “price of admission”. A dozen or so land, sea, and street food delights. But the pastas weren’t too shabby either, especially the outstanding Seppia with shrimp. Fantastic homemade desserts and really a flawless meal from start to finish.

Pasticceria Andrea Ascalone (Galatina) – In Lecce and much of Salento you’ll see these pastries called Pasticciotto everywhere. You’ll find them in every bakery, B&B, and featured in every food tour. Eat them at your own risk, since once you’ll try them at this Pasticceria where they were invented, every other Pasticciotto will taste pedestrian. Tour buses including week long food tours make the pilgrimage to this place. Smart to build an impressive 15th century Basilica nearby, with some of the most stunning frescoes you’ll find anywhere.

Categories: Italy, Puglia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This is Polignano a Mare

Volare, oh-oh. Cantare, oh-oh-oh-oh. Everybody!

When you stroll the winding streets of Polignano a Mare in Puglia, one of the first things you’ll notice is that everyone is humming the same song. Everyone except the locals that is. They still wont forget that Volare singer Domenico Modungo who left Polignano a Mare as a child never mentioned the city much as an adult. Maybe the reason the residents turned his statue around to face them, instead of the sea, was to throw produce at him on occasion. They probably do it with Calabrian tomatoes as they are very proud of their own. My youngest will be the first to tell you that we couldn’t get enough of Puglia tomatoes.

Nel blu dipinto di blu. I wish there was a way to embed videos here. Wait… Googling… looks like not only there is, but I’ve done it before.

Volare means to fly. And Polignano a Mare, with its limestone cliffs, and majestic balcony views will make you wish you could. You can see what inspired Modungo within minutes of your arrival. Just 30 minutes from Bari, and a short drive from Monopoli, another stunner, Polignano is one of Puglia’s biggest gems. Its not exactly a secret in Europe these days. But in the US, pretty much anything outside the Rome-Florence-Venice express is fairly unknown. Polignano a Mare is exhibit 1-A why it makes sense to veer off the route, or come back to see the rest.

You can start your flying lessons by diving from those cliffs as many do. Polignano after all is home to the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. For American readers, this World Series involves athletes and teams from all over the world. A curious concept. The beaches here are rocky, but the water is crazy inviting. We opted for a swim in one of the many caves off a boat.

I’m not necessarily advocating to stay here for a few days. I havent done it so I dont know what its like. But Polignano is as touristy as they come, for good reason. Exploring it on one day, and from the water on another, would compliment your Puglia adventure nicely. Doing both on the same day is a tough task, especially if you want to include a nice seafood fest at the excellent Antiche Mura. Or if you are strictly after a setting like no other with no budget in mind, you got the famed Grotta Palazzese and its cave restaurant.

You will also want to spend some time in San Vito, where most of the boats take off. Easy to get there with a car or a short Tuk Tuk taxi from Polignano. The San Vito Monastery, beach and picturesque port will make you stick around a bit, while waiting for a Dorino boat. Seeing the cliffs, the mesmerizing caves, and swimming within one is an experience you wont quickly forget. The slightly X rated Dorino stories can only add to the experience. This is a great way to see Poligano a Mare from the water

San Vito

You can easily get lost in the old town, but keep going until you reach yet another terrace. You will take the same pictures again and again, and be thankful for all those photography classes you took. I didnt as you can see. Your best bet is to stop reading immediately, and look at Google. In my defense, I didnt know I will resume blogging when we visited Puglia. In my defense when I used to blog, shaky hands, excessive drinking.

After lunch at Antiche Mura, you may want to visit Super Mago del Gelo Mario Campanella, or Super Mario in short. Skip the hyped ice cream in favor of the specialty coffee with lemon and Amaro. Turns out we’ve been drinking coffee wrong for centuries.

Another tip: Combine Monopoli and the boat tour from San Vito on one day, and spend a day in Polignano on another, for a more leisurely visit to the coast. Or consider staying in Monopoli for a few days, especially if you are not driving. Not only more subdued, but positioned well for day trips, and beaches.

In closing I should mention that my thoughts are with the residents of Fort Myers and area. Although we lived through Sandy, and even lived in South Florida briefly, I cant even begin to imagine what they are going through. Its really tough to watch, and scary that Ian is regaining strength and about to strike again. In the small chance you are reading this from Ian’s path, I hope you stay safe.

