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It started, as the best meals in Italy often do, with a boat ride.
Thirty minutes west of Positano, our launch sidled up to a rickety wooden dock. Stepping off the boat, we were met by Peppino De Simone and his daughter Antonia, who greeted us like old friends, even though it was our first visit. This, we learned, is how everyone is welcomed to Lo Scoglio.
Set on a pier above a black-pebble beach in the village of Marina del Cantone, at the far western edge of the Amalfi Coast, the restaurant was founded in 1958 by Peppino’s parents and is still a family affair. His daughters run the day-to-day of the business, but their father remains a constant presence—the happy and ever-hungry patriarch. Circulating the open-air dining room, he’ll offer guests samples of his favorite bites: ripe figs from the family farm; a swipe of his olive oil on crusty bread; a sea urchin straight from Campania’s pristine waters.
With a grin and a trusty pocketknife, he’ll shuck you a glistening tartufo di mare—a tiny clam the size of a quarter—to which he adds only a drop of Amalfi lemon juice. You’ll knock it back, all brine and joy, and realize at that moment why you came.
The food at Lo Scoglio is simple and direct, as close to land and sea as it gets. Fork-tender octopus. Bracingly bitter escarole sweetened with raisins. Baby eggplant swaddling still-warm mozzarella. And the setting perfectly fits the meal. Despite the A-list regulars—Spielberg, Springsteen—the vibe is defiantly unpretentious. You can’t help but kick off your sandals and gaze out at the blue-green water while bees buzz around your dessert and boats buzz around the bay. That sun-drenched September afternoon was the beginning of my love affair with Lo Scoglio.
But really, it had started months earlier, when my friend Pavia Rosati had regaled me with stories of her favorite restaurant in Italy. (Grazie mille, Pavia.) It occurs to me that most of my favorite Italian haunts—Ardigna in Sicily, Taverna Trilussa in Rome, Petronio in the Maremma—are the results of some generous friend being kind enough to clue me in. How apt, in this land of Slow Food, and even slower Wi-Fi, that word of mouth would still be so relevant—a pre-digital form of connectivity that’s all about person-to-person sharing.
For September's special issue devoted entirely to Italy, our aim was to return the favor by sharing some of our favorite places and insider tips with you. We’ve got Mario Batali’s all-Italy black book; a look at the next great wine region, Friuli; a local’s guide to the best gelato shops in Rome; and much, much more.
And while September is one of the absolute best times to visit Italy, I hope this issue shows that you don’t even need a plane ticket to capture that quintessential Italian spirit.