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Croque Monsieur

Il Duomo restaurant, Ragusa Ibla, Sicily

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Rated Sicily's best restaurant by many, the only Michelin two-star this year (although no, I don't trust Michelin much in Italy either), I'm going to rave about the meal my wife and I had there in late October -- it was certainly three-star quality. I think this restaurant (and its chef, Ciccio Sultano) deserves its own thread and a lot of support from Gulleteers.

Although there were a total of six diners the night we were there (the whole of Ragusa seemed empty), there was no sense of holding back in either our welcome or the kitchen.

We ordered the "mixed" (fish and meat) tasting menu, and our waiter asked if we had any allergies (no) and were willing to eat raw seafood (yes!). We asked for their choice of glasses of Sicilian wine to accompany the meal. I was surprised when they opened five bottles of wine during the meal in order to give us glasses, when they clearly weren't going to sell it to anyone else that night. Again, the focus was always on us, not getting through a slow night as quickly as possible.

Our courses, as best as I managed to document them:

1. A frothy espresso cup of vegetable broth into which a couple of tiny raw, white were dropped just before serving. A marriage of subtle flavors.

2. A raw, white fish (the Italian word escaped me) in a little tomato liquid, with a bit of fennel on top, plus some other flavorings I couldn't identify. Another fabulous new flavor combination.

3. Raw sea urchin and freshly-made ricotta, in one bite on a spoon -- amazing.

4. Raw scampi with prickly pear.

5. Raw white shrimp. Again, these raw dishes included subtle "sauces" with combinations of sweet or fruity and tart, much less aggressively acid than any ceviche.

The first suite of courses was accompanied by a chardonnay-based sparkling white wine from Tasca d'Almerita. The next set came with a white Il Cantante 2004, a Mt. Etna wine made by a British rock star turned vintner. We found this wine odd in a woody sort of way.

6. Pigeon breast, with potato and oyster. A unique dish, perhaps my favorite, the almost-livery intensity of the pigeon blending with the other ingredients.

7. Tuna "toro" (raw) with mint and parsley sauce, with a dab of orange sorbet on the top. Wonderful.

8. Cooked fillet of mullet with vegetables, topped with a thin "cracker" made of rice and mullet juice. Essence of fish in another form.

We moved on to a delicious white Cubia (made from insolio grapes?).

9. Pasta with salmon eggs, fresh anchovies, and bottarga. Very ocean-y.

10. Lasagna with ricotta and sausage. Very light but still full of flavor.

The next dishes were served with a delicious 2001 Barocco Avide Cerasuolo di Vittoria red.

11. The local "black pork" with melon sauce and potatoes. My note-taking is suffering by now, I remember that I loved it.

12. Citrus sorbet over prickly pears. I find prickly pears kind of boring, but they had just come into season.

With the desserts, a sweet wine whose name I may have mistakenly written down as "Bukkaran"

13. Almond blanc mange with buckwheat cooked in reduced grape juice, with pear sorbet. You couldn't have paid me to order this, but it tasted wonderful.

14. Their take on cassata.

15. Bits of pasta, cooked in grape juice. Again, better than it sounds.

16. Five types of petit fours.

On a day when the dollar hit a new low against the euro, about 1.5 to 1, this meal cost about $550.

"Unique" is an over-used word, but this meal included several flavor combinations that were completely new to me. We left completely satisfied with the food and service. I'm so glad I went, and I judge it "vaut le voyage."

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Thanks for the report!

It's been a while since we have been to Il Duomo. We found the food very good and the restaurant itself lovely (even though we were seated at the "worst table" in the tiny wine-room next to the kitchen), but the service was way too formal, for our taste (a general problem in italy, I think). The full bearded maitre had a kind of "arrogant joviality" to him, while the unsmiling sommelier was rather "distanced". Not so nice.

And I wonder how you managed to eat around 15 courses...we had a 6 course menu and could barely eat it all...

Got to go there again on our next sicily-trip.

Do you havee more pictures you could post? Iam very curious!

Thanks!

best

kai

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We normally avoid Michelin starred restaurants in Italy, finding them too complex and formal for our tastes and our sense of Italian cuisine (simple preparations of perfect ingredients). Luckily we didn't find Il Duomo in the Michelin guide, but rather in the L'Espresso Ristoranti D'Italia iPhone app. We usually use Slow Food and Gambero Rosso, but didn't purchase the latest Slow Food guide until a day later. Il Duomo was the only L'Espresso three Toque restaurant in Sicily, and we decided to try it. We were very glad that we did.

They seemed to have missed our attempt to reserve over their web site Christmas weekend, so we walked in without a reservation. We're picky eaters (I'm a liberal vegetarian, my wife also eats seafood) and we didn't see much on the menu for us. My wife was dreading an overly complicated fish dish. So we asked for a vegetarian tasting with wine. They flinched for a moment and then said no problem.

We didn't take notes or pictures, but it was a very good and satisfying meal, and the service was nicely paced and comfortable, although lacked the warmth and personality we so often find in Italy. The wine service was excellent and complemented the food very well - I think they served a total of six Sicilian wines, and at one point when I may have drained my glass rather quickly asked if we'd like another glass of the same or to try something different. It was a very unusual zibbibo from Marsala. I nearly always go for red wines, these were almost all whites.

The courses that I recall:

Mushroom soup with obligatory foam. Very good.

Zucchini blossom stuffed with beautiful ricotta cheese, thick black truffle slices on top (said to be Sicilian truffles).

Lightly breaded fried local cheese slices layered with "caponata", a layer of tomato - a highlight of the meal

Fresh pasta A (rather uninteresting consistency and flavor)

Fresh pasta B (see A)

A single "Pasta alla Norma" ravioli - very delicious.

A baked "Ragusan" cheese mold with onions and a lot more very tasty complexity on the side. Outstanding. This was the one item we had that was also on the ala carte menu.

Deserts - a bit of a blur, something on prickly pear soup, some chocolate truffles, some petit fours, a cassata

All in all a very enjoyable experience. Quite over the top, but not pretentious. We'd go back in a heartbeat (maybe once a year at most).

Other high spots of our dining in southeastern Sicily (place we'd eat at every month if they were in New York):

Oinos in Siracusa - a high concept creative restaurant with few veggie choices but they were all delicious.

Gazza Ladra in Siracusa - classic slow food restaurant. Stellar orange and fennel salad. (was also outstanding at Locale in Bucheri without the fennel - clearly the local oranges give them a running start, but the olive oil, oregano, red pepper are all perfect and in proportion. Where to get great Sicilian oranges in NY?). The simple pastas here were also perfect, with pistachios or with "sicilian red pesto". Shockingly small amount of amount of the pesto, and it was just right.

Trattoria del Crocifisso in Noto - perfect Sicilian antipasti (eggplant a few ways, rice ball, fennel, amazing roasted peppers, etc)

Nowhere did we see the huge antipasto buffets we remembered from 23 years ago, perhaps because it was off season. The one well rated restaurant that disappointed was Don Camillo in Siracusa, although their atypical take on Caponata was very good.


Edited by davythefatboy (log)

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