Magnifici Mosaici

In case you think all we do here is eat and drink, you are only half right. Here are images from a day among the astonishing mosaics in the Villa Romana del Casale, in the very small town of Piazza Armerina. My favorite is the Palestrite Room’s “Bikini Girls” who add uncanny perspective to our ongoing international infatuation with sport.

(Top: 4th century AD weight training; discus throwing; running. Bottom: Ceremony w/gold cloak handing crown and palm to girl with radial wheel; girl with victory palm and crown; and game of handball. The “double floor” reveals original mosaic, top-left.)Close-up of the lovely lady holding the wheel in “Bikini Girls.” See the tiny shapes and gradations of color that create the room-sized scenes — much artistic talent required.

Detail from one of the massive living rooms, a sprawling mural depicting gods and goddesses surrounded by birds, sea creatures and oddly amphibious animals.

In the Cubicle of Child Hunters, the panel depicts the animals chasing the boys!
The Grand Hall of the Great Hunt — 180 feet long — depicts all phases of hunting.

In the Hall of the Four Seasons you will meet these two sweet, swimmy fish.

The walkable columned portico has depictions of 162 animal heads, wild and domestic, surrounded by laurel crowns. I love this creature’s sassy, knowing expression.

And amore, of course, is everywhere!

Villa Romana del Casale is an elaborate palatial villa where extensive excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world. The site is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villa and artwork date from the early 4th century AD. The mosaics are unique in their excellent state of preservation due to a landslide and floods that covered them for centuries.

 

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Pizza Noto Style

Esperio Diavolo

The historic centro of Noto is easy to explore on foot. Its two main streets, Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Cavour, run through this baroque jewel box and reveal many of her treasures. But sometimes straying off the beaten track yields wonderfully tasty surprises.

Esperio Cinque Formaggi

We discover Esperia Pizza on the downhill side of town. Esperia’s creative menu features upscale and traditional Sicilian pizzas, a few fried sides (why bother?), and a tasty selection of seafood and greens. Surprise! The chef is flexible enough to throw a generous handful of arugula on top of our Margherita pizza on request. Grazie, chef.

Esperia’s wine list is short and sweet. A bottle of fresh La Segreta is a mere €16, perfectly chilled and delicious. I love Sicily’s minerally native wines both in spite of and because of the way they cut the fatty unctuousness of the cuisine.

Let me know if you make it to i dolci — we never have.

Enjoy the film-themed interior! Esperia Pizza,Via Salvatore La Rosa, 72-74, 96017 Noto SR

Interior Esperia

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Anche Gli Angeli

This extraordinary vaulted space is refined and sophisticated, yet somehow manages to be welcoming — a bookish hipster paradise. Anche gli Angeli features a bar, bistro, “concept store,” bookshop and live-music venue. The back walls of this soaring space are lined with wines; its front space is lined with books. Perfect for vino tasting, casual fine dining, literary browsing, meeting for tea and Sicilian sweets, cappuccino, or all of the above. There are even quiet tables for writerly types like me, and a solid internet connection. The chef’s pasta dishes (Noto post 1) are excellent. Charcuterie and cheese plates sustain wine-fueled discussions, day or night. This chef really knows what he is doing. I love sitting at the bar and watching him work. The scene is warm, friendly and fizzy — get there!

Anche Gli Angeli,Via da Brescia 2, Noto, Sicily

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ChoccOfficina Noto

This sun-drenched sleepy corner of Sicily is our home for a month. When we’re not pinching ourselves, we walk the ancient streets at a leisurely pace. We live here and are not in a hurry. We have coffee, dawdle over books, and study Noto’s growing food scene.A great place to start is one of our favorite haunts, Noto’s cheerful artisanal chocolateria and café, ChoccOfficinaRosella and Sebastiano are native Sicilians and serious chocolatiers — plus, they are adorable and very hardworking.

Candied Orange Peel; Sicilian Lemon; Cacao Crumble; and Almond Bark, all in dark chocolate.

Whatever time of day we pop in, CioccOfficina enthusiasts are queuing up for espresso, cappuccino, pastries, cakes, chocolates and traditional Sicilian delights. Everything in sight is local, delectable and gorgeous. “All are made here,” says Rosella, “right here.”

And it smells great, too — filled with the delicious fragrance of melting chocolate. CioccOfficina e delizioso!

Up Next: Just around the corner is Anche Gli Angeli – where the books are!

 

 

 

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Mayor Bonfanti: Noto’s Bounty

Palazzo Decezio, Noto, designed by Vincenzo Sinatra, 1746

Lucky me – I am invited to Noto’s glorious Palazzo Ducezio to interview Mayor Corrado Bonfanti on his pride and passion for local flavors — the sapore of Noto.  “What is so special about Noto is now well known — our native cuisine and wines are beautiful according to visitors and locals alike. This is confirmed again and again in the fragrance and sapore of Noto.”

It is soon to be confirmed yet again in this year’s ‘Best in Sicily’ award for food and wine excellence, recognizing Noto’s esteemed native son, Corrado Bonfanti.

The author and Mayor Corrado Bonfanti of Noto.

The award represents the best this wild isle has to offer in taste and hospitality. It also recognizes those who excel in the field of food and wine – best wine, olive oil, cheese, bar, pastry shop, pizzeria, restaurant, hotel, baker, butcher, canning company and trattoria. And my personal favorite, “Sicilian ambassador of taste,” a job I would love to have!

