Officina Gastonomica: Good food, lousy service
This is a modern restaurant in the center of Catania, with a very nice, stylish decor.
Almost everything I have eaten here is good (Pizza, pasta, risotto, etc) and the menu seems to change quite often. I even had a good, thick (for Italian standards) steak here, which is quite rare.
However, there is just no excuse for the poor service. Waiters/waitresses are rude and extremely slow. It usually takes 20-30 minutes just to get someone to come over to your table, after which you have to wait quite a while for the main course as well. If you are brave enough to complain or at least point out that you have been waiting long, you are treated with indifference in the best case and get a somewhat rude reply in the worst.
If you are not in a hurry and do not get frustrated easily, you can have a good meal here (well, it is Sicily, so that is more or less standard).
Pizzas/pastas cost less than 10 Eur and mains are slightly more expensive. Expect to pay 15-20 Eur for a two-course meal with wine.
Favorite Dish: I had an excellent tuna risotto with peppers once. It was absolutely delicious.
One of my favourite pizza's, Parmiggiana, is also available here. I think it is typically Sicilian, so you will probably not find it anywhere else in Italy.
il Sale art cafe': Trendy restaurant with good food
This seems to be quite a hip place as it was full when we got there and it seems reservation is recommended.
Service was quite good with the exception of one rude waiter, although everyone seemed a bit too serious.
Food was good and they cover a broad range of Italian specialties, from Pizzas to pastas and "secondi" (meat and fish). Most dishes are quite elaborate, both in terms of ingredients and presentation.
I personally had the tuna with a thin slice of lard, which was in my opinion a bit dry, but a really nice combination and very tasteful.
My friends had tagliatelle with almonds, steak and Pizza and were all quite happy with their choice.
As a dessert I had a chocolate cake with warm chocolate sauce inside, accompanied by pistachio icecream. Take a look at the picture to see how nice the presentation is, the restaurant logo is actually made of chocolate powder - nice.
At about 28 Eur per person (including wine), it was not cheap, but seems to be just about average
Zo: "Lo Zo"
This is actually a Cultural center where you can attend exhibitions and see concerts, but it also has a small room for eating.
It is a modern, renewed factory and looks quite interesting.
The service is a bit slow, and the service is a bit strange as the waitress can be extremely nice or just "there", meaning not very nice, but still somewhat efficient.
It's good for a relaxed lunch.
Favorite Dish: The menu apparently changes quite often, but the last time we went, I had a very nice pasta with salmon and vodka!
The desserts are usually quite good, don't forget to taste the "crepe alla Nutella", which is just a small pancake with chocolate inside. They usually also have a nice chocolate/orange cake.
Pesce Cotto: Catania's best kept secret
This is very small place that is mainly take-away, but also has 3 small tables. It is run by a gentleman and his son so the service is extremely friendly.
Most people go there to take out, but if you are lucky, you might find one of the tables free.
What makes this place so unique is the fact it only serves fresh food, mainly fish (Pesce Cotto means Cooked fish) and that it is extremely cheap. Not to mention food is almost always delicious. You get a choice of daily dishes, which consist of 2-3 pastas and risottos and 3 or 4 kinds of fish plus potatoes/vegetables, etc. You can see the kitchen, so most of the time you will see the food being prepared.
Pastas cost around 3 Eur each and fish go for about 5-6 Eur. A large bottle of water is 1 Euro. You can't get it cheaper anywhere, not even in the supermarket.
I don't think it is open for Dinner.
Favorite Dish: EVERYTHING!
You can't go wrong, everything is top-quality!
Most "bar/pasticceria": Cannoli Siciliani
If there is one thing you must absolutely must taste while in Sicily it's the cannolo. It's a tube-shaped fried pastry filled with sweet ricotta-cheese. There are several variations, but the ones in Catania are topped with pistache (it grows fertile land around the Etna Vulcano). In Palermo, they usually add chocolate and candied fruits.
There is also the chocolate variety, which is the same pastry filled with chocolate.
TIP: Should you want to take some back to your family/friends (trust me, you will want to), ask specifically and the better places will have the ones made specially for travel. The pastry is covered (on the inside) with chocolate and then filled with Ricotta, this way the pastry will still be crispy when you get home. However, since it is fresh cheese, you can only take it for small trips.
You will not be able to get them in the warm summer months (July-September) as the cheese will go bad very quickly and most places will not want to make them.
Expect to pay 3-4 Euros each, but usually one is enough for breakfast/snack.
