13 April 2015
I was glad to leave Madrid after days of headache (and footache) for the more enigmatic city of Napoli (Naples). And it would start bad, as the queues were crazy at Barajas with people arguing with staff over baggage rules… Oh, I can’t wait to get out of Spain… The flight, the “Bourbon Express” you could call it (remember, as in Spain, at one point Napoli was the capital of a Bourbon-family-runned kingdom), was uneventful, and I was back in il Mezzogiorno for the first time in over a decade…
Was so good to see, smell, and feel the chaos that is Mezzogiorno again. I got to my chaotic hotel after a chaotic ride, totally Neapolitan and comforting in an odd way. I feel so much more comfortable here… I relaxed in my hotel room as dinner wasn’t too distant — time nor walking.
Dinner tonight was at the 1-Michelin restaurant called Il Comandante. I was told this was one of the best places for a balanced menu in town. Though I normally eschew Michelin-tainted places in Italy (especially the south), I will be hitting the small, local places during lunches so decided to do 2 haute cuisine places, and this was the first. I headed out into the cool evening.
Il Comandante is on the top floor of the Romeo Hotel just near the port for cruise ships, convenient I guess for those tourists going to boats and not wanting to see the real Napoli. The restaurant is beautifully decorated, including its famous “cannon” table (see the website). The view is also spectacular. They offered me a nice prosecco and I relaxed.
The service was very fluid, a great relief after my Madrid experiences (especially at similarly 1-Michelin Álbora). Of all the menus they offered, I decided to try their “Three Years of Romeo” tasting, which featured the top dishes over the past three years. It looked very interesting and some of it looked quite exciting. The first set of amuse bouche arrived pretty quickly.
Wow, I was now intrigued. This is a fabulous selection of nibbles, from a cod-filled puff to crisp with carpaccio and roe. Nice and tasty. Fantastic visuals in this place, including the dishes.
The second amuse was also nice, a ink crisp. I like the presentation so far, and you can see this place really placing a lot of priority on visuals.
It was at this point when the night, which was going well, took a rather unpleasant turn. I asked for wine pairing but they didn’t do it. They just recommended wines, and they were desperately upselling wines at this stage. It was so bloody obvious… I just took a nice bottle and had to run with it. The wine was opened just before the first dish arrived.
This was a tasting of local prawns. The first, a carpaccio on the left, was nice but a little bland to be honest. The centre, featuring local red shrimp with citrus, was nice. The right, an Asian-themed version with sesame, was also good. Good start so far.
Dish two of the tasting was pasta mista with mussels. I’m a huge fan of pasta of all sorts, but not fried. They become tasteless and distracting. The broth was rich and mussels nice, however. Still puzzled why they used the fried stuff. I enjoyed more wine and awaited the third course. Service, aside from that wine thing, was excellent.
The third dish was one I didn’t care for, a 65-degree egg with smoked mozzarella and foam, with a touch of caviar. Just as I said for my amazingly good tasting at Lisbon’s Belcanto, I don’t like these type of gimmicky egg dishes. This was cooked well, but it just didn’t work for me.
The fourth dish was one I was really exited about, linguine with grilled eel and dried tomatoes. Oh dear, no… The pasta was noticeably undercooked. Gragnano pasta are excellent with a slighly tougher texture, but if cooked poorly it can be grungy or soggy. This was grungy. It seem they were too worried about overcooking they massively undercooked it… Very poor execution. The first proper pasta dish I’m having in Naples on this trip and it’s cooked badly, in a Michelin-starred restaurant? Oh dear… The eel actually became a side item at this point as the poor pasta cooking just devastated me…
I hoped it was an anomaly and just had more wine. It was honestly difficult to eat as it was significantly undercooked. Not just a little, but really undercooked, almost breaking off pieces at points. The next dish is also a pasta so let’s see…
Dish number five is a candele spezzate pasta (Genovese style) with dried tuna. Oh dear, it was not an anomaly. These were horribly undercooked too. Ever tasted raw dry pasta? This wasn’t far from it. Wow, whoever is on the pasta station on the line back there is really screwing up tonight… Or is me dining alone screwiing up their timing? Oh this was so disappointing…
To make things worse, they asked me if I wanted also a bottle of red with this dish (and for later ones), and tried to upsell an out-of-region, overpriced wine so badly (I heard the same spiel to other tables) I said no, and would just nurse this bottle. They looked disappointed. I was disappointed.
My appetite was dropping with 2 very poorly executed pasta dishes and this comedy with the wines. These are supposed to be the bread and butter of anyone competent to be called a cook in Naples. Whoever is doing the pasta back there, his/her mother would be running into the kitchen yelling if they tasted this. Terrible.
The next dish came out looking good, the mullet. However, it was executed (again!) poorly. The skin, which should be crisp and a delicacy, was soggy and undercooked — thus inedible. It’s like eating a piece of wet thick paper that would not break up. Awful. The meat was fine, but I left the skin in an obvious way on the plate to indicate its inedibility — to give the kitchen a clue.
I was really disappointed at this stage and this was not how I wanted my Naples trip to begin. Service, aside from the ridiculous wine up-selling, was solid, but the kitchen was failing. Beautiful plating, but just very poor execution. Then my next dish arrived, which was not what was on the menu…
I looked at this, which was supposed to be pork belly, and enquired… Server seemed confused… A few minutes later she came back saying it was pork loin. Chef apparently wanted to try something new and forgot to tell the staff… Oops. It was honestly very dry and probably overcooked (or they didn’t know the sourcing of the pork, which would be scary for such a restaurant). They have some serious timing issues at this kitchen. Chef wanted feedback so I was honest and told the server what I thought.
I was so disappointed I pretty much lost my appetite. The belly dish showed up and I just had a bit of it. I totally lost interest in this dinner. I didn’t even take any more photos. I just finished the dessert and tried to get myself out of this place.
Sadly, Il Comandante is all about appearances. Beautiful space, beautiful plating, solid service (aside from the wine comedy). But behind that facade it’s all a mess. So many dishes were executed poorly you gotta wonder what was going on. The pasta dishes were beyond disappointing. Safe to say nowhere else the next few days I had pasta cooked so badly.
Maybe it was a clue that there were no local diners in this restaurant, and I frankly heard more Russian being spoken than any other language. That is a big clue.
Maybe the curse of Madrid followed me here on the “Bourbon Express”…now how to shake this off…sigh…
Via Cristoforo Colombo 45