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FROM PETTOLE TO PASTICIOTTi—A WEEK IN SOUTHERN PUGLIA

FROM PETTOLE TO PASTICIOTTi—A WEEK IN SOUTHERN PUGLIA

Old Oct 19th, 2010, 02:11 AM
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HaHa, Ann, That reminds me of Americans who speak loudly when they encounter someone who speaks no English! Good memory! I did begin that translation thread about Le Zie. I don't think they connected me with the e-mail, though, but who knows! So many of the words are alike in those two languages that if I am stuck in Italy I always break into some kind of bizarre combination of Spanish and Italian. They understand me but then often the person answers in Italian and I can follow only a few words. I understand the directional words, and of course, the food terms but I wold hate to hear a tape recording of myself trying to speak Italian!

Chazz: I hope that works out for you because I bet that Catania would be a terrific place to spend a few years. I think it gets a bad rap tourism wise but I've heard from a couple of people who know the city that it is really a great town.

Everyone told us that the beaches get packed in August.
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 08:31 AM
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So many of the words are alike in those two languages that if I am stuck in Italy I always break into some kind of bizarre combination of Spanish and Italian. >>

I did the same in Spain, combining my [just ok] italian with my very rudimentary spanish. it seemed to work, in that we generally got what we wanted, when we wanted it.

and when we were completely lost on our last night in Seville, I was able to ask for directions, AND understand the answer! but tryingto separate the two languages in my head is quite beyond me.
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 08:45 AM
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Eks - another wonderful report. You have convinced me to return to Puglia next spring!

However, just one question - did you learn to play burraco when there?!!!
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 11:11 AM
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Nochblad: You got me on that one! I've never heard of it--is this something like poker?
Thanks for the comments on the report--I will finish up soon!
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 11:37 AM
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The Torre Maizza was a big splurge for us but we were enchanted from the very first minute. The hotel is a complex of historic masseria buldings combined with new additions housing the guest rooms. Our room was noting short of palatial, with a vaulted stone ceiling, sitting area with fireplace (stacked wood provided), massive bathroom (with two washstands) and private outdoor space with two loungers. The handsome whitewashed buildings were embellished with incredible flowering vines and grape arbors and dwarf citrus trees and exotic succulents stood in giant terra cotta pots along the pebbled paths. But one of the main draws for us was the heated swimming pool and shortly after checking in we decamped to the pool for a languorous afternoon.

But the first order of business was a discussion of dinner with the congenial front desk staff. Here, as elsewhere, we felt as if the hotel staff were not comfortable recommending rural, homey restaurants for the home cooking that we sought; perhaps they feared that no English would be spoken, which was the case with the two masserie/agriturismi that we would try during the next three days.

We visited the first of these that evening. Darkness fell about 7pm and we were a little anxious about having to navigate both ways in the dark but there was no remedy. So after a wrong turn or two, we breathed a sigh of relief when after a drive of about 30 minutes finally turned into the long gravel road that leads from SS 16 to the Masseria di Parco di Castro. (We later discovered that it might have been quicker to take the autostrada from Savelletri (there was an exit very close to the hotel) to Pezze di Greco rather than navigate through the large town of Fasano).

This turned out to be one of our favorite dinners, due both to the food and to the ministrations of our water, Vito:



MASSERIA DI PARCO DI CASTRO near Fasano, in Speziale



This SlowFood masseria sits on a slight rise in the midst of olive groves and down a long, unpaved road off the SS 16 near the hamlet of Speziale.
(The farm was mentioned in a papal bull as far back as the 12th Century, according to their brochure).

The dining room is encased by stone walls and a vaulted stone ceiling and the atmosphere is cozy and welcoming, with a massive hearth for winter evenings. There is a short written menu but we were taken in hand by our amiable server, Vito, a most enthusiastic young man with an unbridled enthusiasm for the food of the region and much knowledge to impart. If only my Italian skills were better!

