Ristorante Il Pirata – Praiano (Salerno, Campania), Amalfi Coast
The street name says it all. Via Terramare suggests a
physical union between land and sea that is so tight there was no need to put a
space between the two words: terra and mare. The street, or via, represents an
undefined line that cuts through both sheer rock and azure beachfronts with the
same glorious imprecision and capricious whim that defines the entire Amalfi
"This is not a road to somewhere. The Amalfi Drive is one of the great Italian destinations."
The stretch of coastline that extends from Sorrento to
Salerno includes Positano, with its colorful cascading houses, Ravello and
Amalfi. The ultimate driving experience is the curvy ribbon of asphalt that
hugs this rocky coastline. The 51-kilometer stretch of automotive aspiration
spirals past vertiginous curves and endless panoramas of sparkling sea vistas.
This is not a road to somewhere. The Amalfi Drive is one of the great Italian
Some 15 minutes by car past Positano heading south is the
town of Praiano. Here, in this little beachfront community is one of my
favorite restaurants: Ristorante Il Pirata owned by Rino Milano. You should
park your car in the private parking lot by the beach and walk along the
pedestrian via Terramare that cuts through the sea cliffs to get to this
heavenly intersection of gastronomic and panoramic perfection.
My family accompanied me on my latest visit to Rino’s
restaurant. We were headed back to Rome later that afternoon and therefore only
ordered appetizers, pasta and one bottle of wine. Nonetheless, the meal remains
fixed in my mind as one of the best of the summer.
We ordered four appetizers. I can never eat enough raw fish so I asked for the crudo di pesce that came with bright red Mediterranean shrimps and assorted cuts of pesce bianco fillets such as spigola and dentice. We also ordered a heaping plate of frittura di calamari (fried calamari) to share.
My sister-in-law Christina opted for the healthy burrata con rucola, pomodorini e zucchine grigliate. The cheese was soft and tender on the inside and opened to a milky cream filling. The zucchini were full of flavor and the sweet tomatoes tasted beautifully fresh.
My brother Michael who will eat anything-with-artichokes went with the delicate insalata di gamberi con julienne di carciofi e grana. Steamed shrimps are served with a lemon and olive oil marinade over a bed of raw artichoke hearts. Small Violet artichokes have hardly any bitterness or astringency. Paper thin slices of Grana Padana cheese complete the dish.
We were seated at a corner table positioned carefully on a sheer cliff with the lapping waves of the Mediterranean some four meters directly below our dangling feet. I can’t image a more beautiful spot for a family lunch with my very playful nephews. Ristorante Il Pirata is also a beach club with umbrellas and beach chairs to rent. The restaurant also accommodates boats as many of its clients come by sea from the nearby towns.
Upon Rino’s enthusiastic suggestion, we order a bottle of the 2015 San Salvatore 1988 Pian di Stio. The wine is a pure expression of Fiano from the Paestum IGP located near Salerno further down the coast. I was less enthusiastic about the 2014 vintage previously reviewed, but the 2015 edition delivers a whole other level of intensity and luminosity. In fact, I would go on to visit the winery and learn more about the San Salvatore 1988 production philosophy just a few weeks after this lunch. My official review of this wine is published in my upcoming report on new releases from Campania.
Our pasta dishes arrived just as the early afternoon
sunlight turned the surrounding sea to a brilliant shade of aqua blue. Because
I had ordered it in the past and loved it so much, I could not resist an encore
performance of the sumptuous paccheri della Praia con frutti di mare e
pomodorini. Paccheri are large hollowed tubes of pasta that are big enough to
house a calamari ring on its insides. The pasta is served with a generous
assortment of frutti di mare and is stained with a touch of cherry tomato to
achieve a pinkish hue. The tomato gives just enough acidity and sweetness to
balance out the dish.
Another excellent selection is the scialatielli Pirata con gamberetti, calamari e pomodori. The elongated homemade pasta boasts a shape that is almost indistinguishable from the cuts of steamed calamari that are cleverly woven within. Chunks of gambero rosso shrimp give the plate its creamy consistency and succulent sweetness.
The most territory-specific dish was the cortecce Terramare con vongole, finocchio e agrumi. Cortecce pasta is smothered in clams, chopped fennel and the sweet pulp of sun-ripened lemons from the Amalfi coast. The dish offered seamless integration of citrus and salty seafood flavors. The surf and turf theme of the dish is executed thanks to the fennel and the lemons from nearby gardens.
Last but not least is the risotto ai gamberi e limoni della costiera that saw perfectly al dente kernels of rice enhanced by fish stock and more red shrimp. The textural richness of the dish is ingeniously enhanced by the juice and sweet pulp of locally grown Amalfi lemons.
Proprietor Rino Milano offers an excellent selection of Italian wines and takes care to stock his cellar with creative choices and less-known names from Campania and from the Amalfi coast more specifically. His menu includes meat dishes and non-seafood selections for those who want food to pair with a more robust and important red wine like Aglianico. Otherwise, a plate of raw shrimp and a glass of crisp Campania Fiano is all you need to enjoy this terrestrial paradise.
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