Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create an account.

Sign in to follow this  
albiston

Torre del Saracino

Recommended Posts

Campania, like most of Southern Italy, might be worldwide known for its traditional dishes, pizza and spaghetti al pomodoro were born here after all, but fine dining, excluding the once three-starred Don Alfonso 1890, seemed for years to be a hard to find commodity. In recent times there has been signs of change, with a few young chefs and restaurants quoted on national press in different occasions, which reached a climax with last year’s Gambero Rosso tre forchette award, and one of the highest notes for the kitchen, to a young chef from Campania, Gennaro Esposito, and his restaurant Torre del Saracino in Seiano, on the Sorrento peninsula. In contrast, the response from other guides was far less enthusiastic. Opinions from foodies were likely split. I don’t really give that much importance to guide notes, and even less to the opinion of people I hardly know, but the contrast in judgment intrigued me, especially since in most cases renowned restaurant appear at the top in all the guides if with minor differences. If what they say is true, this is Alain Ducasse favorite place when he’s in Italy and if Monsieur Ducasse thinks so there must be a good reason. I had to wait about one year before I had the chance to travel back to Italy AND get a reservation but finally on a warm late September night me, my wife and my maybe–I’ll-drop-out-from-college-and-become-a-cook brother made our way to Seiano.

The restaurant itself is inside a simple one-story building: the part nearest to the road is taken up by the kitchen, where about eight people were working on the night we were there, while the rest is occupied by the dining room. Both overlook the gulf of Naples through large windows and there’s also a terrace, used in the summer months, with an even nicer view. The dining room itself is very simple, almost a bit bare. The ambience, often criticized, is indeed somehow lacking what one might expect at these levels.

As soon as we arrived we were greeted by the friendly and very capable maitre and shown to our table, elegant but simple, as the tableware. We took a little time to decide what to order, the carte being very tempting, but being this the first time here, we decided to go for the 75 Euros 5-course menu. Both menu and carte are extremely fish-centred, there’s only two meat dishes to choose from for the hardcore carnivores, but if you’re here it would be a shame to miss the fantastic local catch. After some talk with the sommelier, we decide to order a very pleasant white wine from Campania, a Fiano d’Avellino colli di Lapio, as our first wine for the evening.

The rhythm at which service took place throughout the evening was quite quick, maybe even a tad too much so, therefore, after a very shot wait we dug into our amuse, a very simple dish of acqua di pomodoro e filetto di triglia, tomato water and red mullet filet, the tomato water as a soup, surrounding the filet elevated on a few green beans cooked al dente. The classic tomato-red mullet combination showed the great quality of all the ingredients, and the tomato acidity served perfectly to refresh the palate and open the stomach for the rest of the meal.

Our first course, zuppa di zucchini con uovo affogato e gamberoni, zucchini soup with poached egg and shrimp tail, a simple reinterpretation of a traditional pairing , was one of the high points of the evening. Very simply presented: the perfectly poached egg resting on almost raw shrimp tails, sweet and plump, crowned the zucchini soup made of the smallest zucchini I’ve ever seen and their tender leaves. No flavor explosion here, rather a mellow, comforting taste, which still managed to be seducing in its discrete way.

The next appetizer was instead quite a disappointment. Cozze ripiene con purea di melanzane e ricotta, Mussels stuffed with ricotta and aubergine puree, served inside a comfit cherry tomato with just a thin stroke of pesto as sauce, are one of Esposito’s classic. I found the problem with this dish to be the same one other similar dishes balancing strong and mellow ingredients have: these flavor pairings are like rope-walking above the void, there’s just no room for mistakes. One step too much in one or the other direction and you end up with either a bland dish or one where the strong flavors dominate. The latter was the case here: the comfit tomato, fantastic by itself nonetheless, absolutely overpowered the rest. To make matters worst one of the dishes served was over-salted.