Another Italian delicacy is the "gelato"
It means Ice cream, except it is not the same thing :). Forget about those perfectly shaped ice-cream scoops. Gelato is much superior. Read below for more information.
For where to go exactly, just stop someone on the street and ask. Any Italian, young or old, will know where to get good "gelato". They do take food seriously, so don't be surprised if they send you across town when there is a place right in front of you, which might be good, but not great!
St. Moritz seems to be quite good, although it might not be the most authentic place. I know there are at least 2 of them, one on via Etnea, the other one I can't remember.
From www.caffegelato.net/ html/gelato.html:
Gelato is Italy’s version of ice cream, with three major differences.
First, gelato has significantly less butterfat than ice cream's typical 18 and 26 percent. Tests conducted by Delaware’s Department of Agriculture confirmed Caffé Gelato’s vanilla and chocolate gelato both have less than 10 percent butterfat.
However, less fat does not mean less taste. With the lower butterfat content, gelato is less solidly frozen than ice cream and melts in the mouth faster. Therefore, the customer will taste gelato’s full flavor immediately.
Second, gelato has a much higher density than ice cream. Ice cream is produced by mixing cream, milk and sugar, then adding air. Manufacturers add air to ice cream because it nearly doubles the quantity of their product. But, it cuts their quality in half. No air is added to gelato. The result is a higher quality dessert with a richer, creamier taste.
Third, gelato is served slightly warmer than ice cream. While both gelato and ice cream are served well below the freezing temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, gelato is served 10 to 15 degrees warmer than ice cream. Because it is less solidly frozen, gelato’s taste is further enhanced as it melts in the mouth.
Sicilian fast food
If you go to Italy, you must forget about eating at fast food "restaurant" chains like McDonalds.
If you visit Siciliy, it is almost a crime to eat at a fast food "restaurant".
The reason for this is that food gets better, the further South you go, the better the food (not only my opinion, even Italians from the North seem to agree). Catania is obviously no exception. I can understand that sometimes you don't feel like sitting down at a Restaurant or maybe you are just on a tight budget, but that is no excuse!
All around Catania are the so called "tavola calda" which literally means "warm table" and they serve all kinds of food/snacks. My personal favorite is the "arancino" , which is a pear-shaped, orange (hence the name, "little orange") ball of rice, minced meat, cheese and peas or you can get the vegetarian version with spinach. It is delicious and not much more expensive than a hamburger, of course you cannot compare the two when it comes to taste... It is typical from Catania.
Otherwise, you can get a pizza slice, which is usually good or a pizzetta (miniature pizza) or calzone (miniature calzone).
All these things are quite cheap, so for 4-5 Euros you can have a delicious snack/meal.
The only problem is that you will miss this when you go back home.
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Savia: The best bakery/coffe house in Catania
If there is one thing that I like (actually there are many, but that is not the point right now) about Siciliy, it is the quality of the sweets/deserts... My absolute favorite are the "Paste di pistacchio", small pistacchio pastries that are to die for! They should be consumed fresh (3-4 days at a maximum) as they are still moist on the inside.
Most "pasticcerie" in Catania will make them as the Pistacchio grows on the hills of the Etna volcano and is widely available, but the ones from Savia are the absolute best.
In addition, you will find other traditional delicacies such as the "Cassata siciliana", a ricotta-based cake and also small almond paste fruit.
Don't forget the "cannoli", which are also hard to beat.
There are also "Pasta di mandorle", which are just like the Pistacchio ones that I mentioned earlier, but are made out of almonds.
However, and quite surprisingly, one of my favourite things are the "Profiteroles". They are not easy to get though as you must order on the day before, but I recommend doing so if you are staying for some days.
Service is very efficient, but don't expect to get more than what you ordered. I suspect they have strict orders not to smile! The cashiers are the most irritating people I know (which seems to be the case with all cashiers in Catania).
If you get on the waiters good side, however, they can be very nice.
Everything is of excellent quality and very fresh - you really can't go wrong.
Take a look at the website which is quite nice. The intro even has some very old pictures of Catania (Savia has been open since 1897)
Chioschi di Piazza Umberto (P.U. Kiosks)
One of my fondest memories of Catania is the ritual of the chiosco.
Catanesi stay out late enjoying their unparalleled nightlife, wandering the sultry backstreets in search of the perfect locale or that special bella/o. It's a hot town, and after a long night what a person really needs is a refreshing beverage - something to cool down the engine if you will - and after the bars close that something is found at the chioschi.
