Tuesday, 21 September 2010

LONG WEEKEND IN LIGURIA, Part 2

The Ristorante Ca' Mea, a kilometre or so south of Badalucco in Liguria, is easily identifiable, thanks to the giant fibre-glass porcini mushroom near the bridge. The restaurant itself is an old mill with two vaulted rooms painted with colourful cherubs serving wine, mushrooms and other delights, and a gazebo/garden room overlooking the Argentina river.

The evening I visit Ca' Mea there is a sagra (local festival) in Badalucco, the nearest town, in honour of stoccafisso, or dried cod. Because of the festival, I expected the restaurant to be busy, but when I arrived, a large christening party was just leaving, and there were plenty of empty tables. Like the Hotel Santo Spirito in Molini, Ca' Mea has no menu. You arrive, are seated, offered still or sparkling water and a bottle of red wine. On the table is the local rye bread and grissini. The dishes come out of the kitchen with the most perfunctory of explanations of what you are about to eat; as you finish one dish, another one is brought. And another, and another...... Only at the meat course, are you asked what you would like (a choice of lamb chops or steak, cooked rare, with mushrooms, fried with garlic or deep fried with a dusting of polenta). There is also a choice of puddings: ice cream or sorbet, fruits of the forest served with sorbet, or tiramisu, served, strangely, in an enamel chamber pot. With your pudding comes Limoncello, or Grappa, served in a receptacle not unlike a Russian samovar or an early Christian reliquary.

In all, I think I counted at least 10 dishes. When I was in Barcelona last April, our friends took us to a hidden away restaurant for a tasting menu of about 30 dishes. It was interesting, but the food was fussy, overdone, too full of veloutes of this and cappucinos of that, the sort of chemistry and kitchen pyrotechnics that Heston Blumenthal favours. To me it was not real food, partly because there wasn't enough of it (each course was a mere mouthful) and I came away still feeling hungry. At Ca' Mea, one felt well-fed, comfortably so, but not stuffed. The food was so interesting, seasonal, bursting with flavour. The sort of food that had me itching to get to the kitchen to try some of the dishes myself. From tomato bruschetta to baked cheese, risotto to frittata, there wasn't a single course at Ca' Mea that I didn't enjoy.
Porcini mushrooms marinaded in oil and raw beef

What I ate at Ca' Mea:

Mushrooms & carpaccio of beef
Tomato bruschetta
Ricotta with onion
Omelette with mushrooms
Baked cheese
Mushrooms baked with sliced potatoes and cream
Mushroom tagliatelle
Mushroom risotto
Lamb chops grilled
Mushrooms with garlic
Ice cream served in a pisspot

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