Today we can find a wine list in almost any average restaurant – even in simple “trattorias” – while the most sophisticated ones also propose a liqueur, coffee or even water list.
Now, in Italy, it’s time for an olive oil list. It’s not easy to say whether it is good or bad news. It clearly shows the growing interest chefs are paying to olive oil, but is it just a passing fad? Experts argue that it is not easy for a small, gourmet restaurant to manage an oil list or trolley. If you open many bottles at one time, some might be rancid before too long. But there are some places that can pull it off. One of the best is Il Mosaico, the gourmet restaurant of the luxurious hotel Terme Manzi in the enchanting island of Ischia, in the Gulf of Naples.
Nino Di Costanzo is not only a talented chef, but also a true passionate for extra virgin olive oil.
“When I was a child I used to have a slice of bread with olive oil and local tomatoes as a daily snack: simple yet delicious. Today, I couldn’t cook without olive oil,” he says while he shows us the huge restaurant storeroom full with the best Italian pastas, flours, vinegars and olive oils. He was able to collect nineteen of them, one from each Italian region (with the sole exception of Valle d’Aosta, a small mountain region in Northern Italy). During the closing months – from November to April – he travels across Italy to visit farms and select the best products. “I only want to use oils I know where they come from” he says.
You won’t easily find another restaurant in Italy with such a comprehensive offer of excellent extra virgin olive oils. And Chef Di Costanzo and his waiting staff know how to handle them. As soon as you take your seat at one of the six tables, you will receive a special welcome: a lightly toasted, home made baguette and a small, empty dish; you will then choose from the olive oil trolley which exquisite oil you’ll use to fill it, after smelling it from the proper blue tasting glass. Sommeliers and Maitre Alessandro Passagrilli are there to guide you, if you wish.
Most of the bottles come in small packaging and they quickly run empty. If they are not finished within three days, Nino will use them at the larger, daily hotel restaurant where they will be quickly emptied.
The Mosaico’s olive oil list is really impressive, with many among the best of 2010 harvests. From the renowned, intense Il Sincero by Viola from Umbria to the rare and delicate extra virgin by Gamberoni, from Veneto. One of the chef’s own favourites is the Sicilian oil by Terraliva but, he explains “What I like best is that you can find so many excellent olive oils from the whole country, each of them with its own character.”
But, while he encourages his guests to “play” with oil, the oil itself also plays a major role in his dishes: original, creative and playful themselves, they are as beautiful as tasty. See the imaginative dessert Insalata di pasta dolce. An uncommon, sweet version of a classic of Italian summer popular cuisine, the pasta salad, with all its ingredients: at the bottom, an olive oil madeleine and a corn mousse; then the typical, excellent artisanal pasta from Gragnano – yet cooked in sugar syrup – with crispy Taggiasca olive wafers, grated coconut and a basil jelly. On the side, a “tomato” (actually a plum jelly with a basil heart). Finally a small, transparent cruent made of sugar, hiding inside the delicate but fragrant Uliva oil by Agraria Riva, from Garda Lake. You break it, and it will “season” the whole dessert, enhancing the different flavours without overpowering them.
Just another magic of extra virgin olive oil.
IL MOSAICO DEL TERME MANZI HOTEL
Piazza Bagni, 4
Phone +39 081 994722
Average price 100 euros