10 Tips for Venice

italy 2010 1308Warning:  Some of these are tips you will see just about everywhere else.  I figured if I issue the warning I can easily get away with it.  But at the same time let some of this serve as a strong emphasis.

Stay for a while

I’ll start with the obvious, but perhaps the most important tip.  There are many tourist cities that merit staying longer, but this place demands it even more.  Venice is mostly enjoyed by day trippers and cruisers who spend the entire time in San Marco area, and then complain that Venice is way too crowded.  And while they marvel at the San Marco area sights, they often miss Venice’s most important attraction, Venice.  Venice’s main appeal is being one of the most unique places on earth.  Being there in the morning, and at night helps, but staying at least 4 days with a day trips to Murano/Burano and perhaps Padua is key to give this place any justice.

Location, Loca

No, its not a mistake.  I’m  listing half of the usual “Location, Location, Location” you see everywhere else because that is exactly what it deserves, half.  Venice is compact.  The only time we used the Vaporetto last time is when we had no choice but cross the canal to San Giorgio Maggiore, and to the islands.  Granted we stayed in a very central location this time, but it was more coincidental, and not that important to us.  You can walk from the train station to St Marks, which looks quite far on the map, in 30 minutes.  While location can be important, half of Venice as the title suggests can be considered in a good location, maybe more.  And going back to the previous point, you are walking in Venice after all, not Cleveland.  But you need to stay in Venice and not Mestre or Cleveland

Stay here

This one is very specific, but a tip nonetheless.  Ca’ Amadi is a gem.  Its the most central middle of nowhere place you will ever find.  Its tucked inside the kind of courtyard that as a stranger you want to immediately turn around when you reach it, but as a guest, its a very welcoming and convenient retreat.  Risking hypocrisy after the previous tip, this is really as central as it gets in Venice.  You are within 20 minutes from just about anywhere.  The rooms are roomy, modern, comfortable and mostly quiet (Yes, canal rooms are indeed romantic, but remember, their canals is the roads).  And its also believed that Marco Polo himself used to live there as his family owned a few homes in the area.  So dont be surprised if your food exploration sense gets a sudden shock, and you find yourself one day Cicchettiing like a maniacIMG_7143

Read this

There are countless of food blogs out there including I suppose the one you reading right now.  But there’s only one blogger as of this writing that actually lives in Venice and understands the Venice food scene and dynamics better than anyone.  And yes, some of the tips you’ll find in my blog came from the talented Nicoletta Fornaro of Naturally Epicurean.

Visit Burano

This may be obvious to some but not all.  Some may even elect to take it slow and skip it or visit just one of the islands like Murano, since its usually mentioned in the same breath.  But the island of Burano is not only one of Venice’s best gems, its one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen.  There are very few places in Europe that I describe as “Movie Sets”.  Sintra, Dubrovnik, Cesky Krumlov are some.  A smack in the face as soon as you get off the boat, and you dont stop smacking until you get off the island or restrained.  Have lunch at Trattoria alla Maddalena in the serene island of Mazzorbo just over the bridge.  And then head to Torcello


Dont Get Lost

Its understandable what everyone means by “Get Lost”, and so I’m not exactly opposing that.  Getting lost in the narrow callis of Venice can be fun and rewarding, but that magic can quickly disappear if you cant eventually find your way, risking that all too familiar look from the wife.  Venice can be tricky to navigate.  And if you havent made Google Maps your best travel companion by now, its not too late.  You can download the map of Venice back at home and use it off-line.  Its easy to use and it works.  And its also effective with your water transportation needs in Venice.  I could have made a beautiful collage of bridges with people standing on top struggling with their paper maps.

Explore Via Garibaldi

At some point these calles and bridges may start to all look familiar, until you get to eye popping Via Garibaldi.  There’s nothing like it in Venice.  A wide, very wide for Venice standards, street filled with local life and old charm.  Like you suddenly stepped inside another UNESCO heritage site.  This is that “Laundry Hanging” moment you’ve been looking for.  But dont stop there.  Go all the way and cross the bridge to the island of San Pietro where you may really be the only tourist there.


