I don’t know what I was expecting in Naples, but Naples wasn’t it. The city is vibrant and teeming with people. Everyone has a small dog, and day and night, you see families strolling the streets together, window shopping (or just plain ole shopping), eating, drinking, and having that all important coffee. There are hills in Naples — steep ones! And it’s a city on the sea! And looming in the distance, there’s a VOLCANO! But most importantly, there is pizza and lots and lots of it. Excellent, excellent pizza, created carefully and with love by pizzaiolos who are often not the first person in their generation to knead the dough and make the sauce. I sort of fell in love — with the pizza AND Naples. And uh, the handsome pizzaiolos.
How did I find myself in Naples? I knew that Daniel Young, the former food critic of the New York Daily News, runs an occasional pizza tour to Naples. I also vaguely knew that he had written a book about pizza called, simply, Where to Eat Pizza. (I know now that this book is the BIBLE of pizza and both Daniel and his book are revered in pizza circles everywhere.) During a brief respite from work, I saw that Daniel had a few spaces free on an upcoming tour and before you know it, I had booked a place and my flight and I was GOING. Done!
I met up with the Daniel and the rest of the group at the Grand Hotel Parker’s, a grande dame of a hotel, towering on a hill above Naples and with a lovely terrace overlooking the sea. The hotel is set to be renovated soon, but I hope they don’t change the marble floors in the public spaces or the crystal chandeliers in the hotel rooms because hotels like this don’t exist anymore.
Enzo Coccia, outside La Notizia, pretending to deliver pizza old school style
We taxied over to our first stop, La Notizia, run by the intensely intense Enzo Coccia, who talked us through the history of pizza and Naples, fed us what felt like 20 pizzas, and then put us to work kneading dough. Kneading dough is not easy, trust me. It requires a tremendous amount of upper body strength and forearm power. Let’s just say I quickly decided that I enjoy eating pizza more than making it myself, but it gave me a new appreciation for pizzaiolos everywhere.
I liked the vibe at La Notizia. It felt like a neighborhood restaurant that would be happy to see you, whenever you walked through the door. This was confirmed by one of our taxi drivers, who explained that he often makes a special trip to La Notizia, just to eat the pizza.
Later that evening, once we had digested a bit, we headed over to 50 Kalo, a pizza joint with a more modern interior design scheme — it was almost as if they were trying to say “This is not a pizza joint.” Even though it is. Here we tried the standard Naples pizza configurations and then a few more creative options. (50 Kalo probably served us the most creative options of our tour, but this may have been more about how they treated our group than the menus at any of the places.)
Ciro Salvo at 50 Kalo
The restaurant was empty when we entered at 7 pm but there was a queue out the door by the time we left — a queue of all generations, a testament to the popularity of pizza AND 50 Kalo. 50 Kalo’s owner and pizzaiolo, the movie star handsome Ciro Salvo is, well, movie star handsome and a third generation pizzaiolo. Let’s just say that he can make me pizza anytime.
I probably ate more pizza this day than I have in the past three year combined — always watching the carbs, my friends — but I didn’t feel that heavy fullness that I get from a New York pizza or (certainly) a Chicago pizza. Pizza in Naples is lighter and airier. The goal seems to be “How can we make this crust as thin as possible, but still hold all this cheese and sauce?” This is the type of goal that we all should have! I have since been applying this mentality to my personal and professional life…a la…”How can I make as much money as possible, but work as little as possible?” I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going.
I slipped into bed that evening completely sated and completely copacetic with Naples and pizza and life in general. There really is no better way to spend a day than by eating pizza ALL DAY. You should try it some time. It’s good for you.
Stay tuned for even more pizza on Day 2, along with some other tips on Naples restaurants and things to do and see.
Location, location, location. Especially when I am travelling by myself, I like to be central. I also have been trying to be better and better about money these days and not spending an arm and a leg on hotels, even if they do offer slippers, fluffy pillows, and nice sheets. I’ve been trying to stick with a sub-$250 USD per night budget. #FirstWorldProblems, I know. But $250 a night doesn’t go very far in a lot of cities these days. In Venice, it got me Hotel dell’Opera, a centrally located sweet but slightly worn hotel, with no restaurant, no bar, and no communal areas. Although there was a tiny rooftop terrace with a honesty bar — 4 euros for prosecco — so that was nice.
The bed was firm, the pillows were thin, and I couldn’t figure out how to take a shower in the low-ceiling bathroom without sitting down or hitting my head while standing up. The wifi was the type that forces you to login each time you want to use it, which is my least favorite kind of wifi.