The pasta course, Ravioli di Patate con salsa di Frutti di Mare, Potato dough Ravioli, with an Aubergine and Tomato stuffing, served with a Mussel and Clam sauce, managed to quickly improve our mood again. The dish was maybe not breathtaking but pleasant and enjoyable as only pasta dishes can be: nice dough, light and with a clear potato flavor, pleasant stuffing and great sauce, the mussels and clams (huge for the standards of Italian vongole) tender and properly salty, the sea iodine aroma all there. I hate it when mussels loose their proper sea taste, they’re not meat for Pete’s sake! We also changed wine with this course and went for the quite famous Vintage Tunina (2001 vintage), a white from Friuli by Vinajoli Jermann, an opulent and impressive wine.

The main course was the other dish, after the zucchini soup, that made me want to go in the kitchen and hug the huge, teddy bear look-alike Gennaro Esposito, who was just at the moment peeking from the kitchen door, a smile on his face. Nasello in tre cotture, Nasello, a Mediterranean relative of haddock, cooked three ways had all the things I love in a dish: perfect temperatures, clean flavors, a great respect for the ingredients and a certain bravery. Two squares of filet, one cooked sous-vide the other just sautéed, lay next to the fried head of the cod and a minimal garnish, a broccoli floret and a tiny tomato bruschetta. The sautéed filet was perfectly cooked but almost unexciting compared to the sous-vide filet, plump, moist and velvety, and the head, fried to perfection in one of the most delicious batters I’ve ever had, dry, crunchy and carefully flavored with pulverized orange peel. The head left us slightly perplexed at the start but soon we were eating the delicious cheeks, tongue and the little flesh left attached which usually gets lost during filleting. The decision to serve a cut as the head, waste actually, and make a heart-moving dish out of it really showed some courage.

Before the dessert course we were served a small selection of local cheeses, caciocavallo silano, pecorino di Moliterno and a blue goat cheese I forgot the name of, with a little pink grapefruit marmalade and some chestnut honey. The cheeses were all of high quality, especially the pecorino, but I had the feeling the cheese course had been introduced in the menu more to make critics happy than to meet client demands. I love cheese courses but they don’t really fit too well inside a fish menu.

I was a bit doubtful and slightly prejudiced about the desserts of Torre del Saracino, made by Esposito’s wife Vittoria. I had read about them and seen photos before and was never particularly impressed. It just goes to show how nothing can substitute taste, since the desserts were simple, sure, but made so well the it almost made me sorry I couldn’t eat more. The only problem with them was the portion size. They would have been quite big on their own, but after another five courses they were almost huge. My white plum tart, of which I’d love to have the crust recipe, served with a rich creamy custard was quite big, but the baba’ my wife ordered instead, redolent of rum and coming with pastry cream and wild strawberries, could have served four. After this we hardly managed a taste of the little pastries served with coffee.

Esposito’s cooking is a simple one carried out with great knowledge of the craft; there’s no Pollock-like sauce drizzles; no towering food constructions or weird shaped plates; and no adventurous creations of molecular gastronomy. His dishes try to remain as true as possible to the ingredients he selects by himself, something which he’s very good at, and they almost follow an ethic of understatement. His flavors are clearly Italian but his preparations recalled at times of a certain Japanese influence, especially his Nasello dish, asking you to concentrate on that single ingredient and on the shades of its taste and texture. I guess all these considerations also answer why the opinions on this cook are so split: his cooking just can’t strike everyone’s chords. Those looking for flamboyance should better search elsewhere. Not everything is perfect; there certainly is room for improvement, both in the cooking and in the restaurant itself but Esposito is someone who we’ll probably still hear about in years to come. I’ll certainly be going back, those swordfish ravioli with colatura d’alci and the pesce bandiera parmigiana sounded just too delicious to miss.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Marvellous report, Alberto. Bravo!

I wish I had ypur talent for writing and your perceptive ability in analysing dishes.