Categories: Italy, Puglia | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Upland – Make American Great Again

Notice the all important extra letter. This is not a political post. Quite the opposite actually. Its a celebration of our great uniter, American cuisine. Whatever that means. Since USA is relatively young compared to the rest of the world, its a bit complicated to define, even though you have enough examples of it (burgers, pastrami, bagels…). The label is often used more as a default when you cant call it anything else, except Italian in some cases. But we often categorize restaurants simply based on the origin of the owner/chef, as is the case with Upland.

Upland menu is as American or Italian as it gets in NYC, but it bills itself as Californian. Chef Justin Smillie who since left to Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, named it after his hometown in California. Maybe its my software engineering background, as I like things to be orderly for search purposes among other reasons in this case, but is it really necessary to break down the American tag into states? I can only imagine the poor Google or Yelp engineers trying to figure out the impact of adding a new category or subcategory. Upland is the only restaurant in NYC currently labeled as such. Does the signature burger, a creative riff on In-N-Out has something to do with it? Is it the grilled peaches?

Perhaps its the seasonality. Though we do have a label for upmarket seasonal American: “New American”. An Italian visiting NYC for the first time, will feel more at home at the pizza and pasta dominated Upland than a Californian. Sometimes restaurateurs try to be cute, and differentiate themselves in a crowded field, but more often than not, its best to keep it simple. Be bold, but be proud. Its American. This is not a rant by the way, but an observation. Its a celebration, remember?

Upland is a bright star in the Philly based Starr group’s huge portfolio that includes names like Buddakan, Pastis, and of course, the shiniest of the stars, Jackass Burrito. Upland got everything going for it. A prime Flatiron location. A deep American and Italian greatest hits menu. A striking, high ceiling, trendy looking space. And unlike many of its peers, it survived the pandemic. Its the type of place you can bring a date, new coworker, or host a 70th birthday celebration. On a recent visit, we witnessed suits, and gym attire.

Whether you come for Brunch, lunch or dinner you will face a very full menu. Though for some reason the much hyped Burger is not available for dinner. The Pizza is exactly what you’d expect from a place like this, except in the case of Breakfast pizza at least you get double the listed ingredients. In addition to bacon, cheddar, egg you get Broccoli, Sausage, Onions and more. It worked just fine for us, but could be misleading for others.

The Shakshuka-like “Eggs in Hell” had a nice flavor but missing something like sausages, or potatoes. The reason that shakshuka works on its own is that you usually get a nice fluffy pita and the eggs are more prevalent. While a dining companion was not looking I borrowed one of her breakfast sausages that made a big difference. Desperate times, desperate measures. This is the only miss from the two recent visits.

In some ways Upland reminds me of Via Carota. A jack of all trades, master of all. Solid pizzas, solid pastas, solid everything else. I couldnt fault anything with the Pappardelle with spicy sausages. And the Bucatini Cacio e Pepe were the best I’ve had in NYC since, well, Via Carota. Maybe even better since not quite as salty.

There are very few starters as satisfying as a nice Stracciatella with honey and grilled peaches. The combination here works so well, making the added Shishito peppers (both turned out spicy) unnecessary. The Duck Wings is a trend setter. I started seeing them more and more since Upland opened. The skin is crispy, well seasoned, while the dark flesh easily falls apart. You know its good as soon as you start operating.

But the best dish on the menu might be surprisingly the cod, and that may not have anything to do with the cod. The flaky fish, while mildly discolored, is expertly cooked. But the mixture of Fregula (Californian for Israeli Couscous), calamari and bits of chorizo really elevate the dish.

Extra brownie points for serving delicious fluffy bread with butter without charge. Refreshing to see these days. Solid drinks, nice atmosphere. In super competitive Flatiron, Upland is still a solid choice for American (with subtle Idaho hints). Its a Go!

Upland
345 Park Ave S (26th), Flatiron
Recommended Dishes: Pappardelle, Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, Duck Wings, Stracciatella, Cod, Budino

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Four Gems in/near Alberobello

Lets get the puns out of the way. The Trulli town of Alberobello is truly magnificent. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of Puglia’s main selling points. After the initial shrug of “why Puglia, what’s there”, all you need to do is show pictures of some random Trulli, followed by pictures of Polignano a Mare, followed by a church in the shape of a Trullo, and before you know it, she’s shopping for yellow dresses.

Spending two nights in Trulli Disney in a Trullo was an unforgettable experience. The only thing we forgot was Mrs Z’s (and mine) favorite bra hanging behind the bathroom door. But the touristy nature of the town made it a bit more challenging to find good food. Unlike food heaven Ceglie Messapica, I did not get the sense that Alberobello is known for its cuisine, hence half of the places mentioned here are actually in the nearby town of Noci.

