Cinque Terre 2013

I arrived in Monterosso, Cinque Terre with my Best of Europe group this weekend.  The weather forecast was dismal but we arrived still hopeful that we would get some breaks from the predicted rain.  As is my usual custom, and I think that of many colleagues, I took my group for dinner at the Belvedere Restaurant in Old Monterosso.  This is my favorite meal on the tour - for several reasons.  First, we’ve been underway for almost two weeks and everyone is starting to wear down. We’ve just finished with Venice, Florence, and Rome - the most intense 6 days of the tour - which adds to the fatigue.  After a day’s drive and a lovely stop in Massa Maritima, my favorite undiscovered hill town, we are REALLY ready for our vacation from our vacation.  So when we settle in for dinner, everyone is ready to let their hair down.  Then there is the fact that the wine flows freely.  The laughter and good cheer increases steadily throughout the evening.  And finally, the dinner - the Amphora - is unique, completely Ligurian, and a true culinary experience.  The name comes from the clay jar in which the dish is prepared.  The original amphore were the clay vessels used by the ancient Greeks to transport olive oil.  Here at the Belvedere, they use them to slow cook an amazing seafood stew.  The broth liberally features white wine, garlic, and tomatoes (and many secret ingredients and spices I’m sure) and contains all the local seafood:  lobster, octopus, cuttlefish, prawns, whitefish, mussels, and clams.  The flavors meld together while simmering for hours.  When its time to serve, the show begins.  A large, shallow bowl is placed on a serving table.  The waiter arrives with the amphora, carrying it with oven mitts.  The foil top is removed and steam billows forth. He carefully pours about half the broth into the bowl, then tips up the amphora, shaking out the seafood treasure remaining.  Half lobsters, whole giant prawns, chunks of whitefish, and cuttlefish tumble out with clams and mussels still in the shells and jiggling tentacles of octopi.  Its an impressive display which often elicits applause from my groups.  To complete the sensual cycle, everything is tender and delicious.  The servers bring out thick slabs of garlic toast to go with the seafood.  Its an amazing feast.  Perhaps I forgot to mention everyone gets a plate of trofie (local pasta) with pesto. Liguria is the birthplace of the delicious green goodness and it is always excellent here.  And though we are stuffed to capacity, everyone finds room for some of the best tiramisu in Italy.  Mama Mia!