A (Michelin) star in a dark winter night – Taverna Estia (NA, Italy)
On a mild December evening my entire family congregated for a special occasion, a 70th birthday party. Having planned this evening for a while, the choice of restaurant sort of surprised me. Around 30 minutes drive from our Napoli home, in the middle of nowhere in the (not particularly attractive) outskirts east of the city. My first thought was – what are we doing here? And, as we walked out of the stadium parking lot to face the short walk to the restaurant, I was seriously wishing we had opted for a more central, city based, venue.
Yet, as soon as we walked inside Taverna Estia, we were welcomed by the Mario, a young local lad who has opened this place with his brother (who is the chef) and their dad. Chef Francesco Sposito obtained his first Michelin star in 2007 and this year has won the Gambero Rosso award for Young Italian Chef of the year. And he certainly deserves the accolades, if for the bravery of opening such a creative enterprise in such a challenging area of Campania.
As we took our seats, trays of freshly baked grissini (with lard?) and flat breads were a welcome treat, followed by bowls of crunchy local (and not so local) vegetables, lightly fried. They were delicious, particularly the crispy strips of spring onion. In no time the food started to arrive. They call the starters “Mangiare con le mani” (eat with hands) and indeed we used our hands. The potato croquette were nice but no better than any average Neapolitan decent restaurant. What was stunning were the ‘Milk bon bon‘, promptly renamed by myself ‘milk balls’. Crunchy on the outside, perfectly shaped, with a soft, creamy milk filling. The tiny milk wraps were good but less spectacular. And it was finally time for the ‘proper’ starters.
The first looked like a large black truffle. Instead, it was a thin crust beignet, filled with creamy ricotta, blackened by squid ink. We loved it. Next, came one of Taverna Estia’s most famous dishes. “Naturalismo di Parmigiana“. I must admit, I am not sure I am keen on the look – the aubergine looked slightly wizened, but the flakes covering it (dried, flaked tomato skin) was a nice touch. The crunchy Parmesan crumbs on the side, the basil ‘paint lick’ and finally the incredible provola mousse were added flavour points to a very interesting dish indeed. The aubergine starter was followed by possibly my least favourite item of the night. Pistachio ravioli, with fresh (local) tomato & thyme filling, stewed field vegetable. I found the combination appealing enough but the filling too fresh so that it almost felt uncooked. Yet it was a light and creative dish, followed swiftly by my utter favourite. Ricotta and Burrata ravioli, with freshly shaved while Molise truffle. Oh the aroma! The truffle was to die for, and being only in the fresh, shaved form, not overpowering. The Parmesan cheese sauce was strong without being sickening and the ravioli perfectly shaped.
As ‘main’ we enjoyed another of their strong points, local suckling pig, slow cooked with a cabbage puree and white beans. Very nice too, although I found the meat to be extremely fatty, and left half of it on the plate, which was a shame. The pre-dessert that came next did not sound as appealing to me, as it was a liquorice ice cream with almond crunch, yet it was actually lovely – very strong liquorice flavour, complemented by the sweet, crunchy layer of almonds and a light vanilla sauce. The actual dessert almost disappointed. I found the lemon baba too big (a few of us could not finish it), however the citrus sauce and the fresh berries were a nice taste.
At the very end, we received a tray of attractive small bites, from coffee beignets to impossibly tiny “baci di dama”, lemon macaroons, caramel tartlets. I was so upset to leave them that I asked for a doggie bag only to forget about them the next day.
I cannot comment on the wines, as I did not order them but I did enjoy every drop poured into my glasses. The ambiance of the place is cosy, with an open fire, books and trinkets on the walls, unobtrusive and unpretentious. It felt quiet, as there were only two other tables of two, apart from our large and loud family gathering.
I do hope Taverna Estia continues to attract the deserved attention. I am certainly going to drop by again!
***TAVERNA ESTIA HA SINCE GAINED ITS 2ND STAR***