Among the prizewinners is Mayor Bonfanti, for Noto’s city-wide emphasis on excellence in gastronomy and viticulture, and on Monday, he will go to Palermo’s beautiful Teatro Massimo, above, to collect his prize.

It is not the first time that Noto has participated in the “Best in Sicily” awards. In 2009, the award for the best pastry shop on the island of Sicily went to Caffè Sicilia, here in Noto. “Of course!” as the Bonfanti family is fond of saying.

The Slow Food mascot is alive and well in Noto!

Next up, we visit a few of the Mayor’s personal favorite restaurants in Noto, highly recommended for the freshest, finest local fare and artful presentation. Arrivederci!

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Sicilian Valentine

It is February 14th, 2018.  This is my Valentine to Noto, Sicily — it is love at first sight.

Love of Place

Siamo qui, we have arrived. The first thing we see is Noto’s magnificent historic center built from golden limestone, glowing like honey in the sun.Dreamy flourishes like curved balconies and flowery carvings make us swoon. Even the city’s modest dwellings have a rustic simplicity — we are charmed!

History

Noto was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693. Three inspired architects, Gagliardi, Sinatra, and Labisi combined Renaissance, Spanish and neo-classical elements to create a brilliant hybrid — Sicilian Baroque.

Real geniuses know how to collaborate.

Love and Terroir

Noto’s culinary history reveals influences from ancient Greece, Spain, North Africa and the Middle East. The trifecta of Mediterranean sun, earth, and sea continues to produce a ripe abbondanza of vegetables, fruits, seafood, succulent meats and dairy — with love!

Palermo, Sicily, was the first place I tasted sea urchin fresh from the shell on a tiny spoon. I was a goner, in a true food swoon.  Lucky me — uni is plentiful and abundant in this area.I am also mad for Sicilian street food.  A small storefront here in Noto boasts five kinds of arancino — street food rice balls I adore. 

Tonight I will make my handsome Valentine a savory and romantic Pasta alla Norma, with eggplant, salted ricotta and sun-dried tomatoes. Yum.

Love Is Nuts

Pistachios are often crumbled over desserts or sprinkled over pasta here — yes, on pasta.My linguine with clams and pistachios at Anche Gli Angelie is delizioso!  Hubby’s canoe-shaped pasta arrives swimming in delicate green pistachio pesto — now that’s amore! Almonds find their way into many recipes here in Noto. Our friend Daniela’s apple cake, eccellente!, the best in Sicily, has almonds and lemon zest. Her recipe is a secret or I would give it to you for Valentine’s Day.

Love Grows Wild

Citrus grows wild all over, with oranges and lemons easy picking in our backyard. Sicilian oranges are the best!  I enjoy a slice in my Campari Spritz each afternoon.Even our drowsy morning eggs with bright orange yolks taste like love in Sicily.

Humble Beginnings

One of the best parts of any epicurious trip is sampling local wines. For Valentine’s Day we will share a deep red, romantic Cusora, minerally and distinguished.

In early days, Sicilian wines were known for quantity rather than quality. Now, Sicily’s winemaking skills and biodynamic methods are universally acknowledged as eccezionale!

Our ongoing tasting includes a new wine each night, sometimes more. Nero d’Avola is this week’s pick; last week we fell in love with Sicilian Orange Zibibbo. Next week? Who knows.

Sicilian Valentine

Marzipan was also a gift from the Arabs. We admire their colorful shapes at our cannoli go-to, the incongruous J.F. Kennedy pasticceria — a sweet source of the perfect Valentine!

Home Grown

If you want real fruit and vegetables, Sicily has plenty of farm-stay options where home-grown produce is abundant and hands-on. Try a few cooking classes, water the piselli, shear a sheep, you will love it. Saluti! and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Next up: An Epicurious Meeting with the Mayor.

 

 

 

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Dreaming of a Red Christmas

I arrive to a grim, gray and blizzardy Manhattan. I am longing to see RED.

I trot to Museum of American Folk Art‘s exhibition of bright geometric quilts created by recuperating soldiers from wool uniforms — cleverly named, “War and Pieced.”

I look up up up and take in the red brick of Manhattan, so lovely.

I fall in love with Kees van Dongen’s woman in red at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And thanks to dear friend Rich Wilson, I now know her name – Maria.

Oh my, sample the baubles and bangles in delicious shades of red and pink at Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side.

Pop jewels of rosy caviar like fishy bubbles on your tongue.

We get our red on at the Blue Note with Jimmy Heath and his band.

Jimmy Heath plays vermilion, baby.

Holiday pour at at the Blue Note helps make the evening bright.

Stage-side we’re holiday swells, flushed and fabulous.

An insouciant red X marks our Christmas view over midtown.

Santa’s holiday treat is “The Band’s Visit” at Atlantic Theater Company. Don’t miss it!Beautiful Tony Shaloub will break your heart, but you will love it. Just go.

Everything is droll and dolled up for the holiday.

Merry, sparkling and bright.

But it’s rotten tomatoes for Mario Batali, banished from Eataly – scandaloso!

Go instead to Noodle Pudding, our secret Brooklyn favorite that doesn’t even have a sign.

 

Red shoes and parasols for my three daughters in holiday shades of beautiful at the Met.

Where ancient urns in earthy terra cotta hold a ticket to the past.

In the end, we find The End of History in the West Village, pink and rosy.

Joyous Christmas and Happy New Year 2017!

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