Hands off veggie buffet at Aurora

The Amalfi Coast of Italy was stunning in its scenery. It was the furthest point south we visited and I looked forward to exploring the culinary delights of this region.

Day One

We arrived in Sorrento after a stop in Pompeii. Our Pompeii tour guide told us THE place to eat in Sorrento

1/2 pizza 1/2 calzone

is Aurora pizzeria, on the Piazza Tasso, the center of the town. Aurora is more than just a pizzeria – they own two more restaurants next door, so it’s a compound at this point. I was pretty excited about dinner here. You walk past the side of the restaurant and there is an open window into the pizza kitchen, where you can watch the chefs making the pizzas and baking them in the wood oven.

The restaurant has what looks like a small buffet near the front. This is a selection of vegetables for the

Pizza oven at Aurora

“selection of vegetables” listed as a starter. My daughter and I each got this. Just when we thought we had the hang of this whole Italy thing, they showed us we did not at all. It’s not a buffet in the American sense. You go up with your waiter and you tell him which items you want and he fills your plate. Now, this is hard to do when really I just wanted a tiny taste of everything, but I felt like a huge pig to ask for this. There were also cheeses on the buffet but I was told “no, no” when I pointed to them. Turns out they were extra.

Fish at Zi’Ntonio

The vegetables were cold on the buffet (previously cooked) and stuck in the microwave once we selected them (I am not a fan of the microwave approach here). Despite this, all had interesting flavor combinations. It was a nice selection. My son started with ravioli Caprese style and my husband had stracciatelli soup, which is very similar to egg drop, and thus he loved it. For our secondi, we went with pizzas and calzones. My son got a Romano

Deboning the fish

pizza (anchovy, mozzarella, tomato, and mushroom). He enjoyed that. My husband got four cheese pizza which we thought was a bit boring (no sauce). My daughter got a calzone Napoli (cottage cheese, ham, and mozzarella). She liked it for the most part, but again, there’s no sauce, so it is kind of dry. I got the Aurora No. 4 which was supposed to be half pizza, half calzone with ham, cheese and mushroom. It ended up being a calzone with just one little flat part. I wasn’t a fan. A pizza without sauce

Unnamed fish

is like a sandwich as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care if it is red or white, it needs something to make it tasty. Overall, we were disappointed by the pizzas.

Day Two

A guided tour took us to the town of Anacapri on the island of Capri where a lunch was included in our tour. Hands down the worst meal of the trip. You know you are in trouble when you are asked to choose between “fish or meat.”

Wild strawberry cake

Sorry, but I need more details! Which fish, which meat, and how is it cooked?  Everything here was pretty bad – cooked in huge pans and served at the table by the waiter. Just disappointing.

We rebounded however and dined that evening in the Marina Grande area of Sorrento (on the waterfront) at a restaurant recommended to me by my hair stylist who grew up in Naples and visits Sorrento often. Zi’Ntonio Mare was magical. It’s situated on a pier over the water, next the sand

Sorrento Lemon Cake

beach where we came and swam the next day. Mount Vesuvius is in the background. You can see the cliffs of the coast and hear the water lapping.  The language barrier was heavy here, and because we ordered some specials I am not exactly certain what we had! I started with a Caprese salad which was perfect. Then I had a special which was fish. I originally ordered something else from the menu and was told they were out of it. The waiter suggested this fish instead, the name of which I could not


understand, but which he said was like a sea bass. It was fantastic. White, flaky, mild, but filling and full of the flavors of the sea. My daughter had linguine with scampi and these shrimp were huge and delightful. My husband had spaghetti with clams (which I think he ordered just about every other day on this trip!) and then sea bream baked in salt. The sea bream was fantastic. I’ve had salt-crusted meats and fish before and it is always a surprise how non-salty they are, and how the salt crust keeps the moisture and the flavor inside. My son had ravioli and deep fried squid and

Inside L’Antica Trattoria

shrimp. Every item on the table was magnificent, but we weren’t done yet. My daughter had cannoli and the rest of us shared a wild strawberry cake (teeny, tiny, amazingly sweet wild strawberries all over this moist cake) and a lemon cake, a specialty of the Amalfi Coast. The cake is baked inside a meringue. This is on my list to replicate.

