November 10, 2011 Touring Ragusa – Attempt 1

Mary: WARNING! This post mostly consists of food!

John: We go down to breakfast to find that there are actually other people staying here. Not that this has any material effect on the buffet, however. Instead of raw eggs today, there are no eggs. An improvement, somewhat.

Today we decide to tour Ragusa. The man at the desk suggests we walk about ten minutes to the information kiosk to pick up a good map of the town and to see some UNESCO Heritage buildings. We head down the street with dark clouds looming overhead.

John with Ragusa Superiore and dark clouds in the background

It begins to rain. Fortunately, we have brought our umbrellas. Unfortunately, the information kiosk is closed and the little cabinet that’s supposed to have maps is empty. Not a good start.

We trek back to the Piazza del Duomo, and climb a significant set of stairs up to the side entrance. Unfortunately, there’s a sign that says it’s Closed for Cleaning. What? Cleaning? Italy? Did God (or San Giorgio, the patron saint of the city) say to the bishop: “No more miracles until you clean this place up!”?

To add insult to injury, the diocesan museum is also closed.

Wet, closed, Baroque duomo

This is all too bad, because Ragusa is a city of beautiful Baroque churches. After the terrible earthquake of 1693, a whole lot of churches were built (or rebuilt) in the contemporary Baroque style. Every noble family seemed to have built their own church. We wander down the attractive, long and wide street leading from the Duomo and stop at the (thankfully open) small church of San Giuseppi. It’s a little Baroque gem.

Welcome shelter from the storm

We next try to see the public gardens, but the sudden appearance of thunder and lightning makes us seek other endeavors. That would be lunch.

We choose La Piazzetta next to San Giuseppi. The owner greets us, we return the greeting in our halting Italian. He graciously uses his halting Engish mixed with Italian, and we actually engage in relatively high-bandwidth communication.

We talk about everything: politics, Sicilian roads (ascertaining that there had been, in fact, no good route from Siracusa to Ragusa), the recent weather. and the geology of the island.

But most of all, we talk of food and wine. He is incredibly proud of Sicilian cuisine, and of Ragusan products specifically. The food lives up to its billing. The antipasto of grilled vegetables, caponata, and local cheeses is the best we’ve had, bar none. We eat it so eagerly that we forget to take a picture.

Mary has a ravioli stuffed with pistachio-infused ricotta in a lovely (but rich) pistachio cream sauce. The owner tells us that the pistachios come from the Catania side of Mt. Etna and are harvested only every two years! We can believe it.

Ravioli stuffed with ricotta and pistachios in a pistachio cream sauce

Mary: This is incredibly delicious. But oh so rich and filling. I give away half of it to John.

John: My risotto with radicchio and local sausage is also a winner. The white wine is a Grillo varietal from nearby Agrigento. It’s fantastic. We lament with the owner that the only Sicilian wines that make it to the US seem to be Nero d’Avola. All the other great varietals: Fiano, Grillo, Greco, Zibibbo… haven’t yet been discovered.

Risotto and wine

The whole lunch experience is wonderful. We say our good-byes to the owner and head back to the hotel for siesta time. We have made reservations at Ai Lumi (where we ate the first night), requesting that the chef cook us what he wants us to eat. Should be interesting and delicious!

Mary: Obviously we made the reservation before we ate lunch because there is no way I would have gone out to dinner after eating that lunch! But they are expecting us so we need to go. I sleep for a couple of hours and wake up still full. John is going to have do double duty at the restaurant tonight.

Somehow climbing the stairs up to the piazza tonight to go to dinner seems more difficult. I think it is the result of lunch. But we soldier on and get to the restaurant so we can eat again. John tells the chef that we want all fish. I am imagining another fish extravaganza like we had in Bari. But it is easier to order just one type of food in our not-so-good Italian.

The first course comes out – the antipasto. It is crispy little fish (with their heads thankfully removed but not their bones), octopus and a lasagna-type layered concoction of sardines and eggplant. We gamely fillet the little fish and they are the star of the plate. I eat some of the octopus which is pretty tasty and I am not thrilled with the sardine thing. John eats some of my octopus and I try to hide the uneaten stuff on the plate. The chef checks on us often speaking an unintelligible Italian. We keep saying “Molto bene!”

Crispy fish, octopus and sardine/eggplant lasagna thing

I have to admit at this point I am regretting the whole “only fish” thing. I am also really not hungry. Next course, the primo of large rigatoni-like noodles with fried artichokes and bottarga which is dried and cured tuna roe. The bottarga is grated over the top. I could have done without the bottarga but John seems happy. I let him steal several of my noodles.

Rigatoni with artichokes and bottarga

For our secondi we get a whole grilled squid. Even though there is no way I can eat the whole thing, the part that I do eat is wonderful. The squid has been cooked quickly and is tender and the grilling has lent it a fabulous flavor. This and the crispy fish from the antipasto are my favorite foods of the night. (Actually I was quite fond of the bread, too.)

Grilled squid

Okay, we’ve done it! We have eaten this whole meal without exploding. Oh, wait, they are bringing dessert. It’s a cannoli with a ricotta cream and, what is this, a cactus fruit? Interestingly, on the way back from the Villa Romana we saw fields of cactus. They were actually cultivating cacti. And now here it is on our plate. Hmmm, how to eat this? There are millions of hard seeds in it. We try to find the non-seedy section to no avail. John eats his cannoli. I try mine. Ew, so sweet. I give it to John. We give up on the cactus fruit. The server comes over to clear our plates and explains that we are supposed to eat everything – seeds, pulp, the whole nine yards. Thanks but no thanks.

Cactus fruit and cannoli

We say our arrivedercis and depart waddling down the stairs to the hotel. What a day! I vow that this will not happen again!

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