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Taverna del Capitano, Marina del Cantone, Campania


Kropotkin
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Despite its size and relative isolation, the tiny seaside hamlet of Marina del Cantone on the South-Western tip of the Sorrentine peninsular boasts more Michelin stars than many European cities. Throw in Don Alfonso 1890 (2*) twenty minutes drive away at the crest of the peninsula and this probably becomes one of the most stellated regions of Europe per head. We were in the area at Easter and had booked into Don Alfonso 1890 - but its winter renovations continued beyond schedule and they had to cancel. Yet Taverna del Capitano, further down the road, had just been awarded a second star, so we booked in for a Sunday night dinner to try it out…

Marina del Cantone is set in a striking small bay at the foot of a winding road down some precipitous slopes. You’ll pass the enticing prospect of Quattro Passi (1*) set in its beautiful gardens a few minutes from the sea, but when you reach Marina Del Cantone you’ll find little more than a bus-stop, a few fishing boats, a couple of hotels and a series of small restaurants dangling over a curving shingle beach that is flanked by lofty cliffs. The largest building on the shoreline is the Taverna Del Capitano, and inside is an understated but very spacious dining room (we were circa three metres from the next table) with wicker seats, pale wood décor, and a couple of isolated outbreaks of maritime kitsch. A further covered terrace reaches off the main room. Both are pleasant and very spacious but are nothing spectacular per se - but they don’t need to be, as both rooms focus upon the sea which ebbs and flows just a couple of metres outside the vast windows. This is a very special spot for, we hoped, a special dinner.

We asked for the Chef’s eight-course tasting menu which started with a selection of ten balanced tastes and textures, from sun-dried tomato, through olives, to popcorn, gazpacho, crisps and artichoke and another unidentified vegetable; likewise, a simple pre-appetiser of fiore di Zucca worked well enough, but didn’t really foretell the fireworks that were to follow.

The serious business commenced with a dish of octopus balls chowder with sea asparagus and garlic croutons. I’m not normally a huge fan of thin seafood soups but this was a very solid and well-balanced dish. Next came one of Chef Caputo’s signature dishes: a stunning combination of fried red-prawns wrapped in fried ‘spaghetti’ of potato, and all this is matched with a sweet red pepper sauce and fried vegetables. This was sublime and the best dish of the night. If we’d left at that point we’d have been happy, but this dish was swiftly followed by other special plates: first, a dish of black and white tagliolini in a spicy pumpkin and squid sauce – this too was technically flawless and a very impressive combination of tastes (and the best squid I can recall). A first-rate combination dish followed that offered imperial dentice, seaweed, apple, and a slice of dried fig hammered flat, all doused at the table by a mocha sauce flavoured with sea-urchins (poured at the table from a classic, small espresso macchinetta). These myriad elements looked a little too numerous and too disparate when the plate arrived, but it worked terrifically. By contrast, we then encountered a starkly-minimalist dish of beef cooked in tomato, garlic and oregano joined by a vegetable new to me called friarielli – a Neapolitan strain of broccoli, here steamed in a small bag and presented in a small copper pan. Again, this was excellent.

This sequence of four fine dishes attests to the high quality of this kitchen. But there is also a resolutely modern edge to this place: the plating and presentation were far more contemporary than I expected and evidenced a good deal of thought. The style might be too radical for some traditionalists -and certainly, this was not the obvious, easy option for this establishment- but for me this signalled an ambitious, serious place. I could see why the Michelin assessors felt compelled to upgrade.

A pre-desert of a Macedonia appeared along with the petit fours… which was odd, we commented, but at that moment the lights dimmed. It was my birthday (something I’d let slip when booking in case this persuaded them to squeeze us in at late notice), and through the gloom they brought our deserts (a fine combination of walnut ice-cream, along with caramelised walnuts, honey and a further liqueur dip, since you ask) with an additional birthday firework aflame especially for me (‘attention to detail note’: even the firework was garnished artfully with orange). Despite my fears when booking, the only other diners on an April Sunday evening were two elderly couples who had left earlier so, with the place to themselves, the waiter and maître d’ sang buon compleanno – a surprising, and then a surprisingly nice touch that exposed how relaxed and welcoming this place is. These two then chatted at length before Chef Caputo appeared. He was keen to talk about his concern to fuse traditional Campanian cuisine with modern, cutting edge technique and presentation. He also discussed very interesting plans for a further, highly inventive dish (the details of which I’d better not reveal), but one that would mystify traditionalists still further. That said, his commitment to local produce was evidenced simultaneously when he pointed out some of the local fishermen he buys from as they made their way across the shallows casting their nets.

At €231-00 for two, I thought this was also a pretty good deal - helped by a good, extensive, and very reasonable wine list. They also do rooms (although the website could be clearer on the tariffs). I’m not normally one for a break so far away from everything and everywhere, but the cliffs, the shingle beach, and the clear water make this a stunning spot. Moreover, with this place on hand, Quattro Passi five minutes walk away, Don Alfonso twenty minutes in a taxi, and boat-trips to the dining options of Amalfi, Positano and Capri, a serious foodie could stay here for a week or two and not get tired. I’m sure we’ll be back and I’d recommend it to others.

