La Tavernetta is the restaurant of the San Lorenzo si Alberga hotel in the national park of Sila, in the mountains of Calabria, close to Lago Cecita. This is not only a change of scenery but also a change of food for our trip, because here it is all mushrooms and meat rather than seafood.
The restaurant is not decorated like you would expect in the mountains with hunting paraphernalia and the like. Instead it is more ‘modern’ and one could almost say spartanly furnished. Due to the yellow paint it is very difficult to take proper photos. There are two tasting menus: 5 courses for 55 euros, or 7 courses for 75 euros. Both showcase the local produce, with the first being more traditional. We chose that one.
The antipasto: eggplant cooked in charcoal with a very creamy mozzarella, candied tomato, croutons and local herbs. The presentation was very nice, because the eggplant was made to look like a drumstick (hard to see in the photo). The eggplant, tomato, and mozzarella all had great flavor, and the combination is a classic one that works very well. The texture of the eggplant was outstanding, very meaty and very tender at the same time. The quality of the ingredients is what makes this dish work.
These were hands down the best tagliatelle ai funghi porcini I’ve ever had. The secret seems to be the 1:1 ratio of mushrooms to pasta. But also the freshness of the porcini and they were cooked just right, and the fresh pasta, which is made from semolina flour (rather than 00) and with less eggs and a bit of water. There was only a hint of parsley (“aria di prezzemolo”) and of course no parmigiano (which would have obliterated the elegant porcini flavor).
Potato gnocchi with a cream of pecorino and Tropea (red) onions, and ‘Nduja. The latter is a very typical pork paté of the region, which is very spicy due to lots of peperoncino. Here a slice of ‘Nduja was toasted and served on top of the gnocchi. The potatoes used for the gnocchi were very yellow and are a special local variety from Sila with very good flavor.
The secondo: chop and belly of Suino nero di Calabria (Calabrese rare breed pork), more of the local potatoes, chanterelle mushrooms, and chard. The pork belly was cooked at low temperature and painted with fig juice. It was tender but a bit dry — a traditional menu does not include the use of sous-vide equipment unfortunately. The same applies to the pork chop, which was cut so thinly that it would be impossible to brown it without overcooking it. Both types of pork would have benefitted from a bit more salt (also to remain more juicy after cooking).
For dessert we could pick any dessert from the menu. I picked the amarena cherry ice cream with dark chocolate crumble. The nice thing about the ice cream was that it was full of chopped rather than pureed cherries, which gave it a nice chunky texture, and that most of the flavor came from the cherries rather than sugar. It was served with a bit of homemade cherry-aniseed liqueur, made using local aniseed.
This was a very nice dinner with a lot of great dishes featuring local products. If it weren’t for the overcooked pork dish, I would suggest this to be worthy of a Michelin star. It does have two forks from Gambero Rosso, which genenerally is about the same as one Michelin star. It is also very good value for money, so well worth a visit if you are in Calabria.