For the next leg of our trip, we drove across Sardinia to spend some time on the Western coast of the island. Our home base: the beautiful town of Bosa. We stayed at a gorgeous bed and breakfast at the recommendation of our friend S, the S’Ammentu (Via Del Carmine 55). What a charmer. Our room was especially romantic, with pink walls (inoffensively so!), tile floors, and a fantastic wood-beamed ceiling. The proprietor described it as the “room for lovers.” Cue a nervous laugh on my part. Seriously, though, it’s an amazing place to stay. The best part by far is the complimentary breakfast, which you take a few doors down in a rock-lined room with local art on the walls. There, two friendly women prepare your drinks from an espresso bar while you sample lovely local pastries, charcuterie, cheese, and fruit grown in their own garden, including a particularly tiny pear that is specific to the Bosa area. Yum.
We explored Bosa a little when we arrived, but decided that it would be a good idea to take a drive up the coast to Alghero. We had read that it was an amazing drive and that the old town of Alghero was particularly enchanting. So we hopped in the Panda and got on the road. The drive was exquisite and I really wish that I had some pictures of it for you. But B was driving and I was carsick to the max. We actually had to stop at a small beach along the way so that I didn’t barf in our rental car.
After a nauseous ride, we finally arrived in Alghero, which did indeed look dreamy from afar. Hell, it even seemed dreamy as we started driving around. But that sentiment soured quickly as we realized that we would have to pay for parking. Now, I personally don’t have any problem paying for parking. But I might as well have asked B to slit his own wrists. Another travel-induced discovery about my boyfriend: while he is remarkably generous in giving gifts and paying for expensive meals, boy oh boy is this guy loathe to pay for anything that he believes on principle should be free, including parking, access to ruins or other archeological sites, and beaches. After finally convincing him that we couldn’t outsmart the legion of parking attendants that roamed the streets of Alghero, he acquiesced and forked over six euros for the evening. Par for the course by Los Angeles standards, but my Indiana born-and-bred B was smarting from the exchange.
The centro storico of Alghero is touristy to the max, meaning that while there are obviously a lot of interesting shops and probably some serious restaurants, there were even more souvenir shops filled to the brim with kitschy crap and pseudo-gelato shops that sell the Italian equivalent of Baskin-Robbins. Part of our problem was that we were still in low tourist season during our time in Corsica (I suspect that Bonifacio would be a veritable nightmare right now) and our time to this point in Sardinia was spent in rural heaven. Thus, we were a little culture-shocked to find ourselves among droves and droves of portly tourists buying vaguely racist t-shirts and faux-coral plastic crap for their friends back home. We did enjoy looking at the architectural pastiche that reflects Alghero’s multifaceted cultural history, as evidenced in the Cattedrale di Santa Maria, an amazing fusion of late Moorish and late Baroque style, and the Campanili bell tower that shows the strong Catalan presence that still remains in Alghero.
We were celebrating a relationship milestone that would make you barf if I told you about it, but needless to say we wanted to have a nice dinner. After wandering around for a while, we decided to try Angedras Restaurant (Bastioni Marco Polo 41, Alghero), mainly for it’s lovely location of the top of the rampart walls overlooking the sea. The menu seemed to be a kind of gussied-up take on Sardinian classics coupled with the traditional Catalan seafood preparations that Alghero is known for.
I hate what I’m about to write, because really Angedras is nice. In fact, I suspect that ninety percent of travelers would be over the moon to eat at a place like that. My critique of the restaurant resides more in the fact that I am turning steadily into that most dreaded of beasts: the food snob. But I’m worse than even your regular run of the mill French food snob because I also have a strong distaste for anything I would see as fussy or formal at the expense of flavor or character. And Angedras was just that – fussy, formal, geared entirely to a non-local palate, and consequently bland at moments when it should have shone. This is not to say that it didn’t have strong moments: B’s pasta of fregola in zuppetta di pesce, crostacei e molluschi (an Egyptian couscous-like pasta served in a fish broth with assorted crustaceans and mollusks) was really quite delicious and my main course, the maialino al forno, finocchi croccanti e olive bosane (roasted suckling pig served with roasted fennel and Bosa olives) was a knockout with achingly tender meat and crispy skin. But my pasta, a linguine al nero di seppia, gamberi e zucchine (squid-ink linguine served with crawfish and zucchini), and B’s main course, the pesce spada, verdure di campo e calamaretti croccanti (swordfish with sautéed greens and positively microscopically miniature calamari dotting the plate) were both bland city. And honestly, it was too damn expensive, especially by Sardinia standards, for anything to be less than amazing. So, like spoiled children who have never encountered a moment of hardship, we were pissed. We were pissed about the food, pissed about the loud families around us, and pissed about our snooty waiter. It became pretty funny, however, as we started fantasizing about breaking our wine bottle and using it to attack our waiter and throwing our table into the sea as protest, a joke that lasted through the rest of our trip that I now realize isn’t actually very funny. You had to be there, I guess. Anyway, if you care about sampling local food and are interested in at least a simulacrum of authenticity, I’d avoid Angedras entirely. However, if you are the kind of American who really digs The Chart House or Ruth Chris Steakhouse (no judgment!), I’d say it is a must-visit.
