Just about this time last year, I was in a little car, racing four hours across Sicily in search of a good meal.
At the end of the trek from Palermo, in far western Sicily, to Ragusa, in the Southeast, lay Ristorante Duomo, one of just two restaurants on the island at the time to have received a Michelin star.
Now, I’ve gone to many lengths in the name of sampling noteworthy food — this level of devotion is not anything new. But doing an eight hour-trip in a day just for a spot of lunch? Even that was a little insane for us.
What can I say? It was worth it.
The plan was hatched months before in New York when chef Simpson declared: “There’s one thing I want to do in Sicily–go to Ristorante Duomo.”
With that, a reservation was made. And we began looking forward to sampling the work of chef Ciccio Sultano. The New York Times’ Marian Burros had praised him, after all, in a 2005 travel piece for “his reinvention of Sicilian dishes and for returning lost ingredients to contemporary cooking.” Sultano also had briefly cooked at the well-regarded Felidia in New York, further piquing our interest.
It was only when we got to Sicily that we realized exactly how far Ristorante Duomo was. But after having salivated over the place for months, there was no turning back. So the seven of us packed into two cars and off we went.
The Ragusa we found was thoroughly charming — ornate baroque buildings hugged winding, slender streets. (Among all this was one very modern Lacoste boutique — a lovely incongruity.)
Behind the beautiful Basilica di San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla (the older part of town) …
… we found what we’d come for.
The dining room was modern, bright, cheery and inviting. We settled in and let the meal begin.
We had chosen the 110 Euro prix fixe menu. And the meal began with a bang that I’d remember with great yearning for months afterward: a black truffle ice-cream sandwich topped with fresh, mushroom slivers and a little drop of olive oil.
It was, quite simply, one of the best starters I’ve had — savory, sweet, cold and crispy. An utterly
refreshing combination on a blazing hot summer day in Sicily.
Next up, there was another amuse bouche of bite-sized focaccia sandwiches filled with tomatoes and caramelized sweet onions.
And then even more little dishes: at the top, red prawns in a light curry sauce. Beneath, Amberjack with
a dollop of ricotta and an even bigger dollop of caviar, perched on a
mother-of-pearl spoon. I could have eaten 10 of these.
(Note: Forgive the blurriness — these were taken before I discovered the focus button on my camera. Sadly, I am not joking.)
Then, Sultano introduced us to another fish we’d not had much of before: smoked lambuga filled with melon salad and dribbles of pistachio sauce.
(Again, you’ll have to forgive the focus issues.)
The hefty dishes began to show up right after–first, there was a “fake pizza,” featuring red mullet and buffalo
mozzarella topped with a thin cracker and served in a sauce made with
tenerumi, which are the leaves of the cucuzza, a Sicilian zucchini
that’s used in a lot of local dishes.
Then, there was cod with a fennel gratin and ricotta cheese, served in a grain-filled soup.
We were starting to get seriously stuffed — despite the fact that this was a tasting menu, these were not dishes of inconsequential size.
And there were more to come. More amberjack, in fact — they sure like that fish in Ragusa. But this time,
it came paired with sauteed aubergine, pasta and pickled mint leaves.
The fish was lovely but the pasta had been a smidge too starchy for us on a hot day.
So we weren’t exactly thrilled when another pasta dish showed up: fettucine with a white lamb ragu and vegetables.
As flavorful as the ragu was, the pasta was too heavy and dense at that point of the meal. But the low point passed and picked up again with a delightful little dish of pork done two ways–one version wrapped with a cheesy crumb crust and and the other simply paired with a chocolate and port sauce, onions and berlotti beans.
Finally, we came to a bridge between the savory and the sweet: a tangy mojito sorbet.
For the finale, a cannolo, done traditionally but with the unconventional pairing of a prickly pear soup and light, almond sorbet.
And then for the real final act, a mini baba au rhum and a plate of pistachio cookies, tartlets and sweet jellied cubes in limoncello or watermelon & jasmine flavors.
We left happy — and fat, to be sure. And on the way back, we drove through Agrigento, pausing to catch the sunset over some of the most well-preserved Greek ruins that currently exist.
The ruins were impressive, even more so at twilight.
As enchanting as the view was, in the year since our roadtrip, we’ve rarely mentioned Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples, ancient and sacred, looming in the night sky.
But our little lunch at Ristorante Duomo?
That, we do relive.