We began with complimentary tomato bruschetta and the ubiquitous “Pettola,” the fried balls of dough that we sampled in many incarnations. These were dough mixed with cheese and mint and were addictive. Parco di Castro also served the best bread of the trip—small ciabatta from a bakery in nearby Montealbano (I did not get the name, unfortunately, but vito did tell us the source of the cheese that was served and we made a note to visit before our flight home later that week)

Although we did not select the pasta of the house, the laganari (long, thick square-cut chitarra-style pasta) with lightly cooked cherry tomatoes and basil, Vito brought us a complimentary order. Excellent. All pastas are made in house.

We then moved on to two more shared pasta dishes:

I had the cappelacci with red peppers and mint, and was warned by Vito that I should NEVER add grated pecorino to this dish but, instead, should use the grated cacioricotta that was also on the table. A long explanation of this followed but I was not able to understand much of it. (Pecorino was too strong, was the gist). This dish was also excellent, featuring the red peppers that are a sensation in the region. (I had had the best peppers of my life two nights before at Le Zie in Lecce)


My partner chose a pasta dish with tomatoes, pancetta and potatoes and immediately stated a wish to return the following night for a repeat. (I wish we had done this; more details later).

As happened most nights, we were too full to attempt secondi, even though the house special rabbit is on my radar for the future. (I believe this was described as boned out and grilled—mmmm). Beef, chicken, and a mixed arrosto completed the list of secondi on that night)

After a trio (!) of complimentary digestifs: red wine/sherry; limoncello; and laurel, we reluctantly bid goodnight. The total bill, with local red wine and water, was 40 euro.

Highly recommended. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

http://www.masseriaparcodicastro.it/







Here is the review I wrote of the hotel on TripAdvisor:




“In a word: IDYLLIC”
Masseria Torre Maizza




anonymous05 30 contributions
new york
Oct 4, 2010 | Trip type: Couples
We spent three nights at Torre Maizza near the end of September and while I rarely write hotel reviews, our experience at this hotel has prompted me to do so here. First of all, I take exception to previous reviews stating that the hotel is difficult to find. It is located just a few minutes drive from the main Bari-Brindisi autostrada Fasano/Savelletri exit and there are signs directing you to the hotel along the route. In addition, the hotel website offers clear directions.

Second, contrary to what a recent reviewer wrote, there are several restaurants located no more than a 10-minute drive from the hotel in the fishing village of Savelletri, on the coast and more, a short drive south in the Torre Canne area. This stretch of shore is quite famous locally for seafood.

More important, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The property is worthy of a photo spread for an architectural or design magazine, as it is a renovation and expansion of a historic farm property that has been done with impeccable attention to detail. The gardens and greenery are particularly impressive--trailing bougainvillea; exotic palms in giant weathered terra cotta pots; grapevines shading the walkways from reception to the guest rooms; clipped citrus trees--all set against the compound of handsome whitewashed buildings that comprise the premises.

A main attraction for us was the vast swimming pool heated to a perfect temperature by solar panels. We had one day of pouring rain when the pool would normally be closed. But upon our request, staff opened the pool and we were able to take our daily swim.

Guest rooms are large and handsome, under high vaulted stone ceilings. I do not often take photos of my hotel rooms but did so in this case. Beds were fabulous, bathroom fittings were luxurious; our room had a fireplace. Higher category rooms have tubs which might be difficult to access for those with mobility issues, as the sides are very high. (For us, this was not an issue)

Buffet breakfasts are outstanding, with a vast array of fresh fruits, yogurts, lovely cakes and pastries, meats (including the celebrated capocollo from nearby Martina Franca) and the esteemed local cheeses. Although we noticed fresh ricotta (heavenly) and mozzarella on the table, we did not find any burrata. No problem, said our amiable server, and he returned with a plate of complimentary burrata for us to sample. In addition to the cold selections, there is a long list of egg dishes and other hot items that can be indicidually ordered and that are included. (Try the frittata of smoked scamorza cheese!)