Al Boschetto in Noci – Fantastic find. We stopped here for lunch on the way from Matera as I was looking for a safe place to park with luggage. Unfortunately in Italy you have to think about that. A sprawling, old school, formal without the formal prices type. We were the only tourists in a packed house on a Monday afternoon, with clientele ranging from the business type and nonnas who lunch. They had an American celebrity spotting not too long ago and I swore not to tell. Frankly I forgot who it was anyway.

This is where we started questioning the amount of food we ordered the rest of the trip. One needs to come to Puglia just to experience the thrill of the house antipasti, an array of 6 to 20 small plates that most restaurants we visited offered. Here it was a brilliant combination of all sorts of salami (Martina Franca Capocollo of course), cheese, fried goodies, marinaded veggies and more. Extra brownie points for offering us to half the pastas when the waiter noticed we were making funny full noises, which we gladly accepted. Tagliatelle with seafood was the undisputed winner among the Primis. Highly recommend.

L’antica Locanda in Noci – This is a popular “Slow Food” legend that required me to reserve well ahead from home, via phone. Parking was a little challenging in Noci, especially with two cars in our case, but we managed. The town seemed quite busy with a picturesque square and a tourist free old town. You know there are no other tourists by the “are you lost?” stares.

While we were eating, heard some fireworks nearby, probably to commemorate Johnny Depp’s court win. Or maybe I just heard them in my head after tasting the pear, ricotta, rum dessert. A deadly combination and solid contender for best dish of the night. The Plin-like Raviolini was exceptional, as were the scrumptious meats. A very solid meal all around probably deserving its own dedicated post.

Il Guercio di Puglia in Alberobello – I suppose it should not surprise anyone that most places on this post arent in tourist central Monti area, the busiest of the two Unesco zones in Alberobello. Il Guercio is located in the newer part of the city. We noticed that after the day visitors are gone in Monti so is the electricity. The evenings are as dead as the current Nasdaq bounces (trying.. not… to… look). Il Guercio on the other hand, got fairly busy after 9 pm, so make reservations or come as soon as they open.

The specialty here is “Pinsa”, one of several Roman style pizzas. It’s a long oval shape, thicker but fairly airy dough. Its not terribly different than pizza to be called something else (same goes for New Haven Apizza) but I can see why they would. It features a quality crust and top notch ingredients including of course Martina Franca Capocollo. We had to order it because the stand alone Capocollo (Gabagool in “Brooklyn Italian”) we had every other day was not on pizza.

La Lira Focacceiria in Alberobello – People often ask on the boards what else is there to eat in Italy besides pasta and pizza. Well, lets see, there’s also Focaccia, Trapizzino, Puccia, Pinsa, Lasagne, Calzone.. La Lira specializes in Focaccia and Puccia, another form of a pizza sandwich, the Puglia answer to the Roman Trapizzino.

Out of the Puccia we tried in Puglia and Matera this was the best one. Though the stuffed focaccia sandwiches were even better. Another reason to come for this busy take-out is for the animated owner.. “Now wait outside until you hear Puccia!! Like this… PUCCIA!!!!”. No tables outside means “trully” take-out. Ok, I’m done.

Categories: Italy, Puglia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iceland – The Things They Dont Tell You

Ok, I get it now. You hear about Iceland for much of your adult life. You watch countless of pictures of waterfalls, sheep, sometimes together. You realize that its an easy hop and a skip away. But for some reason you keep postponing this giant national park in favor of places with better food and more culture. The reality is nothing you’ll see and hear will properly prepare you for the Iceland experience. When you come back, Iceland will feel like one of those vivid dreams you can only experience during a colonoscopy anesthesia.

You can pretty much forget everything your neighbors and cousins told you (like stay in Reykjavik and do day trips). This was a last minute trip to replace a badly damaged Yellowstone after severe floods. A 10 day, record breaking 7 hotel road trip around the Ring Road. If I would do this again, I would do it again, almost exactly the same. I will post a detailed itinerary, and more about the food when the time comes, but here are some of the things we learned. Some things were more expected than others.

10 days is ideal. Thats not to say you shouldnt do more, and you can do less. But 10 days for us city slickers felt like a good amount. Its also the minimum amount you need for the Ring Road which I wholeheartedly recommend over the more popular and accessible Golden Circle, Reykjavik and surroundings. People tend to allocate less for islands everywhere. Sicily is the best example, a two week destination but so many try to do it in five days. Dont make this mistake here.

