I’m an unfaithful customer. I hardly ever return twice to the same region, town, hotel and/or restaurant in a short period of time. I love discovering new spots, tasting different dishes and different wines. The places I never get tired of visiting are only a few. Two of them are the picture perfect Costa dei Trabocchi and its best restaurant: the michelin-starred Al Metrò in Salvo Marina.
I’ve been going to Costa dei Trabocchi, Abruzzo’s southernmost coastline fragment, ever since my childhood, and yet I am always amazed by the beauty of the rolling hills overlooking both the Adriatic sea and the Appennines and of the isolated inlets dominated by spider-like fishing engines. Extending from the southern reaches of Pescara to Termoli, Molise’s largest coastal town, Costa dei Trabocchi is one of Italy’s most unique stretches of coastline – for it stands somewhere between Croatia and the Gargano Peninsula in terms of scenery – and probably deserves to be more famous than it currently is (although the area’s popularity has surged over the last few years). Not only it is a must visit if you go on a trip to Abruzzo, but also a worthwhile stop on the road from Northern Italy to Apulia.
Located on the southern end of the Costa dei Trabocchi, almost equally distant from Bologna and Otranto, Al Metrò is Abruzzo’s is my favorite restaurant in this part of Italy. The location is by no means the fanciest of the Costa – I would rather eat at one of the many Trabocchi that have been trasformed into (touristy) restaurants if I prioritized location over cuisine. However, Chef Nicola Fossaceca’s culinary skills make up for the ordinary setting, his capability of capturing – and enhancing – the marine flavors of fresh seafood being absolutely top-notch.
Al Metrò owes its name to Nicola and Antonio Fossaceca’s grandfather, who worked as a subway driver before coming back to his homeland Molise. Founded in the late 1970s as a pastry shop in San Salvo Marina, a coastal town on the border between Abruzzo and Molise, Al Metrò began its metamorphosis into a fine dining outlet in 2002, when Nicola took a leave to work with superstar chefs Niko Romito, Mauro Uliassi and Moreno Cedroni while his brother Antonio trained as a sommelier.
The Fossaceca brothers earned the Michelin star in 2012. Three years later, they decided to fully renovate the restaurant’s interior and dehors. If you’ve been to Reale in Castel di Sangro, then you’ll notice that Al Metro bears resemblance to Niko Romito’s three starred culinary temple. In fact, the project was overseen by Nicola De Pasquale, who also designed Reale’s interiors.
Nicola Fossaceca’s cuisine is sleek, minimalist, linear and clean from both a visual and flavor perspective. The menu focuses on fresh seafood from the Adriatic Sea – octopus, mullets, squids, blue fish, the super savory mantis shrimps, small but flavorful monkfishes – with just a couple alternatives from other seas (oysters, tuna). Meat is totally absent from the menu – that’s atypical even for a fine dining restaurant located along the coast. The six course tasting menu costs 75 euros, while the eight course will set you back 90 euros.
My last lunch at Al Metrò began with a delicious quartet of entrees, among which the polenta with black garlic and anchovies and the arancino stuffed with spicy ventricina salami – the only meat excursus in a fish only meal – were the real standouts.
The first antipasto, mantis shrimps with chicory, offered quintessentially Adriatic sweet-saline flavors complemented by a hint of umami from the broth. The second, octopus with sea urchin sauce and mayonnaise, was visually more captivating, but not as impressive. The octopus was tender, and yet the mayonnaise overwhelmed the delicate urchin sauce.
Spaghetti with clams and saffron is a dish that speaks about Abruzzo’s rich biodiversity. Saffron is sourced from the Navelli plateau, which lies at the foothills of Gran Sasso, 140 kilometers north of San Salvo. Nicola achieved great balance here. The spice enlivened the aromatics of the al dente spaghetti without superimposing the saline flavors of the clams.
Monkfish with demi-glace sauce and (citrus-infused?) potato millefeuille was almost meaty in terms of texture and flavors. In fact, you could argue that it worked as the substitute for the classic meat course that comes at the end of every old school Michelin-starred meal (usually pigeon or suckling pig). Once again, the overall balance was great. The citric twist to the potatoes provided just enough freshness to make the course lighter than it would have been elseways.
The spelt and Senatore Cappelli sordough bread was yet another standout. I could really feel Romito’s influence here. I took the bread home in order to avoid overdoing carbs, and the day after it was equally crunchy and light.
Antonio Fossaceca oversees a well-thought (if not especially extensive) wine program. Fresh, mineral whites are his focus, and the vast majority of the featured wineries follows a biodynamic/natural approach. On this occasion, I ordered the hard to find 2014 Trebbiano d’ Abruzzo Tenuta del Professore by D’ Alesio, which ranks among my absolute favorite Trebbianos. Produced from organically farmed vineyards in the surroundings of Città Sant’Angelo, the sixth cheapest place to live in the world according to Forbes (and no far from Loreto Aprutino of Valentini’s fame), Tenuta del Professore spends 18 months in large oak casks before release. At the age of six, it still brimmed with inner energy, and delivered unordinary aromas of saffron, brine, medicinal herbs, and a bright, refreshing, unmistakably cool-vintage acidic backbone. One of the best five or six Trebbiani I’ve had in the last couple years, it perfectly matched the spaghetti and the monkfish, and didn’t clash with the antipasti. (Punteggio: 93)
Al Metrò was born as a pastry shop, so it’s no wonder that the dessert are delicious, too. I was literally mind-blown by the minty freshness of peaches, basil, honey vinegar, which was just perfect for my not-so-sweet tooth. Marinated strawberries, Pistachio cream, champagne jelly was equally fresh, but definitely sweeter and not as memorable.
Another positive aspect of Al Metrò is that it doesn’t take hours to end the meal. Of course a Michelin-starred lunch or dinner should be slow and relaxing, but not too slow, especially if the road back home is long. Also, Antonio and his fellow waiters are attentive, but not intrusive, and very friendly.
I’ll leave you with another photo of the Costa dei Trabocchi, hoping to inspire you to come visit this area in Abruzzo. Al Metrò ‘s outstanding seafood cuisine is just one good reason to exit the A14 motorway – the restaurant lies one kilometer away from the Vasto Sud exit. Other reasons include crystal clear waters, breathtaking landscapes, a medieval abbey overlooking the sea, and, of course, the Trabocchi themselves, which were described by poet Gabriele D’ Annunzio as “colossal spiders domating the sea”.