Isabel Ideler at the front desk was most helpful with restaurant advice and she, and the other members of the front desk and restaurant staff that we encountered, went out of their way to assist in any way possible. We did not have dinner here, or try the spa or golf courses, so cannot comment, except to say that the dining areas are gorgeous and the setting looks very romantic!

(As noted above, there are at least two reportedly excellent fish restaurant in Savelletri, on the coast about a 5-minute drive from the hotel. There are also several masserie restaurants in the countryside outside of Fasano of which I recommend the Masseria di Parco di Castro, in Speziale di Fasano, for a very well-priced and delicious meal of local fare. A car is necessary to reach these. The hotel staff will have additional ideas, and there is also a well-reviewed restaurant at the Torre Maizza's sister property located a few minutes away)

There is free internet in the reception area.

The hotel is a 5-star luxury property but the atmosphere is relaxed, romantic, and not in the least bit stuffy. The price/quality ratio here is much higher than at similarly starred properties in more touristed areas such as the Amalfi or Ligurian Coasts.

The best testament that I can offer is that we are already planning a return for next year.

Date of stay September 2010
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 11:51 AM
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Hi Eks! I just found this post (I've been in Cambodia) and I'm really happy to read about all your wonderful meals as usual. This is a region I've yet to explore, but it's high on my list for "someday."
I don't know how you deal with a partner who does not eat lunch. Do you go all day without eating? Don't think I could do that...
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 12:13 PM
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Eks - everyone in Puglia plays Burraco. It is a highly addictive card game which is apparently very simple but ....

I first learnt it there after lunch during the summer between 2 and 4 waiting for the heat of the day to subside. It is in fact now played throughout Italy but I always associate it with a couple of summer vacations near Otranto.
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 01:57 PM
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I so enjoy your trip reports - they are focused on exactly the things I most enjoy. Thanks so much for sharing.
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Old Oct 21st, 2010, 09:17 AM
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Thanks again, all of you who commented.

Kristina: Your reports have inspired many of my trips; they are a marvel!

Burraco will be placed on the "to learn in future" list!


Here is a bit more. My travel partner does not eat lunch but he does love all types of music. You will soon see why I mention this:



After another exceptional masseria breakfast, we headed north on the highway for about 20 minutes, to Monopoli, where soon after entering the town we found an outdoor market in full swing. This is an event that I can not ignore, so we parked the car on a nearby street with not much difficulty and wandered around, admiring the fruits and vegetables, and stands of mussels and tiny clams, for about a half hour. From Monopoli, which looks like a lovely large town (the population is about 50,000), we drove north for 10 more minutes, when we exited the autostrada at Polignano a Mare, and quickly found parking at the edge of the historic center, a block or so from the tourist office.

One of our first questions to the lovely young woman at the tourist office was regarding the most famous gelateria in Puglia, Il Super Mago del Gelo. Happily, this cozy landmark was just a few doors down, so we made a beeline for the counter where we joined a crowd of gussied up locals who were fueling up before a church baptism. Super Mago is famous for their granita, a sweet, slushy confection but we contented ourselves with gelato; instead of crowning the cones with panna (cream), the cream was put in the bottom of the cone which makes perfect sense. Refreshed, we set off the explore the narrow streets.


Lined with whitewashed cubist houses backing up to sheer stone cliffs that rise from a transparent turquoise sea, Polignano is a gem and one of the most beautiful towns I’ve visited in Italy. We noticed a few people out in kayaks and this would be a great way to explore the caverns underneath the town. Another would have been to lunch at the famous restaurant in the Hotel Grotta Palazzese, but we had heard that prices had risen to stratospheric realms in recent years (rumors abound of secondi priced near 50 euro). We did stop by the hotel to see if we could take a peek but it had not yet opened for lunch and the man at the hotel front desk was less than welcoming (the only rather supercilious person that we encountered all week; I guess he is tired of all the tourists traipsing in to take a look at the grotto) so we moved on to wander for another hour or so.

