Just around the corner from El Cid, our breakfast and aperitivo haunt, there is a building attached to The Bristol, one of the many three star hotels that dot the beach front. The veranda is unprepossessing with a few plants and white plastic furniture. The sign says Ristorante Bristolino “Lorenzo e Bibo” – Specialita di pesce.
A step through the door was a revelation. The decor is “Early Grandma Knick Knack” with vases, silk flowers, candlesticks, dolls, lamps, plants, plush velvet, chintz prints. The only thing missing is the thin coating of dust and antimacassars that would have made this a visit to Grandmother’s house.
But the decor wasn’t the only revelation. Lorenzo, of the aforementioned team, is Lorenzo di Grazioli who runs the restaurant and Bibo is his brother who is the chef. Together with a team of efficient, black-clad ladies they turn out a seafood only menu that was one of the finer meals I’ve had in Italy.
There is no printed menu – well by law there has to be but Lorenzo prefers to come to the table and tell you what’s cooking tonight. A small man with a fly-away halo of gray hair he seems to have his eye on everything going on while still finding time to chat and make his clients feel comfortable. Once he has taken your order his well drilled group of ladies spring into action. It wasn’t until my friend Robert mentioned it the other evening that it twigged on me, but it is not usual to see an all female serving team in restaurants; you do see women serving food but normally they are the mother or daughter of the family giving a hand. The sommelier was also a woman – severe black dress, horn-rimmed glasses, hair in a bun – the only thing missing was the pencil in the bun and she could have been the office efficiency expert. But she knew her wines and after ascertaining our main course fish and our preferences – something dry from the region, she made her suggestion. She may have looked like Miss Marplestein but she knew her wines and produced a very nice Verdicchio di Jesi that matched our choice of Rombo (turbot) perfectly.
A fresh baked foccacio studded with tomato was set before us just in case we were a bit peckish.
We had ordered the seafood antipasti and to be honest were expecting the standard large plate with a selection of goodies from the sea. Here’s what we got:
The first plate was Spada Cerviche: six or seven slices of tender swordfish with a slight citrus tang from the lemon and orange that it had been marinating in.
A Macedonia del mare followed: a mix of clams, mussels, calamari, olives, tomato, finocchio and celery lightly dressed with olive oil.
A capasanta on its shell:a single sweet scallop baked with a blanket of crumbs,red pepper and olive.
As the last of the antipasti there were Gamberetti: four plump and tender shrimp wrapped in pancetta and lightly coated in very fine crumbs. A spray bottle of balsamic vinegar was provided so you could spritz them for added flavour. Not a combination I would have thought of …. but it worked.
At that point I was wondering how I could manage a main course but Rombo is one of my favorites so I thought I’d try. It was the only slight disappointment – and I stress slight – of the evening. I found that though it was good – and the roast vegetables that surrounded it delicious – it could have had more flavour. But I was still able to leave behind only a few bones.
The Main course: Turbot baked in the oven with potatoes, zucchini, melanzane and several other vegetables.
Then came a slight breather in the service so we could finish our wine and relax for a bit more to come, just in case we were still hungry.
Along with two two bottles of ice cold degestifs – lemoncello and amaro nero – came a plate of cakes.
“Do you have room for a dolci, ” asked Lorenzo. The affirmative answer yield up this extravagant fantasy of gelato, fruits, whipped cream and nuts – a sundae gone wild!
But not quite the end – you can’t have a meal without coffee.
There is a running joke here: What’s the hardiest thing to get in an Italian restaurant? The Bill! And the Bristolino was no exception, it did take awhile to get the tab but then we weren’t that eager to see it because we were expecting a hefty account and didn’t want the pleasure of the moment spoiled by talk of filthy cash. When it finally came we were stunned – Euro 100.00 (CAD150.00)for everything – food, water, wine and coffee.
We had been chatting briefly with Lorenzo throughout the evening and he had been attentive and fussed over us – as he did all his clients. As we got up to leave he came over to the table, thanked us for coming, hugged us and admonished us with a finger wag to come back again. You know that decor may have been the key, aside from the fact that she never cooked like that it was a little bit like visiting Grandma’s house.
23 agosto – Santa Rosa da Lima