As you approach the Marettimo trattoria with leaping blue dolphins painted on the side, you know you’ve found the right place for seafood: a young man with black goatee and bright green eyes sits near the entrance, stringing up bait for a fishing trip. That’s Alberto, like his papa’ Giuseppe (at the burners inside), a fisherman since he could toddle.
Alberto, flanked by his cousin Ignazio, takes hours to intricately weave (literally) the bait for the n’cuonsa: using two hundred fishhooks already painstakingly knotted to fishing lines, the two pierce each bait tidbit then hang all the pieces on a huge wooden wheel. Early the following morning, they’ll nose their boat offshore, dropping this “fish-bait wreath” into the sea with hopes that the hundreds of dangling fish pieces will do their job. Sometimes, mamma Paolina supervises their work and then heads back to the burners to flank her husband, Giuseppe.
Inside the trattoria, that morning’s fresh fish catch – n’cuonsa haul – lies on ice, ready for the diners to point out their choices to the cheerful young wait staff. Elderly Giuseppe is at the grill in the kitchen for lunches and dinners – and then home for a brief nap before heading out to fish with Alberto, just as first light shimmers across the island of Marettimo’s aquamarine sea.
After welcoming Alina (Alberto’s wife) seats you and passes you the menu, you KNOW you’re in for seafood paradiso, should you have any lingering doubts: the menu is handwritten. It has to be: who knows what Alberto and Giuseppe will unload from their fishing boat in the morning?
On our first night at Ristorante Il Veliero (and we ate there every night of our Marettimo stay), we started at the antipasto table loaded with dishes of Sicilian goodness. Here, you can help yourself to tastes of the Sicilian pepper dish, la peperonata, eggplant parmesan, panelle (those tasty chickpea “little panels”), olive salad with diced fresh vegetables, grilled eggplant, tuna carpaccio – and more. Stuffed mussels caught Pino’s eye, while I tried small tastes of most – but skipped the un-tempting marinated tuna heart.
Pino’s first course was on the “mussels theme”: steamed ones, while I chose a tasty pasta creation of swordfish, figs and ginger. We shared grilled mixed seafood to follow.
Desserts were eye-catching but who had room?
Two out of three nights on the magical island of Marettimo (western Sicily coast), we ate at Il Veliero – and only because one night we arrived too late to nab a table.