Give us more!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Excellent report, Alberto. Good criticism. This restaurant was not on my radar last year when I was last in Campania. I would that it was.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Happy you liked it and Cy, I promise I'll write up about any other worthwile Italian restaurants should the occasion come up (sadly not as often as I'd like).

John, I was wondering if there's any particular restaurants that impressed you last time you were in Campania. Besides Torre del Saracino and Don Alfonso, the surroundings of Sorrento have another two restaurants with a good reputation, Taverna del Capitano and Quattro Passi. Moving southwards I've heard really good things of Nonna Sceppa in the Cilento area. I would have loved to try another one or two between these but time was not exactly on my side.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Happy you liked it and Cy, I promise I'll write up about any other worthwile Italian restaurants should the occasion come up (sadly not as often as I'd like).

John, I was wondering if there's any particular restaurants that impressed you last time you were in Campania. Besides Torre del Saracino and Don Alfonso, the surroundings of Sorrento have another two restaurants with a good reputation, Taverna del Capitano and Quattro Passi. Moving southwards I've heard really good things of Nonna Sceppa in the Cilento area. I would have loved to try another one or two between these but time was not exactly on my side.

I was with my son and involved with the Slow Food Congress for part of the time and at Agriturismo Seliano another part. For the remainder we ate well, but without anything to really make a major impression on my memory. We did eat a night at The Hotel San Pietro in Positano where we stayed. It was very good, but not truly extraordinary.

The best food for that part of the trip was at seliano, where the prime stars were the cheeses, the bufala and the tomato. A true revelation was a homemade fusilli with a simple tomato sauce using nothing but pomodorini del Vesuvio. That one dish was absolutely amazing and to me the essence of Italian cuisine not so much because it was pasta with tomato sauce, but because of the perfection of the ingredients and their ultimate simplicity.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The best food for that part of the trip was at seliano, where the prime stars were the cheeses, the bufala and the tomato. A true revelation was a homemade fusilli with a simple tomato sauce using nothing but pomodorini del Vesuvio. That one dish was absolutely amazing and to me the essence of Italian cuisine not so much because it was pasta with tomato sauce, but because of the perfection of the ingredients and their ultimate simplicity.

Hello Doc!

We are just back from some days spent in the Cilento south of Paestum (though we were't precisely in Seliano, but that doesn't matter), and I can sign every word you've written here.

And somewhere, in a relatively mediocre resaturant, we had a plate of a "frittura di gamberetti e legume" which was so great that I was immediately reminded of a recipe by great French cook, who included a most simple recipe for a "friture" of young fish in his book.

When we made our tours along the Cilento coast, I'd liked to spend a kingdom for a stove. Just to cook with some of the tomatoes and small melanzanes offered by peasants at their small stands along the coast road. And to buy some fresh fish and shellfish from the small boats returning in the morning.

And many thanks for your reports from the Iberian peninsula, BTW!


Edited by Boris_A (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello Boris!

That is a wonderful area. While it is great to go out and experience the cooking of a land via its restaurants there is something to be said for staying ina place with a well-equiped kitchen. I certainly would have liked that in Spain. The markets in Barcelona, Bilbao and San Sebastian were gorgeous. For the most part I was only able to photograph and admire them. It would have been fun to actually purchase some of that fresh fish, shellfish o cuts of meat and play with it myself. I did that the first time I visited Italy when we rented a villa just outside Siena. Each day w would go out for a meal and cook a meal. Whether lunch or dinner depended on the plan for the day. It was loads of fun. That certainly would be true in Campania and the rest of Italy as well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wish I had knowledge of this restaurant earlier. I came back from Italy about 3 weeks ago and in fact spent a night in Seiano. If I knew, I would definitely have tried Torre del Saracino.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Wish I had knowledge of this restaurant earlier. I came back from Italy about 3 weeks ago and in fact spent a night in Seiano. If I knew, I would definitely have tried Torre del Saracino.