Do the Cicchetti thing

No, its not a special dance, but more of a way of life.  Its the Venetian answer to the aperitivo, or Spanish tapas, but quite more than that.  Its an important part of Venice that you can easily miss when you give Venice one or two days.

Mastering Cicchetti in Venice

Do your food homework kids

Although plenty have done it successfully, this is not the place to explore and stumble on the first thing that looks good.  Its an incredibly touristy town with a bad food reputation, perhaps for good reason.  But the lagoon is rich with wonderful seafood, producing some of the best array of seafood restaurants we encountered anywhere.  If you or your spouse is not a seafood lover, you have my condolences.  But if any town can convert you, its this one.  Its the only place where we eat non stop and never gain any weight.  So, you can find hidden gems on your own, or take the safe route and let uncle Ziggy guide you.  Here’s a good starting point….

Osteria alle Testiere
Osteria Alla Frasca
Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti
Antiche Carampane
Trattoria alla Maddalena in Mazzorbo (Burano)
L’Osteria di Santa Marina
Anice Stellato
Trattoria Da Jonny


Plan Sensibly, follow your instincts.

You dont have to follow the masses anywhere, but it especially rings true for Venice.  Venice is loaded with hidden gems and mesmerizing monuments, and simply following the herd risks missing much of that.  Doge’s Palace is stunning indeed, but that means you’ll be spending a lot of time indoors in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Instead, something like Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the nearby Frari may fit your plan better.  Many flock to the Peggy Guggenheim museum just because it is very highly rated.  But after two visit, I find the collection and building rather dull and just not for me (Let the comments commence…).  Come up with a sensible plan that includes exploring some or most of the neighborhoods, and experiences like music in a church, or a food tour.  See Venice from above from San Giorgio Maggiore bell tower, and Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store terrace.  Visit Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the hospital next door.

Wear comfortable shoes, and remember to Enjoy!

Seriously Ziggy?  Not really.  This is the 11th tip that is not really a tip.  The type of tip that normally makes me throw up a little in my mouth every time I see it.  Can someone explain what exactly “Remember to Enjoy” mean?  If I can somehow click on a magical enjoy button, why do I need any other tip.  Do you go to sleep sometimes on vacation thinking, “damn it, I forgot to enjoy”.  And besides maybe aunt Betty’s house is there a place on this planet where you dont need to wear comfortable shoes?  Two of the most overused travel cliches out there

Enjoy! 😉


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Trattoria alla Maddalena {Burano} – Best Value in Venice?

Trattoria alla Maddalena - mixed seafoodDuring my Brooklyn tours, we visit one of my favorite stores in NYC, Vintage in Brighton Beach.  Its Turkish owned featuring sweets and various foods from all over Europe and Middle East.  And every time I’m inside, it doesnt take long before I find myself staring at a particular brand of ice cream in the fridge, reminiscing about what I could only indulge in about once a year as a child.  Same type of thoughts come moments earlier when we visit Coney Island.  “Awwwwee”, said no one.  But today, in my late 30’s (ok, 47 to be exact), I can afford to eat one of those babies more than once a year.  And I do cherish every one of those moments.

You dont have to grow up poor to appreciate the little things in life, and good value.  A part of that is still in you.  But it does help.  After spending 6 days in Venice, two things seemed fairly clear.  I most likely saved the worst for last.  Meaning I wasnt overly excited about the last food choices, and things just couldnt possibly get any better.  Second thought was that I forget how expensive is Venice.  Maybe not NYC and London prices, but certainly above almost all Italian cities we visited.  Especially, possibly unfairly compared to neighbors like Sicily and Croatia for example.  But on the last day, things shockingly got better and for lunch at least, a whole lot cheaper.  I inadvertently saved the best for last

Trattoria alla Maddalena - Gnocchi

Burano – Now I understand!  It will make you forget about that Murano place you visited moments ago.  Like a slap in the face movie studio as soon as you get off the boat.  But its {probably} best to get off the Disney-like island for food as deliciousness awaits just across the bride on the sleepy island of Mazzorbo.  It is home to the Michelined Venissa and its vineyard.  And quietly playing second fiddle is the exceptional Trattoria alla Maddalena.  I dont know why I came with low expectations but I’m glad I did.

