Off season. Amalfi Coast. I love this time of year. Beautiful weather, zero traffic, stunning sunsets. I was enjoying a beautiful sunset as I pulled up to a fork in the road in Vietri Sul Mare one Friday evening. To my left, Vietri’s centro storico. To my right, the road to Raito. Hotel Raito in a small town overlooking this spectacular coast. Hotel Raito, a five star hotel, part of a small chain of exclusive Ragosta Hotels. As I maneuvered each curve on the road, I was wondering what would await me in Il Golfo Restaurant. Which dishes their Executive Chef Francesco Russo would prepare. Would I enjoy creative dishes using products from this spectacular territory or be served generic internationalized ‘Italian’ dishes to please their guests from all over the world?
Smiles from the staff as I rushed into the lobby a little late ish…oops. No problem, no worries. On the coast, relax is their mantra. A seat at a corner table with a view of the port of Salerno to one side…the hotel’s garden to the other. The views, along with a glass of Fuore 2010 from Marisa Cuomo was a clue that not only would I be treated to the territory, I would absorb the best it has to offer.
First, however, a handshake from the chef. Executive Chef Francesco Russo, 32 years young, would be my guide on this trip through the territory. A trip that began with a homemade bread basket.
Caldo, warm to the touch; breadsticks, foccaccia with provola and green lemon, casatiello, bread with walnuts, bread with black olives, bread with tomatoes, and thin crispy crunchy crackers. To the side, two ceramic cups, two rosemary sprigs; one filled with extra virgin olive oil Colline Salernitane DOP the other, colatura di alici from Cetara. Two cups, available for me to spread, splash or dip my fresh breads into.
The chef continued decided to bring out a couple of appetizers to share the region he calls home. First, a dish of code di scampi croccanti al tarallo su zuppetta di trippa e fagioli, prawns tail lightly fried in tarallo crumbs on a bed of creamy tripe and beans.
We stuck with our taste of sea with a plate of tartare di tonno, carpaccio di gambero rosso, e maionese di limone, tuna tartar and a red shrimp carpaccio with a lemon mayonnaise.
Two light assaggi for my primi piatti…Russo’s version of spaghetti with oil, red pepper and garlic had a little twist. He used colatura di alici from nearby Cetara as well as small onions from Nocera wich sat proudly on top of this nido di pasta. Underneath, a surprise. Two flavorful sardines completed the act.
Primi piatto chapter 2…a ravioli lightly filled with ricotta. On top, a sauce made with a local specialty; pomodorino di Corbara. A small tomato that when allowed to eaten, releases a sweet flavor that gently coats the inside of your mouth.
Time to move on to my secondo. And once again Russo and his staff presented me with two plates that represent the region proudly. First, triglie in carrozza sul letto di friarielle e burrata, mullet on a bed of local greens and burrata ...
followed by coniglio in porchetta con finochietto e pomodoro, rabbit wrapped in porchetta with a fennel and tomato sauce.
I was curious, as usual, as to what was going on in the kitchen so Russo invited me to have a look while he and his team were preparing desserts. The kitchen of a 5 star hotel. With the executive chef. A staff who were not only taking care of me, but of a large birthday party in one dining room as well as a large group of American tourist who were enjoying an enormous buffet. All of this off season action did not seem to faze the chef or his staff. Business as usual in off season or on.
And the desserts were ‘on’…ricotta with pear
…a plate of assorted pastries,
and the chef’s combination of two Campania classics. Babà meets delizie di limone…both creamy, neither overpowering the other. Both contributing to the cause, so to speak.
A presentation of the territory. A territory rich in prodotti tipici. Some that I was familiar with, others that I couldn’t wait to learn more about. An after hour conversation and caffè with the chef and plans were made to return…to stroll the hotel’s gardens in the sunshine. Gardens that enjoyed the position high above the coast with the gentle salty sea breezes that embraced Raito all year long…off season and on.
And what about my concerns/curiosities as I arrived a few hours earlier? Whether or not a 5 star hotel could produce creative dishes using products from this spectacular territory or just the bland blah blah blah generic internationalized ‘Italian’ dishes to please their guests from all over the world?
There was nothing to worry about…
Il Golfo Restaurant
Via Nuova Raito, 9
Raito, Vietri Sul Mare (Sa)