Sorry you missed it, though I should add that not everyone likes Esposito's cooking like I do. He has many fans, but also many who think he's not yet worth all the hype, their point being that his technique is very good but his dishes are too simple and he still needs to evolve.

Hope you had a good time in Italy and maybe, if you've got time, you could share with us any worthwile places, restaurants, trattorie, or just anything food related, you've tried.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Happy you liked it and Cy, I promise I'll write up about any other worthwile Italian restaurants should the occasion come up (sadly not as often as I'd like).

John, I was wondering if there's any particular restaurants that impressed you last time you were in Campania. Besides Torre del Saracino and Don Alfonso, the surroundings of Sorrento have another two restaurants with a good reputation, Taverna del Capitano and Quattro Passi. Moving southwards I've heard really good things of Nonna Sceppa in the Cilento area. I would have loved to try another one or two between these but time was not exactly on my side.

I ate at Quattro Passi, Torre del Saracino and Don Alfonso on three consecutive nights last summer. Among them, Don Alfonso was in a class by itself and, very surprisingly to me, the cheapest. Quattro Passi was easily second, but it was most remarkable for the decor and service. Sadly, I was dining alone, for their beautiful, semi-enclosed patio would be a fantastic place to take a not-particularly-epicurean date, and their food, while delicious and beautifully presented, wouldn't challenge a conservative eater and wasn't very imaginative. My lingering memories of Saracino consist of (1) a long (20 minutes) and perhaps too frank discussion with the very receptive and friendly Chef Esposito about how terribly disappointing the meal was -- it is, after all, important to cook risotto past teeth-cracking crunchiness and not cook shrimp to rubber-band-level overdoneness, (2) the truly shocking bill (285 Euros for a very unimpressive meal for ONE PERSON with modest wine and virtually no extras) and (3) a very pedestrian patio setting (I was outside).

Also in the area is Il San Pietro, in the hotel of the same name. This is a very, very good restaurant, surely the second-best meal I had in greater Amalfi. It is pricey (although my bottle of Galatrona was very fairly priced), but excellent, with a completely breathtaking view. In general, I think this hotel is far superior to Le Sirenuse, with the one drawback being that it is about a mile down the coast out of town.


Edited by vinobiondo (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Happy you liked it and Cy, I promise I'll write up about any other worthwile Italian restaurants should the occasion come up (sadly not as often as I'd like).

John, I was wondering if there's any particular restaurants that impressed you last time you were in Campania. Besides Torre del Saracino and Don Alfonso, the surroundings of Sorrento have another two restaurants with a good reputation, Taverna del Capitano and Quattro Passi. Moving southwards I've heard really good things of Nonna Sceppa in the Cilento area. I would have loved to try another one or two between these but time was not exactly on my side.

I ate at Quattro Passi, Torre del Saracino and Don Alfonso on three consecutive nights last summer. Among them, Don Alfonso was in a class by itself and, very surprisingly to me, the cheapest. Quattro Passi was easily second, but it was most remarkable for the decor and service. Sadly, I was dining alone, for their beautiful, semi-enclosed patio would be a fantastic place to take a not-particularly-epicurean date, and their food, while delicious and beautifully presented, wouldn't challenge a conservative eater and wasn't very imaginative. My lingering memories of Saracino consist of (1) a long (20 minutes) and perhaps too frank discussion with the very receptive and friendly Chef Esposito about how terribly disappointing the meal was -- it is, after all, important to cook risotto past teeth-cracking crunchiness and not cook shrimp to rubber-band-level overdoneness, (2) the truly shocking bill (285 Euros for a very unimpressive meal for ONE PERSON with modest wine and virtually no extras) and (3) a very pedestrian patio setting (I was outside).

Also in the area is Il San Pietro, in the hotel of the same name. This is a very, very good restaurant, surely the second-best meal I had in greater Amalfi. It is pricey (although my bottle of Galatrona was very fairly priced), but excellent, with a completely breathtaking view. In general, I think this hotel is far superior to Le Sirenuse, with the one drawback being that it is about a mile down the coast out of town.