Day Three

After a morning at the beach, the


kids collapsed at the hotel and my husband and I did some shopping and brought sandwiches back.  We also brought back

Another wild strawberry cake

a wonderful little wild strawberry cake which was just as wonderful as the on we had the previous night. Where are the Italians growing all these wild strawberries? Why can’t we get them at home? What strikes me about the sandwiches is that they only have meat and cheese

Angel hair and prawns

on them. You can’t get lettuce or tomato or anything else, at any kind of traditional sandwich shop.

Dinner that night for our final evening in Italy was at L’Antica

Lamb medallions

Trattoria, chosen in most of my guidebooks as “the” place to eat in Sorrento. It was truly a beautiful setting. There is a small restaurant inside, but most of it is outside under an arbor. There is artwork and pottery all over and the service was quite elegant. I began with gnocchi (always good no matter where we had it) then had pesce bandieri with fried prawns. The husband had angel hair pasta with prawns served in half a lemon (loved the presentation and as always, loved the prawns), then

Pesce bandieri with prawns

lamb medallions with Mediterranean herbs. Unlike the lamb in Rome, this was cooked properly and was delicious. The son had ravioli and the daughter had quail. We finished our last night in Italy with another Sorrento lemon cake I’ve really got to work on replicating this) and a plate of lovely cookies.

Italy was the best food I’ve had on a trip, hands down, anywhere to date. I would go back in a heartbeat. The

Sorrento Lemon Cake #2

beauty of it was none of us gained a single ounce. As always on vacation, I lost weight because we are constantly moving and you just eat less when someone else is portioning out all of


your food.

The Amalfi Coast of Italy was stunning in its scenery. It was the furthest point south we visited and I looked forward to exploring the culinary delights of this region. Day One We arrived in Sorrento after a stop in Pompeii. Our Pompeii tour guide told us THE place to eat in Sorrento is Aurora … Read more

Fusion salad at Gilli

Heading to Florence, I was looking forward to the area specialties, including bistecca (steak) and ribollita (bread soup). If you’ve been reading along, you know that Florence overall was a bit of a disappointment to me on our Italy trip, but how did the food measure up?

Day One

We arrived in Florence after the beautiful train trip from Venice. The scenery was to die for. We dined that night at Trattoria Pallottino, which was within walking distance of our hotel, kind of in the backstreets of the area. I didn’t really care for the feel of this area: sort of dirty, cramped, and just

Sea bass carpaccio at Osvaldo

nothing nice to look at. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to get back to the hotel afterwards because there was a big concert and many streets were blocked off unless you an entry ticket. Getting back was a bit tricky! I had the ribollita here and it just confirmed for me that I don’t like ribollita! It was tasty, but I just don’t like mushy bread in my soup. Other items on the table included lasagna, beef entrecote (which came with those magic potatoes I told you about in my Venice food

Melon, ham, dark chocolate

piece), gnocchi, and fusilloni with ricotta, basil and tomato. Everything was pretty good here.

Day Two

Our first full day in Florence was a busy one, with our tour and visit to the David. We ended up in Republicca Piazza for lunch at Gilli, an historic cafe right on the plaza. There are three restaurants right on the plaza, all over-priced. It was one of those moments where the entire family was in a meltdown over hunger, so we had to act fast. We sat inside in the blissful air

Salumi and cheese plate

conditioning. There are many, many table outside on the piazza, but it was far too hot to even consider sitting outside. This felt a lot like the Caffe Florian in Venice – historic building, ancient restaurant, and serious, professional waiters. We shared a fusion salad (salumo, brie, apple, walnut) and French fries (it was one of those moments). My son also had spaghetti Bolognese.

