Whenever I visit family in Monfalcone, we go to Ristorante Al Cavaliere, part of the Ai Sette Nani hotel. It is one of the best restaurants you can find on the upper shores of the Adriatic Sea, on the coastal road to Trieste. Not only is the food local, fresh and of outstanding quality, it is run by the inimitable and unflappable Antonio, who has worked in the business for 40 years.
Antonio is passionate about the local cuisine, in particular using products from the Istrian peninsula, which is where he is originally from. Seafood abounds on the menu, and there are carts holding grilled vegetables, a range of local cold seafood dishes (including a to-die-for octopus salad and my favourite sarde in savor) and ingredients to compose your own salad (the waiter wheels the trolley to the table and asks you what you might like, puts it in individual bowls and you dress it yourself with red wine vinegar and locally made olive oil). My family from nearby Monfalcone have been going there for many years, especially when there were celebrations. I have been there at least 20 times over the years and I have never looked at the menu. Antonio comes to the table and suggests what he thinks we might like, telling us what the fishermen hauled in over night. One day it might be baby calamari and another day it might be sardines. He suggests how you might like them cooked, which is usually simple as really fresh seafood doesn’t need much more than to be grilled or quickly fried.
I have been four times in the past week (yes, we do go there a lot), my zio Mario goes most days now that he is on his own. Highlights for savoury dishes for this week have included bite-size baby calamari, quickly fried; spaghetti with sweet clams; lightly fried crispy ribaltavapori (whitebait); the freshest fried sardoni (sardines) and triglie (red mullets); pillow-soft gnocchi made with Istrian white potatoes with granceola (crab). All of this is washed down with jugs of white or red house wine (both of astoundingly good quality to be the house wine). We had jugs (half or one litre) of Prosecco most days on this trip.
Then there is dessert – which I never really need but generally have. Today we had Sacher Torte (Austrian cake invented by Mr Sacher in 1832 but very popular in Trieste when it was under the rule of the Hapsburgs), which is a chocolate cake with layers of apricot jam. This one had been made by Antonio’s son Simone and had been made using house-made jam – fabulously moist and not too sweet. The tiramisu we had a few days ago was among the best I have ever eaten.
If you visit Al Cavaliere you will note there are plants on every table. Antonio has a bit of a green thumb and adores his plants (there are even banana plants outside). The restaurant is popular especially in summer, when bus loads of people stop for a meal. The decor is a bit old-fashioned but solid and I love its familiarity. And you just can’t beat the food there, it wins hands down for freshness, seasonality and eating the local food. The pizzas also get a good rap (I have tried the delicious plain pizza bread).
If you ever decide to visit Trieste and eat at the restaurant, please let Antonio know that Paola (from Australia) sent you!
, , Italy
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