In re-reading that, I think I was a little bit hard on Quattro Passi -- it's a fine restaurant, well deserving of it's Michelin star and two forks from GR, and I drove off plenty satisfied. It just isn't anywhere near Don Alfonso quality, except that it's a much, much more appealing setting (I'm convinced that Don Alfonso lost it's third star simply for the horrendous, retirement-home decor).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
My lingering memories of Saracino consist of (1) a long (20 minutes) and perhaps too frank discussion with the very receptive and friendly Chef Esposito about how terribly disappointing the meal was -- it is, after all, important to cook risotto past teeth-cracking crunchiness and not cook shrimp to rubber-band-level overdoneness, (2) the truly shocking bill (285 Euros for a very unimpressive meal for ONE PERSON with modest wine and virtually no extras) and (3) a very pedestrian patio setting (I was outside).

vinobiondo,

sorry to hear of such a bad experience there. I can only repeat that my experience did definitely not involve crunchy risotto or rubbery shrimps, quite the contrary. I still fondly remember the shrimps served with our zucchini soup as some of the best cooked I've eaten. Saying that I do not mean to doubt your words, just imply that you might have hit a bad day (something that should not happend in a restaurant with such a reputation, anyway), especially if I consider the many positive opinions from friends whose taste I trust.

What surprises my far more is the bill, that's approximately what I paid for a meal for three people with three bottles of decent wine. Esposito's restaurant is one of the cheapest Tre Forchette around and its wine list is unanimously considered as one of the best priced in Italy, even by its detractors.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What surprises my far more is the bill, that's approximately what I paid for a meal for three people with three bottles of decent wine. Esposito's restaurant is one of the cheapest Tre Forchette around and its wine list is unanimously considered as one of the best priced in Italy, even by its detractors.

We can certainly agree on one thing -- the wine list is VERY impressive and very fairly priced (indeed, for wine only, it's better than DA1890 and QP). My 1996 Paolo Scavino Barolo Cannubi was 70 or 80 Euros, as I recall.

Despite not really enjoying the food, I did feel free to eat quite a lot (!), and they kept bringing me food. Then I got a shockingly precise and complete itemized receipt for every single morsel I'd put in my mouth.

I'd give it another shot, mostly because Gennaro was a really nice guy, but next time I will be very careful not to assume that anything I am offered is in any way "on the house."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Despite not really enjoying the food, I did feel free to eat quite a lot (!), and they kept bringing me food.  Then I got a shockingly precise and complete itemized receipt for every single morsel I'd put in my mouth. 

It is certainly a downright wrong attitude and extremely disappointing when a restaurant makes you pay for food that was brought to your table without you requesting it. I have to admit though, that in my experience throughout Italy I was never brought extra food, apart the occasional amuse and pre-dessert sorbet or similar, without me expressingly requesting it or after an enquiry from the staff. Still, even in the latter occasion it was pretty clear the food was not being offered. I wonder if there was some sort of major missunderstanding on this occasion.

I cannot help think that the food cannot have been THAT bad if you had no problems eating "quite a lot" :wink::biggrin: .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Despite not really enjoying the food, I did feel free to eat quite a lot (!), and they kept bringing me food.  Then I got a shockingly precise and complete itemized receipt for every single morsel I'd put in my mouth. 

I cannot help think that the food cannot have been THAT bad if you had no problems eating "quite a lot" :wink::biggrin: .

