Italy’s many regional cuisines, varied though they might be, share at least one common theme: a loyalty to their own particular traditions. Certain dramatic culinary digressions aside, chefs in Italy tend to be judged not by their ability to innovate, but by their ability to refine and perfect a given dish within the bounds of convention. Especially along Puglia’s coast, where the Adriatic’s teeming waters yield fish so fresh as to require little adornment, chefs are led by tradition and simplicity.
There are restaurants in Puglia taking a markedly more modern approach to their cuisine. Yet they exist alongside those culinary heavyweights whose expert preparations have changed little in the last thirty years. The result is two wholly different ways of encountering the seafood of Puglia—each with its own particular draw, and each with memorable results.
Ristorante da Tuccino
, a waterfront restaurant in the town of Polignano a Mare, is the sort of revered establishment against which all others in Puglia are judged. With consistent decades of acclaim, the restaurant is known for seafood dishes as straightforward as they are spectacular. Just-filleted anchovies get a simple drizzle of olive oil; visibly fresh sea urchins are served only with bread to mop up the creamy flesh from the shell.
A stunning display of crudi gives an indication of the quality of the seafood to come: generous slices of sushi-tender tonno; tangy cured scorfano, sliced thin and served on the back of the scorpion fish itself; and an unforgettable sun-dried tuna called mosciame del tonno, with the unmistakable flavor of fine tuna but the soft, salty bite of a well-cured prosciutto.
And ensuing dishes, though more technically involved, retain that same simplicity. A fried fish platter yields tender, almost buttery whiting and perfectly crisped cuttlefish; enormous scampi, baked under salt, emerge juicy and sweet. And the characteristically Puglian squid ink orecchiette, plump with the brine of tiny shellfish, provide an ocean-soaked cradle for delicate zucchini blossoms and tiny gamberetti.
True, a repeat customer may find little has changed at Ristorante da Tuccino between one June and the next. But with the kitchen’s profound understanding of local ingredients comes mastery in preparing them. And superior seafood, served with unpretentious expertise, will never go out of style.