Unfortunately, we never found the stature of Polignano’s most famous resident, Singer Domenico Mondugno, famed for his rendition of “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu,” the number one single of 1958 which we were told was inspired by the color of the sky above his Puglian birthplace. The song has been covered more than a hundred times by everyone from the McGuire sisters to the Gipsy Kings and is better known as “Volare” and probably best known as a vehicle for Dino Paul Crocetti, known to us now as Dean Martin. We never did find the statue which we later learned is located a short distance to the north of the historic center. Here is a photo for the three people that may be interested:


http://rete.comuni-italiani.it/wiki/...co_Modugno.jpg



It was only at our next stop that we learned that Mondugno’s reputation in his birthplace may be a bit besmirched by the fact that he apparently never paid homage to Polignano in later life. Although Mondugno’s Italian fan club site is no longer active, the singer may enjoy a following in Russia, since there is a Russian-language fan club:


http://domenicomodugno.narod.ru/







Slightly more interesting may be this website that I just came across: The Apulian Club appears to be an organization dedicated to celebrating the food and drink of the region. The list of upcoming food festivals and dinners is a good resource for those who can stumble through the Italian.


http://www.apulianclub.com/it/
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Old Oct 21st, 2010, 09:26 AM
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I love that song "Volare".

Speaking of songs, did you encounter the big new hit there in Italy (for that much all of Europe), "We Speak No Americano"? It samples an old Italian song called "Tu vuò fà l'americano" by Renato Carosone.

When I heard this song for the first time, I instantly thought of my grandmother. I remember her listening to it when I was younger.
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Old Oct 21st, 2010, 10:13 AM
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Lovely report - can't believe I only just noticed it now! So glad you were enchanted by Puglia.
And we too loved the cream-filled ice cream cones at Il Super Mago
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 03:45 AM
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Chazz:

I remember the old song and I think that I heard it a few times on this trip. But I do not know the new one..

H: We were so enchanted that we hope to go back next spring...your report was one of the most helpful to me in panning and I am sorry that I did not thank you until now..
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 03:45 AM
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sorry, in "planning!"
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 11:31 AM
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From Polignano, we drove south and turned off the highway at the Savelletri/Fasano exit, but instead of stopping at the hotel, we drove to east to the coast to the tiny fishing village of Savelletri. My goal: To sample the ricci di mare (sea urchin) for which the town is renowned throughout Italy.



Here is a video to get you oriented:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_qIr...eature=related


There are several fish vendors in this tiny town, but while we strolled around the picturesque port area, deciding which of these to patronize, we came upon a small camper parked near the pier. In front of the vehicle, piled on a table, was an immense round of ricci, along with loaves of bread, and wine. Partaking of this feast were a couple who invited us to join them. It turned out that the man spoke excellent English, having lived in Florida for several years before moving back to his native Bari. So it was with these two friendly folks that I was able to eat my fill of one of the most delectable tastes of the week. Because the orange meat is snuggled into the prickly black half shell, the best way to eat it, we were told, was to clean out the shell with a hunk of bread and then devour the ricci soaked bread. Absolutely incredible. Worth a trip to Savelletri!




That night, we had dinner in Fasano, a few miles drive from the hotel.


IL RIFUGIO DEI GHIOTTONI Fasano

Not wanting to venture too far from our hotel, we selected this casual eatery for our next dinner. This meant negotiating the busy town center of Fasano in the dark which was a little anxiety provoking for me.

I had read about this place during my research; it is listed in the Michelin Italy guide. The staff at my hotel concurred that it was a good place for antipasti. It is a very casual place that seems to attract local families. A multi-tiered antipasti spread greets diners near the entrance. I now realize that I should have selected my dishes for the antipasti course, instead of having the waiter bring us an assemblage of mixed antipasti, because there were several dishes that looked good but which were not included in the antipasti misti spread.

As noted, this is a very casual place; at least two televisions were turned to high volume throughout our meal.

