During our recent two week holiday in Liguria we discovered a lovely little restaurant in Alassio called Ristorante Palma. They have one Michelin star, although the chef explained to us that he used to have two, but that he wasn’t good enough at the marketing and self-promotion aspects of the job to maintain it, so they’d slipped back to one. In my opinion he deserves to get his second star back.
We visited at lunchtime with our two toddler daughters in tow, which could have been at best distracting, at worst embarassing, but everyone concerned behaved impeccably. The girls sat happily colouring and reading, occasionally trying a bite of something, while the staff were friendly and helpful.
There are only two menus on offer: “tipico” and “gourmet”. We went for “tipico”, although they both sounded delicious. Our first antipasto was anchovy, mozzarella and tapenade. The glass at top right contains “liquid pizza”.
Then came a creamy soup of leek and potato, with cheesy croutons to drop into it.
The first course was a red fruit soup with balsamic vinegar, and three lightly fried anchovies.
One of the more unusual dishes was this combination of sea urchin and sausage meat with wheat, caramelised onions, sage, chocolate-coated peppercorns, and a pipette containing mushroom-infused olive oil.
The next course was a classic with a twist. Bottarga is a kind of fish egg which is usually dried and then sprinkled as a powder onto pasta, but this time the chef skipped the drying process and took them straight from the egg sac. In the cup at right is an “espresso” of shrimp bisque. The “espresso” isn’t just a name – it’s actually made (and served) in a proper espresso pot, with steamed water passed through the shrimp just like you’d normally do with the coffee grounds.
The main fish course was baccalà served with pesto, potato and beans. Just like a traditional pasta al pesto, but with the fish in the place of the pasta.
More twists and subverted expectations for dessert – a tomato in syrup, with a mini-krapfen (like a doughnut) on the side. This one shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, as tomatoes are technically fruit.
Finally, a trio of desserts. On the left, a wonderfully soft and warm croissant tops an apricot purée. In the middle, a crema catalana. On the right, a cellophane ball containing apple and yoghurt. The chef explained (I love it when something’s so unusual that you have to be told how to eat it) that we were to put the whole thing in our mouth and then pull it out quickly through clenched teeth, so that the mixture inside exploded into our mouths.
To finish off, a coffee served in a porcelain cup shaped to look like a crumpled plastic one.
A very impressive lunch: varied and innovative, but also light and fresh, and I liked the combination of traditional, local ingredients and recipes with unique twists and bizarre reversals. Very reasonable price, too.
In fact, we liked it so much that we went back a couple of days later for the “gourmet” menu (this time just the two of us while a relative babysat the girls). To start, the “liquid pizza” again, but this time accompanied by tuna tartare.
Then a salad of spinach, marinated baccalà and foie gras. In French and Belgian restaurants foie gras tends to be served as a slab with a slice of toast, but I much prefer it used sparingly as an ingredient in a larger dish, as it was here.
Then, one of my favourites: torcetti (basically a large type of fusilli pasta) with brie, truffle shavings and raw squid. Most surprising of all, the raw squid just melted in the mouth.
Next a clam topped with a quail egg, a red wine sauce and a little ratatouille on the side.
Turbot sanwiched between sheets of pasta, with a tomato and mint sauce.
Finally, the masterstroke. Another unexpected dessert: shrimp. The chef explained that as shrimp live in deeper, less salty waters, their flesh is actually slightly sweet (or at least, not excessively salty), and so it can quite easily be used in this kind of a dish. They were simply dusted with icing sugar and placed alongside small lemon sponges and drizzled with a suzette sauce.
Again, impressively creative, playing with flavours and textures in ways I’d never thought of, yet light as a feather. And it’s close enough to Genoa that we’d make a special trip out there next time we’re over visiting family.