La Cucina Italiana, A Trilogy (Part III, Eating)

Ciao Readers!

Today we finish our foodie tour of Lucca (sigh).  So far we’ve covered shopping and cooking – today we simply indulge in EATING (and drinking wine – after all, it is Italy)! While Italian food is not that “difficult” to cook, there’s nothing like having it expertly prepared for you at a local restaurant (or osteria or trattoria or pizzeria).  And, of course, enjoying it over a leisurely two-hour lunch with friends (or dinner, if you can wait to eat till the restaurants open at 8:00 p.m.), just adds to the pleasure of the experience.  Since I still can’t figure out a proper way to share these experiences with you, all I can do is try and paint a picture with words (and pictures).  Join me for some of the dining-out highlights from my trip… included a leisurely lunchtime visit to Gli Orti di via Elisa with two of my lovely classmates from language school where we enjoyed an amazing antipasto platter (the little white square thing is not cheese as it appears, but baccala – perfectly prepared salt cod spread) as well as lovely half-bottles of local wine and maccheroni (the local specialty pasta as we learned from the “cooking” post) with fiore de zucca (zucchini flowers). Instead of trying to describe how wonderful the food and company were, just take a look at the experession on my face – I think it says it all.

There was also a solo visit to indulge in more grilled “polipo” at Il Cuore (actually a gourmet food shop, with a few chairs outside for eating).  I am sorry (and not) to say it put the grilled octopus from Marea in NYC to shame (as good as that was) – melt in your mouth tender and fresh from the sea.  I sat outside in a little square on a beautiful day making “yummy noises” till the very last bite of my seafood salad (and also enjoyed a plate of truffle-infused delicacies).  Add Steve and it would have been the perfect meal:

Next, while I think we both agreed the food wasn’t the best we had in Lucca, my classmate Terri (pictured holding up some fried stuffed anchovies) and I managed to finally stay out late enough one night to eat dinner out, at Ristorante L’anciua Pesce Povero.  I guess we should have realized from the “povero” (poor) in the title that at the ridiculously low price of 20 euros for 4 starters, a main dish, a half bottle of wine (each), bread, coffee, sparkling water, dessert, coffee and limoncello that we were not going to get giant plates of whole fish (“pesce”) (though we did get our mutual favorite, the pictured plate of fried anchovies).  While not as drool-worthy as other meals we shared, we agreed that we enjoyed the family-style meal (no menu), the fact that is was almost all local patrons, and each others’ company!

And, finally, no trip to Italy would be complete without the quintessential Napoletana-syle pizza (thin crust, super hot wood-fired oven).  I’m a traditionalist and stick to the margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil)  – this is the best one I had on my trip, from a nifty little pizzeria only blocks away from my apartment (which I unfortunately did not discover until the last night of my stay):

Until we eat again…..

Our Favorite Local Pizzeria

Ciao Readers!

I have talked about a pizza-review post for a while, but have failed to deliver.  I think the reason is, there are some things that they just do right here (like gelato, olive oil, wine, pasta….), making it really hard to pick the “best.”   What it really comes down to is that there are several places that do things very well, and you end up picking the one where the folks are the nicest.  Such is the case in our pizza quest. (But in case you’re wondering, we both prefer thin-crust pizzas, more crispy than not.)

Now don’t get me wrong – not everyone does pizza well.  There are tons of pre-made pizza places in town where you just pick the kind you want from the display case and they heat it up for you (barely).  In my humble opinion, these pizzas are really inferior (not only due to being tepid in temperature, but also in flavor), and with so much good pizza in town, why eat this stuff?!  (Okay, one answer is real pizza places don’t open till 7:30 at night, while these heat-and-eat places may be open all day, but still…)  “Fast-food” pizza:

“Real” pizza is made on-the-spot in a super-hot brick oven – it only takes about 90 seconds for one to cook, so it’s worth the “wait” for the real deal.   We’ve only tried places in our neighborhood so far, as ya want the pizza hot when you get it home.  The two runners-up in our neighborhood are La Luna (pictured first) and Le Stagioni (pictured next).  La Luna actually makes pretty yummy pizza, but they are the most expensive and least friendly (not unfriendly, just comparatively less so), so lose for subjective, non-taste-related reasons.  The folks at Le Stagioni are very friendly and their pizza is good, but just a little undercooked for my taste (notice the crust color), so they come in a close second (sorry for the pics – sorta like apples and oranges as the first was a specialty pizza and the second was a plain margherita):

Our “winner” is…… Fuori Piazza Restaurant (nope, not a type-o, piazza, not pizza).  Their pizza tastes great (and is nice and crispy) and they are super friendly.  The restaurant itself looks like a cozy local joint and next time (if we can wait that late), we’ll probably actually sit down instead of ordering pizza to go (they also have pasta and risotto dishes).  Here are both their margherita pizza as well as one with ham and zucchini:

Thanks for coming along for our pizza-taste-testing!  Bon appetit!

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