After a great start, a sizable plate of delicious mussels and clams, we were greeted with the most unique mixed seafood plate of the trip (we had a few).  A brilliantly balanced combination of flavors and textures.  Various kinds of large shrimp, small shrimp with grilled white polenta.  Polenta in all shapes and sizes frequent the menus of Venice and this was the best we’ve had.  There was an amazing Bacalau-like spread made from a rare fish (to me at least) called Dentice.  A fresher than fresh octopus salad.  And something they made from eggs of Sepia that tasted like crab that I couldnt get enough.Trattoria alla Maddalena - clams and mussels

Another thing we couldnt get enough of in Venice is simply prepared seafood pasta and gnocchi, and the gnocchi with crab here was another succulent hit.  Monkfish, like a good Skate, can be so delicious when fresh and just simply grilled.  I regretted not having more prior to this one.  In Venice, Panna Cotta is another item you want to consider every other meal or so (when taking a break from the incredible Tiramisus here), and this one topped with strawberry compote did not disappoint.

Add to that a plate of mixed veggies, a cheaper than water carafe of house white and the final bill of 86 Euros.  We had another great meal the same night for almost double that amount, and just about every such full meal we had was above and in some cases way above 100.  This was closer to the value we found just across the pond in Croatia earlier this year.  This is another major GO!

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Mastering Cicchetti in Venice

IMG_7382The best tip I can give you when you go to Venice with kids is this:  Start planning your return trip without them.  Meanwhile you scout, you observe, you take notes, and study.  And by the time you return you can pretend to live like a local for just a few days, and do crazy things like have a full meal before dinner.  You may even be proficient enough to able to spell Cicchetti without Googling, like the pro that you are.  Cicchetti (Chee-ke-tee) is Venice’s answer to the aperitivo (Aperitif).  Its the Venetian happy hour.  They are served in bars called Bacari, usually 5 to 7 pm, but some are open throughout the day for the rest of us tourists.

We travel because we want to see and experience different.  Taking a peek at Ziggy’s current culture back home, things are looking fairly reversed.  5 to 7 pm is when I have dinner.  At 9 when the Venetians go out to eat, I may have a small Cicchetti of my own.  And by 10 pm when the Spaniards (our next focus) go out to eat, we watch Netflix and fall asleep by 11.

In a way I was glad that my planned Cicchetti crawls failed.  I had to cancel a Cicchetti tour so we could attend the lighting of the Menorah at the world’s first ghetto (as they say “happy wife, happy Ziggy”.  Seriously who says that?!?).  And my self planned Cicchetti crawl was a complete bust for a variety of reasons.  But after visiting and enjoying a few Bacari during the week, I now get the sense that this type of forced Cicchettiing is the wrong approach to this social scene.  And while I see the appeal of a crawl, I also see the appeal of doing what the Venetian do.  Go to one, meet your buddies, and see how things shape up.  Or visit one when you dont have the time for a full meal, like before a concert.

Cà D’Oro alla Vedova – This is one “Widow” I would trust with my life.  They are famous for the meatballs and rightfully so.  Its a dense filling of mostly bread, but satisfyingly salty.  The white beans, grilled calamari, and octopus salad are delicious as well.

Cantine del Vino già Schiavi – One of the oldest and more popular Bacari around, specializing in nifty crostini like combinations like smoked swordfish, ricotta with walnut purée, egg Funghi and truffle cream.  These are my recommendations, but you can also look around and just pick what looks good to you.  English descriptions next to each one.

Bar Alla Toletta – Tramezzini, fat crustless sandwiches is something you’ll see all over Venice, and this is the best place to try it.  We are partial to the tuna

IMG_7273Salvmeria – The newest kids on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi block isnt too concerned about its spelling on Google (Yes, its a V in there) because its main aim is locals, not so much tourists.  Although far removed from the tourist route, this is one of the most picturesque streets in Venice.  The clever assortment of wine goes as far as Moldova.  Try the Salumi, and baked scallops with breading and carrots if they have

Al Portego – We had a full sit-down meal here.  But judging by the quality, and the army of Cicchetti lovers we had to fight in order to get to our table, this place looks legit.

