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Memorable Mondays:Positano Per Noi

August 3, 2010

      

Positano, Amalfi Coast

 

There’s nothing like bad service experiences that can ruin an otherwise perfectly good meal, leave a bitter taste in your mouth. But what about how much better a dish can taste when it’s paired with good company, on a perfect night, in a town with a serenely paradisiacal backdrop in a restaurant that makes you feel like your right at home, even though it’s an ocean away? If there was ever a town that can take you to this blissful state, I must insist that this town is Positano. Located along the luscious Amalfi Coast in Italy, this cliff-inlaid town is everything the postcards make it out to be and so much more. Recalling my experiences there almost has me at a loss for words, and not because of a shady memory, but because all I remember is that for the five nights I spent there, I spent much of my time being breathtakingly speechless.     

M-Sac and I jumped on to this excursion last-minute, but EC, AG and ES had had it planned for months (well, years if you want to get technical). I didn’t  know much about Positano, really. I thought the only part worth visiting on the Amalfi Coast was Amalfi. EC will never forget when I asked her casually….”So, what do you do there, in Positano?”….”Ohhh…just wait..” she said with a cunning grin.     

The town is populated by the The People of the Perma Smile, where more often than once, a breathless elderly man would pause his gruelling climb up the countless cement steps that take you from the main piazza to most residences and hotels, to give me, an obvious tourist, a smile and a sweet boungiorno. When I tried to purchase a souvenir wish bracelet from one of the little stands, not only was I not ripped off, but the bracelet was given to me for free, a regalo–it goes without saying what wish I made as I tied the knot. An unbelievable amount of kindness and warmth resonates from every Positano-ian–from Carlo, the owner of our Bed and Breakfast Pensione Maria Luisa, who spent over an hour phoning all his friends to help us find a place to stay when we decided to stay an extra night on a limb and he had no room for us, to the little elderly lady at Casa Celeste who ended up taking us in, and served us fresh breakfast on her terrace the next morning, to the restauranteurs and, but of course, their young male wait staff.     

 

Casa Celeste

 

With its ideal coastal location, and its pizza-master neighbour, Napoli,  it is no wonder that the food in Positano is simply outstanding. I don’t think there was one meal that I did not savour while I was there–whether it be the quick panini or pizza we got from the bakeries and ate on any shaded curb we could find, the dishes served to us at the restaurants that line the waterfront (and of course the ones up on the cliff, with their incredible view) or the gelato and granitas that kept us hydrated and cool. There are a few places that will stand out in my mind and heart forever, for both the food and the memory that came along with it. On this Memorable Monday, I will share these places with you, in hopes that when you visit Positano (and notice how I say ‘when’ here, as I believe it to be an essential trip for everybody), you will take my advice and share your experience with me, so I can live vicariously through you.     

Buca di Baco and La Pergola     

Spot: Spiaggia Grande (Big Beach)     

Notable dishes: Pastas and Seafood + Cold Treats/Nutella Crepes at the cafe during the day     

Ideal for: Dining by the beach, Lunch sans hike back up the cliff, Quick bites or espresso pick-me-ups mid-tan     

Not uncommon in most tour books that grace your local bookstore shelves, Buca di Baco, is main attraction in the piazza by the beach. With a “take-away” cafe on the main level, along with a sit-down restaurant basically on the beach, La Pergola, the hotel’s sit-down restaurant on the second floor (Buca di Baco), and a hotel above that, it’s definitely a mini empire in its own right. And for the right reasons. We frequented this general area multiple times, daily actually.
We went to Buca di Bacco’s hotel restaurant  on our first night, still in shock that we were actually in this magical land. Reservations are recommended for these spots, right by the water, at dinner especially as the tourists climb down sun-kissed (or stroked) after a day a la spiaggia. EC practiced her stellar Italian language skills (a la U of T) to score us a beautiful table so close to the water you could almost feel the mist from the waves. (We were all very proud).  Memorable dishes here were the (complimentary) bruschetta upon arrival (there is no shortage of free offerings in Positano, obviously) and the tagliatelline with angler fish, rocket, cherry tomatoes and black summer truffle, which I opted for, even after promising myself I’d go light with a salad dish.

