Best Bites of Cinque Terre #1: Gastronomia San Martino

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This is the 11th post in my Best Bites of Italy series, a round-up of the best eats during my 2 week trip through Rome, Venice, Florence and Cinque Terre. Previous posts include... Rome: highlighting Renato e LuisaLa Gelateria del TeatroFried Artichokes at GiggettoLa Pizza del Teatro in Rome and Osteria Le Mani in Pasta (truffle heaven!); Venice: Osteria Alla Frasca and Cip Ciap Pizza; and Florence: Uscio e Bottega, Trattoria San Lorenzo and La Beppa Fioraia.

Cinque Terre was the last destination in Italy during our 2.5 week euro trip. It is the one place that I've longed to visit in Italy, above Rome or Venice. Cinque Terre is made up of "five lands" by the sea, each marked by a colorful village with a slightly different character. There are no cars in any of the villages, the only way to get here is by train or by boat. While tourism is the main driver of the economy here these days, a lot of the city's charm is still there in full force.

Besides its fresh seafood, picturesque cityscape and gorgeous ocean views, Cinque Terre is also well known for its lemons (helllllo lemoncello!) and the region is the birthplace of pesto. While J and I just barely missed the lemon festival that's here every May, there was still tons of lemoncello and pesto to go around.

I've already briefly mentioned my obsessive usage of TripAdvisor throughout this trip. So you know that when we arrived at our cute B&B in the village of Monterosso al Mare, L'Antica Terrazza - which I totally recommend by the way - I was on my phone, checking to see what good eats were around. I was more than happy to find out that the #1 restaurant listed in Monterosso was right under our place. Ummm, I think this is what people call fate.

When we arrived in town, Gastronomia San Martino was already closed for lunch. With only two short days here, J and I decided to grab a pre-dinner bite when it opened again at around 6pm. After hiking up and down the hilly village of Monterosso, we worked up quite an appetite so I was more than ready to have some pesto!

Gastronomia San Martino is less of what you would call a "restaurant", and more of what you would call a gastronomic heaven in disguise of a Sbarro. It's a family-run business, with the husband as the chef and the wife serving the food that's been cooked earlier that day. Reviews of this place complain about the plastic plates and forks and somewhat "pre-made buffet" feel, but don't let that fool you. Food doesn't need to come in a fancy container to be delicious and fresh.

Trofie pasta, a pasta made with a bit of potato, is the best vehicle to eat copious amounts of pesto with. The trofie here made fresh here daily, is cooked to order and at only €6 per portion, it is the cheapest you'll probably find around the touristy town for this quality of food.

As I mentioned, Gastronomia San Martino is not fancy by any means. There's a few tables inside the restaurant itself, and a few outdoor tables which is a much nicer ambiance. Our B&B had the cutest private balcony for us to use, so we ordered our pasta to go so we could enjoy our food overlooking the city from there.


So how did the pasta stack up? To set some expectations, J and I ended up grabbing food here two more times during our two days in Cinque Terre. The trofie itself was perfectly al dente and had the texture of fresh pasta to the likes of the pasta I've had at Michelin Star rated Italian restaurants like Ai Fiori. The pesto itself was super creamy, most likely because of the abundance of Parmigiano cow cheese and pecorino sheep cheese that's added into the mix. It perfectly coated the little bites of pasta. The flavor may be much more subtle than pesto is here in the states, but as you take more and more bites, the flavor builds on and it becomes oh-so addictive.

If it wasn't for the dinner reservation that we had, J and I would have ordered another dish for the night. However, trying more food at Gastronomia San Martino wasn't a problem for us since we were staying right above it. The next day for lunch, we ended up having a small portion of their seafood salad, another popular dish around here it seems, made with tender octopus, potatoes and olives. For entrees, we ordered their ravioli with meat sauce and a lasagna that was made fresh that morning. So fresh, that we were waiting for it to come out of the oven.



While these dishes were pretty tasty, it didn't blow our mind like the trofie with pesto we had the day before. We finished our food at the restaurant pretty quickly and went about our day. As we went hiked along the beautiful villages of Cinque Terre, we kept thinking about that delicious bite of the trofie with pesto. This was our last day in Italy, so instead of just dreaming about something, J and I decided to just make it happen. When there's good food out there to be had, you really gotta make it happen.
So, even though we were pretty stuffed from a wonderful dinner (I'll tell you more about this in my final post of my Best Bites of Italy series, SAD!), J and I rushed home to have just one more bite of this trofie with pesto before Gastronomia San Martino closed for the night. It was a perfect way to end our stay in Italy. With a bottle of prosecco, enjoying a heavenly bite of pasta and while being bitten up by mosquitos by candlelight on our private balcony.

It was a bit painful the next day, but it was worth it. Hey, I couldn't have you believing it was all rainbows and butterflies right?

Gastronomia San Martino | TripAdvisor
Via San Martino 3, 19016 Monterosso al Mare, Italy

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