Palermo: The buildings are beautiful in the city center, and I had a great time with my friends who invited me to join them for the day. Palermo was just starting its Christmas decorating, which I’m sure will add to the beauty of the downtown Centro district. I recommend going into the cathedrals. They are stunning inside! That being said, I will not go back to Palermo as it is not a charming enough big city for me to want to stay and explore any more of the food options. Highly populated cities are really not my thing anymore. I like very much the small town feeling.
I was not overly impressed with the food but it is difficult to judge the gastro-possibilities of a city after only one visit. I am not a fan of fried food and this seems to be the staple for the locals. Blech! I did find an acceptable place for dinner: Bisso Bistro. Whereas it was not the best food, it was acceptable after a day of not much to eat. The artichoke caponata was good. I followed this with a bowl of excellent pumpkin soup. Then came the weird raw seafood plate….the gamberetti was tolerable with the orange sauce, the sepia slid down just fast enough to be considered slimy so no more of that, and the salmon was fine with the bread yet it would have been nice to have some cheese. Like I said, not impressive.
For a good and affordable place to stay in the city center, I recommend B&B Vivaldi. http://www.bbvivaldi.it/en/ Gabriele and Riccardo were very friendly. The establishment was secure and the bed was comfortable. The location was perfect! The water pump in the bathroom was a bit weird and loud, and it scared the crap outta me the first three times it went off. They serve a nice little breakfast included in the price. When getting to the B&B from the bus/train station, don’t take the taxi if you can help it. If you need to take one, negotiate the price before you get in the cab. Know your route so you have an idea of how much it should cost. Better yet, call your accommodations and ask them how much a taxi should cost from the Central Train/Bus station to their location.
Getting from Catania to Palermo is not recommended by train even if the Trenitalia site says so. Every local with whom I spoke told me to take the bus. So, from Acireale I took the Zappala e Torrisi bus which is 1 hr to Catania, and then the SAIS line to Palermo which was 2h 40min. You’ll have anywhere from a 20-60 min to wait in Catania between the buses depending on the direction to or from Palermo. There is a corner bar between the bus lot and the ticket station for a quick caffe or tea or brioche, etc. And they have a relatively decent bathroom which is nice before getting on the longer route bus to Palermo. For the hour wait on the return trip I went to the cafeteria on the other end of that little block. They were very friendly and well-priced for bar food, quick, tasty, and close to the bus terminal. Notes on Catania bus station: Don’t assume that your bus to Catania will go to the “bus station”. Also, it isn’t a station. It is two separate locations: a building for purchasing tickets and a lot for boarding the buses a block away. If your bus doesn’t stop at the actual bus lot, then get off at the train station as it is an easy 1 block walk from there to the buses.
Acireale: I finally found what I consider to be pretty good food in a restaurant in Acireale! La Carbonaia! I felt like this establishment was giving me their all, something I have experienced many times in Italy and has been missing from my dining experiences here in Sicily. https://www.facebook.com/Lacarbonaiact/?rc=p Since arriving in Acireale, I’ve gotten more heart from the bar service than I have from the few restaurants I’ve tried. But La Carbonaia has friendly people, is beautiful inside, and the menu quite tasty. I heard that it is a “new” place according to a friend at the downtown bar, and I hope that they are successful. Inside the rooms are soft, elegant, and comfortable. Their house wine, you guessed it: Nero d’Avola, is the best I’ve tasted of that grape. The antipasto of shaved zucchini, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and lemon was amazing and definitely my favorite of my 4 dishes. The dessert of candied orange slices on biscotti sprinkled with dark chocolate chips and a little powdered sugar served with a Moscato dessert wine was my second favorite. Antonio, the server, had me try a huge bite of the orange and a swig of the Moscato at the same time. It was delightful! Then he added scored lemon peel to the little wine glass and had me try it again, still with my mouth full of delicious candied orange…POW! That little bit of lemon completely changed the flavor and I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face! He said to me, “Quella è la Sicilia in bocca!” (That is Sicily in the mouth!) I was so impressed! The pasta was my third favorite: penne with almond pesto, zucchini, carrot, onions, and baked ricotta cheese. And the swordfish topped with olives, tomatoes, capers, and onions was also delicious but sadly one of the dishes had to be last in rank. Nino, the owner, recommended that I try the pork fillet in orange sauce on my next visit which of course I will! I’m glad to have found this little treasure. It gave me hope that my time here won’t be a barren culinary wasteland filled with weeks of eating bar food or my own cooking. HA!
On my way home I stopped at the little stone kiosk on the Piazza del Duomo out of curiosity. I’ve noticed this kiosk every time I come down town but have never stopped to see what it is that they sell. A lovely woman named Erminia turned me on to the Tamarindo!! I love it! It’s tamarind extract in a simple syrup with the juice of 2 freshly squeezed lemons and a splash of seltzer or carbonated mineral water of some kind. Wow! So refreshing after such a huge and rich meal at La Carbonaia. Just before my last swallow she stopped me and added just a little bit of baking soda (bicarbonate). It fizzed up, she told me to drink it down after which I let out a big belch, and my tummy felt awesome! This is definitely the best digestivo I’ve ever had.
My friend at Buca di Sant’Antonio in Lucca loves Sicilian wines, as does another friend at Il Peschino. Between both of their recommendations I have a nice little list of their favorites from which to sample. The local liquor and wine store has many of them. I’ve enjoyed bottles of Sciara (Nerello Mascalese/ Merlot blend) and Etna Rosso (Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappucio/Nerello Mantelatto) both from Barone di Villagrande, Planeta Frappato, and Syna’ from Tenuta La Favola (Nero d’Avola/Syrah). So I’m not feeling so sad about the lack of great wine anymore! Yea!