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Corniglia: Osteria a Cantina de Mananan

Via Fieschi, 117

Closing day: Tuesday

Reviewed by: Jeff Whiteaker from CA, review #2480

When: 2007

An unmissable culinary experience in Corniglia. If you're staying elsewhere in the Cinque Terre, Mananan is worth whatever hassle is involved in getting there.

I'd heard numerous rave reviews of Mananan, and every review mentions 2 things: the food is unforgettable and reservations are absolutely mandatory.

We were staying in Vernazza as a base for exploring the Cinque Terre for several days. Wanting to branch out a bit from what Vernazza has to offer, we decided to book a table at Mananan. I called on a Friday afternoon and was told by the proprietor that they were booked that night, but I was able to get a table for 8:00 Saturday evening. Between my extremely broken Italian and the proprietor's limited English, the conversation wasn't without some degree of confusion, especially when he kept asking me if I had a room in Corniglia. But things seemed clear enough, so Saturday evening we hopped on an uncharacteristically on-time train for Corniglia.

Right from the second we entered Mananan, we knew this was going to be a positive experience. It's a small room with old stone walls and a vaulted ceiling, with seating for at most about 20-ish people. The menu was a partially legible jumble written in chalk on a blackboard, as was the wine list. The proprietor was a bit gruff initially, but warmed up throughout the evening. Also, the clientele seemed a healthy mix of tourists and locals.

For primi, we ordered the spaghetti with frutti di mare, scampi, and cicale. This *had* to be ordered by both of us, at €12 per person. Of course this was perhaps the most flavorful and fresh seafood dish either of us had tasted in a long while; we were more than rewarded for all the intensive labor involved in de-shelling everything. The generously portioned dish was simple, served with an intensely satisfying sauce that likely consisted of olive oil with a bit of white wine, mixed with fresh parsley among other herbs, and maybe a hint of garlic. There was just enough of the "shmap", as I call it, so as not to overpower. This was precisely the kind of dish I had hoped to find here. In a word - amazing!

For a secondi, we asked the proprietor for suggestions, and he said to try the Orata, a fish which he described as a local specialty. My girlfriend and I shared this (the spaghetti was so filling there was no way we could've ordered two secondi). Of course, the fish tasted like that day's catch, and was served in a subtle, light sauce with artichoke hearts and herbs. It had a subtle flavor, but was cooked to absolute perfection. While I could definitely appreciate how fresh and lovingly prepared this was, it didn't completely rock my world, as I tend to favor richer, more robust flavors. But my girlfriend, whose palette is far less immune to subtler flavors, said that she could not imagine a more perfect dish. The house white was an excellent example of the regional specialty.

I can't emphasize enough - you *must* call ahead for reservations. Every table in the joint was reserved that night, and we saw countless people turned away at the door. Sadly, we had to leave a bit abruptly so we could catch the 10:15 train back to Vernazza, but the proprietor was very understanding. My only regret is that we didn't go back the next night and order a dish with pesto.

Reviewed by: Peter from CA, review #25

When: 2002

No view, no patio, just fantastic food!

My wife and I stopped here for lunch while hiking, and it was simply wonderful. The bread was the best we had in both Cinque Terre and Tuscany, and the antipasti di mare was incredible. The husband cooks while the wife waits tables in the cozy stone dining room, with all the menu items written on the walls. Bring your menu translator as the staff speaks little English (as it should be). This was our best meal in Cinque Terre, better than Gambero Rosso and di Capitan in Vernazza. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: Jean from MI, review #292

When: 2001

This cozy restaurant won our award for best dinner in Cinque Terre. It’s located in a tiny alley in the village of Corniglia. Make a reservation.

We made our reservation a few hours ahead, and it was a good thing we did; many were turned away at the door. The restaurant holds only 20 people, and the menu appears to change daily. There’s a blackboard on the wall as well as pieces of paper taped to the wall that tell you what is available. We struggled a bit with ordering because there appeared to be no organization to the items, but we had fun trying to translate them.

A gentleman from Switzerland joined our table because he was dining alone, and we had a wonderful time hearing about his travels. And the food……. Simply devine. We each had fresh tomatoes with mozzarella, and the mozzarella ball was huge! My ravioli was the best I had in Italy, and the grilled fish is wonderful. Don’t miss this place!

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

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