IMG_7135Fritoin del Gondolier – Its more of a street food shack that can be as convenient as Cicchetti.  Here you can try some fried goodies like Mozzarella in Carrozza (a fried sandwich with fillings like ham) and fried cream squares on a stick.  Those creamy squares can work well with hot chocolate from Vizio Virtu not too far away

Instructions:  You dont need no stinking instructions.  Ok, I didnt mean to sound brusque there.  Too early in the morning.  But every place is different, and you need to remember that you are in Venice.  Chances are you are not the only clueless tourist inside.  Just smile, point and shoot!  And order a glass of red or white, or ask what other wine options they have available.

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Osteria Alla Frasca {Venice} – Definition of Hidden Gem

Osteria Alla FrascaAdjective fatigue, title fatigue, are some of the biggest challenges in writing blogs like this.  At some point you just sit there, staring at the computer, looking for new ways to express yourself without sounding like a douche.  A douche is when you get bored with all the cliches and resort to cuteness that is not translated well on the internet, and you begin to sound like a douche.  But what do you do when a cliche that you used many times fits a description so perfectly.  You swallow your douchy pride, write that thing and move on.  While hinting to the audience how dirty you feel for using one of the most overused cliches in the food blogger universe yet again.  Its the thought that counts, right?

But in the case of Osteria Alla Frasca, another title sounds almost like injustice.  In today’s Trip Advisor age nothing is really entirely unknown.  Just like a falling tree in the forest, “Hidden Gems” are not so until people find them and write about them for everybody to see.  Alla Frasca is not exactly a secret.  It is mentioned in just enough publications and blogs like the excellent Naturally Epicurian, the only Venice based blogger as of this writing.  But its all about the quality and location, tucked deep inside Cannaregio, inside a little picturesque courtyard that is so deserving of the title.  When you discover it, you pause.  And when you visit it, you really want to like it.

Osteria Alla Frasca - Octopus

And then when the food exceeds the already lofty expectations, it becomes a home run.  Octopuses and even Octopi dont come any more tender than this without crossing to the mushy side.  It is served with two purees, a potato, and cherry tomato for you play with.  A fresh tasting Cheese Ravioli was nicely perfumed with lemon and herbs, with razor clams added for good measure.

Here we tasted one of the best pastas of the trip.  So good a restaurant is named after it!  The Pasta Alla Frasca is a spectacular medley of seafood on spaghetti, brimming in that wonderful white wine and seafood juice we couldnt get enough on this trip.  A grilled mixed seafood plate was another delight though by this point we started to struggle as we were getting full.  We found that in Italy, and even across the pond in Croatia, one needs to be careful with those “Mixed Grills”.  Pistachio creme brûlée was fine but not great to finish still a most wonderful meal.  The Sicilian in the kitchen adding oranges and pistachios and other Sicilian touches when no one is looking.

Osteria Alla Frasca represents everything we love about eating in Italy.  When it’s just you, Bruno the owner, the young Sicilian peeping out of the kitchen cracking jokes, and a few more diners in a small room.  Bruno has been in the food business in Venice pretty much all his life, including a major presence in the Rialto market at some point, resurrecting what feels like a local institution loved by locals and savvy tourists alike.  This is a big time GO.

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Random Venice



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Ristorante Sirena di Sansica in Bonagia – Meal of the Year

Its that time of the year again. Off to another unpaid, unsponsored eating expedition. I leave you with one of the gems from 2016. For more on Sicily, click on the Sicily link, or go here…

Eating With Ziggy

sirena-di-sansica-red-shrimpTo understand the notion I’ve been “preaching” here that Sicily is mainland Italy 30 years ago (I went from 20 to 30 after being corrected by actual Italians living in NYC) one must simply go to Tonnara di Bonagia on the western tip of the island where once tuna hunted and butchered in ways that are only talked about these days.  And to fully appreciate a meal at the sensational Sirena di Sansica, a 20 minute drive from Trapani, one must arrive earlier, right before sunset.  The rugged coastline leading to the rock of San Vito Lo Capo is mesmerizing.  Even with a wedding party patiently waiting their turn, you hesitate to give up the spot.  Compared to much of mainland, the area is underdeveloped and you selfishly wish that it stays like this forever.  Ancient boats lining up next to the Tonnara, overlooking the colorful port around the Albergo Tonnara Di Bonagia Resort.  A magical…

