Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Best of Sicily - Fine Dining

This is a continuation of my previous post "Best of Sicily - Trattorie", this time highlighting the fine dining experiences I had in the region. Given that these meals cost $60 and above (well above in some cases) - the main questions are "Was it worth it? Would I come back?". Let's take a look at 4 restaurants, in my preferential order.

#1 - La Madia

This is one of the two most talked about fine dining restaurants of Sicily, together with Duomo.
La Madia is located is Licata, which is a bit out of the way, or I should say quite in the middle of nowhere. In fact, you would have almost no reason to visit Licata, if it wasn't for this restaurant.
Overall this was my favourite fine dining restaurant considering food and service versus price. It cost about half the price of Duomo, but it delivered no less in culinary terms. The food style is completely different though, and both restaurants are superb, so it is very subjective which one is "best".

Chef Pino Cuttaia proposes a cuisine that is very attached to the territory and its traditions, with very interesting innovative touches, and an impeccable technique. The dining room is spacious and sober, and the service is much less "stuck-up" when compared to "Il Duomo". Our waiter gave us some excellent advice, proposing a lunch menu for 2, but giving us the flexibility to have different mains.

Looking back at the dishes, without a doubt the amouse bouche was the most impressive one. It was basically a reinvented caprese with a large mozzarella-lookalike on top of tomato water. In reality, tht large white ball is a milk mousse wrapped into milk skin. An amazing technique that results in an equally amazing texture, and what I would consider the quintessential Italian flavour: Tomato, basil, milk.
Other dishes I would recommend are the Octopus on the rock, the Arancino di riso with red mullet, and the Cannolo Siciliano.

Was it worth it? Yes. Would I go back? Defnitely.
La Madia

Signage at the entrance
Caprese with milk mousse 10/10
Milk mousse in section
Spatola “a beccafico” con caponata croccante 8/10
Polpo sulla roccia 9/10
Arancino di riso con ragù di triglia e fi nocchiett o selvatico 10/10
Greilled Greater Amberjack 8/10
Maialino nero dei Nebrodi leggermente aff umicato 7/10
Granita al limone 7/10
Il cannolo Siciliano 9/10
La cassata Siciliana 8/10
Il ricoperto al cioccolato 7/10

#2 - La Fenice

We stayed at Villa Carlotta, a great hotel just outside of Ragusa, which happens to include a Michelin starred restaurant called La Fenice. The traditional stone walls of the hotel building have been extended with a structure made of steel, glass and wood finish that create a very modern, sleek dining room overlooking onto the wide garden and swimming pool of the hotel.

The service was outstanding in my view - it went beyond the usual attentions you get in a fine dining restaurant, it was in fact very educational. Our waiter spent a great deal of time educating us on the territory, its seasonal products and traditions. I have learned a great deal about Ragusa and its culinary background from him. He even took us down into the amazing wine cellar they have built making use of the old well that was part of the historical building.

Chef Claudio Ruta offers a very rich menu at a competitive price - in fact it was hard for us to decide what to select, given the choice. In particular, the pastas looked very appetizing, and unfortunately I had to limit myself to trying only one of them. The standard was consistently very high, and the dishes had very prime local ingredients well prepared and well presented.
The highlights for us were the carbonara, the red prawns and the fillet of tuna (see pictures below).

Was it worth it? Every penny. Would I go back? I will.
La Fenice:

The dining room from the outside
Bread selection 8/10
Ricciolini di calamari e gamberetti rossi, crema di tuma fresca con panzanella di pomodori datterini 10/10
Bocconcini di Ricciola al sale di Mothia su passatina di patate novelle
e sorbetto di melanzane violette alla mentuccia 8/10
Carbonara di spaghetti freschi di grano “Mongibello” e Sgombro alla maggiorana 10/10
Bocconcini di Cernia con caponata di mele
e pere dell’Etna e sciroppo di pomodorino 7/10

Tagliata di Ala Lunga al pepe cubeba e sale chardonnay
con insalatine aromatiche e gelato di cipolle bianche 10/10
Cannolo Siciliano 7/10
Caffé di carrube
The fabulous underground wine cellar

#3 - Il Duomo

I heard so much about Ciccio Sultano, the eccentric Chef of Il Duomo, that I couln't resist visiting this place, despite the cost. The service and ambiance are quite "high class" compared to most restaurants I have been to in Italy, and it was fully booked on the evening we went there (and probably most evenings) which is an indication of its incredible popularity.
The cooking style is quite progressive, in fact Ciccio Sultano was a pioneer of fine dining in Sicily. His innovative touch earned him 2 Michelin stars, and it sets him a world apart from most other chefs in Sicily. As I mentioned earlier in this post, whether this is the food you would enjoy the most is a different matter, and in my opinion Duomo is to be tried, but I wouldn't do that again, unless I really didn't know how to spend it :)

The service was prompt, and we had a great recommendation for the wine, a smooth Nero d'Avola that we drank till the last drop.

My favourite dishes were the pastas, the cannolo siciliano with red prawn, and the dish with triglie (I can't recall what else was in it, though!). I must say that by the end we were too full, and the quality dropped substantially when we got to the second main (beef) and the dessert - a wild strawberries tart, which was not nearly at the level of what you'd expect from a 2* restaurant.

Was it worth it? Probably. Would I go back? Only if I won the lottery.

The entrance at night
Cannolo con ricotta, caviale e gambero rosso crudo. 10/10
Spaghetti con gambero rosso e lenticchie nere. 9/10
Sgombro con arancia rossa. 9/10
A magnificent Nero d'Avola - 10/10
Dish with Triglie 9/10
Spaghetto con alice cruda, salsa di catota e salsa di bottarga. 10/10
Grilled tuna loin and belly 8/10
Beef 6/10
Wild strawberries tart 6/10
Petit 16 :)

#4 - Al Fogher

Finally, my least favourite of the 4. Al Fogher is located in Piazza Amerina, near Enna. You would only reach this place if you visited the Villa Romana del Casale (which I did). I am not sure whether the area has better culinary attractions, but Al Fogher is incredibly popular with the locals.
The main reason why I am not too keen on this restaurant is that being a tourist in Sicily, I was looking for Sicilian food - ad this is not. The Chef is in fact from Veneto (my same region) - and his menu proposes a more north Italian/French style of cuisine, which wasn't really what I expected in Sicily. 
From that angle, I can understand why the locals like it - if they want something different, then you can get it here - and not in many other restaurants in Sicily. As a tourist, this is perhaps not what you would be looking for, unless you've had enough of Sicilian food (but I didn't!).

The ambiance is very cozy, and the interiors made me suddenly feel like I was teleported to North Italy. The service was quite stuck-up, very French style.

The food is quite good, although a bit more elaborated than I would prefer it in some cases. The main highlights for me were the ravioli in a zucchini and basil sauce, the quail and the ricotta dessert.

Was it worth it? Probably not. Would I go back? No.

Restaurant exterior
Amouse bouche of minestrone with dumpling
Assorted starter of red prawns and eel - 7/10
Omega-3 bites - 6/10
Quail with bietole - 7/10
Fish ravioli with basil and zucchini sauce - 8/10
Ricotta dessert - 9/10


Adri said...

What spectacular food!

anna said...

The food is awesome to taste thanks for sharing with us

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