There is a restaurant in Sistiana (near Trieste) that my Italian family go to every time they celebrate – for birthdays, anniversaries and when friends or relatives from Australia come to visit. The restaurant, Il Cavaliere (the Knight) is part of a hotel called Ai Sette Nani (at the seven dwarves). We fondly call the restaurant 7 Nani and I was there with my daughter and our Italian family in early August.
Do not be fooled by appearances! Ai 7 Nani might have decor from some 30 years back but everything about this place is impeccable starting with the gregarious host, Antonio, the Cavaliere himself. Antonio greeted us at the door when we arrived, gave me a kiss on each cheek and started talking about beautiful women in Australia and how gorgeous my 22 year old daughter is (he is Italian after all).
Once everyone was seated, Antonio came to the table to take the orders. There is no menu but Antonio gave suggestions depending on what fresh produce they had today. The food here, which is mainly seafood, is cooked simply, perfectly and is delicious. Entree might be some scallops on the shell, cooked in the oven with some breadcrumbs, garlic and butter or it might be some granceola (crab) served on the shell and drizzled with olive oil.
Or some mussels in a garlicky broth, maybe a bowl to share at the table.
Or you might elect to have a selection of cold seafood entrees. If you do, a trolley with several large bowls appears and a waitress asks if you would like some sarde in saor (traditional regional sweet and sour sardines), some marinated octopus or some baby scampi. Or you might like to try the seafood pasta made with giant scampi, mussels and tiny clams.
Antonio reeled through suggestions for main course. Local fish branzino, coda di rospo or pesce spada (swordfish) were on offer. I had the branzino, which was oven baked with baby potatoes. Several whole fish were brought out on an oven tray and the waitress then filleted and served it up at our table, drizzling it with olive oil. The branzino was amazing – it just melted in your mouth.
Jugs of local wine were plentiful and complemented the meal. A salad trolley was brought to the table and if you chose to have salad, you nominated the ingredients and the waiter placed them in your individual salad bowl. I chose sweet local baby radicchio leaves, tomatoes and borlotti beans, which I dressed with red wine vinegar and olive oil which is on each table.
By this time we had all had enough lunch and opted out of dessert (there is a large trolley full of sweet delights that we were able to select from) but had the lemon sorbetto (sorbet) as a digestive. A tray arrived, laden with sorbetti as everyone wanted one.
We always joke about zia Vice, my mother’s older sister (now aged 90) and her penchant for these vodka laden lemon icy treats and how she starts laughing a bit more than usual after having one of them. That day was no exception!
As always my meal at 7 Nani was special and unforgettable – not only because of the food but because of the wonderful time spent with family.