Reykjavik is Skipavik. I always imagined the capital being remarkably foreign, meaning very different where one can enjoy the differences and experience local culture. Much of that went out the window by the time we found ourselves having dinner at a NYC style food hall. Its not so much that you cant experience some culture here, but considering everything else Iceland has to offer, one night in Reykjavik feels more than enough. We spent one day here, and we kept walking by the same streets, same cats and organized tours.

The Ring Road is strikingly beautiful. The Ring Road is the main road circling the island. I was expecting to find many of the attractions striking, but I really didnt expect the drive itself to be so mesmerizing. You will triple your old number of oohs and ahhs per hour record, especially in the north. There was one moment where we stopped at a random side of the road, all alone surrounded by greener than green mountains, waterfalls, and canyons. Narnia meets Jurassic Park. Do yourself a big favor, and do the Ring Road.

Forget the ATMs. After much deliberation we opted not to take out local money, and we didnt need any. We dont even know what the local currency looks like. Its liberating not to deal with this on vacation. We heard that the only time you might need some change is for remote bathrooms, but we didnt really encounter them. You can stop at any gas station, a shop/restaurant, or the occasional remote bush if needed.

Bring a debit card with a pin. On our first try, our pinless CC failed. Once we started using the debit card, we didnt encounter any issues. Fill as soon as you reach half a tank, as you may drive many miles without seeing a gas station.

Iceland Gas Stations are awesome. You can get fresh hot dogs, Skyr – the best Yogurt on the planet, borrow a device to check tire pressure, fill air and wash the car for free, and get any help you need from the super friendly workers. They will also change your baby and call your mom.

Food is actually surprisingly good. The rumors that Iceland cuisine is lacking is widely exaggerated. What it may lack in finesse they more than make up for it in great ingredients. Sure, some meals were better than others, but its hard to screw up fish, and lamb raised in this climate. Expect a lot of lamb, simple fresh fish, flaky fish and chips, fish soup galore with wonderful bread and room temp homemade butter (a luxury in NYC). Iceland is also known for Langoustines, but for the time being, they are importing them, as fishing is banned. I also love the little differences like paying for your meals at the cash register.

Double up on the snacks. Iceland will wear you down in a very good way. Its hard to calculate the time you’ll spend getting to the destinations, and the amount you’ll spend there. If the hike is more than an hour, take a bag with snacks and water. And if you’ll do the Ring Road you’ll be facing some long drives. The snacks will come in handy.

You dont really need to buy water. I had trouble understanding this concept but I get it now. Iceland has some of the best tap water in the world. You can fill your bottles not only from any sink, but from waterfalls and streams while hiking.

Less is more than you think. As with any destination, you will want to see and experience as much as possible. But Iceland is unique in the sense that as popular as it is, much of it is still relatively undiscovered. Most visitors concentrate on the the grandest, popular waterfalls, sometimes missing other gems in plain sight. The best example is Skógafoss. Most people spend less than an hour seeing this magnificence, not realizing that the hike that begins on top of it, is one of the most beautiful easily accessible hikes you will ever do. And there’s another incredibly unique waterfall nearby. You can easily spend a glorious half a day here. Less sites often means richer experiences, and its especially true here.

Book a few tours. As usual, the tours we booked were the highlights. At some point during this adventure you feel ready for someone else to take your hand and navigate. And you really dont realize how much fun it is to hike with a group until you do.

Supermarkets open at 10. This caught us by surprise early on. As a tourist you normally start your adventures early in Iceland, so plan accordingly.

No one in Iceland is actually from Iceland. Iceland hospitality industry is booming and needs a lot of help especially in the summer. Most of the people we met, from tour guides, waiters, to hotel managers, were from other Europeans countries. I think we only met around four people from Iceland.

Iceland is expensive. I saved the worst for last. I can book a beautiful chateaux in Loire Valley for less than a simple motel in Iceland. That’s not a joke. On average we paid roughly $400 a night. And in order to afford the car for 10 days (Blue Car Rental – best service, highly recommend) I had to tell the kids that they would need to rely on grandparents for continuing education. At the very least book well ahead of time. Not only you will have options, but you are not risking the entire east coast of Iceland to be sold out. A common phenomenon in the summer.

I’m sure I missed much. In short, Go!

Categories: Iceland | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

5 Underrated Italian

Dell’anima Tajarin

In NYC of course. This is not a Puglia blog yet as the last three posts suggest, although much more on Puglia coming soon. I’ve been living in NYC for 36 years now, and I dont remember a more exciting time for Italian dining. Even though The prices are moving in the opposite direction. A full meal at a mid price, full service restaurant now averages $175 for two (source: EWZ Stats), up from $150 not too long ago. But the competitive environment has never seen levels like these before. A glut of new Italian immigrants has turned the Italian scene upside down where Italian/Italian is the new American/Italian especially in Manhattan and north Brooklyn. Cacio e Pepe is the new Chicken Alfredo, and Neapolitan pizza joints are opening at faster pace than NY style it seems. Its a pizza revolution of sorts, although a complete pizza transition wont happen in my lifetime.

