Saturday, August 4, 2012

Clandestino Susci, Portonovo, Italy - Marche Region

Things I like separately: sushi, regional Italian food, exquisite cuisine, white cliffs, barefoot waiters, the Adriatic Sea, hip music, and a relaxed ambience.

Things you will get all at the same time if you make the journey to Clandestino, popped like a collar into the Monte Conero coast in Italy's Marche region in Portonovo:

Those same things.


Mariah's friend Amy Wadman turned her on to this place, Clandestino, which is a sister restaurant to Michelin 2-star Chef Moreno Cedroni's little restaurant empire. (More on Amy below.)



Anne and Mariah had brokered some kind of deal with the guys that they would babysit all three of Anne's boys as well as Mariah's boy to do MAN NIGHT at the house.

Was I excited to eat at a restaurant owned by a Michelin 2-star chef while in Europe? Oh yes. Was I excited to do it with two of my most favorite lady gourmands on the planet? HECK YEAH!

You drive around about a frillion loopy mountain roads across the Monte Conero, park your car, and walk about a football field's distance on a paved pedestrian street through a woodsy campground out to the beach. There are birds singing and Italians in Speedos sauntering past with their fanny packs stuffed full of $2 Euro pieces. Or something like that.

Get an aperitivo.


And a view. Oh just wait til you see this freaking place.


At Clandestino, pre-appetizers are served with a paired glass of something yummy, like a chilled verdicchio from the region, or a bubbly something or other.



This convention is common and is called aperitivi. You order a couple of proseccos in a plaza, and suddenly they descend on you with a mid-size appetizer platter, gratis. It's a great gimmick and if all restaurants did it I would not complain.


The colors at Clandestino are wicked pleasing. Beachy, cream, white, deep sea blue, etc. Everyone there can tell we're American and they are too busy smoking, petting their leashed dogs, and being casually fab to care. Oh, and no one is fat.


Turning my attention to the kitchen, it does not escape me that it is an adorable kitchen. Later, we learn that the chef de cuisine is also adorable, and speaks great English having cooked at an Italian restaurant in San Diego for a year back in the mid-2000s. See those jars stacked at the top left? That's the MorenoCedroni product line of tinned octopus, smoked sturgeon sauce, etc. and yes, heck yes, we bought some to bring home. What, are we crazy?


This, my dears, is your view. Yes, that is a big old tower that looks really flipping cool with the sun setting behind it. It is. It does.


I just like these blue wood railings. I think I am trying to tell myself something, like "paint your house this color, Tracie; who cares if it's batty, just do it."


I really enjoy observing Italians in their natural vacation habitat. We enjoyed something smoked salmony called Happy Toast, a dry cured bresaola of tuna, and cubes of a premium grade mortadella from/by Pasquini that Mariah says she has seen others go bananas for in Bologna. S'good. Served with true champagne with tiiiiiiiny bubbles.


Once we finished a round of aperitivi, we moved inside, which is still open-air, and right on the water.


As you and I know, it is actually kindof weirdly hard to find great waterfront dining. Like, exquisite, inventive, blow your mind good cuisine, but in a pretty place. AND rustic/hip/casual. Those 3 things together = hard to find in America. I'm sorry, but it's true.


Please comment war with me so we can discuss -- I am certain that in my Italian vacation fog I am forgetting like 6 great places. It's just that to fit my triumvirate of hip, rustic-casual ambience/exquisite cuisine/waterfront location, it's hard.


I mean, they were playing "Here Comes Your Man" by The Pixies as we sat down at our table overlooking this ridiculously cool rock.


Time for oysters and champagne, DUH! They were so briny and sweet and light and good.


Next, a total favorite: raw shrimp crudo in fresh orange juice with some kind of ridiculously delightful pimenton-ish-tomato relish/sugo thing. Holy holy holy. Scampi all'arancia. Scampi scampi scampi.



Time to order wine. Turns out that the guy who makes Fattoria Coroncino wine is one of our friend Amy's favorite winemaker peeps, and the Gaiospino line is his reserve good stuff. Yes, we'd be happy to plunder through this beautiful bottle of Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi 2009. Grazie frille. (That's "Thanks a frillion," if you'd like to know.)



Which, on the back, in the little red flag in the Marchigiano dialect, says something to the effect of, "However far I've gotten today, that's where I'm plantin' ma flag, y'all."


Verdicchio. It's what's for lunch, dinner, and second dinner in the Marche -- incredibly versatile grape varietal, and Amy tells me that it has enormous aging potential and rarely has to be put in any sort of wood, as it already possesses lovely nutty, toasty flavors. Which it does indeed.

This tuna tataki dish below looks kindof unremarkable, but it was actually quite special and has secret anchovies in it.



