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Dateline: the Amalfi Coast

01.27.2012

After three days in Rome, I was ready to get out of the city and see some of these scenic Italian vistas people are always gushing about. Our next stop was Sorrento, and in a fit of pig-headedness I decided that the best way to get there was to drive myself. It couldn’t be worse than Boston, could it?

The beginning of the four-hour drive was fine. Italy’s freeways are much like ours, with the addition of speed cameras that make you worry you’ll be getting an unexpected Italian souvenir in the mail a month after you arrive home (hello, speeding ticket?). Once off the highway, things were a bit different. Maneuvering a stick-shift Fiat through cobblestone roads that would pass for bike lanes here in the states, and along highways perched hundreds of feet above the sea is somewhat harrowing.

Still, with a peace of mind brought on only by opting into Hertz’s collision coverage (very pricey, but very worth it), I managed to get us to Sorrento without wetting my pants. The following day we took the ferry to Capri, got ripped off (hint: don’t opt for the private boat tour), and ate the worst pizza I’ve ever had.  Capri was otherwise charming; reminded me of an Italian Martha’s Vineyard, or maybe Nantucket. I’d go back.

Later that week , I drove the Amalfi highway to Positano, with only a slight delay due to a landslide (!). Positano was the stuff dreams are made of, rustic hillsides and breathtaking vistas. I wish I’d had a few days to just be there, soaking up sun, wandering through town and passing long afternoons drinking wine. We happened upon the most wonderful restaurant there: Cafe Bruno. Located on the main road, perhaps a mile up from the “center of town,” the restaurant was on one side of the street, while the patio seating was on the other, a set-up that required the waitresses to exercise some caution when serving. Overlooking the Mediterranean, with canvas umbrellas over the table and bougainvillea growing on a stone wall nearby, it looked almost too good to be true. So often, the food at places like this is out-shined by the view, but here it was the opposite. The shrimp were tender, the pasta was handmade. It was the best meal I had in Italy.

I should say that Il Buco was the best meal I had in Italy. It certainly was the most elegant- and most expensive. Beef cheek ravioli, calamari  two ways, beef filet and pork medallions… it was all exquisitely made. But to me, the beauty of being in Italy is that top-notch Italian is de rigor.  You can eat like a king on a peasant’s budget: indeed some of Italy’s best food is peasant food. That said, Il Buco was VERY good, and if you’re looking for a high-end dining experience in Sorrento, I wouldn’t hesitate to go there.

As Amalfi is also the birthplace of limoncello, I was more than obliged to try some.  One can hardly avoid it: the stuff is everywhere from souvenir shops to high-end restaurants. The limoncello at Buco was made in-house, and was a perfectly smooth combination of sweet, lemony essence. Made me think that maybe I should pull out my old recipe and try to perfect it…

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