As much as I love cooking, I also enjoy dining out and I’m just as comfortable at the local pizza joint as I am at a fancy venue. Restaurant prices in Puglia are more than fair, and you get a lot of value for your money.
Monopoli is full of nice places to eat, from homey taverns to finer establishments. My personal favourite (visited in total 4 times in the past two years) is Ristorante Piazza Palmieri.
They serve an incredible “house starter” consisting of 12 assorted dishes, half cold and half hot. Some of the highlights include smoked swordfish with pink peppercorns and marinated salmon with strawberries – as odd as that may sound, it was my favourite thing in the selection!
Strange but true, this tastes amazing!
We chose this restaurant as our the venue for our last supper in town, and indulged in a fantastic platter of crustaceans. Top pick for fine dining in Monopoli!
Given the superb freshness of the fish, it is not that terribly surprising to find a sushi restaurant in town. Restaurants with foreign cuisines are rare in Italy, but considering how many people were in this sleek venue, that might change. Zenko serves up some very creative, mouthwatering and highly photogenic sushi, as well as original cocktails (served in hipster crock jars). So if ever you get tired of pasta and pizza, it’s definitely a great alternative!
Speaking of pizza… well nothing will ever beat the diavola I had in Naples. Nothing. Ever. Unless I go back there. However, when we didn’t feel like cooking, pizza at a local pizza joint away from the tourist crowds was pretty appealing. Watching the pizzaiolo tossing the huge floppy disk of dough into the air was very fun indeed (he moves so fast the photos are blurry).
Ready to go in the oven – diavola / norcina combo
It may not have been the best pizza I’ve ever had, but it was without a doubt the biggest!
One of our much more spectacular (but equally casual) experiences was dinner at a trabucco in Gargano (the spur on the heel of Puglia). A trabucco is an old-fashioned fishing device, a large wooden structure perched on the shore, with long poles extending over the water. From the poles hangs a large net which is submerged in the water.
After a certain amount of time, the operators turn old winches to pull the net up, and use a small net on a long rod to bring in the catch. There are only a few of these left in Puglia, and quite a number of them have been turned into restaurants. Al Trabucco da Mimi in Peschici is probably the most famous…
The tables are spread delightfully along the shore on various levels, but all of them feature a stunning view of the trabucco and when you time it right (like we did), you can enjoy a stunning sunset while savouring the catch of the day.
The trabucco is still operation and later in the evening, we were able to witness the haul of fish and chatted with Mimi, the 84-year-old owner himself.
And then there was Scinua… there is a lot of buzz about this little restaurant on TripAdvisor. It’s located in the charming little town of Putignano, which has no particular claim to fame except that it’s located close to Grotte di Castellana and Alberobello. It’s as lovely a town as any other in Italy, but it has one secret gem that the others don’t, and that is Scinua.
The executive chef Luigi has taken a completely innovative approach to traditional Puglian food… the ingredients are as local as you can get, but served with an original twist and some spectacular plating. This was my second visit and it was even more enjoyable than the first in 2014. Again, we opted for an assortment of starters, which included local ham with figs, courgette flowers filled with ricotta and deep-fried, and a wonderful “green” cappuccino, just to name a few.
The absolute highlight – a mini burger served with a unique herb called “friar’s beard”. I’ve never had it before, juicy, slightly sour and fresh… caramelised onions and a tarallo on top, it was an outstanding piece of food porn. Next time, I intend to go there and order a dozen of these and nothing else.
This time around, however, we also indulged in two superb pasta dishes. The spaghetti with courgette flowers and pancetta was particularly delightful, a perfect balance of flavour and texture.
It’s impossible not to want to try everything on the menu (which is not huge but is continuously updated), so we topped off our lunch with a trio of desserts, including a fluffy tiramisu, a dense dark mousse and a couple of profiteroles. The service is impeccable and profoundly knowledgeable about what they are serving, and opened new doors for us into the secrets of Puglian cuisine – done in exquisite, modern yet purely authentic style.
Naturally, I can’t list all the places we visited, but I can honestly say that there were no bad experiences. Dining out in Puglia is incredibly enjoyable (until you step on the scales) and offers a bounty of goodness, from simple to spectacular.