Bruschetta at Buca di Bacco

 

Tagliatelline with Angler Fish at Buca di Bacco

Tagliatelline with Angler Fish at Buca di Bacco

 

On what was supposed to be our last night in Positano, M-Sac and I enjoyed an excellent meal at La Pergola, home to our favourite waiters of the trip. I assure you that my judgement was not at all hampered by the bottle or so of wine consummed before heading down to the beach, nor by the constant state of euphoria that this town had instilled in me by this point. Seafood is an essential experience in Positano, or in fact any town by the sea, so we opted for the grilled calamari and grilled swordfish dish. How good was it, really? Good enough for us to decide that we’d skip our bus trip back to Sorrento the following morning for an extra night in Positano, even if it meant sleeping on the beach. It must be noted that La Pergola was also the spot where we enjoyed a bottle of prosecco on our last night, the night of the “personal questions”–don’t worry, the quotes are not indicative of a big trip secret, videos documenting our ridiculous night are posted and tagged on all of our Facebook profiles.

Grilled Calamari and Grilled Swordfish at La Pergola

 

La Pergola

 

Cafe Buca di Bacco is most memorable for me, probably because it was my refuge from the scorching sun on more than one occasion, bringing me comfort with its ice cold granita, selection of tasty gelato, and even serving me breakfast a la Nutella crepes on one or two occassions…oh, and for providing M-Sac and I with our Coca Cola Light daily fix.

The Cafe of Buca di Bacco

 

La Zagara
 
Spot: located behind the buildings facing the beach, in the alley ways of shops, bakeries and mercatos
 
Notable dishes: its wide selection of gelato and granita flavours, the panini, mezzaluna and piadine
 
Ideal for: a quick take-away lunch in the shade, a mid-day cold treat, a musical dinner courtesy of their piano bar on a lovely garden terrace, or a quick take-away light dinner

La Zagara

 

 
Arguably my favourite food spot in Positano. It’s a small sit-down piano bar, situated in a garden terrace, also with a take-away counter, located along one of the shaded cobble stone streets tourists flock to around 12:30pm when the heat from the sun gets unbearable, even in the water. Like the Prince of Thieves, La Zagara is master of stealing back the appetite the sun may have seemingly erased. We may have spent about half of our money on food here, but only because every panini we had (and every gelato) kept us craving more. They reel you in with their fresh pastry display, like the Baba con panna I believe we included in our strictly-pastries-for-breakfast diet in Positano, and then hook you for good with their selection of (amazing), and reasonably priced,  panini and piadine. I believe my favourite was the Mezzaluna, a mini calzone stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese. After almost a year, I can honestly say I can still taste the fluffly dough with the creamy and salty interior. It was the perfect lunch, enjoyed after scoring the last few sun-shielded spots on the steps right outside the bakery door…something about as rare as landing a beloved seat on the TTC any Monday around 8:45a.m. We also chose to have a quick light dinner here our second night, grabbing a panini each (I had the Saltimbocca–ham and mozzarella), to bring down to the piazza with us. I’m sure I looked just as euro-classy as I had hoped, as I engulfed my sandwich in-between introductions to a fleet of young, good looking, Italian marching-band members. It was too good to eat daintily, I promise. It is definitely worth the trek up during sunning hours to try one of their gelatos, and granita especially, as their flavour selection rivals all others. Limone and Fragola make their necessary appearances, but so does the not-so-common tasty choices of Melone and Ananas.

Spinach and Ricotta Mezzaluna from La Zagara

 

Eating and Meeting...and Eating...Panini from La Zagara

 

Ristoranti Mediterraneo
 
Spot: Via Pasitea, on the upper part of the town
 
Notable Dishes: Any and all of their pizzas. Made to order right in front of your salivating eyes
 
Ideal for: Pizza take-away to be enjoyed on your pensione’s terrace, or an enjoyable night with mood-enhancing live music and irreplaceable view
 
I discovered this little gem on one of my solitary exploration walks in Positano. Well, by discovered, I mean, it was the first spot my rumbling tummy got me to after leaving Maria Luisa, but trust me, I’m happy I ended my search early. M-Sac wasn’t feeling too well, so I sent myself out for some take-away dinner for the two of us to enjoy in our breakfast room over looking the coast at the Pensione. It was the perfect time of night in Positano, when the sun is not quite yet set, but all the twinkling lights bring the cliff side to life, and the water starts to glisten off their glow. If you ever stayed anywhere close to via Pasitea, one of the main roads on the top of the mountain, there is no shot you have missed Mediterraneo…if not by sight, than by sound. The lively Italian music they play nightly walked us all the way back to our little room every night. I was so upset that I didn’t discover this place earlier after I brought back the wood-oven pizza with arugula, mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. Actually, despite the fact that M-Sac told me she was already full after our first pizza was done, I headed back out again to grab a second. When I eat through stomach pains, you know they’ve done something right. It was our own fault though, we were warned by Carlo to try out this spot on our very first day…a lesson learned that the locals always know best.
Da Vincenzo
  