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Wonderful account of what I know was a great meal. Taverna del Capitano has been a favorite of ours for years, though we haven't managed to get down there in a while. We've also stayed at the hotel -- actually twice we've brought our kayaks from Rome, parked them on the capitano's beach, and enjoyed four days of paddling, swimming, napping, and eating, never once going near the car. It sounds as though Alfonso has evolved even further, but the dentice imperiale six of us shared (actually only half of it, plus the head for Franco) lives on as one of the most memorable meals ever -- fillets in cartoccio with Vesuvian tomatoes and olives.

Quattro Passi is good, but the Capitano is better, and so much friendlier, and we much prefer it to Don Alfonso too.

I hope you got to see the Captain's award-winning wine cellar, which is built to resemble the hold of a ship.

Congratulations to the Caputo family on the well-deserved second star.

Maureen B. Fant
www.maureenbfant.com

www.elifanttours.com

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Despite its size and relative isolation, the tiny seaside hamlet of Marina del Cantone on the South-Western tip of the Sorrentine peninsular boasts more Michelin stars than many European cities.  Throw in Don Alfonso 1890 (2*) twenty minutes drive away at the crest of the peninsula and this probably becomes one of the most stellated regions of Europe per head.  We were in the area at Easter and had booked into Don Alfonso 1890 - but its winter renovations continued beyond schedule and they had to cancel.  Yet Taverna del Capitano, further down the road, had just been awarded a second star, so we booked in for a Sunday night dinner to try it out… 

Marina del Cantone is set in a striking small bay at the foot of a winding road down some precipitous slopes.  You’ll pass the enticing prospect of Quattro Passi (1*) set in its beautiful gardens a few minutes from the sea, but when you reach Marina Del Cantone you’ll find little more than a bus-stop, a few fishing boats, a couple of hotels and a series of small restaurants dangling over a curving shingle beach that is flanked by lofty cliffs.  The largest building on the shoreline is the Taverna Del Capitano, and inside is an understated but very spacious dining room (we were circa three metres from the next table) with wicker seats, pale wood décor, and a couple of isolated outbreaks of maritime kitsch.  A further covered terrace reaches off the main room.  Both are pleasant and very spacious but are nothing spectacular per se - but they don’t need to be, as both rooms focus upon the sea which ebbs and flows just a couple of metres outside the vast windows.  This is a very special spot for, we hoped, a special dinner. 

We asked for the Chef’s eight-course tasting menu which started with a selection of ten balanced tastes and textures, from sun-dried tomato, through olives, to popcorn, gazpacho, crisps and artichoke and another unidentified vegetable; likewise, a simple pre-appetiser of fiore di Zucca worked well enough, but didn’t really foretell the fireworks that were to follow.   

The serious business commenced with a dish of octopus balls chowder with sea asparagus and garlic croutons.  I’m not normally a huge fan of thin seafood soups but this was a very solid and well-balanced dish.  Next came one of Chef Caputo’s signature dishes: a stunning combination of fried red-prawns wrapped in fried ‘spaghetti’ of potato, and all this is matched with a sweet red pepper sauce and fried vegetables.  This was sublime and the best dish of the night.  If we’d left at that point we’d have been happy, but this dish was swiftly followed by other special plates: first, a dish of black and white tagliolini in a spicy pumpkin and squid sauce – this too was technically flawless and a very impressive combination of tastes (and the best squid I can recall).  A first-rate combination dish followed that offered imperial dentice, seaweed, apple, and a slice of dried fig hammered flat, all doused at the table by a mocha sauce flavoured with sea-urchins (poured at the table from a classic, small espresso macchinetta).  These myriad elements looked a little too numerous and too disparate when the plate arrived, but it worked terrifically.  By contrast, we then encountered a starkly-minimalist dish of beef cooked in tomato, garlic and oregano joined by a vegetable new to me called friarielli – a Neapolitan strain of broccoli, here steamed in a small bag and presented in a small copper pan.  Again, this was excellent. 

This sequence of four fine dishes attests to the high quality of this kitchen.  But there is also a resolutely modern edge to this place: the plating and presentation were far more contemporary than I expected and evidenced a good deal of thought.  The style might be too radical for some traditionalists -and certainly, this was not the obvious, easy option for this establishment- but for me this signalled an ambitious, serious place.  I could see why the Michelin assessors felt compelled to upgrade. 

