Happy 2009 everyone. We welcomed the new year with a champagne lunch at nearby Publicis. I haven't been to this place for a while and was very pleased to see that they have put more effort into their gourmet retail section- lots of champagnes, premium foods and best of all, a counter selling Pierre Hermés macarons.
The stores along Avenue des Champs Elysée have their windows all covered up. Maybe they are preparing for the sales which will start next week, if it's like London the stores will be mobbed to satisfy the pent-up demands of people who has been restraining their spending. Pastry shops have stopped displaying buche des noels (log cakes) and have instead put out galette des rois.
However, we're still not done with 2008 yet, as far as Sicily is concerned the best are yet to come! Rewind back to Ortigia. After a wet night, I woke up very early, in time to catch the sunrise and the beautiful view of the seaside.
We drove to Noto. First to the ancient ruins of Noto Antica which was totally deserted; since V needed to pee I had a good excuse not to visit this rather creepy place so we pressed onwards to the town of Noto itself. This city was totally destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1693 and was then rebuilt. Most of their buildings are made of a typical Iblean stone which has a characteristic honey colour, restored now to a beautiful shimmer. Many visitors come to Noto, above is an image of schoolchildren exploring the maze below the town hall.
Mid morning snack attack before going to next destination. By now I have learnt to limit my selection to cannolis. I can never decide between the white cream and the ricotta so ended up with both, the thumbprint cookie was for V who is fixated with strawberry pastries at the moment.
This part of Sicily is agricultural, we passed endless hill slopes cut into terraces and planted with olives, grapes, oranges and lemons. I asked husband to stop at a lemon grove because I have never seen a lemon tree in my life. Vera was just as excited too. The weather was excellent and the views of the lush mountains really magnificient, husband enjoyed the drive very much.
Finally after an hour's drive through endless downhill turns we reached yet another baroque hillside town. Ragusa is beautiful and its Duomo (the Dome or cathedral) is another splendid building, the town itself is very popular with holidaymakers in spring and summer. Our main reason for visiting was the Ristorante Duomo which has two Michelin stars, therefore theoretically speaking the best in Sicily as there is only one other place which has one star. We made the reservations early but were reminded to reconfirm at least a day beforehand. It is low season and we were one of only two parties for lunch that day.
The welcome was very warm, the chef walked with us to the table and even asked his staff to bring out a cushion for V. We decided on the degustation menu of fish and meat with matched wine pairing; one can choose from a la carte, or from the degustation menu of fish, meat or a combination of both. He asked about our food allergies and dislikes, I requested that swordfish be left out and he was obviously disappointed because swordfish is such a beloved Sicilian ingredient; sorry chef but I don't like the texture of cooked swordfish.
Breads were brought out, all were delicious and different, the cold-pressed local olive oil was gorgeous but quite redundant.
This was the most elegant dining establishment visited during our trip, the space cosy and decorated refined sumptuousness with beautiful views out of its windows.
Amuse bouche of Cappucino di Funghi e Scampo. Pardon my Italian, I think it means a frothy soup of mushroom and scampi. At the bottom we found pieces of succulent scampi, barely cooked and luscious.
Above,Riccio con Ricotta Al Limone. Sea urchin with lemon ricotta cream. I find European uni has a more pronounced iodine and metallic note, here these jarring components are smoothened by the creamy ricotta cream. Lovely.
There was also a tiny serving of Gambero Bianco con Latte di Mandorla e Zenzenro Candito in a bowl. White prawns with almond milk and candied ginger. Highly delicious and unusual. This was similar to a dish we had later.
The third item was Cernia Affumicata e Insalata di Arance. Smoked grouper with orange salad which was hidden underneat the fish. The fish didn't taste that smoked, more like fresh and very sweet, this was subtle and the salad added a crunchy texture.
The main courses arrived. Later we counted that they serve three each of fish and meat courses. First fish dish was Baccalo Alla "Missinisa"con Macco di Fave e Verdure a Sali Minutu, I think it means salted cod with bean puree and salted greens. Very nice and pleasant combination of mellow flavours and rich textures.
Next, Polpo e Totani Cotti Al Carbone con Burrata di Andria. Octopus and squid with a burrata sauce. Husband was delighted obviously with this dish, the seafood charred slightly outside and still tender and sweet inside.
This was not in the menu. I asked the chef to cook something for V with vegetables and a little meat. He took a lot of care, checking a few times if we wanted it with broth and pasta, and this was the result. It was delicious and the flavours clean even though there was a good mix of vegetables. V ate most of it, along with all the grissini in the bread basket.
The third seafood dish was the chef's interpretation of couscous. Being near Tunisia, couscous is very popular in Sicily. This is the first time we ate a seafood version. it has almond milk enlivened with citron zests and sweet creamy white prawns like our appetiser, as well as raw oysters and couscous well-infused with all the briney flavours of the seafoods. Outstanding and innovative, this dish really showcases the chef's creativity and understanding of the best ingredients in the region.
Wine served was Edelmo 2006 Benanti.
Unfortunately by this stage we were quite full as we had also made substantial inroads into the bread basket, so when the meat courses came out we had difficulty finishing them. The change to red wine of Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2007 Gulfi prepared the palate for more robust dishes.
Quaglia Farcita al Foie Gras, Insalatina di Verdure e Capperi e Fonduta di Formaggio Vaccino. Quails stuffed with foie gras and served with salad and capers with a sauce of melted cheese. Rich and extravagant, like the baroque architecture outside, and matching very well with the wine, a course to be lingered over.
Followed by a Lasagna con Bollito del Quinto Quarto di Fassona e Salsa d Broccoli Arriminati. Almost a semi-vegetarian dish, the broccoli and nutty raisiny fillings made this interesting pasta variation almost light.
The final dish was Coniglia alla "Pattuisa" (Portoghese) e Verdure in Agrodolce. When the chef asked earlier about our dislikes, he was visibly relieved that we eat rabbit. This is the reason, it was another masterpiece. Rabbit is not my favourite meat but here it was delicious, the flavours go on and on like a good wine- meaty and gamey, vegetal and winey.
We didn't think we could manage desserts but we were mistaken. Accompanied with Moscato di Siracusa 2006 Orseoli, the Gelo di Mandorle con Grano Cotto Al Carbone Gocce di Porchetta with almonds, cheese, pistachios and saffron was totally amazing. This was definitely a reason to make a detour and eat here.
The petit fours tray was hardly touched by us but V enjoyed trying them out. It was a superb meal and we really enjoyed it very much. I am pleased it turned out well and demonstrated another aspect of Sicilian cooking.
By the time we left the restaurant it was nearly dark. We got lost trying to find the car, walking almost 40 minutes which at least facilitated our digestive process. The drive home was hairy, husband had programmed the GPS to take the shortest route which meant we were directed to use the mountain roads. In the dark. My knees were shaking, there were so many turns, the lighting was minimal and if we had missed it would be a perpendicular drop into a ravine. We then took a longer route which meant we made our way back to Ortigia after 2.5 hours, about twice as long but much safer. After all these adventures, we were relieved to be back in the hotel. Still full from lunch we ended up watching telly and snacking on potato chips.