Italia Week: The Amalfi Coast! (and Naples)

Map of Italy - Amalfi
After Florence, we took a train to Rome and immediately picked up a rental car to drive south to the Amalfi Coast (don’t worry, we wrap around after the Amalfi to Rome). On our way to Amalfi (which is only a three hour drive), we stop in Naples because to visit the birthplace of one of our favorite foods: pizza.

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LAW looked up the grittiest little pizza place in Naples for us to stop by for a pie: Antica Pizzeria E Friggitoria Di Mateo (Via dei Tribunali, 94). The place is consistently  rated as one of the best, oldest, and most authentic pizzerias in town. The website is in Italian so I could only look at the pictures and it looks like Bill Clinton has been. If it’s good enough for Bill, it’s good enough for me.  The place was literally a hole in the wall in a tiny alley.

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LAW stayed in the car while I rushed to buy the freshest pies that were coming out of the oven. Two euros a pie. The pie was super simple with just tomato sauce and a piece of mozzarella (that fell off in this photo I think). The crust was very, very chewy, but not as puffy as my favorite from good ol’ NYC Luzzos. The rest of the pie was very thin, soft, and floppy. The tomato sauce tasted like fresh tomatoes mashed up into a pulp with some seasoning. Truly the origins of what pizza is today!

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So, as I was fighting the crowd for my pizza, I noticed that people were actually not as excited about the fresh pizzas coming out of the oven. They were more eager to pick up these fried nuggets of…

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Macaroni and minced meat?! AMAZZZZZINGGG! $1.5 euros.

Amalfi
We ate in the car and continued to drive. The drive along the coast was INCREDIBLE. Hairpin turns every couple seconds. Cliff side views. My hands were clammy and my heart was pumping because at every turn, it looked like we were going to drive straight off the cliff into the water. LAW was driving this portion of the trip (thankfully) and got such a thrill out of.

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When we stopped for some photos, we found this little guy munching on his massive doggy bowl/butter-cookie-tin-container full of food.

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This is Positano, where we stayed for our two nights along the Amalfi coast.

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Dinner was at a restaurant near our hotel: Ristorante Mediterraneo (Via Pasitea 236-238, Positano). It was a cozy little spot, unfortunately seated by all tourists. Positano is a beach town, after all.

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Again, needing veggies, we started with a rocket, cherry tomato, and parmesan salad. I already loved arugula/rocket before this trip but have begun to really crave it since then. The leaves are bitter when you first taste them but have such an incredible sweet, lingering aftertaste. Poetic, no? No, but really. They’re awesome.

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I read in reviews that their mussels were great. We got the mussels with white wine and garlic sauce (with extra bread because I looooove that soaking up that MUSSEL juice). Mussels are rarely very great because I think it’s hard to maintain quality control. Usually you’ll get a sweet one and then a fishy one right after. These were super fresh, and therefore almost ALL sweet. It was a pleasant surprise to not need to be surprised by each mussel!

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I had the branzino “Italian style” – which was with a tomato based dressing and lots of oregano. The fish was just as I would have expected it by the beach: fresh, super tender, juicy, and simple. The tomato sauce was light, just adding a hint of flavor. Potatoes were creamy and gave me that little bit of starch I need with EVERY meal.

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LAW had the best classic bolognese I’ve ever had in my life. We make this pasta ALL the time at home and it’s pretty damn good (I add sichuan peppers :D). But this… this one here was amazing. I swear it’s all just in the ingredients too. The pasta noodles were superior. SO al dente without being raw. The tomato sauce was super rich and screaming with sweet, tomato flavor and hints of meaty beef. It’s so simple. It’s nothing we all haven’t had before. But it was just so much better. We almost came back the next day so we both could have our own orders of this pasta.

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We ended the meal with “The Boob” (their naming, not mine), which is apparently an Amalfi coast staple because we saw it everywhere. It’s basically a ball of cream with light lemon cake in the middle.
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Again, simple and great.

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The next night, we drove by Gastronomia Che Bonta (Via G. Marconi, 2/A, 84010 Praiano) on our way back from Ravello and Amalfi. It’s on a main street in Praiano. I walked in to check it out first and saw a bunch of large, burly, working Italian men getting their meal on. That screamed “legit” to me.

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The place was tiny (most people do take-out) and decorated with playful wall paintings. The florescent light, random wine bottles, and old school air conditioner added to the charm of this place. Reminded me a little of home in China…
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The waitress gave us a sample of these little croquettes, which were filled with mushrooms and ground beef. They were a little cold, but otherwise were good.

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More greens!

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I had the mushroom and cherry tomato pie. The mushrooms tasted a little slimy to me… I think they may have been canned? Such a bummer. The pie itself was spectacular though. The crust was thin, chewy, and the edges were puffy, just how I like it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALAW had the bufala mozzarella. His was better than mine (annoying) (just kidding), mainly because he didn’t have slimy mushrooms on his. Also because I love bufula. Bufula mozzarella has more fat than regular mozzarella. It maintains the lightness of regular mozzarella but has a more buttery, full flavor. The tomato sauce  in this pie was less salty than I’m used to, so appeared a bit bland, but tasted healthier and simpler than most pies I have.

After having quite a few pies in Italy (you’ll read about more in the next two days), I came to the conclusion that New York truly does have amazing pizzerias. Our pizzas here are just as good as the pies I found in Italy, sometimes even better. Pizza feels more like a snack  food in Italy, therefore less “gourmet” than some of the pizzas we find in NYC (no truffle, gold-flaked business going on in Italy). They really do keep it simple over there, which is great. Back to basics. It’s why GREAT Italian food is hard to come by because so much of it relies on the quality of your tomatoes, water, flour, etc.

Read about Venice and Florence, too!

3 thoughts on “Italia Week: The Amalfi Coast! (and Naples)

  1. Europeans LOVE rocket… it’s the big fad for salad nowadays. Amalfi looks beautiful!! We just might have to check it out too in March.

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