The title of this post is oxymoronic in a way since there are literally 100’s of underrated Italian in NYC today. But I’ll focus on five places that are much easier to reserve (unlike Don Angie, Lilia, Ci Siamo, Rezdora, and so many), and may bring you similar levels of joy.

Dell’anima (Hell’s Kitchen) – The easiest pick of the bunch. Best Italian in Hell’s Kitchen historically has been a mystery, just like the glut of Thai restaurants in HK. Mercato held that claim for some time IMO, but ever since Dell’anima moved to Gotham West Market (conquered really as there’s not much left there these days. Even Ivan Ramen is no more) it established itself as the one to beat. While tourists continue to flock to places like Becco for the quantity, locals line up chef Andrew’s counter for the quality. I dont recall ever having a less than stellar dish here. You cant go wrong with menu staples like Tajarin Alla Carbonara, and Pollo al Diavolo, but I wouldnt hesitate ordering new additions and specials. The location, and being inside a food hall of course has something to do with the underrated tag.

Pollo al Diavolo

Ulivo (NoMad) – Talking about Mercato, long time readers should not be surprised to see it’s little sister here. With that said, somehow Ulivo managed to outgrow it’s sister, and establish itself as a solid choice in an extremely competitive area. That’s partly due to the talents of Sardinian born Emanuel Concas who figured out the right formula after years at Mercato and six years now at Ulivo. What you get is top notch ingredients, solid pizza, and a plethora of fresh pasta dishes, their bread and butter. You’ll find some hard to find Sardinian and Sicilian autocorrect specialties like Malloreddus with sausage ragu, and the simple but outstanding Busiate with almonds, fresh tomato, basil and garlic. No Secondis here. Instead, order another drink from the award winning bartender.

Busiate

Faro (Bushwick) – This is another no brainer. A Michelin star recipient (yay Michelin!) only to lose it a few years later (oh who cares about Michelin!). Faro is being too modest when it bills itself as a simple neighborhood Italian. Neighborhood Italian dont do Cappelletti stuffed with sweet corn purée, topped with a slow cooked short rib ragu. I could have just ended the previous sentence after Cappelletti. This is one example of a rotating, masterfully executed seasonal pastas. I believe only the Bucatini with confit chicken has been on the menu longer than a year. And they ought to bring the sick Gnocchi Alla Romana back. Its more of a destination Italian. The problem with Faro is the most likely reason its on this list. Its kind of Faro, as in deep in the heart of Bushwick. But Bushwick, thanks to the growing list of mega clubs like Avant Gardner is slowly becoming a nightlife mecca.

Cappelletti

Popina (Columbia Street Waterfront District) – It was fun seeing Popina grow over the years, and somehow remain true to itself. On my first visit. I expected the short menu to change and expand at some point to accommodate the masses, but thankfully it never did. Chris Mcdade’s stints with places like Maialino and Marta, his southern roots, and unconditional love for anchovies help create a fun, concentrated menu. Items rotate frequently but if they ever remove the signature spicy Chicken Milanese, expect local strikes. On a recent visit one particular Monkfish dish really showcased the tiny kitchen’s range. The team is opening Gus’s Chop House in nearby Carroll Gardens, sort of a gastropub.

Monkfish

Song’E Napule (Greenwich Village) – You can skim through 120 best pizza in NYC lists and you wont find anyone singing the praises of Song’E Napule. You will need to look at an Italian publication like Gambero Rosso which we probably should be doing anyway when it comes to pizza. The name has nothing to do with singing. It just means “from Napoli” in Neapolitan dialect. But if you are a fan of the Neapolitan style you’ll be belting out romantic tunes to your neighbor, Napoli great Diego Maradona on the wall. Legit oven, proper ingredients, and a capable pizzaiolo results in light and airy awesomeness. As genuine as it gets in NYC.

Categories: Brooklyn, Gramercy, Flatiron, Midtown West, New York City, West Village | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is Otranto (and Coast)

Variety, the most important attribute in picking destinations for this author (Still me, Ziggy). Something I gathered from experience, and TikTok. I would like to see and experience not only “different”, but all kinds of different. Different foods, nature, monuments, and anything unique that’s hard to classify (mechanical elephants anyone?). This explains why I like spending time in supermarkets in foreign cities, sometimes until closing or they call the cops, whatever comes sooner. On vacation I consume sodas, junk food and other things I dont usually eat at home. Old and new habits, like no longer eating something sweet in the morning, are out the window when I’m in Italy or elsewhere. All for the purpose of trying something different.