For dinner that night we asked for a recommendation from the hotel and hit the jackpot. We went to Club Culinaria Toscana da Osvaldo (Piza dei Peruzzi 3r). This is a teeny, tiny little


place run by a very talented chef. It was comparable to our last meal in Venice, where we dined at an old family-owned restaurant. I think the owner was our waiter. He was so friendly and kind to us and made us laugh and feel at home.  It is one of those unforgettable meals. I began with a plate of salumi, cheeses, and marmalade (an amazing selection of local


flavors) which was to die for, and then had pici (like spaghetti but it is more tubular) with basil and pine nuts, tomato and garlic (this was simple and elegant). Our daughter had melon, ham, and dark chocolate to start. This was our first experience with the melon/proscuitto trend and we all loved it – and the dark chocolate was amazing with it. She then had tagliatelle with honey, almonds, basil and clams (this was a delightful mix of flavors). My husband had a carpaccio of sea bass (he loved it but I am just not a fan of raw seafood) then

Fried sea bass and strawberry mashed potato

fried sea bass with strawberry mashed potato and spinach (the strawberry mashed potatoes sound weird, but were really good).. Our son had sliced beef with rosemary, mushrooms, and you guessed it, those potatoes I still haven’t figured out how to make.

Don’t worry, there was dessert of course. I had the torta di nonna (grandmother’s cake, which was moist and had nuts in it). Husband had zuppa inglese

Beed and those potatoes

(trifle), daughter had almond biscotti (which came in a wooden bucket) and vin santo to dip in. Son had chocolate mille-feuille with saffron cream. Every bite was amazing. We could have stayed all night had there been room in our overstuffed

Dunking biscotti

stomachs for more. It was a magnificent experience – personal, warm service in a homey, very Italian setting. This is the best of Italy.

Day Three

On our third day, we took the train to Pisa (where, if you’ve

Zuppa Inglese

been reading along, you know my husband sprained his ankle). So that was a bit of a disaster. We ended up grabbing lunch at a pizza place in an out of the way back alley on the way to the train station. It was a bit off the

Chocolate Mille-Feulle

beaten path and our server spoke no English, so communication was difficult! Our pizza was just ok, I would say. This was our first pizza in Italy and it was thinner and smaller than pizzas at home, but there are so many places in the US to get thin crust pizza

Torta di Nonna

that it honestly was not any kind of revelation for us.

We took the train back to Florence and enjoyed our final meal in Florence that evening. Again, we asked for a recommendation from the hotel and again they were spot-on. This time they sent us to Buca San Giovanni, directly on the Duomo piazza. They had tables outside on the square, but they also had tables inside, down a flight of stairs in the basement

Pizza in Pisa

where it was cool and comfortable, even though those stairs were treacherous. Again, this was another family-owned restaurant that had been open for years. Dining in that basement felt so ancient and truly European, as if we should have been surrounded by casks of wine and catacombs. Instead, there were signed photos on the walls of Italian politicians and celebrities. My husband still thinks there was a

Bread with fondue

photo of an NHL player, but we voted him down on that one!

We knew we were in for a lovely meal and were not disappointed! I had risotto with artichoke and ewe’s cheese

Risotto with artichoke

then sliced filet with parmesan and rocket. The risotto was magnificent. The filet was tender and wonderful. My husband had Tuscan bread with fondue of rosemary and mushrooms on it, then filet rossini with foie gras and truffle in a Madeira sauce.

Filet with foie and madeira

Our son had macaroni with meat sauce and porcini mushrooms then filet with the magic potatoes. The daughter had tagliono with porcini mushrooms and truffle cream sauce, then chicken turnover with fontina and raw ham.  There wasn’t a thing on

Chicken turnover

the table we didn’t thoroughly enjoy. We were stuffed, but managed to share two desserts, a bittersweet chocolate basket with cream and strawberries (beautiful to look at and to taste: simple and sweet) and a soft chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

After dinner we emerged onto the piazza in the dark but the

Filet with parmesan

outside of the Duomo and Baptistery were lit and there were vendors selling little toys that you could shoot up in the air and they would light up and make a noise. We stood around for a while and just soaked up the atmosphere there. It would have been lovely to dine on the piazza that night had it not been so very, very hot when we arrived!

Chocolate basket

Other Delights

Throughout our trip, we ate gelato almost every single day in the afternoon. Since dinner is later in Italy (no one serves before 7), we always needed a little something to get us from lunch to dinner without dying of hunger. I didn’t deviate from what worked – I had chocolate or dark chocolate almost every time but everyone else enjoyed other flavors. Gelato is displayed in shop windows in giant mounds. It is scooped from the back of the mound so as not to destroy the beautiful

Windows of tantalizing sweets


display. In all the cities in Italy, the streets are filled with these shops with their tantalizing mountains of gelato (which is less creamy than ice cream but more deeply flavorful). When we came home, ice cream just didn’t taste good

Pizzas in a window

to me anymore!