The antipasti misti was good; included were an excellent dish of farro with carrots in a light brothy sauce; a cold dish of mushrooms and celery; fresh ricotta; fried anchovies; fried fiore di zucca; zucchini and tomatoes sott’ olio; and scamorza-stuffed pancetta strips. One of the two best dishes was, surprisingly, strips of white meat chicken (?) with grated carrots. The other was breaded mussels. Mussels have been farmed in Puglia (around Taranto) for centuries and enjoy a reputation that is very well deserved, if these were any indication. I cannot get too excited about the mussels back home in New York since most lack any semblance of character, but the depth of flavor of these was just outstanding and I was sorry that I had not sampled other mussel dishes earlier in the week.

The antipasti were the highlight of the dinner. The primi, which we had as main courses, which followed were disappointing. Before leaving home, I had read reams about the quintessential Pugliese speciality of fave e ciccoria and decided to finally try it on that evening. At some places this dish is served with toasted, oiled bread while spicy marinated peppers are another traditional accompaniment. I was given a dish of peppers and instructed by the waiter to mix them into the pureed fava beans. In my opinion, this dish needed a lot more than piquant peppers to liven up a rather stodgy and bland puree. I am sure it is quite healthy, though.

My partner slogged through a bowl of paparadelle alla Ghiottoni, a preparation that included a Bolognese-type sauce with porcini mushrooms. It fell far short of the pastas we had enjoyed earlier in the week.

They also serve pizza.

With house wine and water, the total was 37euro. Closed Wednesday.

http://ilrifuguiodeighiottoni.com/ristorante.html
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Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 12:17 PM
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I just read back through some of your report and had to mention how I LOVE Pettola. I had them for the first time on the trip and was hooked after one. I was trying to look through my notes to find out where I had it, but unfortunately, I lost some of them. I think it was in Rome where I first had them.

Sooo good!
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Old Oct 24th, 2010, 12:23 PM
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The next day was Saturday our last full day in Puglia and we were sorry to see, and hear, that it was pouring! But we had had wonderful weather for the entire week, so we did not feel that this was a tragedy. After a lavish breakfast that included the famous and sinfully rich Puglian burrata cheese, we decided to set off for Cisternino in the hopes that the rain would abate during the drive.

Cisternino was interesting to me because I had read that the butchers of this white, vaguely Greek-looking town have a traditional of fornello pronto, which means that diners can select their cuts of choice at the shop, have it grilled outside over a wood fire and sit at long tables to devour the grilled meat.

Here is the menu of a well-regarded maccelleria/trattoria to give you an idea of the options:


http://www.trattoriadelcentrostorico.it/menu.html

Photos:

http://www.trattoriadelcentrostorico.it/photo.html






We drove up the forested hills to a plateau overlooking the Val d’Itria and soon found our way into this labyrinthine white town that was spectacularly beautiful even in the torrential rain. I was delighted to find an open truck piled high with boxes of various types of mushrooms including the regional favorite, cardoncelli, but before we could do any further exploring, my partner wisely called off our expedition. Needless to say, there was not a scent of grilled meat in the air—the rain would have doused any fire and, besides, it was too early. And so, drenched, we retreated to our wonderful hotel and did what any other sane person would do in the pouring rain: Go swimming in the pool!

The rain did not abate until the late afternoon, so we remained at the hotel until about 6pm when we set off for one last errand on our way to dinner. I wanted to bring home smoked scamorza, a cheese that I like to use in cooking. I can buy it in New York but the product there is not nearly as good as the version available here. Our new friend Vito at Masseria di Parco di Castro told us that the best caseificio, cheese maker, in the area was Oronzo Crovace in Speziale, and so we headed for this tiny hamlet on the SS 16.

