Urgent Dispatch From a Restaurateur on the Road | Sicily
From: Michael Hebberoy Subject: Sicily
My wife, Naomi, and I are probably the only people ever to visit Sicily without seeing its Greek and Roman ruins. We were too busy eating. But what else would you expect from the owners of three restaurants? [Clarklewis, Family Supper and Gotham Bldg. Tavern, all in Portland, Oregon.]
We got off to a slow start, wandering the coastal town of Trapani with our four-year-old daughter, August, trying to find Cantina Siciliana, rumored to have Sicily's best couscous (via Giudecca 36; 011-39-092-328-673). We walked for more than five hours—with a small break for pizza. When we found the restaurant, on a street no more than four feet wide, we ladled fish broth over the tiny grains, just as the locals do. Chef and owner Pino Maggiore also runs a terrific wine store next door, where we bought Sicilian vintner Marco De Bartoli's nutty Marsalas to take home.
The next day, we toured Becchina and Company, the famed Castelvetrano olive oil estate (Palazzo Pignatelli, Piazza Garibaldi; 011-39-339-894-4788), and tasted misty green Olio Verde, pressed just days before. We also drove to the Planeta family's Dispensa winery in Menfi (Contrada Dispensa; 011-39-091-327-965), where we met Francesco Planeta and tasted some of the family's unbelievable wines, like the 2002 Nero d'Avola blend, Santa Cecilia. Afterward, Francescoand August traded children's songs and danced together.
In the Baroque town of Ragusa Ibla, we stayed at the Hotel don Serafino (doubles from $175; Via XI Febbraio, 15; 011-39-093-222-0065), which has 10 limestone-walled rooms chiseled out of the hillside. But we didn't admire the decor for long—we were late for dinner at Ristorante Duomo (Via Capitano Bocchieri, 31; 011-39-0932-65-12-65). Ciccio Sultano's carob-wood-smoked snapper with green melon and pistachio cream is what I imagine Thomas Keller would cook if he were Sicilian.
Ciccio set up a reservation for us at his favorite trattoria, Il Mulino (Vallata Santa Domenica; 011-39-0932-228-866). When we learned that only one waitress was working that night, I offered to help. While Naomi and August ate the terrific house-cured smoked pork loin, I served, bused tables and made the other diners laugh when they realized that a blond-haired guy who doesn't speak Italian was trying to take their wine orders.