Gambero Rosso is an Italian gourmet magazine that amongst other things publishes a guide with their reviews of restaurants in Italy. It is similar to the Michelin Guide, but I find that for Italy I tend to agree more with Gambero Rosso’s judgements than those of Michelin. Restaurants get awarded one, two or three forks (forchette), whereas trattorie may receive one, two or three prawns (gamberi). Only 16 trattorie in all of Italy have received 3 gamberi in the 2013 guide, and Tischi Toschi in Taormina is one of them (when I visited Tischi Toschi, it was still located in Messina). We make a point of eating at trattorie with tre gamberi and even before going to Tischi Toschi last night we had already eaten at 6 out of the 16.
Tischi Toschi is a small restaurant, run by Luca Casablanca and his son. For Luca, who was trained to be a jeweller, food is a passion and it clearly shows. The restaurant serves authentic Sicilian dishes. The prices are very friendly: 10 euros for antipasti, 12 euros for primi piatti, 15 euros for secondi, and 5 euros for dessert. Since we were not familiar with most of the dishes on the menu, we asked him to serve us a sampler menu. We also asked not to overdo it with the portions, but that is something that is rarely understood in Southern Italy.
He picked a bottle of red wine for us. It was from an organic producer called Barraco and made from the authentic Sicilian grape Pignatello. The wine was very elegant, almost black in color, with a nose of very dark fruit. A very nice wine, but we should probably have specified that we wanted him to pick out a white wine given that Messina is a port and the menu is mostly fish. (According to many Italians, wine equals red wine.)
When the antipasti arrived, we thought, ah good, only two, he has understood our request not to serve too much food. But then came two more… They were very good though.
These Polpette di Finocchietto are vegetarian meatballs made from fennel greens, served with a tomato sauce and pine nuts and fennel seeds and stuffed with a few raisins. This is definitely something I’ll have to try and recreate at home. 10/10
The final antipasto was an Insalata di Pesce Stocco, a salad made from dried cod, raw fennel, and tomato dressed with olive oil and parsley. The dried cod was a bit tough but didn’t taste fishy in a bad way at all. 8/10
On to the pasta. These big ravioli filled with ricotta and pecorino and topped with barely cooked tomatoes, parsley, basil, and grated pecorino, were simply wonderful. The tomatoes were not skinned, but with such good tomatoes that was not a problem at all. 10/10
Fresh spaghetti colored with parsley, served with raw tomato, and fried breadcrumbs flavored with anchovies. In Sicily instead of grated cheese, pasta is often served with fried breadcrumbs instead. It is amazing how you can serve so much flavor using such humble ingredients. 9/10
We asked for mercy, no more pasta. Then as a secondo we got two cod steaks each. The cod was very fresh and perfectly cooked in the oven, simply topped with fresh tomato, capers, parsley, and olive oil. The fish was tender and juicy, which is very hard to do with cod. Perhaps it’s because we were a bit full (just a bit…), but I’m giving this only 8/10.
Of course this is very different from a meal at a three-star restaurant like Librije, Celler de Can Roca, or Alinea. The food and presentation are more ‘humble’, but delicious and at a fraction of the price. You could go five times to Tischi Toschi for the price of one dinner at Librije or El Celler, and even more for Alinea. I’m rating Tischi Toschi at 9/10 for the food. It is a great way of getting to know traditional Sicilian cuisine.