November 2013

Monthly Archive

Trip Report: Bar Al San Domingo (Ravello, Italy)

Posted by on 25 Nov 2013 | Filed under: Café Society, Foreign Brew

This bar/café on the main Piazza Vescovado is something of a local Ravello institution. Founded as a family business in 1929, it is now operated in the hands of three Schiavo brothers who are part of the successive generation.

Gianni Agnelli, L, and first lady Jackie Kennedy, R, enjoying themselves at Al San Domingo in RavelloWith its name inspired by a Neapolitan coffee roaster of the time, the writer Gore Vidal is said to have made a habit of hanging out near its glass entrance — chatting it up with a visiting Sting or Bruce Springsteen over a glass of Chivas Regal. There are also classic photos about of former first lady Jackie Kennedy hanging out at this café with “Godfather of Style” and head of FIAT, Gianni Agnelli, from August 1962. While these may be events from only this past century, they still give you a sense of time and place.

By contrast, in America we seem so enamored with new, shiny things that we encourage a disposable culture that extends to our own history. At five years, you’re overlooked; at ten, you’re forgotten; at twenty, you’re a candidate for a wrecking ball. Trendy pop-up coffee shops and restaurants seem like a natural outcome of our disposable culture. (We recently read an historical revisionist comment from Ritual’s Eileen Hassi suggesting that only Ritual and Blue Bottle were doing the things they were doing in SF when they started up eight years ago — completely dismissing the forgotten likes of Café Organica, who was already making better coffee at the time and doing more “third wave” things those two hadn’t even dreamed of yet.)

Ravello's Piazza Vescovado at dusk, with Al San Domingo's outdoor seating on the left Bar Al San Domingo in the rain from the seats at Ravello's Caffè Duomo

Getting back to Mrs. Kennedy’s Summer of ’62 stay in Ravello, it’s odd today to think of the wife of a standing U.S. president spending three weeks cavorting about with one of the world’s most notorious playboys in Gianni Agnelli — all the while JFK (himself an international playboy wannabe by comparison) stayed back in Washington, DC. But these are facts that were undoubtedly kept from American public eyes at the time.

Mr. Agnelli reportedly made a number of visits to this café over the years, which reportedly stirred up friendly barbs with its owners. Because you see, the Schiavo family are granata — i.e., devout fans of the Torino football club, Torino FC. There are still supporter signs inside the café to this day. Among various other titles, Mr. Angelli was also something of the patron saint of their cross-town rivals and sworn enemies, Juventus FC.

La Cimbali M39 inside Al San Domingo - with Torino FC signage The Bar Al San Domingo espresso

The café itself seems to have evolved and grown in distinct stages. It re-opened in July of 2013 after a three-year renovation hiatus, covered in scaffolding. In front there are awnings and seats in the main piazza. Inside there are several tables and a service area, and off to one side it expands into a café space next door (Humphrey’s Room) that looks like a glass greenhouse.

Besides serving Chivas Regal, a lot of good gelato, and lunch items, their coffee service uses a three-group La Cimbali M39 and coffee from Cafè Sombrero in nearby Vietri sul Mare. It comes with a mottled medium brown crema and tastes of a milder blend of spices. Served in larger, patterned Thomas cups.

Maybe not legendary espresso, but it’s still good.

Read the review of Bar Al San Domingo in Ravello, Italy.

Trip Report: Figli di Papà (Ravello, Italy)

Posted by on 17 Nov 2013 | Filed under: Local Brew, Restaurant Coffee

This bar/café and restaurant is located within the ruins of a Ravello palace, the Palazzo della Marra, built in the 12th century. Opening in the late 1990s, the brothers Giuseppe and Gerardo Foti dedicated it to their father (and hence its name).

In 2002, we first encountered it as the Palazzo della Marra restaurant: the cuisine aimed high, and it was arguably one of the best, most innovative restaurants in Ravello. The brothers have since reformulated it, however, and now the original name belongs only to the next-door bed & breakfast. In its place, the Figli di Papà name has come with a decidedly more casual restaurant that is still one of the better options in town. (Bay Area restaurants are no strangers to the concept of downscaling their ambitions for populist, recession-friendly burger and pizza joints.)

Via della Marra entrance to Figli di Papà, at the foundations of a 12th century palace If you reach the stairs, you've gone too far. At least for the bar.

Most importantly, the espresso here is also some of the best in town.

There are a couple of outdoor seats out front along Via della Marra with an upstairs gelateria/bar area. Downstairs there a number of restaurant tables and also outdoor patio seating along Rampa Gambardella. The upstairs bar is so casual, you might not even realize you’re in it — mistaking it instead for a transition to a stairway. But look and you’ll likely find a couple of locals standing at the tiny bar, watching the day’s news on TV. Let them know you’re not just passing through to the stairs, and you’ll get service.

