My deskmate, Scott Calvert, has abandoned me this week because he got a cheap ticket to London. From there he went to Sardinia. (Back next week.)
I asked him to send me details of any good meals he had so I could post them on the blog. Here we go. Eat your heart out. I am. ...
How do you say "gluttony" in Italian? For me the answer might well be Sardegna, the local spelling of Sardinia. This island is pure magic. Cliffs plunge into the aquamarine sea. Little towns cling to hilltops, the balconied houses painted in soft pastels and covered by red tile roofs. Vast water-carved grottos blow the mind with their million-year-old stalactites hanging like limestone icicles. And of course...there is all the delicious food that's made simply using fresh ingredients.
My Lonely Planet guidebook had me worried at first. It said the traditional Sardinian menu "reads like the Rocky Horror Show of the food world to the antiseptic modern palate." Why? Because of items like donkey sausage, tripe sandwiches and horse carpaccio. But I found the reality to be a lot easier to swallow and far less weird than that. Sure, I saw horse sirloin on one menu, but for me the bigger challenge was choosing among all the things that sounded stomach-growling good.
Here the basic dichotomy is between seafood and meat, with all manner of pasta playing a strong supporting role. Although this is an island, many parts of Sardinia apparently began to fish only relatively recently. The older culinary tradition is meat, and that principally means suckling pig roasted over a spit. To experience both properly, I splurged at two restaurants, a top-rated seafood place in the walled city of Alghero, and a carnivore's delight at the base of mountains near the island's east coast.
First stop: Al Tuguri in Alghero. That was Saturday night. I chose the fisherman's tasting menu and had plenty to taste. The feast started with a bunch of tapas-like offerings, including sea urchin mousse, octopus carpaccio set in a tomato slice and small plates of tuna, squid-like cuttlefish and a sea bass concoction with almonds. Before long a cuttlefish and prawn salad appeared, then more sea bass, some red mullet and a linguine dish with skate. I wasn't done yet. Next came a plate of mussels marinated in ginger and placed on a bed of perfectly firm penne.
Last night, I went for an all-turf eating excursion. My host was Su Gologone restaurant, which describes its location as "in the cool Supramonte countryside, wrapped in the ancient quietness of vineyards and olive groves where the air smells of myrtle and rosemary." I can't argue with that and couldn't improve on it, either. I started with ravioli and meatballs, and instead of bread there was a fresh-baked item that resembled tortilla chips. As I enjoyed my appetizer, I gazed at the century-old fireplace in which my entree had been cooking. Next to the fire several pigs on spits stood vertically, occasionally turned by the guy manning the fire. Before long the waitress brought me my "meat on a spit" entree -- two big pieces of pork roast, a slice of veal roast and a couple pieces of pork sausage. The roasts were super tender and the sausage packed with spicy flavor. The local red wine made it all taste better. Even with salad and a potato and string bean dish, I somehow made it over to the dessert station for chocolate mousse and tiramisu.
Like I said, gluttonous.
Here's a picture of the fireplace at Su Gologone.
(Photo by Scott Calvert)