We fly to Palermo for the eighth anniversary of Gagini Social Restaurant, among the most interesting gourmet realities of the Sicilian capital and where do they take us to eat? In Danisinni, one of the poorest and most abandoned neighborhoods in the city, with an unemployment rate of 90%. Practically with only two roads, today semi flooded because it rains heavily, one to enter, the other to go out. The parish priest Fra Mauro sits smiling in the "restaurant" garage at the head of the table. On the table, paper plates and glasses. The only gourmet touch is the tablecloth, which is increasingly snubbed today by high-end restaurants And yet it is very difficult to be treated as gentlemen in other places. Above all, when lunch is free. As well as tasty. Palermo home cooking, with most of the products coming from the Fattoria del Quartiere. Danisinni's buttonhole flower.
Franco Virga and Stefania Milan, owners of the Gagini and of three other rooms in the center of Palermo, have bright eyes. Franco worked for 30 years in the fashion world, until in 2011, with Stefania he founded Good Company and dedicated himself to food and wine. With a clear mission: making the most of the Sicilian agri-food and cultural heritage, offering new job opportunities to many young talents and bringing a new breath to Palermo, in synergy with other local realities. Social, artistic, cultural.
A different story
Unlike so many other catering realities, Good Company has not replicated a successful format, but has instead launched four distinct catering projects. In addition to the restaurant housed in the home-studio of the great Sicilian Renaissance sculptor Antonio Gagini, in 2015 Buatta Cucina Popolana, Bocum Mixology and last June Aja Mola – Trattoria di Mare opened. All local with a common denominator "wine", that is, with cellars dedicated mostly to natural wines. We therefore made the first toast with a Blanc de Noirs Classic Method amazing, Rio Cami from Casa Caterina, born from the assembly of two vintages, 2004 and 2007. Not a simple natural wine, but a jewel of biodynamic viticulture.
From the name of a popular song of the tonnaroli, the cialoma Aja Mola, comes the name of the contemporary Trattoria di Mare open right next to Gagini, between the new marina and the Vucciria. To fully grasp the meaning of the kitchen of the restaurant we suggest choosing from the showcase between the catch of the day and relying totally on the chef Giuseppe Calvaruso.
The Buatta restaurant is a real immersion in the Sicilian regional cuisine. In the card it boasts five courses with Slow Food Presidia products (Ragusano cheese in Argentiera; Frascatula with smoked Madonie provola; Cottoia di Modica broad beans; Eoliana fish with tomatoes olives and Salina capers; Cinisara Cow meatloaf with Fellata of the Nebrodis). On the table the inevitable extra virgin olive oil, which we like to call raw oil, from Centonze Castelvetrano (TP). All prepared by a young team of chefs headed to the stove by a real star, chef Fabio Cardilio. From the wine list we have chosen two excellent natural wines produced on Etna, the Nerello Mascalese 2017 of the Azienda Agricola SRC, obtained from vineyards of over 50 years placed at 600 meters above sea level and Ayunta Navigable DOC 2016 Etna.
Gagini Social Restaurant is a "sea port". A restaurant that is, which offers a cuisine open to the Mediterranean and beyond. The menus proposed by the young but expert chef Massimiliano Mandozzi and his wife Elnava De Rosa (pastry chef) fly high, but without ever losing sight of the roots of a vast gastronomic heritage. The tiller is always focused on the quality of the raw material and the pure pleasure of the table. Creativity in the kitchen and on the plate is not a mere display, but substance. Like the unpublished journey we have tried. Here then served with a bottle of Chenin Blanc Le Vieux Clos 2015 by Nicolas Joly, independent winemaker, a bold Oyster with cauliflower. This is followed by another seductive taste contrast: grilled artichoke with orange marmalade, stuffed with shrimp. Our journey, still experimental, therefore includes a Fusillone with creamed red pepper, blue fish mousse and toasted bread. So the pigeon challenge! Exceeded great with the double Genoese ravioli stuffed with pigeon. And since the gluttony has no end, here is the Lamb on the grill with yougurt and cumin sauce. Dishes combined with a bottle of Morgon 2016, Domain J. Chamonard.
Finally, the pastry chef enters with a sorbet and a fruit choir, which infuses pure joy.
The Bocum, cocktail bar with kitchen (chef Daniele Salvatori) on two floors, is certainly one of the most elegant and convivial places in Palermo. Behind the counter the barlady Sonja Scrudato, which boasts 10 signature drinks, one more surprising than the other (plus three non-alcoholic long drinks). But we highlight two in particular that really delighted us: for the predictor Bloody Mex (Mezcal, Ancho Reyes Poblano, tomato juice, lime juice, worchestershire, Tabasco, salt, pepper and paprika) and after dinner the Sonny'Margarita (tequila reposado, ancho reyes chili, agave syrup, lime juice, BBQ Bitters, chilli salt crust).
Palermo that does not give up. Indeed he counterattacks.
And it does so starting from the past, from the extraordinary art of storytellers and puppeteers, such as Gaetano Lo Monaco Celano, one of the last representatives of the Sicilian puppet theater, Unesco Intangible Heritage. Gaetano every day, in his tiny laboratory in vicolo Pilicelli, as Geppetto, gives life and also voice to the magnificent puppets of the knights of the Crusades, reciting their exploits in the ancient "cunti", shows of which Gaetano is an undisputed master.
In the historic districts of Ballarò and Kalsa, above all, we admire various murals, which cover entire facades of popular palaces. And they are not simply decorative murals, rather they are militant works of art, which recall how Palermo since its origins has been a welcoming city, anti-racist and open to the world. The mural, perhaps the most beautiful and significant is that of the artist Igor Salisi Palminteri, who in Ballarò painted the gigantic figure of the Palermo co-patron San Benedetto il Moro, son of African slaves. The 16-meter-high blessing figure wears a bright blue tunic and a pair of football boots is worn at the feet.
Where to sleep
Wonderful Italy operates in Palermo, a start-up dedicated to hospitality and tourism that works with local social workers. And hospitality starts right from the wide offer of homes and services at competitive prices. In addition to guaranteeing a quality stay, Wonderful Italy promotes a tourism of experiences, to discover the places, culture and local traditions, in collaboration also with realities such as the association of women victim of violence, "Cuoche combattenti", with " Cooked in fragrance ”, the pastry shop managed by the boys of the Palermo Malaspina juvenile prison. Or to discover the network of artists and artisans who, with their workshops and workshops, contribute to changing the face of the historic center of Palermo for the better.