As we have seen with Ristorante da Tuccino
, many of Puglia’s most celebrated restaurants deviate little from their established repertoire. And it’s easy to see why; it’s hard to imagine its first-class seafood and time-honed preparations improved upon.
Yet other chefs on this age-old coast approach their craft with a distinctly modern mentality. Rather than relying on Pugliese orthodoxy—fixing their orecchiette essentially as (if, perhaps, better than) their nonna
did—these chefs are gently pushing the bounds of convention. In the south of Italy, this requires nothing dramatic; any slight shift from the norm is immediately apparent. Buy by paring once-disparate ingredients, lightening some components and complicating others, chefs begin to steer familiar dishes onto uncharted paths.
The restaurant reMare
, on the shores of Mola di Bari, takes a culinary approach as modern and visually pleasing as its elegant waterfront space. While familiar elements appear in every course, they never do so as expected. The classic fave e cicoria
, a hearty peasant meal that sustained countless generations of poor farmers, appears as a light antipasto
, accented and elevated by a spoon of dressed mackerel. A tomato-based zuppa di polpo
, with a graceful crisp of the locally celebrated Altamura bread, brightens the traditionally robust soup without losing the astounding depth of flavor the smoky octopus imparts.
Even the simplest seafood presentations are refined; expect no family-style platters here. Lightly breaded fish, served curled around itself, retains the drama and the steaming, tender flesh of a whole cooked creature, though in an elegantly-sized portion. Resting atop a bed of barely-cooked vegetables—rather than simply served on its own—and accented with a drizzle of Puglia’s ubiquitous spicy olive oil, it’s a locally unusual, yet locally inspired preparation.
What impresses about reMare is the cleanliness and modernity of dishes that, however updated, preserve the flavors, depth, and soul of the classics they echo. Fish atop vegetables, dressed-up chicory, a brightened octopus soup—to an American mind, these dishes may seem imperceptibly different from those that inspired them. But in a region of the world governed so profoundly by tradition, even these are innovations.