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15 Best Things We Ate in Sicily

sirena-di-sansica-red-shrimp16 days in Sicily in July means you are still writing about it in November.  Couple that with a trip to Montreal and you essentially got The Summer of Ziggy!  It’s the kind of trip I dont believe I can mimic anytime soon, but you the reader can!  These 15 items alone should give you plenty of ideas if you researching but I strongly recommend checking out the rest of the Sicily Page.  I can easily spend another 3 months writing about this, but wife now wants me to concentrate on Croatia.  She’s just a tiny bit spoiled eager.  So, pull up our trip theme song one last time, and lets get lost together…

Octopus Carpaccio at L’Arco Dei Cappuccini (Taormina)

Yet another sharp reminder kids.  Leave the center, and wonderful things start coming your way.  I’m talking unicorns, and puppies, and Octopuses.  In this case you need to leave the gates entirely, but not venture too far.  Now I’ve had Octopus Carpaccio before, but never quite like this one.  They press octopus into this huge cube, smoke it and slice it into thin, silky smooth, Mortadella like slices.  Phenomenal starter in our fave in Taorminaimg_8838

Gelsi Neri Granita at La Dolceria (Giardini Naxos)

Davide our trusted host at Agon, and our Etna guide hooked us up with this bakery when I told him about my quest for a good Gelsi Neri Granita (red mulberry ). This turned out to be the best of the trip which included the famed Cafe Sicilia in Noto.  This is also the place Davide gets his outstanding breakfast pastries, like the pistachio cream and ricotta croissants.  To understand the kind of passion, one needs to meet the baker.  After taking some Italian courses!  Oh and did I mention the Granita comes with a delicious brioche?  Looks like I didnt!img_8735

Mussels at Taberna Sveva (Siracusa)

Come for the Polpo Alla Luciana and Busiate Maniace, stay for the mussels.  The Siracusan mussels turned out to be the unsung heroes during our stay in magical Ortigia. Fully open, vary in size, but not in taste, and served with a delicate light tomatoee salsa.  They tasted fresh, and had this wonderful salty tanginess that carried a lot of flavor.  If you see mussels on menus in Siracusa, attack!  Just like they did hundreds of years prior in nearby Maniace castle.  Though I dont believe they were fighting over Mussels.  Maybe Couscous!img_8872

Smoked Mozzarella at Borderi (Siracusa)

Visit the end of the market, and you’ll see why Borderi is not exactly a hidden gem.  Trip Advisor savvy Tourists and locals flock here in numbers, and for good reason.  But we didnt need to work hard.  A simple glance and hand gestures I can not describe here by our market tour guide and local celebrity Lele Torrisi and voila!  A cheese and salumi plate of dreams, with the smoked mozzarella winning the all around ooohs and ahhhs war.IMG_9021

Chicken at Macallè (Siracusa)

Picking the chicken from the best meal in Ortigia, and in the context of this blog post, feels as wrong as Santa partying in a Bar Mitsvah.  We’ve had some much more qualified sounding dishes at Macallè like the squid and the amazing sweet red shrimp from Mazara.  But the chicken is the one dish we ordered a second round, and I cant say the same about any other dish in Sicily.  Juicy, tender dark meat pure awesomeness.  Perhaps the reason to include it is because its, well, chicken!  Something requiring skill and hard work to taste so good.IMG_9180

Calamari Siciliano at Ristorante Al Boccone (Marzamemi)

At this sleepy village on the coast, 20 minutes from opposite of sleepy Noto, touristy looking Al Boccone on the water, surprisingly produced a very pleasant meal.  The standout here was two behemoth squids stuffed with bread crumbs, pine nuts and other goodies that included more squid.  They arrive in a stew like fashion with tomato and onions.  A revelation with a view!IMG_9667

Focaccia Tomasini Rolls at Modicarte (Modica)

An outrageously delicious little creation created by one of Sicily’s up and coming young talents.  Me!  A local traditional snack of Focaccia filled with ricotta, onions, and fresh sausage.  The family helped, and of course the talented Maurizio of Modicarte and his mom had a hand in it.  But there’s no mistaken who’s masterful touch was key in this cooking class at our accommodations just outside of beautiful Modicaimg_9274