I had forgotten how easily I digress and start writing about food even when I dont plan to. The sad reality is I think about food even in inappropriate moments, like funerals, and sex (sorry honey, family), so this is not much of a stretch. But the point I’m trying to make here is that Italy has the type of variety we cant find anywhere else (Spain, Portugal come close). And Otranto, sitting on the heel of the boot, along with that entire Salento Adriatic coast stretch is an excellent example of that. While not exactly known for it’s cuisine (here we go again), its incredibly rich in man-made and natural beauty. You want to see pretty things, and take selfies near pretty things, you are in the right place.

This is why our day in/near Otranto was one the most memorable days of the trip. It had a little bit of everything. Jaw dropping scenery, beaches, great architecture, good food, and sunshine. What else do you need? Maybe rainbows and puppies (for the remaining TCI readers). Its a popular destination in the summer, but also an easy day trip from Lecce. Here’s a nice and easy day itinerary:

Cava di Bauxite – A beautiful quarry lake. Not a must as you can find similar quarries all over the world, but its quite picturesque and so close to Otranto, so might as well.

Otrano – Italy’s easternmost town is another white stunner. Its a popular beach destination for Europeans, but it wasnt overly busy when we were there. Otranto features an imposing castle, port, beach, a striking church, and a charming and clean old town. The problem with planning a day with multiple sites is that you dont get to fully enjoy the ones you want to stay longer. Otranto is exactly the type that makes you want to stay longer and explore.

SoFish in Otranto – One of the joys for me is finding exceptional food in places not known for it. Easier to do in Italy. For some reason Otranto, as with much of Solento (the greater bottom “heel”) is not really known for great food. Yet, we somehow managed to have some of the best meals of the trip on this leg. SoFish as the name implies is a hip, “Fast Casual” joint specializing in quick seafood. It appears that this is a relatively new fast spreading concept, started by the great success of Pescaria in Polignano a Mare.

The menu features a nice selection of seafood sandwiches, salads and particularly craft beer (Reminder: Italian craft beer is most underrated in the world). While everything we tried was good, the lobster roll is worth a dedicated blog post. Its one of the most outrageous Lobster Rolls I ever had. Pricy (for Puglia) but once you get it you see why. More like a well crafted lobster salad with huge chunks of meaty lobster and the rest of the lobster resting on top.

Baia dei Turchi – We opted to skip this beautiful secluded beach in favor of another one. But worth mentioning

Torre Sant’Andrea – Perhaps the jewel of the Adriatic coast in Puglia. Stunning white rock formations off beautiful, crystal clear water where you can swim. You want to spend some time here, and view the rocks from different angles.

Torre dell’Orso – While the best beaches in Puglia are on the opposite side of the heel, closer to Gallipoli, like Punta Prosciutto (make it stop!), you can find some gems here, with Torre dell’Orso perhaps the most famous one. We drove all over the coast from Bari to Otranto, and this was by far the most Caribbean-like sand and water we’ve seen. We ended up at Baia D’oriente to be precise with fairly easy street parking nearby.

Cave of Poetry – An enchanting natural pool where you can bring out your inner diver. After one dive however, I decided to retire my inner diver once and for all.

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Cibus – Slow Food City

I’m one of those who doesnt subscribe to the idea of asking locals for food recommendations. This is popular advice that works for many people, and in some places like small villages. But if you ask my neighbor in NYC for food recommendations, she would send you to the nearest Olive Garden branch. Personally I prefer to get acquainted with the local a little to make sure their tastes align with mine to some degree. Our host in Lecce gave us fantastic sounding seafood recommendation, until I learned the next day she doesn’t really eat seafood, her favorite exotic foreign food is hamburger, and she likes her steak well well done (chills). While this distrust can be a blessing and a curse, a serial food researcher like myself usually arrives at the destinations with not only an arsenal of possibilities but the knowledge of what to order in each one. Good or bad, that’s how I roll.

With that said, it didnt take long to learn that Pierluigi, our host at the splendid Masseria Spetterrata is the sort of food and wine enthusiast I can trust. When he talked to us about cities we should visit, I started finishing his sentences. “… and if you into food you should go to Ceglie Messapica and…”, me: “Cibus!”, “Oh… you know Cibus? You are the first guest that knows Cibus”. A surprising comment considering the legendary status of the place. But the way his eyes started to bulge, I figured the dude got more fine picks up his sleeves, or he has some sort of a thyroid issue. Later on I gladly accepted his more local recommendations, with Ristorante Mezzofanti in Cisternino being the most successful of the bunch.