Heading to Florence, I was looking forward to the area specialties, including bistecca (steak) and ribollita (bread soup). If you’ve been reading along, you know that Florence overall was a bit of a disappointment to me on our Italy trip, but how did the food measure up? Day One We arrived in Florence after the … Read more

Spaghetti Frutti Mari

A huge part of our trip to Italy was the food. I have a friend who lived in Italy until he was 13 and who has returned many times. He told me the food is just fresher tasting there. I knew that Italian pizza is different than the corner pizzeria and I read up on local specialties of the areas we were going to visit. I was prepared (such a sacrifice) to eat several courses at dinner. I thought I knew what to expect. I had no idea how incredible the food was going to be.

Today I begin the highlights of our culinary journey. Today’s post is about Venice, the city I lost my heart to. It’s pedestrian only streets, glorious canals, romantic bridges, and cozy campos were the stuff of fantasy. Fortunately, so also was the food!

Our first meal in Venice was confusing. We were jetlagged and not used to the extreme

Our first Italian gnocchi

heat. We needed to eat and it didn’t matter where or what. We had sandwiches and salads a place in a campo near the Rialto. It was meant to merely be fuel. It instead was stunning. The salad was lettuce, tomato, and fresh corn (this was a constant in the salads we had all over Italy and it was always wonderful) with oil and vinegar dressing (the only kind in Italy). The salami sandwich was out of this world with delicious thin bread and flavorful salami. I knew right away that Italy was going to work out! Our first meal was next to the Grand Canal at the Ristorante Floridian. Spaghetti Fruitti Mari, gnocchi and caprese salad were all stunners. The seafood in the pasta was a wonderful mix of shellfish and fish and all of it was fresh. The gnocchi was tender and perfect. The caprese (first of many) was fresh and bright.

Tartuffo at Caffe Florian

On day two in Venice we had lunch at the Caffe Florian, the oldest cafe in Piazza San Marco, dating from 1720. I think the waiters might have been around then too (that’s an interesting point about Italy: the waiters are all older, distinguished Italian gentlemen for whom this is a respected career OR they are Asian or Indian immigrants). You sit at the chairs in the square and an orchestra (4 dudes, not really an orchestra) play music. The menu is ancient. We enjoyed some sandwiches (club sandwiches and a ham on croissant). We had to have dessert and worked our way through an amazing tartuffo, a lovely plate

Italian cookies at Caffe Florian

of cookies (where in the U.S. are cookies on the dessert menu? NOWHERE. WHY NOT?) and a dish of fruit and ice cream. Your food arrives on a tray which balances on a tiny table. It was an experience to sit in this beautiful, gigantic square, facing San Marco and eat. It was particularly interesting, because the summer before this we went to Vegas and had lunch in the pretend Piazza San Marco at the Venetian hotel, after a gondola ride on their pretend canal! Let me just say, the real thing is much better!

That night we dined at Ristorante Giorgione, next door to our hotel (this turned out to be their last night before closing for the summer holiday, so we got lucky). Some items that graced our table: baby scallops with polenta, farfalle with lamb ragu, sea

Baby scallops

bream, and sea bass. The seafood was all excellent. The baby scallops were delightful. Usually when you get them in the States, they have been frozen and overcooked, making them like little balls of gum. These were tender and sweet. The sea bream was light and moist and  a

Delightful sea bream

true joy.

The third day was our last in Venice and we dined well! We had lunch on the island of Murano, at Al Vetrai, along the main street of glass shops. Again, I had a salad (Insalata Mediterranea), and again it was stupendous. When you think of a good salad here at home, it generally means one that is filled with lots of things like meat, cheese, olives, croutons, garbanzo beans. In Italy, the salads are simpler and come out as an explosion of color and all of the vegetables taste like they came right out of the fields. There was no brown or wilted lettuce and there were definitely no unripe tomatoes. This salad had shrimp and mozzarella on it. Dressing was a bottle of olive oil and one of balsamic vinegar. Perfect. Other dishes at the table for that lunch included a fish lasagna, traditional lasagna, and a fried

Insalata Mediterranean

seafood plate. The seafood plate was so full it was falling off the plate and was far more than one person could eat.  The lasagnas were much like lasagna here at home, with spinach in them, a rich sauce and a deeply browned top. Each piece was about the size of an index card and about three inches thick.