Fresh Ricotta at Iabichino (Ragusa)

This was a special treat as part of our day with Alessandro of Uncovered Sicily.  We visited an organic winery, a legendary olive oil maker, and a 4th generation farm.  While we were well fed throughout the day, it was the potent, raw fresh ricotta made for us at Iabichino that felt the most special.  And while we visited such farms before, there was just something about spending some time with the family, watching them make ricotta the same way they’ve done for over 100 yearsimg_9333

Arancini at Azienda Agricola Mandranova (Palma di Montechiaro)

We knew we were heading to an award winning Olive Oil producer.  But we didnt know they have no more room on the award wall, and that our local Eataly has an entire section devoted to them.  We were treated to a special lunch and a tour at this beautiful estate and the highlight for me there was the best Arancini of an Arancini filled trip.  Owner Silvia said they overcooked them this time by a good 30 seconds and I asked if on my next visit they could make this mistake again.  As a falafel lover, this had that nice crunch, with a succulent porky ragu interior.  Very nicely done!img_9899

Mixed Grilled Seafood at Salmoriglio (Porto Empedocle)

Hard to pick a favorite dish from one of the best meals of the trip.  It was essentially a spectacular seafood extravaganza that included every sea creature known to man, Sicilian man.  But the last seafood dish probably brought the most joy.  Perfectly grilled sweet Gambero Rosso, scampi, fresher than fresh Calamari, outrageously good baby octopus, and just about the best swordfish steak I ever had.  A welcoming gem between Scala dei Turchi and Valley of the Temples.

Salmoriglio Mixed Grill

Vongole at Tischi Toschi (Taormina)

One of the most anticipated meals of the trip wasnt particularly memorable, but they did dish out one killer Vongole.  Beautiful, tiny clams from a lake near Messina where Tischi Toschi got their fame before moving to the mega touristy Taormina.  Out of a Vongole filled trip, this was the standout.img_8601

Pistachio Cream at Ciuci’s Manor (Aragona)

You start to fully appreciate this gift from Ginevra and mama way before you open the jar back home.  Sicily is known for its famous pistachios.  And when you enter a food store at say Trapani or Palermo and sample their pistachio cream, you realize you are not in donkey land anymore.  Ciuci’s Manor is one of the best sources on the island for pistachios, and every guest receives a jar of the cream after enjoying it every morning.  Oh and did I mention this is an Agriturismo (farm), and the most special, dreamlike accommodations we’ve experienced anywhere?  Matzah season couldnt come soon enough!IMG_3534

Busiate “Expo” at Sirena di Sansica (Tonnara di Bonagia)

If there’s one thing to learn from this post is this:  Stay a few nights at Ciuci’s Manor.  If there’s another thing to learn is have a meal at Sirena di Sansica, about 20 minute drive from Trapani.  Come early and walk around the port for the mesmerizing views that include the rock of San Vito.  And hopefully you’ll also experience the world’s loudest Zumba class.  The meal featured more incredible couscous, fresh fish, and the fattest juiciest Gambero Rossos of the trip.  But this well balanced, only in Sicily, Busiate with eggplant, pistachio, swordfish, and breadcrumbs stole the show.  It’s called Expo because they made this dish for the Milan Expo competition.sirena-di-sansica-busiate-expo

Seafood Couscous at Trattoria del Corso (Trapani)

Trapani the city, isnt particularly well represented in this blog post, but this leg was our favorite for food.  Trapani is like the Bologna of Sicily, with its plethora of high quality restaurants and unique regional specialties, like fish couscous.  And at del Corso the couscous is quite the solid item.  It comes with its own delicious fish broth that ties everything together so nicely.  Its a bustling, mostly female, Slow Food Trattoria.  Very popular with locals, so make those ressies.img_0399

Pasta Con le Sarde at La Cambusa (Palermo)

