Sunday, November 21, 2010

2010 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey - Shopping with the Chef and Sicilian Seafood Experiences

We arrived in Catania, Sicily and our Goldring Travel Food & Wine Group was treated to a Private Shopping with the Chef experience. I had been looking forward to the fish market in Catania and, of course, being treated to the experience with Chef Fritz, Sous Chef Martin, a guide and a private bus made it that much better.

The fish market was as good as any movie set could make it. Stalls filled with all sort of seafood…much of it live (more on that shortly)…with fish mongers calling out in competition with each other and, to be sure, it was a very friendly atmosphere (unlike the interesting, but rather stern and stodgy, smaller fish market in Marseilles). Swordfish heads, live octopus, prawns jumping on the tables, tuna steaks being carved right in front of you and some fish I have never seen before.

While I tried to keep up with Chef Fritz, my charge was to guide my blind guests around the market. It was challenging, but fun and forced me to observe things with my other senses. One fish monger offered me a live octopus for them to touch (making sure the sharp beak was safely secured). I had the husband touch the head and then shocked the wife when I had her place her arm within reach of its tentacles that stuck to her. Another allowed me to have them slide their hands down the bill of a swordfish, while another offered up oysters (huge by the way), mussels (with their beards) and a variety of clams as a way to compare the shellfish.

The favorite was by far the prawns. One fishmonger took two live prawns, pulled their heads off and then offered them to my guests to eat. Not knowing what was coming allowed for a great discussion about how good the prawns tasted, but how grossed out she was because she just ate live seafood!

The Chef purchased scabbard, sea bass and a 17 kilo tuna. But before returning to the ship we stopped in the Catania’s square for a coffee and some Sicilian pastries.

After returning to the ship most of us ventured back out on the Seabourn courtesy shuttle for the Goldring Travel Sicilian Food & Wine Experience back at the fish market where the stalls were now closing and the restaurants opening. Asking directions to a carefully selected restaurant, Osteria Antica Marina, I was told, in Italian, to go down the street to the left, make a left and it will be on the left about 20 meters down.

There is was…we thought, “Antica Tratorria”. We all sat down and then were given old, beat up, menus with nothing of interest on it. OOOOPPPS!

Next door was Osteria Antica Marina. But despite my telephone conversation and my confirming email they claimed they had no reservation for us. I had warned everyone I had heard they could be a bit difficult and, alas, they were. My recommendation is to stay away from this place. Arrogance and feigning they don’t understand English…as their English got better the more I pressed them…told me my time and money was better expended elsewhere. Yours too! Now what?

I had seen another restaurant which looked interesting right at the top of the stairs leading to the fish market, Ristorante Ambasciata del Mare. What a find! I simply asked them to feed us with a variety of Sicilian dishes and feed us they did…with some local Sicilian wines. Roasted eggplant with other mixed vegetables, small fired fish with caramelized onions, baked sardines, a fritter of broccoli, cheese and ???, incredibly delicious baby artichokes (Catania is famous for artichokes)…and then it was time for the pasta! We were served an absolutely delicious fresh spaghetti with mixed shellfish (mussels, small clams, squid, etc.) and what I would call a long penne mixed with fish and, we think, fennel. The latter one was not my favorite, but many of the group thought it was the best.

I wish I could give more information about the dishes and the people at the restaurant, but they truly did not know much English. They were, however, so friendly and so accommodating. And it was a feast to the eyes to see them roll out black ink pasta, filleting whole fish, serving giant prawns to what seemed like the business elite of Catania…all in a pleasant, but not fancy, setting.

It was now 3:00 pm and time to return to the ship. Overly full both in stomach and senses, we truly had a fantastic day.

If you would like to know about dinner that evening, you will have to ask someone else!