Later that day we enjoyed macarons at a shop near San Marco. This little shop had a whole case of macarons, as well as candy

Huge fried seafood platter

and gelato. The macarons were light and airy and a perfect little pick-me-up for the afternoon. This was also our first experience with the granita, essentially a slushy. They’re sold all over Italy, sometimes in really fun flavors, like melon. My son had many of these throughout the trip and they were perfect when you needed something cold (which we did just about every day!) but didn’t want the richness of gelato. Mostly, these were sweet but once in a while you would get one that was on the sour side, so it was a bit unexpected. The lemon ones were almost always sour.

Our dinner that night was one of the most memorable. A La Veccia Cavanna was in the same general area as our hotel, essentially right behind it. We walked in


and knew this was the real deal. The restaurant had awards and signed photos all over the walls. It is a family-owned place that appeared to have been in business more than 50 years. The walls were simply covered with proclamations and art

Macarons in the afternoon

that seemed to have been created by an owner or family member.  There were autographs from Italian celebs. The lighting was dim. The tables were big. The waiter was clearly a family member (they all showed the family resemblance in the photos, so we knew!). There was an amazing first course buffet we could have had (with a huge ham hock of prosciutto), but didn’t. The food was stupendous. Everyone got a free bellini and everyone sipped it. My husband and I just do not care for alcohol, but enjoyed a few sips of this lovely fizzy peach beverage (our 20 year old


daughter was kind enough to finish them off for us!). Even the 14-year-old thought they were pretty good.

Dinner included: big ravioli (called tortolloni), tagliolini with lobster, beef carpaccio, beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms, sole menuiere, and spaghetti with clams.  The ravioli were very thin and delicate. The tagliolini with lobster was one of our top dishes in all of Italy. At the time I announced it was the best thing I had ever eaten (I think I said this about once a day). The beef tenderloin had a completely different texture than the beef here

Spaghetti with clams

at home. We must talk about the potatoes that came with it.

Beef tenderloin with the world’s best potatoes

This was our first experience with Italian potatoes and they are on my “must learn how to make list.” At almost every meal, we had a dish that came with potatoes. They are cubed and roasted, but they are superbly soft and tender on the inside and crazily crispy on the outside. I’ve got to experiment with roasting them at high temps to see if I can replicate it. I’ve simply never had potatoes that good.

The sole was deboned at the table and was very lemony and

5 Star Tagliolini

delicate. We also had dessert at this wonderful restaurant: tiramisu (invented in Venice, so it was a must!), lemon torte with chocolate chips, and a cream filled cake. A complementary plate of cookies also arrived (we might not have ordered so many desserts had we known). We overate that night and didn’t regret it for a second. We felt welcomed and

cared for in this homey and warm restaurant that truly did make you feel like “when you’re here, you’re family” (now I know why Olive Garden commercials say that!). I didn’t want to leave.

Venetian tiramisu

I have one more food experience to share with you from Venice: the stores. We drooled at many a window and went into a grocery store. Now, keep in mind that there are no cars in Venice. If you live there, you carry your groceries on foot or by vaporetto. I saw many Italian women with little wheeled bags with their groceries in them. The pasta aisle was the biggest thing in the small grocery store. In a shop with about 6 aisles, it was one entire aisle. Clearly there was a need to fill there!

Venice was a food lover’s dream and I particularly loved that there was magnificent seafood and equally terrific pasta everywhere. I could eat in Venice every day of my life I think.

More dining posts to come. What did we eat in Florence, Rome, and Sorrento? How much weight did we gain? What was the stellar dish of the trip? Were we convinced to try more alcohol? Stay tuned to find out!

Temptation everywhere

Delectable sweets in windows

More types of canned fish than you can imagine

Pasta aisle

A huge part of our trip to Italy was the food. I have a friend who lived in Italy until he was 13 and who has returned many times. He told me the food is just fresher tasting there. I knew that Italian pizza is different than the corner pizzeria and I read up on … Read more