Cibus was just shy of flawless, but had all the triumphant qualities you’d expect from a Slow Food legend. Cibus was in fact the first Puglia establishment to receive the Snail designation in the 90’s. But the first thing you should know about Cibus is that its located in Ceglie Messapica, the proud food capital of Puglia. A sleepy gem almost as striking as the much more touristy white towns of Ostuni, Locorotondo, and Cisternino. In fact when we strolled around the old city, we were practically alone in some corners. It is believed that its impossible to eat badly here. Yet, many establishments that struggled mightily during the pandemic, had to shut their doors.

As with most restaurants we visited in Puglia, the menu usually starts with one item, perhaps the most important one, Entrata di piccoli antipasti del territorio, a selection of small local appetizers. This is not your typical selection in a restaurant in Italy. Compared to the rest of the country, in Puglia, its often an eye popping tour de force selection of local cold cuts like Martina Franca Capocollo, cheeses, cooked or raw seasonal veggies, fried goodies, various salads often featuring more local cheeses, and pretty much anything and everything you can fit on a tapas size plate. Before you know it, you are showered with small plates covering the entire table and you start questioning “what have I done”.

You essentially have an environment where every place tries to outdo its neighbors in quality and quantity (number of plates). The “Antipasti for two” you’ll see in most menus is really for two to four depending on the place. This created an ordering challenge for much of the trip as we would often get full even by the Primi course. In Puglia, sharing is caring and key, and skipping the antipasti course could lead to hot flashes and sleepless nights.

In Cibus, the said antipasti course is a feast to all senses. A shockingly earthy baked eggplant that tasted almost like a mushroom. A stringy Stracciatella with black truffles. Zucchini flowers with ricotta and toasted almonds. Giuncata, a soft, ricotta like cheese made from various milks topped with jam. Wheat salad, and more. Just when you think they stopped and its safe to take a photo, here comes more.

The oohs and ahhs did not stop there. Orecchiette with Stracciatella, cherry tomatoes, basil pesto and Cegliesi almonds was a pleasant reminder that you are in Puglia, in the summer. Lasagnariccia, a perfectly deconstructed Lasagna offshoot with eggplant is the best eggplant parmigiana you will ever eat. And just when you thought you’ve seen every pasta shape, comes Sagnapenta, a chewy, slightly thicker than Bucatini, with aged ricotta cheese and fried breadcrumbs. This was enjoyable but the strong cheese a bit overpowering for some of our palates.

Since we somehow managed to miss Bombette (stuffed meat rolls) in the Bombette capital of Cisternino even though we were there on two evenings, I had to order the mixed meat platter with veal Bombette and sausages. While the Bombette were solid, I kept reaching for the splendid sausages. The ultra tender donkey stew you can cut with a hard stare was another winner. Its cooked for 10 hours, but tastes like 20. Scrumptious desserts sealed the deal, leaving you in a food euphoria for the rest of the day. Just what the doctor ordered for our anniversary. That and some antibiotics after a mouth surgery.

This is why we travel.

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10 Tips for Matera

Guess who is back? Its me Waldo! After MUCH deliberation, I decided to start blogging again, for now. I have no idea when I’ll get bored again. After hearing one too many times from people that miss my posts (such as wife, kids, etc who probably want me busy doing something else for a change), I decided to give this thing another go. Much has happened to me during the last few years, but instead of boring you with all of that, I’m going to bore you to death with some Matera tips and the amateur photos you so badly missed and didnt even know it. Note: Not writing for a few years has probably left me with the writing skills of a 10 year old. The site tagline, “Dining Well, Spelling Pourly” therefore remains.

Matera, simply put, is one of the most fascinating places we’ve ever seen. A movie set city, a la Dubrovnik. As you walk the streets and its cave dwelling areas (Sassi), it almost feels like you need to watch out for James Bond speeding by a side alley. They really need to start ticketing the dude before he kills someone. One thing you dont have to watch out for is poop. The city is incredibly atmospheric, and surprisingly remarkably clean for one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Not surprising, Matera has been UNESCO’d since 1993. But being designated as the European capital of culture in 2019 really put it on the map, even though its been on the map for 9000 years. While its located in the region of Basilicata, for the purpose of this blog, I’m putting Matera in Puglia since thats where most visitors pair Matera with.