But the view from the front door of the hotel was pretty enchanting…right on a canal…and all day long, singing gondoliers and accordion-playing gondoliers would go floating by. I don’t care how touristy you may think that is…it’s pretty amazing. Also, there was a serviceable breakfast with friendly service (when you could find the gal) all included in the price. And,well, the hotel was about a 4 minute walk from Piazza San Marco, so there was that…
I think I mentioned in a previous post that next time I’m in Venice — because there will be a next time — I think I will stay on the mainland, where I’m sure my dollar will go further and where there will be fewer tourists and better, more local food. So until next time, Venice…
I knew eating in Venice was going to be tough. There are only 55,000 residents left in Venice — experts predict there will be none left in another twenty years — and the island (grouping of islands?) gets 30 million visitors a year. So…everyone is catering to the tourism trade, many of which are cruise ship day trippers. And if what I observed is any indication, tourists just want to eat pizza and hamburgers and gelato. GAH. What is wrong with people?
I was fairly booked with tours and other plans while I was in Venice, so it wasn’t always possible to go out of my way to find good food. In many situations, I just selected the closest/best option to whatever it was that I needed to do next. Here’s where I ate and drank, roughly in order of preference. I have not provided addresses because these are all Googleable and then you can read other people’s opinions too…
Ai Mercanti: After I checked into my hotel, I was in need of sustenance, and the little local place the hotel concierge sent me to was packed with mid-afternoon revelers. So I wandered around for a while until I found Ai Mercanti. The place was empty — except for a German family eating hamburgers! — so I was a little nervous. But my server was so helpful and sweet and I loved that the menu wasn’t packed with five thousand different options. I had the typical Venetian starter — sarde in saor — which was a hysterically large portion. Four very plump — and very delicious — sardines. After this, I made room for tripe and octopus pasta, which was very, very good. (If only the plate had been hotter.) All in all, I liked my food here and I really liked the service. The dining room was a bit dark for an afternoon meal, but I can see it being very cozy in the evening. Also, I loved the location in a quiet courtyard. I considered going back here for a 2nd meal but never really had the time.
San Giorgio: On the day I was heading to Murano and Burano, I knew I had to be down at the waterfront for my water taxi. San Giorgio is right in front of the Aresnale vaporetto stop, so it worked out perfectly for a quick lunch. Despite the touristy location and menu, my garlicky spaghetti vongole hit the spot. Service was a little awkward — Q: “Where is the white wine from?” A: “It is white.” — and the outdoor seat covers needed a good power washing, but the view was nice.
Quadri: Quadri is a one Michelin star restaurant on San Marco’s Square. As I told them when I left — sorry, it’s the New Yorker in me — they better do something about their service and staff if they expect to keep that Michelin star. I was ignored, ignored, and ignored further once my main — a luscious bowl of spaghetti with smoked razor clams — was delivered. Yes, yes I know this is Italy and I need to relax but it was still weird. Luckily, the memory of the decadent amberjack tartare with white truffle starter helped assuage my annoyance. (Which was further compounded when I passed the host stand on my departure, only to spy a plate of half-eaten food stashed there by a member of staff. Kids, this is not The Ponderosa!) The dining room at Quadri is over-the-top beautiful with red velvet wallpaper and glittering chandeliers, and the glassware is astoundingly gorgeous. I want to buy it all! And I would have…had they not ignored me.
Bistro de Venise: I popped into Bistro de Venise in between tours and I didn’t have a booking. Don’t do this. Make a booking. I knew immediately that I would like Bistro de Venise. It has that clubby, wood-paneled old school thing going on that I am kinda a sucker for. An off-duty staff member in plain clothes — perhaps one of the co-owners because he looks just like Sergio in the first photo here — immediately saw me hovering at the entrance and ushered me into the bar to wait for my table, where I was promptly brought a bellini. After about 15 minutes, I had a table in the dining room, surrounded by mostly Americans. While I wished my seafood risotto was hotter, my extremely capable server — the omniscient Walter — deserves his own Michelin star. This was a very good experience, except for the loo which is located right off the dining room and regales you with hand dryer noise every time someone exits.
La Caravella: Charming Italian waiters, kitschy old-school sailing decor…I kinda loved it here. (It reminds me of that seafood restaurant in the Drake Hotel in Chicago.) La Caravella specializes in spider crab, particularly, so after a small plate of sarde in saor (nowhere near as good as the ones at Ai Mercanti), I had some thin spaghetti with spider crab. It was nice. I wanted it to be nicer. But it was nice and my servers were nice and well, I just liked it here even though the food wasn’t all that. There is something to be said for a charming Italian waiter of a certain age in an old school waiter outfit, flirting with you incessantly.
Vino Vino: Don’t go here. It’s a tourist trap. I only went here out of desperation. It was late on a Friday night and I was tired and the recommended restaurants I had tried to get into were all full. I knew just by looking at the menu at Vino Vino — a mishmash of what every tourist imagines Italian food to be — that it was going to be terrible and it was. Service though was super nice to me and gave me a free glass of wine! They totally ignored the two tables next to me though. Have you ever realized that the tables next to you hate you? That’s how I felt at Vino Vino! Very odd.
So while I had some nice food in Venice, I’m just not sure…next time I go, I might stay in Castello or in Maestre on the mainland, where the locals live. I bet prices will be cheaper and food will be better as well.
