Traditional food in a light airy dining room at very reasonable prices has quickly made Cucina a popular dining place in Palermo. Open just a few months, the restaurant’s menu changes daily and is recited at your table or posted outside on a blackboard. Tables are set with paper napkins, a basket of bread and straw-covered flasks brimming with the house red wine, a Nero d’Avola.
As the friendly owner told us about the day’s menu, a welcome antipasto was plunked down on our table. We munched this tomato salad with bits of tuna, celery, and cipolotto, drank a little wine, then sopped up the good olive oil left in the dish, and at last felt fortified to make our menu decisions.
Emanuele, who loves any kind of greens, chose escarole soup to start, and I chose a pasta dish made with anchovies that is typical of Palermo. I had eaten a mediocre version of this dish the night before in another restaurant, and I was anxious to erase that disappointing memory. A huge portion of steaming bucatini arrived, and one forkful erased my bad memories. The dish was a perfect balance of flavors and textures: the sharp saltiness of anchovies did not overpower the dish and was offset by the sweetness of raisins and a touch of concentrated tomato, while the smooth texture was interrupted by crunchy pine nuts and toasted breadcrumbs. Being a generous person, especially when I have too much to eat in front of me, I offered to switch dishes with Emanuele when I was half-way through the pasta. He’d been looking longingly at my pasta over his escarole soup and immediately agreed. The escarole soup was, well, full of escarole, and had an aromatic flavor I traced to fresh bay leaves, but it wasn’t as complex as my pasta. I ate it anyway.
For our second courses, I ordered a simply grilled fresh tuna (May and June are when tuna is local) with a side dish of sautéed seasonal greens, which was, surprise, more escarole! The tuna slice was thin, but tender and moist. It was lightly dressed with oil, lemon and parsley, and I ate every bite. Emanuele had grilled fresh calamari, and judging from the minuscule sample he gave me, they were sweet and tender. A side dish of patate al forno, were perfectly prepared, brown and crispy on the outside with just a slightly oily coating, soft inside, and spiced with black pepper and rosemary. He reluctantly shared, but kept the plate of potatoes on his side of the table. By the time we finished, the dining room was packed with Palermitani, and there was a line outside the door.
Though we were tempted by some enormous cannoli being served to a table near us, we decided to temporarily skip dessert, opting for a stroll and a gelato. We paid our extremely reasonable bill of 40 euro, pleased to have discovered a great new restaurant in Palermo.
Details: Cucina is located at Via Principe di Villafranca 54, (between via Agrigento and via Catania) and reservations are recommended. Tel: 091 626 8416. Closed Sunday.