Our evening improved slightly with a visit to Gelateria Arcobaleno (Piazza Civica 34), a well-stocked gelato shop with friendly salespeople that jab a lovely kind of almondy cookie into your mound of ice cream. The only remotely good deal in the entire town. As we were walking to our car, we happened upon large crowd who raptly were watching a demonstration of “traditional Native American” dances and giddily buying beaded bracelets labeled with the names of various tribes. I won’t get into my own relationship with Native American culture and jewelry besides to say that I know a fair amount about these things and this was probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. We’re talking strobe lights and Enya blasting. B couldn’t even speak he was so horrified and incredulous at the spectacle. We both agreed that the “real live Indian dancers” (their words, not mine) were actually Guatemalan and I guess in retrospect if I were a Guatemalan immigrant who found myself in a tourist town with an obvious hunger for “authentic” cultural experiences, I’d milk it for all it was worth too. But it was the cherry on the top of a ridiculous evening, and I can’t say I’d even recommend you stopping in Alghero from my own experience. I certainly won’t be going back.
In contrast (and this is where the tale of two cities bit comes in), we really loved exploring Bosa the following day. The city has a beautiful castle at the highest point in town, the Castello Malaspina. Each narrow, cobblestone street was more enchanting than the last, and the few shops specialize in really amazing local handicrafts, including ceramics and silver filigree jewelry. We witnessed a procession celebrating the Feast of Peter and Paul (the patron saints of Bosa) through the center of town, and it was really moving to see the entire community come to a halt for the sake of the ritual. In the afternoon, we drove down to Tharros to see the ruins of the Greek city and ended up spending a few hours on a local beach watching high school kids flirt with one another (one of my favorite activities). Only an hour south of the tourist glut we encountered in Alghero, we were the only foreigners for miles.
For dinner, we went La Pulce Rossa (Via Lungo Temo Amendola 1), a local hangout near the Bosa marina that obviously does most of its business in huge 6 euro pizzas. But we had begun to suspect that while Alghero is famous for it’s seafood dishes, that seafood was actually coming from the Bosan fisherman. Our charming waiter discouraged us from ordering more than antipasti, pasta, or main course, as their portions are huge and intended for sharing. Turned on by this instant savings, we went ahead and ordered the most expensive things on the menu, which meant our paper napkins were swapped out for linen ones. Look who’s fancy now! We knew things were looking up when our server delivered our shared antipasti: a simple plate of marinated local sardine filets drizzled in balsamic vinegar. Oh my god. For a girl that basically lives for sardines, these salty, sour, sharp, and tender little fish were Nirvana.
Perhaps even more exciting was our shared pasta course, spaghetti alla bottarga. Now what, you may ask, is bottarga? Bottarga is salted, cured mullet roe that is found only in Sardinia. To prepare this signature pasta dish, the bottarga roe is sliced thin and sautéed in olive oil until fragrant and golden. It is then added to spaghetti and more bottarga is grated (as you would a hard cheese) over the top of the pasta. Knowing we were tourists, our waiter warned us that bottarga was “an intense taste, maybe difficult to like.” But we had been dying to try it since we arrived in Sardinia. I had expected it to be a forceful and saltier taste. In reality, it is a delicate, but rich, mushroomy-like flavor that somehow tastes piquantly like the sea. It’s exquisite. It’s umami personified. I could eat it everyday and if you eat nothing else during your time in Sardinia, please give it a try.
While we both could have died happy after our pasta dish, the best was yet to come. In a moment of bombast, B had decided that we were going to take the plunge and order arogosta alla Bosa (local spiny lobster) for our main course. The chef had an especially large one (500 grams!) that our waiter suggested that we share. Now neither B nor I are crazy about lobster. In fact, before this fateful evening, I believe B had described lobster as “basically tasting like shrimp” to him. But spiny lobsters are the local specialty and the pride and joy of the Bosan fisherman who were eating with their families all around us. We almost felt like it would be disrespectful to stay in that town and not eat lobster. Our giant red flea (which is what la pulce rosa means) arrived at our table in a light broth with celery and potatoes and was so beautiful and fragrant that our waiter hesitated for a second before he disrupted the presentation and carefully served it. I suddenly realized that everyone was watching us, including the other diners, the chef, and all of the waitstaff. We dug in and well, how do you describe these moments? You know, those moments where you eat something and an ingredient is forever transformed and you realize with a sudden heaviness that you will probably spend the rest of your life dreaming about this one dish and never coming close to approximating the experience again? It was like that. And I don’t have a picture of it, because I forgot my camera. I won’t go so far as to make some corny statement about the fleetingness of life here, but if you ever find yourself in Bosa, can I just ask you to please splurge and get yourself the lobster? Perfection doesn’t seem a nearly perfect enough description.
Fortunately “watching the Americans eat the lobster” was only the opening act in terms of entertainment that evening. A large extended family was having a dinner there as well, and the four couples that were assembled had between them a dozen adorable kids under the age of five, who ran around the restaurant like monkeys that had been kept in a cage for too long. Their parents tried to keep them under control, but it was like herding cats. We ended up helping as one particularly sneaky toddler named Andrea tried to book it out of the restaurant and into the street. It was great fun to watch them over glasses of myrto. It might have been my favorite meal of the trip. Well, maybe.
Stay tuned for our next installment, as a cloud falls over our idyll. Evil prehistoric spirits, killer mosquitoes, and a rental car disaster are up next!