True enough ... it wasn't "THAT bad" at all -- just not wonderful. I'm rooting for the place, and I'll go back if I get a chance, but I overpaid by a factor of three! :shock:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

According to the latest news Gennaro Esposito should close la Torre del Saracino in the next few weeks to open a new restaurant in the Crowne Plaza Stabiae - Sorrento Coast Hotel, outside Castellamare di Stabia. The hotel is on the highway that connects Sorrento to the Napoli-Reggio Calabria motorway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I visit Vico Equense every year for work, but given that I’m with colleagues, high dining is seldom an option – so I was very pleased to visit this increasingly well-know place last week. That said, it’s a bit of a schlep to get there. Gennaro Esposito has resisted the temptation to relocate to the Crowne Plaza’s corporate revamping of the old cement works outside Castellamare (with their mystifying decision to retain the brutalist, industrial aesthetic: 5* 'cement-works chic' with a view of the Volcano anyone?), so he’s still found at the bottom of a long, winding lane down to the sea in Seiano. It’s an idyllic setting, but it’s not very easy to get to from anywhere. We investigated a taxi from Sorrento, but we were quoted exorbitant prices. So we drove… for a long time on the grid-locked road across the Sorrentine plateau and along the coastal road before we wound down to the shore. Walking here would also be tricky (even from the Circumvesuaviana stop at Seiano), although don’t try for a taxi from here, your better bet for that would be Vico Equense station. Once inside, I was struck by how plain the interior is; it might benefit enormously from a colour-wash for the walls… but perhaps Scandanavian minimalism is what they’re after (and perhaps this inspired talk of the move to the cement works?). Yet however cold the décor, the welcome was warm and relaxed and we settled in.

Given the sea-side location and Esposito’s reputation we opted for the Seafood menu: the Proposto di Ciro. And at one point, half way through, I could have hugged Ciro: I thought I was having the best seafood meal of my life. Another half later, I was still happy, but not sure if I’d consider the journey to the seashore here again.

It all started so well with a pre-appetiser of baccalà with green pesto and piquant tomato: very tasty and, as these things are supposed to, the dish worked brilliantly in raising anticipation steeply for what followed. And at first, the subsequent dishes didn’t disappoint at all. Second was a truly sublime fish soup that had been reduced to a thick, viscous gloop with an extraordinary deep, satisfying flavour - and then dotted by an archipelago of seafood items and some enormously rich, dense spots of pureed tomato (although this description doesn’t do it justice). This was a fantastic dish.

This was followed by a pasta dish of folded, semi-open ravioli with a prawn sauce and a scattering of prawns across the plate. This too was memorable and at this point, I was raving about the Torre del Saracino and planning to move to Seiano, perhaps even to the end of that track. However, the second half of the meal was much flatter: still good, but it never touched these heights again. A fillet of San Pietro followed, with a potato-puree and vegetable accompaniment. This was good, but nothing spectacular. A cheese course -with the cheeses selected for you- was also good, yet due to its residual edge of tannins, the subsequent pre-desert of a red wine granita didn’t cleanse the palate as well as a citrus fruit-based offering would have (and this from the peninsula of lemons!). Finally, the Rum Baba was moist, light, and surprisingly vast of portion in contrast to the well-judged plates earlier - but again, it didn’t amaze with its sophistication (particularly in contrast to the earlier dishes).

All of this was served with a Sommelier-guided fruity and refined Bianco di Avellino that worked very nicely, and was also a steal (as are all the Campanian wines offered here). The service was a little hasty for the first three or four dishes, although calmed down later. Throughout the first courses, our side-plates were never more than momentarily free of breads.

Gennaro visited at the start and close of our meal and he offers a genuine presence that personalises his restaurant. No abstract, distant, formulaic Michelin-kitchen here; it’s rattling and heaving to the left as you enter... you can see the man close-up and in his element. This human-perspective is a plus for me, and it also makes the place’s foibles more forgivable. Esposito is undoubtedly capable of hitting great heights, but I could also see why some might leave wondering out-loud about all the fuss. A few unlucky orders from the carte, and nothing special might come your way; the right orders, by contrast, and you’re raving all the way home. We paid €176 for two with one bottle of wine and some aperitifs - expensive for the area (and, I’m sure, fuelling the grumbles of those who don’t get lucky with the menu), but offering fair value overall. We enjoyed the evening, but I’m not sure if or when we’ll be back down that lane from Seiano.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×