The warm and friendly family that owns this factory/shop welcomed us with open arms when they heard that I wanted to stock up for the flight back to New York. They proudly showed us the cheese making equipment in the back room and invited us to return any morning to watch the cheese being made. I had not thought of doing this before, so this was the second time I visited a mozzarella/scamorza maker at the wrong time! Never mind. For 12 euro, I bought a very large amount of cheese and we walked away vowing to return one day to visit with these kind people and to watch them at work. (I bought only smoked cheese, which would last a long time, or so I was told by Sr. Crovace; the real jewels here would have been the stracciatella and the burrata but I knew that these would deteriorate during the long trip home).



http://www.masseriailcapitolo.com (click on the "caseificio" symbol on the upper left of the page)



Here is one of my staple recipes that uses smoked mozzarella or smoked scamorza (the recipe specifies mozzarella but it is great with the smoked cheese):



http://www.jamieoliver.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=28927
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Old Oct 25th, 2010, 01:16 AM
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eks - still enjoying and loving your report. Re-living some of your adventures and reminscing about my own trip 3 years ago. Thanks so much for the memories, pictures, etc. Sounds like you really did so much in a relatively short time. Glad it was such a success !!!
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Old Oct 26th, 2010, 03:52 AM
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Thanks, Flame ! We had a fantastic time but I am afraid we gave rather short shrift to the cultural/historical sites, so the report just scratches the barest surface of what the region offers to the tourist. As you well know! Thank YOU for your help in paving the way.

I will return soon with the final dinner. I wish I could say that it was the best of the trip but I am afraid that was not the case!
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Old Oct 28th, 2010, 08:03 AM
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I should also not that there is a trattoria across the street from the cheese shop that looks interesting. I neglected to get the name when we passed, but from a search, this looks like the place; I have it marked for a future trip, as it gets good reviews on an Italian online review site:

http://www.oliodiostuni.it/joomla/se...ortiletto.html




From Speziale, we continued on the SS 16 in the direction of Ostuni until the hamlet of Montelbano, where a sign on the right (north side) indicates the turnoff for Masseria Lamiola Piccola, our dinner destination. We had high hopes, which were heightened by the long and dramatic drive on a gravel road squeezed between stone walls and vast tracts of gnarled olive trees. The road rises and twists before the white walls of the masseria come into view. There is plenty of onsite parking; follow the directions to the lot which is at the rear of the restaurant.

Since we arrived a bit before our 8pm opening time, we were shown to cozy sofas in front of the tv in the front living area. We passed a few minutes here before being led by the chatty proprietress (who speaks English fairly well) into the dining room. We were the only diners on arrival but the place soon filled up with what I assume were local people out on the town on a Saturday night. (We were surprised at the glittery getup of some of our fellow guests)

The meal began very well with a succession of mixed antipasti that included a dish of fantastically creamy stracciatella cheese and another of fior di latte. The obligatory platter of capicola from Martina Franca made a brief appearance before being devoured, as did a plate of pettole. A dish of pressed fowl drizzled with balsamic vinegar was excellent, as was a carpaccio of zucchini with shaved pecorino. To complete the spread: Grilled eggplant and a dish of trippa di agnello with potatoes and celery that I did not like. At all.

We should have called it a night then and there because the pastas that followed were not very good. I chose the cheese ravioli in tomato sauce which was probably not the best choice. The edges of the ravioli were hard and the dish was bland and disappointing. My partner fared little better with overcooked orichiette topped with meatballs that were probably much more bread than meat and had almost no taste.

We passed on the second courses, which were either sausage, lamb or beef. The bill with two glasses of wine, and water, was 40 euro.

The hotel looks attractive on the website and the location is convenient to both Ostuni and the coast. But the restaurant was a very big disappointment.


http://www.lamiolapiccola.it/la-struttura/fotogallery



The next morning after another wonderful breakfast, we drove to Brindisi airport and boarded the flight that would take us to Rome. We had no problems at the Rome airport and our flights on Alitalia were good, although once again, every seat was taken.

Our cheese survivied the trip unscathed and has already featured in several dinners at the Ekscrunchy house. We look forward to returning to Puglia in 2011, when we hope to visit the Trani/Andria area as well as Matera in neighboring Basilicata.
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Old Oct 28th, 2010, 08:45 AM
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Wonderful report, as always! Between your trip report and Ted Gales, I think I may need to start planning a trip to Puglia!
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