Welcome to Italy, Now stay on your boat!
Position: 40°33’38″N 8°18’39″E
Covid got us. Again! The upsurge in Covid infections in Spain (thanks nightclubbers) inspired the Italians to take up additional precautions. All arriving visitors from Spain, and a few other select spots, are required to get a PCR test on arrival.
Landing in Sardinia meant we had a choice of two marinas to clear in at. One in the northwest, where we were headed, the other way the heck and gone down on the southeast coast. According to reports, we chose the better option. We could have also transited via France. Had we spent 14 days there between leaving Spain and arriving in Italy we could have avoided testing. We might have done that if we’d thought about it. But we hadn’t.
One of Alghero’s smaller marinas, the Sant Elmo is staffed by friendly folks, almost all of whom are fluent in English. The morning after we arrived, we bundled into a taxi for the 35km drive to a public testing facility in Sassari. It was our first experience with covid testing. A long line of cars snaked around the gloomy old psychiatric hospital grounds and inched forward to a tent that served as the makeshift testing centre. Finally, we opened our taxi’s doors and each had a swab pushed well back into our respective noses. That was it. Now we had to wait for the results. It was Friday. The weekend loomed. We weren’t hopeful we’d get off the boat before Monday. Marlon rolled over and fell asleep in anticipation.
Bright sun and clear skies were the order of the day. The temperature had dropped a full 10 degrees Celsius since Menorca and that gave us the energy to wash the salt off Aleta and take up a couple of chores while we waited. Still stocked with dry goods like beans and pasta and lots of tinned vegetables for emergencies, we weren’t worried about starving to death. Only, the wine ran out. Irrational panic borne from fears of dehydration and delirium tremens set in. We called the marina office and took up the owner’s (Michela) kind offer to bring us some supplies. We gussied up our shopping list with bread, eggs, and tomatoes to balance the coveted Sardinian wines.
The Results Are In
Late Sunday afternoon we got word our results were in. We had tested negative for corona virus. Callooh! Callay! Michela brought us a bottle of sparkling Vermentino on ice to celebrate. The town was now ours to explore. Marlon woofed in excitement and anticipation of a shore-side poo (it’s the little things).
Later that evening, we asked Michela for a dinner recommendation. She thought about it, and then said, ‘You should check out “La Cullera”. Ask for Fabio and tell him I sent you. It will be a really good experience.’
Leaving Marlon on board as security, we passed through the ancient city wall and soon covered the 300 metres to the restaurant. Greeting us, a waiter asked if we had a reservation? We said we were told to ask for Fabio. The serious young man considered this then led us through the restaurant and out back to the al fresco seating.
Fabio, mid-30s, slim, tall, dark and handsome, greeted us. He proffered a choice of tables. We sat, then scanned a QR code and perused the linked menu. The only thing Carol embargoed was beef tartar. Fine with me. Fabio returned.
On a scale of one to ten, how hungry are you? he asked. Carol said she was about a seven, and I admitted to a five.
You should start with oysters, Fabio said with assurance. Then the mixed antipasti and from there we will see. Does that sound good? Wine? Red or white?
White, dry and local, we said.
I will find you something.
From that point forward, we left the meal entirely in his hands. He softly padded his way back to the kitchen.
The evening grew dark and the heat came off the day. Summer’s last Saturday, the night before, would have been big in town. It seemed every boat in the harbour had gone out for the day and then they all returned together. Sometimes two and three abreast, the parade continued for well over an hour. Music swelled from the front and we could hear laughter echoing over the walls of the old town. Now Sunday, the gazebo we sat in filled with patrons, but without any sense of urgency. The season was quickly winding down.
Our wine arrived. Vermentino. Light and citrusy on the palate with a hint of malolactic fermentation for body, it was an excellent complement to the raw oysters that had just appeared. A dash of lemon and a slurp of salty water complemented the oysters’ firm freshness. They slipped away in short order, chased by a sip of wine.
The mixed antipasti, five different nigiri sushi-sized dishes, were arrayed on a plate the size of a charger. Fabio leaned in to describe each one. First, he said, deep fried crispy mussels with a little spicey tomato relish. Then seared tuna with a thin roux of bufala cheese. Next a crisp shell stuffed with monkfish cake. After that tender portion of smoked octopus, pulpo, on a chickpea sauce. Finally, in the centre, a small zucchini soufflé topped with sardine mayonnaise.
Each piece was a delight. Just the right size for a sampler and every one a complement to the others. It really didn’t matter what order you ate them in.
Fabio returned and asked how we liked the starters.
So, good! Carol effused.
Are you still hungry? he asked.
You have whetted my appetite, I said. I’m now up to a solid 6.5.
Then I recommend you try our house specialty risotto. It is made with monkfish roe, blueberries and coffee beans. It is very good.
Okay then, we chorused.
When Fabio had gone, Carol said, you know I love coming to places and trying things I’d never consider on my own. I mean, I looked at that dish on the menu, but I don’t think I would have ordered it.
The risottos arrived in traditional bowls shaped like a barber’s catchment dish. Dipping my spoon in past the covering of black and white sesame seeds and cutting through the purple blush of blueberries, I found perfect arborio rice. Such a combination of ingredients begged for a suspension of disbelief. Which it got. And I’m glad I did. I took my first bite. The creamy rice married the combinations of salty, dried roe, sweet berries, bitter coffee, and nutty seeds. It was delicious. Our fast fading Vermentino held up under this lingual assault most admirably.
There was nothing left at this point but dessert. Scanning the range of milky puddings so favoured by the Spanish, we decided to check with the boss. He recommended the apple with chocolate crumble and the crispy pecorino biscuit.
Bright red in a candied way, but without being too sweet, the skin of the ‘apple’ contained a thick puree, set atop a tiny crumble of chocolate crispiness.Tucking into it with my teaspoon, I was at first taken aback – since this was unlike any crumble I’d ever seen – but I soon warmed to my task. It was, however, the first dish that wasn’t commutative.
After half-destroying the pecorino biscuit, like a snake, I offered Carol a bite from my apple (insert veiled biblical double entendre here – ed.). Her biscuit sat atop a few small dollops of honey cream, about as far from my dessert as you could get, gastronomically. She took a small bite and left the rest to me.
Then we were done. Replete. Satiated. We wound our happy way back to Aleta, safe in the knowledge that we were covid-free in Italy.