If you can’t say anything nice…

Il Clandestino table setting
My mother always said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”   And ordinarily if we go to a restaurant and we don’t like it, we don’t blog it.
But, this one got to me.
We had gone to Il Clandestino in Porto Novo a few years ago and had an astonishing, memorable, can’t wait to go back meal.
The setting is gorgeous, right on the rocky beach, there is nothing but  you and the sea. Lovely waitstaff glide around this funky beach shack in crisp, billowy linen outfits. Each plate that was put in front of us was a tiny work of art, each mouthful a sensory exploration.

Fast forward to this week.

After festa, we needed a little Montone break, so we headed to the beach at Portonovo on the Adriatic side of Italy. We convinced our traveling companions, John and Libby,  that going to Il Clandestino would be a sublime treat. After nearly two weeks of this torrid heat wave and the nonstop festivities of festa, it was time for swim in the sea.

Anna's pastaWe spent a fabulous day at the beach, with an equally fabulous lunch at Anna’s. This unpretentious little trattoria on the beach that has never disappointed and we always look forward to simple, good seafood. Over-sized penne pasta served ‘in padella’ (in the pot) with an abundance of sea creatures never disappoints, and neither do the succulent mussels cooked with lots of lemon chunks.

After a full day of swimming, floating on a raft, and intense people watching, including a few beach bums, we were fully primed for a dinner extravaganza on the beach.
Beach bums

It’s not that the dinner was a disaster; it was a combination of uncomfortable dinner ware, sticky astro turf place mats, and disinterested wait staff that started to signal things may not be as we remembered.

Jeff was obsessed with the silver ware. Extremely long, slender, slippery utensils with teensy fork prongs, or spoon bowls that defied you to actually get any food to your mouth. My theory is that the portions were so small, it was a psychological ploy to make you feel full. If your hand went to your mouth that many times, surely you’ve eaten enough to be satisfied? I found it easier to flip the fork and knife around and use them as chopsticks. I am NOT a fan of form over function, especially when I’m eating.
Place setting

The kitschy little placemats were OK for the first part of the meal, then they left imprints on your arm that weren’t so comfortable. But at least they were easy enough to roll up and move to the side, which is what we did. That was after we had a burst of creativity and turned the place mats into a variety of hats.

On to the food. The starters were lovely: a plate of barely seared sliced tuna and a dish of strips of seppie (cuttlefish) were refreshing and delicious. The starters are paired with an apperitivo, which was nice enough, but if you are going to do that, then make the apperitivo interesting. The tuna was paired with a Verdicchio (no surprise there…you cannot NOT have a Verdichhio wine with everything while you are in the Marche).  My seppie was paired with a sharp flavored Champagne.

The main courses were very limited in choice, with artsy-confusing descriptions, and ultimately not that memorable. I had a riff on an Ancona speciality of baccala with potatoes and tomatoes, which was bland and served with undercooked potatoes. John had the absolute winner: capesante (scallops) that were butter sweet with pureed potatoes and oddly intriguing squid ink chips.

Herein lies the crux of our disappointment: on our previous visit we were awed with each dish.  Those crunchy black ink chips were the only intriguing, unusual element we served the whole evening. Last time I remembered a bracing ginger aerosol appertivo, flavor journeys that teased their way from savory to spicy, color and texture that seduced and charmed.  Now, there was no magic in the dishes, no passion or flare. The sparks of intrigue and mystery had given way to the cooling embers of ennui.

Fortunately, our dinner companions were fun, the evening warm, the setting gorgeous, so you could almost forgive. Almost.

What’s that other saying, “You can never go back.”? In this case, we’ll stick to Trattoria Da Anna’s welcoming trattorie and leave others to cope with that moronic silverware.

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  1. mitch weinstein on August 29, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Funny thing is my mother also said the same thing. Right before she would say something nasty about someone!

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