14-16 April 2015
One of the greatest joys of being in Italy, especially Mezzogiorno, is to find the small, hidden-away places that locals adore, where you can find foods you cannot get elsewhere. The freshest seafood, prepared expertly but with utter humility and simplicity, or parts of animals that others — especially foreigners — turn their noses to. It is finding the real heart of the historic city. That was my goal for my three lunches in Napoli.
My two dinners at refined restaurants had mixed results. Il Comandante the first night was rather disastrous in so many ways, from the terribly cooked pasta to the annoying wine upselling; Palazzo Petrucci the next night was utterly superb, from the dreamy crudo to the fabulous duck. But lunches were about the real Napoli, the one with locals only, and I did a small exploration of the heart of Naples cooking.
My first lunch was somewhere I had targetted for awhile now. When I was doing research for this trip, far before the aforementioned dinner locations I had zeroed in on this place. As you know I have a love for offal, and this is one of those temples of offal in the chaotic maze of old Napoli, Le Zendraglie.
Actually a tripperia, but they also do a solid lunch business. I saw the unmistakable tiny storefront window, with the various stomachs of a cow hanging, with a lonely snout sitting at the bottom. I should have taken a photo but was too hungry (you can see one if you Google the place).
I sat down and zeroed in on the item on the menu I wanted and ordered it, with a quartino of house white. I relaxed for a little as I hear the chopping at work for this item. Yes, I’m having a salad for lunch, but not quite what you think…
Oooooooh yes, a salad for lunch… Now this is offal heaven, folks. I love all the stomachs, and they had a lot of it, You have the different parts, from the rich omasum to the more delicate abomasum (reed tripe), to the texture of the reticulum (honeycomb tripe)…and throw in some snouts too! What an amazing and huge lunch! I’ve not had such a great offal lunch since Hong Kong’s Block 13 Beef Offal street stand…
That plate and 3 quartini of wine cost me just around 15 euros, which is ridiculously cheap for this beauty. Expensive for this area, but it was well worth it. I had a long walk back to my hotel to walk this off… And to think, later that night I had the amazing dinner at Palazzo Petrucci. Now you know why I said this was as close to a perfect food day as I’ve ever had!
The next day, after another busy morning, I went exploring again. I had a list of possibles in the older parts of Naples again, all just being tiny local eateries with fresh foods. Yesterday’s lunch was tripe, and instead of hitting the other tripperia-cum-trattoria that I have found (too much of a good thing!), I decided today I should focus on seafood.
There’s an extremely humble little place with no sign that anyone in the world would miss, as it’s sitting in a small alley obscured by a roadside shrine, but the local food bloggers call it Vini e Cucina da Mario e Fabiana — now how simple is that? The proprietress smiled when I walked in and zapped off today’s menu (everything’s fresh so no printed menu) in quick vernacular. I wasn’t sure how much food I can take so I just ordered a first and some wine.
I enjoyed the wine in the tiny eatery as I see more locals showing up for lunch. Then my dish arrived. Ahhh…how neapolitan is this?
The pasta was cooked absolutely perfectly. Goodness, those cooks at Il Comandante really need to learn how to cook pasta. Maybe a trip out of their sheltered tower may help… Fabulous fresh bivalves, pasta with some spicy oil — a simple and hearty dish here. Beauty in simplicity and humility.
Turns out I could eat more, so I told the proprietress I changed my mind and will have a second, so she rattled off the day’s offerings — and I went with the octopus.
Again, a simple preparation, but the octopus was fabulously fresh and the texture was perfect. No stringiness, no inedibility here. An excellent octopus. As I was eating this simple dish I had a flashback to that terrible first lunch in Tokyo earlier this year at the venerated Mizutani and that utterly inedible octopus. That lunch was nearly 400 dollars. This lunch was just over 10 dollars, even with 3 large cups of wine and 2 dishes.
I left this simple eatery very happy, and see the local bloggers were spot on about this being a simple yet solid place with a good eye for seafood. Excellent. Always read local bloggers when you do your research.
The next day I was actually running quite late for lunch as I was stuck near the airport visiting the city’s famous hillside Poggioreale Cemetery. Thanks to all the insane construction around town (Metro stations that never seem to finish), they had suspended most of the trams — so the replacement buses had to fit in the tram lanes. Which caused further traffic chaos…and it’s usually already chaos in Napoli, so…
Many of the places in town were already winding down lunch service when I got back and 2 of the places on my list were oddly shut for the day. Time with running out and with an already early dinner planned (early flight out tomorrow), I didn’t have time to run back to the same neighbourhood where I found the other two places, so I stayed on one of the main roads and dropped into Baccalaria.
Yes, this popular lunch-time restaurant is supposed to feature only baccalà; unfortunately, despite my love for Portugal and Portuguese cuisine, I really am not enamoured with this dish. I don’t like cod. Not even for my fish & chips. It’s the most flavourless fish on the planet, and what you’re tasting is the salt, oil, etc…
Now this place has the service attitude of Madrid. They are almost incompetent. Took 10 minutes to get a menu, took another 10 to order. All that time I sat outside (too cold for most locals) watching construction workers on a cherry picker argue with locals… Oh, how Napoli…
Eventually (that’s saying a lot) my first arrived, a simple paccheri dish. Nothing much, with a baccala-based sauce. However, the pasta was still cooked better than at Il Comandante. Even this incompetent crew did a better job…that’s saying a lot for that very disappointing 1-Michelin restaurant. Not bad. Then my second.
This was solid, fried local anchovies. I love this dish. Though it took me another 10 minutes to get someone to pour me some wine… Good stuff, but the service was infuriating. Now I see drivers arguing with the construction workers blocking traffic. This was entertaining to say the least…which made up for the crap service. Now this is live comedy & drama that you can’t pay to see!
At the end they wouldn’t budge to bring me the bill so I had to go in and force it out of them…geezus, what shit service. I headed back to my hotel to rest and do some packing as I have 1 dinner left in this 3-country trek before I head back to London and then back to the States.
Though the last lunch was pretty lame, it was still good in some ways. But the previous lunches, especially Le Zendraglie’s offal heaven on a plate, will live on in my mind for a long, long time. The chaos of Napoli is, however, what I will really miss.
Via Pignasecca 14
Vini e Cucina da Mario e Fabiana
Vicoletto Rosario a Portamedina 25
Piazzetta di Porto 4