Sicilian Style Seafood and a Pizza in San Leone

On our first night in the Agrigento region of southwestern Sicily, the lady at our agriturismo recommended for dinner a restaurant named Il Capriccio di Mare in San Leone. We were starving, having only eaten a pane e panelle and a (delicious) arancina stuffed with ground meat and peas in the street market of Palermo some 7 hours before. And although there was a party in honor of some saint in the nearby village of Licata, the thought of a nice big dinner somewhere appealed more to us than off-brand alcohol and messy street food a 30-minute drive away. So we hopped in the car and headed down to San Leone. The city itself, like most of the cities near Agrigento, is not much to behold, especially at night. But there is life at night, especially outside this locally popular dinner spot, where we saw only well-dressed locals eating.

After a short wait we were seated, we ordered, and out came the wine – the 100% Laluci Grillo from Baglio del Cristo di Campobello, a fresh and balanced white with lots of white fruit and spicy notes, promising to be a great pairing to the seafood to come. Very very hungry, I was almost to the point of asking for the bread bowl and grissini pack which I knew was guaranteed in a restaurant like this. Eventually the food came, very nicely plated and served with a smile.

I ordered a little assortment of seafood appetizers, since I didn’t have the patience to choose from all the options. It was the right choice, with the highlight of the dish being the chilled octopus salad. The little hunks of tentacle meat were wonderfully tender and fatty, dressed with just the right amount of oil and vinegar. There were also some pickled white anchovies, like the boquerones so popular in Barcelona, a few mussels, a bright pink salad of baby shrimp, two thin slices of smoked mackerel, a delicious chunk of breaded and deep-fried swordfish, and a warm version of the pickled anchovy, served butterflied with a grainy, sandy crust of seasoned breadcrumbs. There was also this thick fish cake with pine nuts and raisins, served with a sweet and sour sauce, of which Ben ordered a plateful. These were wonderful. What I would normally consider a bit too dense was actually perfect to appease our raging appetite and calm us before the mains arrived.

Ben was correct in ordering the Sicilian style grouper filet, the memory of which still makes my mouth water. The thick, tender and very generously sized fish steak came topped with a colorful garden of stewed, caramelized, busted up tomatoes, bleeding their ripe juice generously into the sauce surrounding that fish. Also topping the fish were some wonderfully briny, anchovy-stuffed green olives and capers, and no doubt plenty of onion and garlic cooked right in. Simple but tremendously satisfying, this dish is only possible with the kind of kick-ass tomatoes you can only find this far south. Nevertheless, I have plans to try out this recipe next weekend, as futile as any attempt to imitate it may be…

Il Capriccio di Mare also has a very serious brick oven and almost everyone in this very seafood-themed restaurant is eating pizza. And it’s not even Monday! I know enough about the regional cuisines of Italy to know that Sicily is not THE place to eat a pizza but, well, these looked good and we were hungry. Sicily is probably the only place in the world where I would actually dare to order a pizza “frutti di mare,” especially the white pie I saw with clams one table over. We decided on something a tad less crazy and got one with just tomato sauce, cheese and eggplant. The bread was perfectly crusty with a nice texture inside too. The tomato sauce was sweet, cheese stretchy with caramelized patches offering a crunch. The eggplant was perfectly roasted and tender. A simple dish and perfectly satisfying our hunger. On retrospect, however, I maybe should have ordered something with ham…

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