Mario Batali on Where to Eat in Italy

Mario Batali on Where to Eat in Italy

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My favorite restaurants in Italy, from Puglia to Piedmont.

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    An Italian chef named Mary Magadalene married into the family that owned this restaurant, which has a history that dates to 1922; she ran the kitchen with her mother-in-law for years. Vito Pepe is the current chef.
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    Originally opened as an inn and restaurant in 1977, the restaurant has remained a family-run business ever since. Young chef Mattia Spadone now runs the kitchen with his father. The restaurant focuses on Abruzzo cuisine in a cozy environment, but the food is quite refined.
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    Matteo Rizzo, the son of chef Elia Rizzo, has joined his father in the kitchen at this restaurant, which highlights traditional Italian ingredients with modern techniques and plating.
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    "My meal started with a crunchy ball of porcini and waxy potatoes on a delicious puddle of barley soup, made rich with fragrant saffron. The paccheri pasta, a seemingly risky yet perfect take on carbonara with baccalà, guanciale and a dusting of peperone di Senise (a spicy pepper), made me crazy. Then came rabbit with braised fennel; a stew of potatoes, mushrooms and lamb shoulder; and a carafe of Cirò (a Calabrian wine). I was actually angry at how effortless this cooking looked."
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    "My favorite antipasto was a steamed-crab salad with burnt-olive meringue and a kind of ajo blanco (almond gazpacho) that blew my mind with simplicity and flavor. The best way to get a feel for the place is to take a bit of the verdant risotto with fermented beans and anchovies, followed by a sip of Soave by Prà. The chef uses infinite modern Italian, Japanese and Spanish techniques, many clearly explained and none of which I can re-create. This is the work of a young genius."
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    "Chef Giovanni Lorusso has the local fishermen in his back pocket, and it shows: perhaps the best selection of pesce crudo I have ever seen outside of Japan; it took my breath away. Three different kinds of Adriatic urchins, baby octopi, scampi, three sizes of red shrimp, calamaretti, all dressed with different oils, salts and citruses. The antipasti course was a 40-minute excursion into Neptune's palace, and we took a walk after that first course just so I could get my head back in order."
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    "On a farm just south of Chieti, my grandma's ancestral home, Villa Maiella is the kind of place I dreamed about before I happened upon it. Abruzzese cooking is considered to be the apex of Italian food south of Bologna; Arcangelo Tinari, the son of the original chefs, has taken his parents' ideas to another level in purity of traditional flavor. I started with a plate of salumi that made me cry, including a blood sausage that was as dense and dark as a moonless night in the mountains."
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