The day after my arrival in Bella Napoli I was invited to taste the culinary specialties of Antica Latteria, a small but noteworthy restaurant in Chiaia, accompanied by the prestigious wines of iconic winery Mastroberardino. On previous visits, I enjoyed the varied menu at Antica Latteria, and especially their extensive antipasto buffet, which seemed like a good match for the range of wines that Mastroberardino offers. Selected for this evening were Lacrimarosa, a rosato from aglianico grapes vinified as a white wine, the cru of Greco di tufo, Novaserra, and the legendary Radici Taurasi. Also featured was the dessert wine Melizie made from fiano grapes through the process of noble rot, botrytis.
To present these wines from the historic winery in Atripalda, was Dario Pennino, CEO sales and marketing.
Antica Latteria, with 50 seats in two tiny rooms offers simple decor in an inviting style. Translated, this means you will feel like you can relax and really enjoy your food and company. Diners can watch people walk by and “see and be seen” through two big windows that face the narrow, busy street. The owners and staff are friendly as if welcoming you into their home, proudly sharing their cuisine.
As guests arrived, we were first served Lacrimarosa as an aperitivo in small teardrop glasses. The faint coral color was so festive, so spring and mimicked all of the fabulous easter decorations and candies now on display in the bars and stores.
The antipasto was a course in 4 acts: First was this region’s treasure: Mozzarella di bufala, then a “Piatto di terra” or “plate of the earth” of tender pork medallions wrapped in bacon, grilled provola that resembled a dollar pancake, eggplant parmigiana, rolled stuffed eggplant and fried dough balls with baccala’ & green seaweed. Next was the “Piatto di Mare” or fish plate: Whole and fileted fried sardines, fried pieces of baccala’ and octopus salad, without which no Neapolitan dinner is complete. Especially delicious with these fish selections was the Novaserra Greco di Tufo, it’s exceptional minerality making it perfect for seafood. The final act was the “piatto fritto” or “plate of fried goodies” with arancini rice balls, crocche’ (fried mashed potatos), tiny fried meatballs and a thin, delicate onion frittata.
We were lucky to have at our table a fun couple from the States who, having lived in Naples for six years offer a fountain of knowledge on their website Napoliunplugged. Also joining us was an enogastronomic journalist who clearly loves his job judging from the jovial smile he wore all evening.
At a certain point I noticed that every time the chef was ready with new plates in the tiny kitchen, he would ring a bell, so within an hour each time that bell rang I was hoping that I wasn’t salivating noticeably. It goes without saying that we were a bit stuffed after the antipasto because seriously, what are you NOT going to try when it all looks so good?
All of a sudden the rush subsided and came the realization that this was only the beginning! While some enjoyed a lull as tables were cleared and the chef prepared the next wave of dishes, others hurried outside for a smoke break. Out of habit, I looked at my watch and marveled at how long a great dinner can be extended in Naples.
Before getting too comfortable, as in, sleepy too comfortable, the first dish arrived. Fresh papardelle pasta with a long-simmered ragu of little pianello tomatos from vesuvio and cinghiale, or wild boar. The flavor was so mellow and ample, perfect for the Radici Taurasi with which it was paired.
The second dish was a bit of a surprise, and had us reaching for our white wine glasses and either the Novaserra Greco di Tufo or my choice, the Lacrimarosa. Risotto pescatore appeared in front of us and the smell was as delicious as the dish, full of shrimp, calamari and octopus with plenty of fresh parsley. Between bites, Dario recounted the story of Mastroberardino and their history. As the first winery in Campania they began exporting their wines to South America 130+ years ago, where so many Italian immigrants were craving a bit of home. Recently, at the winery, a letter was found from 1912 from Angelo Mastroberardino to the family asking for money to travel from New York to other US cities like Cleveland and Saint Louis to introduce the wines.
Before we knew it, dessert was upon us. Not as a dramatic final act, but a soothing finish to an ecclectic and ample dinner. Not one but two creations appeared, the first was like a deconstructed cheesecake with cookie crumbs on the bottom, fluffy goat cheese then strawberries on top. The second was a unique combination of crumbled shortcake biscuit, grated apple mousse, lemon zest cream and strawberries. These quasi-savory flavors really suit strawberries and the whole plate paired deliciously with the Melizie dessert wine which is made to be less sweet than traditional passito wines. A large group in the back started singing Happy birthday in Italian, which was delightfully festive, and then in English, which was a surprise after an evening of italian chatter. Someone mentions grappa at this point and I am thinking to myself, Basta! Enough! Though I’ve hit my lifetime limit on Grappa, I can say the Novaserra is something beautiful and mellow, made from the same grapes of the Novaserra Greco di Tufo so what you get is a delicate flavor and a surprising aftertaste of grapes instead of, well, gasoline. The bottle was gone in 30 minutes (no thanks to me) and the festive spirit continued. It was to continue without me of course, because a little jet lag was settling in and after a short walk home it was time to sleep…and dream about food?!
Until next time…or tomorrow night…