As part of Andrew Carmellini Week, we’ve asked him to tell us about some of his favorite places to visit around the world for food. While earlier in the week we asked him to focus on France — where he spent much time in advance of opening his grand café Lafayette — it’s Italy that the NYC chef and restaurateur knows best. “I’ve worked in Northern Italy the most, so that is what I know the best, but travelling through the south, especially Campania and Sicily, is amazing,” he says. “In Italy, there are layers of history. And how that relates to the cuisine is fascinating.” With that, here are some of A.C.’s favorite places to visit when kicking around the boot.
I really dig the food in Campania, on the Amalfi Coast. The region is kind of touristy and on a lot of people’s honeymoon destination list, but there is really some vibrant cooking going on there. The products are so good, you don’t even have to know how to cook. The lemons are amazing, the fish is amazing. Just do some clams with spaghetti with a little bit of chili, olive oil and some local wine. We’ve had great meals at Quattro Passi and Taverna del Capitano in Marina di Cantone. And make sure to plan a trip to Battipaglia to eat the mozzarella at Cassefico Vannulo. A trip there is a good way to understand the culture surrounding that cheese. Say hi to the water buffalo for me.
I love the Langhe, especially in the fall. The best Thanksgiving trip ever, if you want to skip Thanksgiving, is to go to the Langhe and do a wine and truffle experience. It’s post-harvest, so all the grape leaves are changing and it is so beautiful. And you can go on a truffle hunt, which you really shouldn’t miss. It’s a very mysterious experience. They usually like to do it really early in the morning and the guide has his particular spot that he likes to go to and speaks to his dog in a Piedmontese dialect, which is like half-French and half-Italian.
One time, we went out with the farmer and got a shoebox full of white truffles, which must have been like $8,000 worth. The truffle festival in Alba is a must, including a stop to see our friends at Tartufi Morra. I am a huge fan of Trattoria della Posta in Monforte and Locanda nel Borgo Antico in Barolo. Giardino da Felicin is another restaurant that is worth a trip just for the great wine cellar.
For me, Sicily is the most fascinating region in Italy. My family is from Friuli in the north, which could not be more different from Sicily culturally, except that they share the same historical tendency of being conquered. There have been many cultures that have passed through there — the Greeks, Saracens and Moors, and you really see that reflected in the cuisine. I love eating octopus in the street-side shops in Modello or eating granita from one of the pastry shops during the summer. I love Il Duomo in Ragusa and Nangalarruni in Castelbuono. When I travel, I am always renting cars, but I've got to tell you, Sicily is nuts to drive in. So when planning your trip just don’ do it, or you will white knuckle it the whole way.
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