Novecento Art and Food, Via Ventimiglia, 43, 95131 Catania, Italy
It was a really Shitty Day in Paradise, Fellow FoodBeest.
We drove from Noto in the far southeast corner of Sicily up the coast to Catania, the second largest city (next to Palermo) on the island. The rented Alpha Romeo is quirky. It shuts off on its own when it stops, say at a stoplight. The headlights light up the sides of the road, but not the road, itself.
The roads are utter chaos. even if you discount the insane aggressive driving of every wannabe Mario Andretti on the road here in Italy. Just finding your way around is a challenge. The roads were laid out by a Roomba. Even with Google Maps we have taken the wrong road more times that I’d like to say.
I spent much of the day leaving sweaty hand indentations on the passenger’s door handle while my foot pressed on the illusionary passenger brake. My doctor would not have been happy with my blood pressure readings.
Our plan was to do laundry in Catania. Clothes are finite and after a week we were running out. Thanks to the internet we found the lavaterias in Catania. We found the first one around 1 pm, just as the proprietor had pulled down the steel canopy to close it down for the afternoon siesta. Great.
We walked around, had lunch until it reopened. When we got there at 4, she was reopening the store and as, we peeked in, we discovered it wasn’t a laundromat at all, but rather a dry cleaner. Grrr.
Found another one listed. Internet again. Said it was open from 6 am to midnight. We got there. They weren’t open. We called the number on the website and determined from their testy response that they may never open again. Now we’re getting testy.
Found another one, but the wild goose chase was a bit more than we wanted to keep playing. It was the last straw for a couple who had been spending every waking and sleeping hour together, almost exclusively, except for Joel and Lisa, the nice California couple we met for dinner in the restaurant at the Agretourismo we stayed in outside of Noto, Sicily.
We headed to our Catania B&B, down those nutty inexplicable roads, not wanting to even talk to each other, irritated, muttering to ourselves. Found our room, complete with the shower that took 20 minutes to heat up, the small, rough bath towels and walls that left us privy to everyone else’s conversation.
You know what I am describing, Fellow FoodBeest. You, too, have been there. This had become one terrible, horrible, awful, no-good very bad day.
I located a Slow Food restaurant in Catania, figuring that if we weren’t going to talk to each other, at least we could have a good dinner. Back to the center of town where we found the restaurant. We showed up only to discover that … wait for it … it was closed. Apparently a fire.
We walked up the street looking for anything that might feed us when, at the corner, we came upon wine bar that was bright and cheerful and modern looking and bursting with customers. Live music: a guitar player and his female singer companion with everything from Sinatra to Italian pop. Mr. FB and I exchanged glances. We walked into the light.
The wine bar was called Novecento Art and Food. Open only a month, it was already packed with locals, couples, teachers, artists. Novacento, as it happens, refers to a group of Italian artists, formed in 1922 in Milan, that advocated a return to the great Italian representational art of the past.
A charming, energetic young redhead greeted us and literally created a table for us. Her name was Greta and Greta made it all better.
She brought us a the house wine, a fruity garnet-colored carafe. The wine was gentle, light bodied and very drinkable for two travelers who had much earlier hit their limits. Perfect, too, for a warm night in Sicily.
We ordered only a fish antipasti and a pasta dish that we split. Not much it would seem for an Italian dinner.
The waiter came and set down two fish dishes. Then two more. Than, remarkably two more. This was just the antipasti – the appetizer!
The food, while it was all traditional, was prepared in a modern style.
There were two crudos, raw fish dishes dressed lightly in olive oil, lemon juice and pepper. One was a thinly sliced octopus on a bed of arugula.
The other was a light white fish topped with pomegranate seeds.
There was a shrimp ceviche mixed with avocado and melon.
And fried fish and anchovies and another fish salad.
It would have been enough.
But then they brought us our shared pasta, elegant in its simplicity: rigatoni with olive oil, anchovies (they literally melt into the olive oil), garlic, parsley, and bread crumbs.
Thank you Greta. Thank you Novecentro Art and Food. You reminded us of the magic of food and good company and with the best wine, the best bread, the best food we have had so far in Italy, made our very bad day all better.