Two weeks after I declared it one of the best pastas of the trip in July, I find it in the latest issue of Travel and Leisure.  Same Dish at the same place.  Coincidence?  Yes!  But finally T&L is on to something (I dont usually pay much attention to their food picks).  Pasta Con le Sarde of course is the classic Palermo homage to its Arab roots, consisting of raisins, fennel, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, and sardines.  A killer combination that resulted in this sweet richness we’ve never had before in pasta.  La Cambusa is the place to have it, but just try not to drink and exchange eye contact with the area clown.img_0808

Bonus #1:  Pizza at Ciccio Passami l’Olio (Palermo)

We didnt come to Sicily for pizza, but it is a thing here that is almost as cultural as in Rome and Milan.  It’s thick alright, but in a more bready kind of way, unlike NYC Sicilian.  One of the most famous places to experience it is in Pizzeria Calvino in Trapani, but that means potentially “wasting” a meal in Sicily’s most culinary province.  Another place we enjoyed was at Le Magnolie in Gianforma where no one spoke English and we were the only tourists in that part of Ragusa country.  But our favorite was more of a Neapolitan fair at Ciccio in Palermo where the crust reminded us how we loath for that light, airy delicate crunch

Bonus #2:  Gambero Rosso from Sirena di Sansica.  Already mentioned this place, but worth mentioning the sweetest and fattest Gambero Rossos of the trip.  Top Picture

Ciao for now.  Stay Hungry My Friends!img_1345




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Our Ragusa Day with Alessandro (Uncovered Sicily)

img_9423Yes, still not done yet.  I have one last day to tell you about before I dwell into our favorite bites in Sicily.  While the entire day with Alessandro was a memorable one, our last stop at the winery was a particular highlight.  Alessandro is the proprietor of Uncovered Sicily, essentially in the business of selling cultural experiences of all kinds.  From archaeological walks with an archaeologist, Museum walks with curators, to Arancini cooking classes with Arancinialogists!  Alessandro lives in Ragusa, and not only extremely knowledgeable, but quite passionate about the area and its terrain.  We spent the day with him, visiting three places the area is known for most (cheese, olive oil, wine) and even had some time to explore the old town of Ragusa Ibla with him

Iabichino – Our first stop was an eye opener.  An old 4th generation dairy farm in a beautiful area.  Three generations on premises, along with 80 cows and one very lucky bull.  You can see the smirk!  Although we’ve been to such farms in Italy before, it was particularly interesting to learn about this farmer’s routine, way of life, and whats in store for the kids living in the farm.  Hearing about milking the 80 cows twice a day alone made me look for the nearest bench.  Its a hard life that makes you appreciate what you eat.  We sampled earthy fresh ricotta they made especially for us, and other traditional Ragusano cheese.  This is something you cant do on your own, unless you speak Italian and know the family and area well


Cheese Master hard at work


Cutrera – One of the two olive oil legends we visited in Sicily.  The other one is Mandranova which we visited on our own a few days later.  You realize the status of the two when you visit Eataly NYC (both of them).  While there are all kinds of great oils from all over Italy, the two have their own dedicated sections.  We learned about the techniques and hard work that sets them apart, and had some fun with the proprietors.  We learned how to sample award winning EVOO properly (apparently just tasting it is all wrong), followed by a simple lunch of.. you guessed it… olives and olive based spreads and salads.  Olives is one of the only foods I’m not particularly fond of, but I was fond of this.


Feudo di Santa Tresa winery – I couldnt do the first one by myself, and I needed a designated driver for the third.  This appointment alone makes this excursion worthwhile.  We were joined by Laura and the winery’s CEO for a property tour and tasting, and boy what tasting it was.  Its a beautiful estate in the middle of a rugged area.  In the cellars, you practically smell the product and history.  We tasted around 7 wines, some of which were quite unique to us.  I particularly liked the Rina Ianca white (Grillo + Viognier combo), while Mrs Z was smitten by the Frappato, a red served slightly chilled and can be used for fish.  All served with a beautiful lunch spread.  But by the end of it all, it was just us having a fun filled lunch with new friends, and a designated driver.  Thanks Alessandro!



