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Vernazza: Il Pirata

Via Gavino 36 , Phone: 0187-812-047

Reviewed by: Jeff Whiteaker from CA, review #2528

When: 2007

In a tiny seaside town full of touristy restaurants with identical menus, Il Pirata offers something that's refreshingly different and unique.

Passionately run by the lovable and gut-bustingly hilarious Sicilian twin brothers Massimo and Gianluca, Il Pirata is worth the trek up to the other side of Vernazza's tracks. Situated defiantly at Vernazza's most in-land point, up the hill and away from all the touristy hubbub and commotion, Il Pirata prides itself on being free from the constraints of local customs and the limited expectations of tourists.

Okay, so I realize that Il Pirata does get a solid plug from Rick Steves, and yes, you will see folks with that light blue Rick Steves book peaking out from their bags. And yes, as a result, Massimo and Gianluca - like seemingly *all* business proprietors in Vernazza - speak of Rick Steves as if he's some bizarre, mythic, omnipotent overlord. But rest assured, the fuss over Il Pirata is totally valid. And regardless of any RS associations, Massimo told me that a surprising number of tourists who wander up there actually turn around and head back down the hill simply because the food doesn't seem to conform to the rest of Vernazza's culinary offerings.

The reason is that Il Pirata's existence seems based on serving something different. "You can get Troffie and fried fish anywhere around here, so why should we serve it too?" you can hear Massimo say at any given time. Il Pirata instead offers a variety of lovingly and freshly prepared pastas, some Sicilian, others not, but of what we tried, they easily surpass anything served up at the 6 or 7 restaurants down the hill.

In further defiance of culinary and cultural norms, Il Pirata absolutely does not serve secondi. That's right. No meat or fish-based dishes AT ALL. The reason? "It's not our strength, so why bother?" Massimo told us, "We focus on pasta, pastries, and desserts because that is what we do best." And my taste buds happily concur. My stomach does too, since I find I rarely have enough room for two courses, even if I'm sharing them.

What's unique about Il Pirata is that it is a serious restaurant, cafe, and pastry shop all in one. In the morning, my girlfriend and I each got one of their exquisitely yummy and richly sweet Panzerotto. Massimo pushes the Panzerotto aggressively for good reason: they are pure heaven. Shaped like a "hot-pocket," their Panzerotto is stuffed with ricotta with vanilla and cinnamon. Simple, but to die for. Neither of us had ever had anything quite like it. Of course Massimo will tell you that if you don't like it, Rick Steves will pay for it. Also, their cappucino was excellent, and with the twins' lively and caustic sense of humor, Il Pirata was the best way to start off each morning before hiking through the Cinque Terre.

On our second night in Vernazza, we tried Il Pirata for what turned out to be one of the most memorable dinners of the entire trip. I ordered the Lasagna al Pesto, which was one of the most distinctive and mind-blowing Lasagna dishes I have ever had the pleasure of devouring. Seriously. Easily some of the best quality pesto I've ever tasted, and the consistency and freshness of the Lasagna was abundantly evident. My girlfriend had an excellent Ravioli in a gorgonzola sauce with pancetta, which was potent and clearly made with fresh ingredients and heaps of passion.

For dessert I was going to order the Tiramisu, when Massimo interrupted and said, "No, no, no! You can get Tiramisu anywhere. Today, my brother is making the Semifreddo. If you want the best dessert, you will order the Semifreddo." "What's in the Semifreddo?" I asked. "It's a chocolate meringue with chocolate gelato and almonds. It is *very* good." "Very good" failed to accurately describe this; words like insane, rich, and intense seem more apt. It was like a chocolate gelato pudding with a sharp almond kick. Amazing. My girlfriend had the Panna Cotta with strawberries, a sweet and tart treat.

As if the excellent food wasn't reason enough to lure you in, the wildly entertaining antics of Massimo and Gianluca adds a profoundly unique and crazy angle to the whole Il Pirata experience. The non-stop banter between Massimo and Gianluca and their customers is unceasingly funny, while it is hilarious just as much as it is disorienting to witness Massimo and Gianluca shouting obscenities to each other in Sicilian. Il Pirata is an utter gem, and to avoid it is a colossal mistake. If you're disillusioned with the high-ish prices and identical menus of all the other restaurants in Vernazza, I think you'll find Il Pirata all the more rewarding.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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