A pre-desert of a Macedonia appeared along with the petit fours… which was odd, we commented, but at that moment the lights dimmed.  It was my birthday (something I’d let slip when booking in case this persuaded them to squeeze us in at late notice), and through the gloom they brought our deserts (a fine combination of walnut ice-cream, along with caramelised walnuts, honey and a further liqueur dip, since you ask) with an additional birthday firework aflame especially for me (‘attention to detail note’: even the firework was garnished artfully with orange).  Despite my fears when booking, the only other diners on an April Sunday evening were two elderly couples who had left earlier so, with the place to themselves, the waiter and maître d’ sang buon compleanno – a surprising, and then a surprisingly nice touch that exposed how relaxed and welcoming this place is.  These two then chatted at length before Chef Caputo appeared.  He was keen to talk about his concern to fuse traditional Campanian cuisine with modern, cutting edge technique and presentation.  He also discussed very interesting plans for a further, highly inventive dish (the details of which I’d better not reveal), but one that would mystify traditionalists still further.  That said, his commitment to local produce was evidenced simultaneously when he pointed out some of the local fishermen he buys from as they made their way across the shallows casting their nets.   

At €231-00 for two, I thought this was also a pretty good deal - helped by a good, extensive, and very reasonable wine list.  They also do rooms (although the website could be clearer on the tariffs).  I’m not normally one for a break so far away from everything and everywhere, but the cliffs, the shingle beach, and the clear water make this a stunning spot.  Moreover, with this place on hand, Quattro Passi five minutes walk away, Don Alfonso twenty minutes in a taxi, and boat-trips to the dining options of Amalfi, Positano and Capri, a serious foodie could stay here for a week or two and not get tired.  I’m sure we’ll be back and I’d recommend it to others.

A first-rate combination dish followed that offered imperial dentice, seaweed, apple, and a slice of dried fig hammered flat, all doused at the table by a mocha sauce flavoured with sea-urchins (poured at the table from a classic, small espresso macchinetta).

Ah, yes, contemporary Italian cuisine at its best... or worst. Give me some more of that mocha sauce flavored by sea urchins... and make sure that apple comes from the Trentino. Where do people dream up these combinations? Is this all Adria's influence? What a crock(no pun intended). I've never been here but the dishes sound particularly unappealing. Am happy to hear though, that he has a technical mastery. When you couple this with Don Alfonso, where we have been (and thought it was the single most overated restaurant in Italy, next to Gambero Rosso in San Vincenzo), the peninsular is starting to take on the trappings of a massive rip-off, similar to Senegalia. Time to head back to La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona and Conchiglia D'Oro in Varigotti so that I can eat fish without mocha sauce.

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To each his own Fortedei. 

Actually I think that whole chocolate/ricci thing started in Sengallia....

Don't quite understand your comments. Are you saying that dentice, with mocha and ricci is something you like... which is fine? Or, are you saying... well if that's what someone likes, it's okay... and it started in Senagalila? Just curious.

Here we are, back to the current version of nuova cucina. That lasted a few years and quickly went away because it wasn't Italian and Italian chefs didn't have the skill to carry it out so that it was edible (and made sense). However, because for most chefs who have one Michelin star (whatever that means), one of the only ways to get another is to do something "daring", we now have restaurants all over Italy,which were perfectly good regional places, doing things that make them look foolish, because it is not Italian and/or the chefs do not have the skill to carry out what they are attempting to do. It is really pathetic to see this being done in the name of "cutting edge." One certainly expects French chefs to do it (because so many of them are foolish), but at least they have the skills to attempt it. May I suggest that you look into the history of Italian cuisine in the 70s and 80s and see what happened when chefs got in over their heads. You can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been.

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To each his own Fortedei. 

Actually I think that whole chocolate/ricci thing started in Sengallia....

Or, are you saying... well if that's what someone likes, it's okay... and it started in Senagalila? Just curious.

You can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been.

Yes, I'm saying there is room for everyone's idea of what is good. And I think that ricci/choco combo started at Uliassi.

And I totally agree with your comment about knowing history before you forge 'new ground'. Just because you CAN combine something, doesn't mean that you SHOULD.

On the other hand, if chefs don't reach, then they get branded as boring, so it's a tough dance.

I think what's going on in Spain now is very interesting, in that tradition is respected, while pushing the envelope.

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Fortedei,

You have demonstrated your traditional view on Italian restaurants and in some way I am also a traditionalist, but I very much welcome innovation and few restaurant that care to dare or use Italian produce with modern technique... There are still thousands of restaurant and trattoria that will do traditional stuff. Personally, I think to be a very capable cook and can do traditional stuff easily at home (or when in holiday in Italy cooking myself) and rather spend my money in a restaurant that may inspire me or chalange my senses.

Ciao

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Hello Fortedei, I'm sorry that you were upset by my report of our meal - I did hint that this is not a place for those who celebrate an unchanging, traditional Italian cuisine!

I do take your point about poor technique and outlandish combinations - when it doesn't work, it is a sorry spectacle. However, Caputo does have abundant technical skill (as far as I could tell). Further, he would say (and he emphasised this repeatedly) that he's trying to blend typical regional cuisine with modern technique and presentation. Mine was just one visit, but I liked it and I thought he made it work; it seems the Michelin inspectors liked it too. But of course, these are just some opinions - and it is our varied, differing opinions that make these debates interesting, I'd say.

NB! I forgot to mention that the restaurant is very well-signposted for those driving to Marina del Cantone - a welcome change to some places!

Edited by Kropotkin (log)
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