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Ristorante Sirena di Sansica in Bonagia – Meal of the Year

sirena-di-sansica-red-shrimpTo understand the notion I’ve been “preaching” here that Sicily is mainland Italy 30 years ago (I went from 20 to 30 after being corrected by actual Italians living in NYC) one must simply go to Tonnara di Bonagia on the western tip of the island where once tuna hunted and butchered in ways that are only talked about these days.  And to fully appreciate a meal at the sensational Sirena di Sansica, a 20 minute drive from Trapani, one must arrive earlier, right before sunset.  The rugged coastline leading to the rock of San Vito Lo Capo is mesmerizing.  Even with a wedding party patiently waiting their turn, you hesitate to give up the spot.  Compared to much of mainland, the area is underdeveloped and you selfishly wish that it stays like this forever.  Ancient boats lining up next to the Tonnara, overlooking the colorful port around the Albergo Tonnara Di Bonagia Resort.  A magical moment to say the least.  All to the magical sounds of… Reggaeton!!!

sirena-di-sansica-wineOne of the most bizarre things we’ve ever seen on vacation.  The worlds smallest, oddest and loudest, three participant Zumba class was right by the port.  I mean, I like to listen to music loud, but this was LOUD.  I guess such things are normal here.  We danced, the wedding party danced, the seagulls danced, everybody danced.  The volume isnt deafening due to the open space, but its at the point where your booty, shoulders and other parts start to move involuntary, while you wonder what the hell is going on here.  How does one nap in this sleepy looking corner of the world

Even after recent renovations to modernize the place, Sirena di Sansica is old school.  Outside it looks like an old movie theater or a disco, while inside its like a dim sum palace meets old Brooklyn trattoria.  “Modernizing” in Sicily is like going from the 60’s to 80’s.  The restaurant is facing the water, and the sunsets here speak more volume than the Zumba.  Ok maybe not.  But its really the type of place you immediately feel at home.  Especially when the kids start making fun of their mom’s facial expressions after she had a little too much Grillo.  Sursur from Donnafugata, the smoothest, most balanced Grillo of a Grillo filled trip.sirena-di-sansica-busiate-expo

But it’s all about the food and the fresh seafood due to the special relationship they have with the local fisherman including their own boats.  You first get introduced to the lovely catch of the day and you sort of build your order based on that (along with other menu classics). This was a little more expensive ($140) than other meals but considering what we chose and ate, possibly the steal of the trip.  Fantastically fresh mussels which my oldest guessed properly from Messina.  She was probably thinking about clams but I gave her the credit anyway.  Busiate with lobster was outstanding, but another Busiate, “Expo” stole the show… eggplant, pistachio, swordfish, breadcrumbs, and more.  Rich but oh so nicely balanced and delicious. It’s called “Expo” because they made it for the Milan Expo as part of a food competition. Perhaps the best pasta of the trip.

Couscous with broth without the fish or any seafood was actually better than the other couscous we’ve had in Sicily with the fish. You can buy and add fresh fish but we saved that for the secondi.  I picked 6 lovely Gambero Rossos from the ‘Bunny Ranch’ like lineup and these were the fattest and sweetest red shrimp of the entire trip.  After realizing I prefer them slightly cooked than raw, we asked them to be grilled.  Raw they can be a little limp.  And a red scorpion fish they call cipolla (onion) made traditionally soup like, sautéed with a nice tomato based broth, specatucarly tasty dish (plate shown is one of the halfs).  One of those meals.sirena-di-sansica-cipolla sirena-di-sansica-shrimp sirena-di-sansica-busiate-lobster sirena-di-sansica img_0614 img_0615 img_0617 img_0627 img_0633

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Scala dei Turchi and Valley of the Temples

img_9979Reason #42 why you need two weeks in Sicily.  The stupendous whiter than white Turkish steps, and the magnificent Valley of the Temples are 20 minutes apart near the ancient (but not so any more) city of Agrigento.  Do it in style, with fresh seafood lunch at Salmoriglio in Porto Empedocle, right between the two attractions.  Probably one of the most memorable single days I’ve had in any trip.  Staying in the surreal Ciuci’s Manor surly helped.  The way to see the temples, especially on a hot summer day, is to park at the bottom of the valley, take a taxi to the top (3 euros), and walk down.  At Scala dei Turchi you park in the parking lot off the road, and go down to the beach.  Takes about 20 minutes to reach the steps.  Bring plenty of water to both

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