Behind the bar, there’s a two-group chrome Fiorenzato lever espresso machine at the ready. The barista is conscientious and methodical with the machine’s levers, and he pulls a shot of Caffè Toraldo with a darker brown crema and the occasional lighter, medium brown heat spot.

It has the flavor of cloves and spices and the most exquisitely textured crema we’ve had in the area. Served in Caffè Toraldo-logo MPAN cups. And to show their soccer club alliance, “Forza Napoli” is even printed on the receipts.

Read the review of Figli di Papà in Ravello, Italy.

Figli di Papà's Fiorenzato getting worked over by a deliberate barista The Figli di Papà espresso

Trip Report: Andrea Pansa (Amalfi, Italy)

Posted by on 15 Nov 2013 | Filed under: Café Society, Foreign Brew

The town of Amalfi gives the Coast its name. Dating back to the 9th century, it is one of the four key Maritime Republics of Italy, and it is still represented on the flag of the Italian Navy to this day. Unlike the sleepier Ravello up the nearby cliffs, Amalfi is heavily overrun with tourists during the high season.

The town of Amalfi, which gives the Amalfi Coast its name (credit to Wikipedia)

Amalfi's Duomo Entrance to Andrea Pansa on Piazza Duomo

Andrea Pansa first opened as a café in 1830. It is thus is quite legendary on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. It’s known primarily for its chocolate (there are many resellers who use the Pansa name in town on their storefronts) and its confections. Located right on the most popular public square in town, it attracts a lot of foot-traffic plus tourists/locals who lounge on the café tables beneath the sun umbrellas out front. They sell a lot of tourist-friendly limoncello as well.

The reputation here isn’t unfounded. The 2014 Gambero Rosso Bar d’Italia awarded it 3 tazzine and 2 chicchi — making it one of their most exceptional coffee bars in the Campania region. Yet despite the obvious signs of entitlement, the staff here are exceptionally friendly and engaging.

Formal interior of Andrea Pansa Andrea Pansa merchandising

Pastries and confections inside Andrea Pansa Some of the more formal seating inside Andrea Pansa

Among the towns and cities of Campania, Amalfi is one of the few outposts we’ve found for Portioli coffee from up north — and Pansa makes the most of it. They use a three-group GIME Sinfonia (from Portioli’s espresso machine arm) to pull shots with a medium brown, even crema. The shot is balanced — and brighter and not as dark or pungent as most in the region. Perhaps owing to its northern Italian blends. The flavor is weighted more towards spices and light pepper. Cheap at a mere €0.80.

Read the review of Andrea Pansa in Amalfi, Italy.

The three-group GIME Sinfonia at Andrea Pansa The Andrea Pansa espresso

Trip Report: Caffè Duomo (Ravello, Italy)

Posted by on 07 Nov 2013 | Filed under: Foreign Brew

For many years, this tiny doorway was once home to the Ravello post office in the heart of town. We know, because we tried to ship three bottles of a great Taurasi back to the U.S. from there. To this day, some 11 years later, it still hasn’t made it, and we don’t suspect it was lost in the mail. Unless if by “lost” you mean consumed in an afternoon of drunken debauchery by the local postman.

But in the Spring of 2011, owners Antonio Di Martino, the local restauranteur Rispoli family, and sommelier Angela Donatatonio opened this space up as the new Caffè Duomo. It’s now a somewhat cramped café (as it was a post office): two small tables inside seat three. But it’s the outside space in the main square under parasols that matters.

Brooding skies over Caffè Duomo's outdoor seating in Piazza Vescovado, Ravello, Italy A former post office, this is the entrance to Caffè Duomo with the cordial Antonio sitting just to the left of the steps

It is popular with the locals and tourists alike: well-heeled locals stop here for a quick caffè, while enough tourists stop by for to-go cup lattes to justify a paper sign in English on bathroom use etiquette when the wedding season is high. Antonio is always about, and he’s a great, friendly guy to get to know: regular customers get the warmest of greetings.

Using a three-group manual lever La San Marco behind the small bar, they pull shots of Qualeat (from the Perrella brothers near Avellino) that are properly short, concentrated, and modestly fill a Duomo-logo regulation IPA tazzina.

The crema is an even darker brown with some texture. Flavorwise, the shot is balanced, heavy on pungency, but yet not the typically heavy dark you get in much of Campania. Caffè Duomo is arguably the new gold standard in town for caffè and fresh cornetti. (Sorry, Caffè Calce.) An even €1.

Read the review of Caffè Duomo in Ravello, Italy.

The tiny space inside Caffè Duomo with their La San Marco lever machine in the corner The Caffè Duomo espresso in a logo cup: a fine one indeed