I therefore present Ziggy’s 10 bathroom friendly, obvious and not so obvious, but mostly obvious tips for Matera.

Stay a little longer. So many just do day trips from Puglia, or an overnighter, but I highly recommend staying for at least two nights. Three nights is ideal. Not only you’ll experience the city in all its glory in the morning and night multiple times, but you’ll also have time to hike the fantastic Murgia Materana park. A longer stay will enable a visit to the Crypt of the Original Sin (need to reserve), and/or a full day visit to the spectacular Castelmezzano.

Take a tour. Some places require tours more than others. The complex long history, and geopolitical situation, makes Matera a strong candidate as a city best served by a tour. Might as well make it with a fun local like Alessio Leardi (alessio26@gmail.com).

Reserve your secured parking spot. Probably not necessary for most, as your host will be able to assist you with the parking situation. But in our case this was an unexpected necessity, as PARCHEGGIO NICOLETTI MICHELE was booked solid after we reserved our two spots. You cant park in much of the Sassi areas, and Matera is getting more and more popular, especially after the latest Bond. Just watch the first 20 minutes, and skip the rest of the dullest Bond ever.

Stay at Dimora Santa Barbara. Nicely situated Apartments/Hotel near the Duomo area. Spectacular views from the shared terrace. Some rooms are nicer than others (I think we liked ours the best, at the end of the terrace, I believe its room 1). There are many other interesting places to choose from. Many bloggers will suggest sleeping in a cave hotel. We found most of them much more expensive, and while it may be a fun and fitting experience, it just wasnt for us.

Hike the Murgia. Goes hand with hand with the first bullet, but it seems most people overlook this. The hikes can be as strenuous as you want them to be, but at the very least simply cross the valley and the rope bridge, and hike up on the other side to see some very cool caves and Matera from a different perspective. This is where you’ll get a chance to take that classic shot.

Try the Pane. If you love bread, you are at the right place. Just don’t mention Altamura to anyone as the locals are very sensitive and protective of their bread too turns out. There are quite a few Matera specialties but if I have to pick a must try food here it’s the often oversized, misshaped bread you’ll see proudly displayed in front of restaurants and bakeries. The appropriately named Crapiata and other local specialties were good but to me not as special or unique as the bread. Very hard exterior will almost feel like they sold you yesterdays loaf, but once you start ripping you’ll understand.

Eat at Soul Kitchen. Maybe the 5th time in my life I hugged the chef. One of those meals, that will be featured here at some point in detail. Just get the Podolica Ribeye, and call me in the morning.

Dont ignore rain warnings. If the forecast suggests possible rain, but you want to make a quick harmless Focaccia run, dont leave without an umbrella. When it rains, it pours here, and before you know it, a flash flood will make you look for an arch wide enough to keep you dry. I’m one of those that dont like to walk with umbrellas, and got punished for it here.

Visit the Cathedral. It was easy for us as we stayed right near it, but it could be a schlep depending on where you come from. But its totally worth seeing the 13th century Duomo partly due to its position overlooking the spectacular Sasso Barisano.

Prepare to get physical, physical. When I asked my family during dinner if they have any tips for Matera (tbh, I didnt really have 10 tips on the top of my head ;)) they said two things. Watch the rope on the Murgia bridge (as you climb to it, your instincts will make you extend your head, and your forehead will get hit by an unexpected hard rope. Even some of us who expected this, got hit. Ok, it was me). The other thing they said was to prepare for a workout that wont be very kind to your knees and feet. The numerous layers of the cave dwellings may mean a record breaking number of blister breaks.

Categories: Italy, Puglia | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

Wayan – By Cedric the Entertainer

Wayan CauliflowerReblogging one of my faves from last year after my visit today. Yes Wayan is open for business (outdoor dining for now). Adding the cauliflower to the growing must list.

Eating With Ziggy

One can live a lifetime eating the world in NYC, and still will not know a thing about Indonesian food.  The vast majority of those that do, got their knowledge from a trip to Amsterdam where as we speak, thousands are celebrating their fresh Eurovision win with a Rijsttafel (Indonesian rice table consist of many side dishes).  Australia, so close!  Yet so far away (literally.  A little Eurovision humor).

Indonesian food and Rijsttafels are generally not a thing here.  The lone Indonesian in Hell’s Kitchen Bali Nusa Indah was open for may years, and closed before yours truly had a chance to try it.  The constant barrage of negative Yelpers didnt exactly push me at the time.  I remember coming back from Amsterdam myself one year, hunting for Indonesian joints after my lower lip was fully deflated (that was some seriously spicy stuff), and wasnt able to find anything to…

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