Now we get into REALLY RAD territory, where we will remain for the rest of the meal. [God, I could use a verdicchio alla spina right now. I love how Marchigianos put their white wine in a tapped keg and serve it all bubbly like punch in a pitcher. Grown-up punch! The kids were always a *little* jealous of our pitchers of fun, which is, I think, why they often ended up with big, fat, fabulous desserts to make up for the age inequality.]

OK so this pizza jr. has burrata on it. That's one really great thing about it. And it's not just bleh burrata -- it is rich, creamy, decadent, bright and delightful burrata .And it's got tomatoes. Pretty normal combination right? But what is that dark looking stuff on the burrata? Eggplant? NO DUDES IT IS SMOKED FRICKIN MACKEREL. I just shouted that in caps cause that is how it was in my mind when I realized what it was.

I usually eschew mackerel for its fishiness, but Handsome Chef, as he will forever be named by me, (who should not be confused with Moreno Cedroni himself, who I have not met and thus have not made an aesthetic assessment), has done something virtuousic with this mackerel.

It is utterly meaty, smoky, roasty and succulent. And goes perfect with the burrata, weirdly enough.


Then it's all you can do not to plow through this fresh bass crudo, dreamy and lovely with arugula and mashed potatoes and other things I cannot remember because sometimes I just drop a detail here and there.


Quick style break to note our dinner utensils. Love them! Not for my house or anything, but for a seaside gustatory experience, they are the ideal set of tools. Bravo.


Great for twirling spinosi pasta, fashioned into birds' nests with a smoky, creamy coconut lime sauce and a bunch of unlawfully supple smoky salmon underneath, with some yuzu thrown in. This was so good I saved a bite on my plate until I had gone around and tasted everything else so that it could be my last bite.



Then we proceeded to order more entrees, including a genius roast quail paired with seared tuna and a crazy delicious sauce of roasted fennel, candied orange and black olives, of which there is no picture because we got to it too fast.

And these rosettes of raw amberjack with Jerusalem artichoke sauce, cherries and black sesame made us just want to go and air-kiss the Handsome Chef a frillion times.


And THEN we asked that very, very gauche question: "Can us Americans order a la carte off the tasting menu?" So tacky.

Well, because it was a slower Monday night, and because Handsome Chef took pity on three poor, starving young women, we got to try the Ugly Duckling and Momotaro from the tasting menu.



Which is fairy tale themed, btw.


The Ugly Duckling was totally crazy and amazing. A pitch black cooked egg, oozing yellow yolk all over some fancy fixins, well that was the best toast soldiers *I've* ever had. Looks gnarly, right?



And the Momotaro blessed us with just-barely-fried squid egg balls with light fixins.



They spell Sushi as Susci because they do what they *want* with raw fish, so they wouldn't want to insult any Japanese sushi purists.

There is a sweet and kind explanation of this on the other menu.

But back to the important stuff:

We could have eaten like twenty of those squid egg balls. Dang!

There are about 3 other desserts that they sent out, one after another, which made our toes curl. In addition, they sent out a tiny creamy thing in a glass, as well as a separate little strawberry popsicle for each of us. Love them.


And we got purrrrrrrfect macchiato coffees. [Shout out to Jason Blalock, who taught me how to sugar the rim of my macchiato or cappucino so it's like a margarita -- kinda.]



Huge high fives to Amy Wadman, sommelier, Slow Food-focused tour company owner (DivinoTours.com), olive farmer of delicious olives for delicious olive oil at her organic farm in Treia, Costa Digiano (Costadigiano.com), and yurt fabricator (now that's just rad) for all the hot tips.

She and her fiance Mirco Lucamarini, of the deeply delightful Casolare dei Segreti restaurant and special event venue in Treia (also co-owner of Costa Digiano and its yurt-tasticness) are all entrenched in a really pretty fabulous network of young or young-ish professionals in Italy who have taken up the culinary, viticultural or agricultural arts and sciences in a super cool way.

[This just in -- Amy and Mirco are in Food and Wine magazine this month! She discovered that it was live online and showed it to us over coffee this morning. Hello, huge f-ing deal! Very happy for her. She is brilliant and works very hard. And is fun! And she and Mirco built a freakin' yurt in like 4 days! (With some loving friends, like Peldi, who helped her, of course.)]

Amy Wadman and her yurt at Costa Digiano organic olive farm

Anyway, I am done sharing pictures of my intellectual and gustatory gluttony for one night.

Just leave this page knowing that A. I appreciate you reading along with my craziness! B. You are a good internet user. I just have a feeling about it. C. I totally did not scale down my extravagant meals either before this meal or afterward. In fact, I am currently full from VISIT NUMBER 2 to Il Maiale Volante, another one of the greatest little restaurants in the whole wide world.

If I can get packed, learn to make pizza from Peldi and Mariah tomorrow, complete some work documents, and get myself all set for about 20 straight hours of traveling on Monday, I will post my extravagant food nerditude on the subject.

Til then, happy trails and buon appetito and all that I-talian stuff!
xoxo