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Photo courtesy of Walks of Italy

Le Marche

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Virtually untravelled by Toscana-happy Americans, Le Marche is an excellent culinary example of cross-pollination. The inherent richness of northern neighboring Emilia-Romagna is made evident through rich pasta dishes such as Vincigrassi, a kind of lasagne made with chicken liver ragù and black truffles; and another dish called Passatelli, which utilizes bread crumb, egg and cheese dowels served in rich chicken broth with lots of grated cheese on top. The relatively spare cucina of western-neighboring Umbria is more obvious in dishes like Potacchio, a spicy stew of rabbit or lamb (or even monkfish), or the simple charcoal-grilled meats that appear on every trattoria menu. The more south-central bent is also evident in products like the simple, soft salami made in Fabriano, the excellent dried pasta made by the Latini family in Osimo, or the farro produced by Fattoria di Montesecco.

 

As in all of the Italian penninsula, the more local you eat, the more art you can find. Here in Le Marche, the cuisine is quite different in the micro-regional sense, particularly between the more experimental and modern touches apparent in the coastal cuisine versus the neoclassical cooking of the interior Apennines. My “faves” start on the southern coast, where several towns house nearly all of the great restaurants.

 

One of the most enticing things along the entire Costa Marchigiana is the offering of what is one of my favorite meal starters, raw or marinated seafood.

 

Up past the not-so-pretty port town of Ancona lies another treasure of a town, Senigallia. The guidebooks rave about La Madonnina del Pescatore, but I did not enjoy my experience there.

 

Farther north is “Truffle Country,” specifically “White Truffle Country,” as well as the zone di produzione di prosciutto carpegna and the cooking matches the ingredients.

Mario's Picks

Messer Chichibio

The raw bounty of the Adriatic is well represented at Messer Chichibio. Do not let the decor keep you away; the food is impeccable.

Ristorante Roma

Located on the Piazza Nardone, Ristorante Roma is a classic (since 1948) where- apart from the sushi rice on one appetizer- I love nearly everything. Try a wacky dessert wine called visciolato, a a cherry infusion that pairs beautifully with prickly pear sorbetto.

 

Lacche

Simple classic seafood at fair prices.

Al Cuoco di Bordo

The verbal menu changes daily and always includes some interesting crudo, spectacular pastas like black spaghetti alla chitarra with squash blossoms and tiny shrimp, or a surprising orecchiette with clams and sea beans.

Locanda Strada della Marina

The rooms at Locanda Strada della Marina are a bargain and the food is  worth an overnight stay. My most recent meal started with a classic octopus salad with waxy potatoes, then went into a poetic gnocchi with a bug-like shellfish called cannocchie cooked in a light tomato sauce that sang the song of sirens.

Symposium Quattro Stagioni

Pricey and tiny at thirty-six seats, you’ll need to call in advance and bring plenty of money. Symposium Quattro Stagioni is a place I didn’t want to like but I could not resist.

 

The five menus are at least 110 Euros each (plus wine, and you will want wine). The foundation of each menu is local with a capital ‘L.’ I still dream of a meal that started with a simple lentil soup with breast of thrush and truffles, followed by a dish of potato pappardelle with game bird ragù and lemon thyme. It continued with wild boar with an ethereal potato and celery puree, then a taste of some pecorino that had been buried a couple of months in a divine ditch.