There are many of varying quality and renown scattered throughout the city. The most well-known and well-frequented are at Piazza Umberto, a bit outside the center. They're hard to miss - two brightly lit stands at opposite ends of the square manned by several quick talking young men (never saw a woman work one) surrounded by a gaggle of youths.
These kiosks are found almost exclusively in Catania. As far as I know there aren't any in Palermo and the ones in Rome don't have the same appeal. But the one's in Catania are NOT TO BE MISSED.
Favorite Dish: The absolute classic best drink is the 'Mandarino al Limone'. What that is is a shot of orange syrup and a glass of selter, mixed with a whole squeezed lemon. IT IS DELICIOUS. There are technically two flavors. If you just say 'mandarino al limone per favore' you'll get the standard orange one. If you say 'mandarino verde' you get the green one. I prefer orange but green is a nice change sometimes.
According to your taste, their are MANY other flavors of syrup and variations on the general theme. Some of my favorites:
Tamarindo - for those of you familiar with American candy, this tastes like a glass of Sour Patch Kids. SO GOOD.
Orazata - I think the English word for this is Orgeat.
You can go really crazy and add Mente (mint) to the Orzata.
If you just get mint, consider adding a dash of Anise.
These seltzer drinks are not the only thing you can get - on cooler nights or earlier in the evening a lot of people get a Nutella shake. This is a total stomach bomb and they can easily be shared. Delish.
The regular assortment of beers and sodas is also available.
City Jazz: City Jazz
City Jazz is just one of my favorite hangouts, so I put it up here. They've got a pretty reliable group of regular musicians who don't do a bad job, and the food is decent. A good pit stop on any night of bar-hopping also.
Il Fuoco dell'Etna
A firey Catanian specialty liquor, "The Fire of Etna" lives up to its name. Recommended for Tabasco addicts and anybody who likes jalepeno peppers, this is a late-evening, too drunk to realize it's a bad idea to order some beverage. Drinking Il Fuoco is a sort of Catanian rite of passage - although there are no T-Shirts that say "I drank Il Fuoco and I SURVIVED," there should be.
These miniature confectionary creations are beautiful AND tasty. Made from marzipan, they are usually formed into fruit shapes - strawberries, bananas, etc - and on sale in better bars (fast food shops, remember - an American 'bar' is called a 'pub'). They're a little pricey but I think they make great gifts. I never actually bought any but I was given some and I was very happy. ;-) ' Reale', like in Spanish, means 'royal.'
Mandarino al Limone
See my other posts on Choischi for more general information. I just wanted a photo of the drink itself.
This is the kiosk at Piazza Umberto. You can see the orange and green mandarino syrups on the left and the little cup o' tasty goodness on the counter.
Running price for a mandarino al limone is about 1.50 euro. Worth it.
By the way, this guy did NOT appreciate me taking this picture. I had to explain to him what the heck I was up to before he would take my money.
A panineria is a sort of a truck that folds out into a sandwhich shop. They are all over the place in Catania, and the make some of the most munchable food you could possibily want.
Where? There is a cluster of them at the rail station, but the best ones are north along the coast, about a 20 minute walk from the station. Just follow the main road past the Ciminiere and keep going until you see a big street jutting inland lined with panino trucks. I like to call it Panino Alley, but it's really called Via del Rotolo.
What? The basic idea is you got a bun, like a hotdog bun but better, and then you choose a meat and cheese (of which there are many types) and then your toppings, fantastic stuff like russian salad or spicy mushrooms or eggplant, and then you put French Fries on top and top that all with ketchup and, if you like, mayonaise. Fantastic. Cost about 2 euro each. You can also buy beer or soda to drink.
There is also a panino maestro, Don Pippo, who makes all his sandwiches with care and never touches money with his hands (he uses tongs). Ask a Catanian to take you to him.
The arancino is a Catanese invention. The name means 'little orange', and it kind of looks like an orange, but it's actually a ball of rice, cheese, peas, and meat, a little bigger than a baseball, covered in bread and fried within an inch of its life. If you only eat one typically Sicilian thing in Sicily (which would be crazy), then you should eat an arancino. They are SOOO good.
There are actually many flavors of arancino. The most typical, described above, is 'al ragu', however there are usually butter and spinach varieties as well. I recommend sticking with ragu.
They can be found at most 'bars', those little cafes with a tavola calda. The best ones are found at Le Etoile d'Or and Savia, in central Catania (see restaurants). Current price euro 1.50.
I found a frozen 'arancino' in a PAM grocery store in Trieste once. Poor little thing, it was about the size of a golf ball and completely inedible. Go to Catania to find the real deal.
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