You might know I’m a little obsessed with Viator. It’s like Uber for tours when traveling! Lots and lots of tours for most cities you can imagine, all in one place. So when I booked my trip to Venice, the first place I turned for help with tours and activities was Viator. And really, all three tours I booked really delivered.
Walking Tour & Grand Canal Cruise: This was a great little combo pack of tours and while I was a little nervous about the gap in between sections — three hours — it worked out just perfectly. See, first we did a tour hour walking tour of Venice, which started at 11 am and ended at 1 pm. As part of the tour, we skipped the queue at St. Mark’s, which was handy. We also got to visit during the short part of the afternoon when St. Mark’s is actually lit up, which was nice. Then, I was free until 4 pm to wander the city and uh, eat. At 4 pm, I met a subgroup of the original group for a one hour private water taxi tour of the Grand Canal, which was honestly my favorite part of the trip. This was a very well-executed tour which I very much recommend. Book this tour.
Cicchetti & Wine Tour: My favorite tour hands down! Our wonderful tour guide, Simona, took us to FIVE cicchetti bars in central Venice which I totally probably wouldn’t have gone to on my own. We had a little snack at each — some whipped bacalao at one, some ham and tomatoes at another, some fried sandwiches and olives at yet another — AND a glass of wine at each stop! I totally thought there were only four stops on this tour, so I was super sad when I thought the tour was over. BUT IT WASN’T OVER! Which was amazing. We made a fifth stop for more wine, more snacks, even more wine and then dessert. I highly, highly, highly recommend this tour. Book this tour.
Murano & Burano Tour: This tour was an extremely good value, given the mode of transport and the length of the tour — five hours. We traveled by spacious private water taxi to both Murano and Burano and had time to explore each. In Murano, I admired many a set of Murano drinking glasses, but ultimately decided I didn’t have the space for anything in my suitcase. In Burano, I downed some gelato before snapping pics of all the colorful houses. I wish I actually had more time on Burano — even if just an hour more — because the place is so darn cute. The only bad part of this tour is that the ride back from Burano is about an hour. If only they had provided snacks and drinks! Book this tour.
This is the view across the canal from inside the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Peggy Guggenheim Museum: Not a tour per se and not booked on Viator either, but on the last morning of my visit, I braved the traghetto — the larger gondolas that only go from one side of the canal to the other — all by myself and roamed the compact museum and gardens, imagining what it would be like to have a gazillion dollars and be a Guggenheim. I then hoofed it over to the Ponte Accademia and crossed back over to the main part of town. If you are into modern art like I am, this is the museum for you. (Also, check out Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy in London which is running through January 2nd, 2017.)
Stay tuned for more on where I ate and drank in Venice…
I’m heading to Venice, Italy this week!! I haven’t been since I was 19 years old. That’s a long long time. I’ve been wanting to go for ages, but I’ve also been wanting to avoid high tourist season. Traveling between September and November is my favorite thing to do anyhow, so it all works out. The crowds will be smaller and the light will be softer. I honestly can’t wait. I haven’t been this excited about a trip in ages.
I got a great deal on my BA flight and have booked myself into a decently priced hotel. (Hotel prices in Venice are truly outrageous.) I’ve started a Flipboard with lots of places to eat and shop. (I seriously love Flipboard.) And I’ve already booked some tours via Viator. It’s a quick trip — just three nights to keep costs reasonable — but I honestly can’t wait. Please send me any of your tips and advice!
Is it allowable, to duplicate the wedding of friends for your own selfish purposes? Because I truly could not imagine a more perfect location or wedding than the one I just got back from in Tuscany. My friends Jen and Leigh commandeered the movie-set-perfect Borgo Casabianca for an entire long weekend. The villa is in a small town called Asciano, about 90 minutes from Florence.
It was all so very Stealing Beauty. I kept waiting for them to play Nina Simone.
Do you see what I mean? This was the wedding dinner, where chandeliers hung from the trees and flowers were in abundance.
Borgo Casabianca was so severely beautiful, it was eye-watering. (The more I travel, the less I need. Although I still like free wifi, which Casabianca has!) That bed was pretty damn comfortable, and what you can’t see is all the EXTRA PILLOWS they provided. And the chocolates.
I had this for lunch in Pienza. I have no idea where. It was a small place, with a triangular courtyard. This was amazing. So simple.
Later that afternoon, we went to Montepulciano and enjoyed a wine tasting at Contucci Cantine. I am an equal opportunity wine drinker, but I don’t think Montepulciano is my favorite. Also, there was too much talking and too little wine on this tour. (Sorry, American in me.) A very historical place though, if that’s your thing.
And then our friends Jen & Leigh got married, and it was beautiful. So amazingly beautiful. And then we packed our bags to leave, but not before heading to the Casabianca kitchens for this beautiful mess…
Pici, which is a thick hand-rolled spaghetti, with a meat sauce. So simple, so perfect, so good.