Spot: Via Pasitea, on the upper part of the town
 
Notable Dishes: anything off the antipasto bar, the fried zucchini, the stuffed peppers and pasta…anything really
 
Ideal for: free champagne, birthday parties with the locals, becoming a ‘happy woman’
 
Most evenings we made our way down to the Spiaggia Grande for dinner, underestimating the food and ambiance that the cliff-inlaid, hike-free, restaurants offered us. It wasn’t until our last night that we ended up chosing a spot close to home–a decision we would soon come to regret (much like how I regretted not eating every pizza Mediterraneo had on their menu). Located on via Pasitea, Da Vincenzo takes the idea of ‘guest connections’ to another level. (Okay, that doesn’t sound right…) A couple of the girls had popped into Da Vincenzo on a post-beach trek back to our Pensione, in hopes of picking a special dinner spot to rendezvous at for our finale meal (for real, this time). After eyeing the antipasto bar spread, and meeting with the ever-so-lively Vincenzo himself, ES and AG, walked out with an invitation to a post-dinner private birthday party in the restaurant in addition to a 9:30pm reservation. M-Sac and I arrived slightly earlier than the other girls (why am I not surprised, haha), and decided to wait outside on a stone bench so as not to bother the busy wait staff by holding up a table. We knew we were in for a memorable evening when one of the young waiters brought us out two complimentary glasses of champagne to enjoy while we waited…but seriously, how did they even know we were there? I told you there’s something magical about Positano, I swear the people have special powers. When the girls arrived, we sat at our awaiting table and began the best and last night of our incredible journey a la Costiera Amalfitana.
 
Following another complimentary glass of something or other, we were greeted (by Vincenzo of course), but also with a complimentary stuffed and fried fiore di zucchini. We made our way through a bottle of white wine and endless chatter as we recounted the absolute amazing last five days we had just experienced. I can’t really tell you what we ate, it was of course delicious, though, but the only memory I can recall is of complete emotional and gastronomical bliss. I know EC and M-Sac had the stuffed pepper, I had a chicken or seafood salad and AG and ES enjoyed a green pasta dish. Our night only really began after a thorough demonstration of the dessert and pastry selection, with a history behind each and every choice thanks to AG and our lovely cameriere, and an essential post-dinner espresso.
 
It was here that our trip was essentially summed up into perfection. The restaurant shut its doors for the evening, allowing only us to stay in, along with their entire staff, friends and family to celebrate the compleanno of Gabrielle (who was he? the 18 year old waiter we met about 5 minutes prior) Free champagne flowed (it even found its way to us as we huddle in the corner giggling…’5 Canadesi in the corner’ as AG put it), group pictures of what seemed like old friends and families were taken (with us included!), and Vincenzo danced around the restaurant, with his silver triangle—“DING DING DING HAPPY WOMEN!”…we were even thanked for our presence in Gabrielle’s speech…”PER NOI”…talk about feeling special.

MSac and I with our free champagne outside Da Vincenzo

 

The Antipasto Bar

 

Us with Vincenzo

 

Fiori di Zucchine at Da Vincenzo

 

Gabrielle Pouring the Champagne

 

Buon Compleanno!

 

The History of Dessert at Da Vincenzo

 

Ding ding ding! Happy Women!

 

The party ended earlier than we wanted our night to, so we began our routine journey down to la spiaggia. Only to be stopped quite promptly again by the staff of the neighbouring Caffe Positano for a free glass of wine and prosecco (and a meet and greet with mine and ES new best friend, Carmen). We ended off our evening with another bottle of chilled prosecco, on the patio of La Pergola, sharing many laughs, taking many videos (to be tagged later for our embarassment) and asking way too many personal questions.

With the Guys at Caffe Positano for Some Vino

 

If you mention Positano to any of us, surely a huge grin will light up our face immediately. We all left a piece of our souls in La Costiera Amalfitana. We left with sun-kissed skin, heavy hearts, promises to return, that I’m sure will be seen through (sooner rather than later) and memories of stunning landscape, new friends and delicious food that will forever be emblazoned in our minds.
 
“Muovi muovi muvoi!!”
 
“Avevo una cassetta piccolina Canada na na na na na…..ma no non e una cassetta piccolina Canada e una cansone”
 
 
Noteworthy Links:
http://www.casaceleste.net
http://www.pensionemarialuisa.com/
http://www.davincenzo.it
http://www.ristorantimediterraneo.com
http://www.bucadibacco.it/
http://www.bucapositano.it/
http://www.lazagara.com/
 
One Comment leave one →
  1. September 10, 2010 6:32 am

    I love Positano…I miss it terribly. And oh, we also had lunch at La Zagara!

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