While we draw inspiration from all over the Italian Peninsula, our trip through the Puglia region of Italy was most fundamental to the develepment of Nico Osteria.
We began our journey through Puglia in the inland town of Bitonto where we visited a foccaciaria that had been family-operated for four generations. While the bakery was tiny, it housed an enormous oven large enough to fit three Fiats. After a quick stop at a seaside fish market, we made a beeline to Montegrosso for lunch with Pietro Zito (the Godfather of Puglian cooking) at his restaurant Antichi Sapore. Pietro walked us through his incredible biodynamic garden filled with lavender, five different varieties of mint, four different varieties of oregano, cucumbers, tomatoes and so much more.
Adjacent to the garden was an outdoor kitchen fit for a Roman feast, with huge blocks of marble functioning as tables and chairs. After our garden tour, we had an incredible lunch with many courses of pasta - hand made as well as extruded - and many other Puglian classics. That night, we found ourselves walking through tight corridors to a little butcher shop where they prepared charcoal roasted skewers of heart, lung and sweetbreads tied up like bows with pork intestines, housemade sausage and lamb. We also feasted on two different types of local beef while dining outside in a tiny piazza, with children playing around us.
On our second day, we drove 200 kilometers outside of Bari to meet another butcher in the town of Apricena at a shop called Macelleria where we met Sabatino and his long time loyal butcher Angelo. We were served dried meats from a 15 year old Podolica cow and other preparations from a 12 year old goat (garganica). We also met Vincenzo, a producer of olive oil and incredible vegetables, as well as a local baker.
After a stop in Lesina for a lunch of eel, we made our way to Peschici, a hill top seaside town that belongs on a movie screen. A mile or so east of Peschici is Trabucco di Mimi, where sits one of the most extraordinary restaurants that any of us had ever seen.
A trabucco is an ancient fish trap, and Da Mimi has one that catches fish daily for a restaurant that sits directly beside it. The view was perfect, and beside us sat Mario, the chef, who peeled raw scampi with his hands and cut monkfish crudo that he covered with olive oil. The experience was incredibly inspiring, so much so that we named our house-beer "Trabucco" after the vessel.
On our third day, we went to a natural winery, about an hour west of Bari. The wine maker was a true artisan; their grapes were all picked by hand and macerated, stem and all, in giant stoneware urns for eight months before being pressed, by hand of course, and aged in stainless steel. Nothing is added to their wine, the only ingredient is grapes. We walked across the winemaker's beautiful front lawn into what looked like a storage shed. We stepped inside to find a zen-like tasting room, the like of which we had never seen. We sat there for hours, sipping wines that tasted and smelled completely foreign to us, and listened to our host preach his gospel.
If you ever find yourself in Italy, in this lush Puglian land, let Livio Colapinto be your guide for he is an expert on the land, farmers, butchers, fishermen, wine makers and chefs of the region with roots throughout Italy. This gentleman showed us the utmost hospitality and introduced us to places that we would have never found on our own.
Livio Colapinto zestofitaly.com
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