Finally the first one star starred stop over during our trip! We are in Bagheria, a small town right outside Palermo, home of the self-taught chef Tony Lo Coco.
Many articles about this chef stress the influence of the Sicilian tradition on his cuisine, and obviously this cannot be false! But I think the best talent of Tony Lo Coco is not just to re-elaborate traditional dishes in an 'elegant' way, but to 'isolate' single flavors of a dish and bring them to their highest.
Clear example is this starter of the fish menu: selection of raw fish and shellfish.
Unlike the simplest success recipe - use fresh ingredients and guests will be satisfied - chef Lo Coco takes a step further and combines 3 tastings in one single dish: 7 different kinds of fish - langoustine, scrimp, red prawn, 'ombrina', 'san Pietro', tuna and calamari - 7 different oils and 7 different salts.
These combinations fully reflect the respect for ingredients and show a well educated palate: milder oil/salt to exalt the taste of the shellfish, or more playful and absolutely winning combinations such as those with fish: tuna with smoked oil, calamari with ashes oil, san pietro with carob oil... Certainly not just a regular dish!
Another dish that deserves to be mentioned was mind-blowing! Probably one of the best dishes we've had this year and, once again, the proof of what was said in the previous post about the exaltation of single flavors.
There are 4 words to describe this dish: SICILY IN A BITE! A lightly warm squid bonbon, served on a purée of mandarin and accompanied by sea urchin ice cream.
Eat the bonbon in one bite with the purée and a little spoon of ice cream... BOOM! You will experience an explosion in your mouth with your taste buds still trying to understand what happened!
The warm squid ball will release a juice reminding the squid to fight back and release its ink. A millisecond after, the mandarin will activate your nose and make you smell the typical Sicilian perfume of citrus blossom, while the sea urchin will teleport you on a rock watching the sea and listening to calm and repetitive sound of the waves... All these senses and this flavor triller will last persistently in your mouth for several minutes.
After this dish, we asked the chef to pause the menu for a bit... We wanted to take a bath in the sea.
A flavor you would never expect in a Michelin starred restaurant is the one of the stigghiola! The stigghiola is one of the most known and appreciated street food in Palermo: guts of lamb, seasoned with parsley, wrapped around a spring onion and cooked on the grill at medium heat. Lemon is squeezed on top, to mitigate the taste of the guts.
Now... For those who've never tried stigghiola, close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine the smell of this dish.
Open them again... In your dish instead of the guts, there is a seared tuna wrapped in squid, served on a squid bread and lemon juice.
Someone did the magic.. And his name is chef Lo Coco!