Located in the hills of the region of Abruzzo, Italy lies a quaint town where you’ll find an unexpected fine dining restaurant.
The city of Castel di Sangro is far from a tourist attraction. However, Tommaso and I drove over two hours to reach the tiny town from Rome to dine at Ristorante Reale, a three Michelin starred restaurant and also currently ranked #43 on San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Ristorante Reale is inside a boutique hotel, Casadonna, which was formerly a 16th century monastery. Pretty dope.
Chef Niko Romito’s cuisine may look deceptively simple to the eye but the flavors are complex without overly complicating the dish. He also highlights various ingredients from the Abruzzo region such as saffron, licorice, and gentian root. Ristorante Reale offers two tasting menus (€140 or €190) or à la carte. We opted for the €190 tasting menu called “ideale” where they changed a few dishes for me since I’m not a mushroom lover.
The dining room was simplistic and clean and only housed about six tables.
We started off the ideale tasting menu with various amuse bouches.
An incredibly intense pistachio flavor exuded from this moist spongecake.
These mini pyramid shaped ravioli were filled with a rich meat ragù. A perfect little bite.
The crispy cracker was topped with sweet confited pieces of tomato and the potato croquette had a silky mousse like consistency.
I didn’t find this amuse bouche that exciting as it just tasted like beetroot without any flavoring but perhaps that was the intent.
A warming broth made from carrot, celery, and onion with a drizzle of aromatic olive oil and sage leaf. Comforting in every way.
These mini tartlets highlighted the intense black olive taste but I wanted the actual tartlet to be more flaky versus crunchy and crispy.
This was the first bread course where the mini bread loaf had almost a crumbly crust with a moist interior. The grissini, breadsticks, were flavored with chestnut honey that had a lingering smoky taste. Lastly, the chickpea crisps were light, airy, and perfect to snack on.
This was my least favorite dish of the meal as I didn’t care for the texture of the amberjack. Since the fish was smoked but still raw, I would have liked a thinner slice of fish.
Expertly roasted tender squid was topped with juicy tart grapefruit segments and green and black olives. A strange combination of ingredients but everything came together.
This was a replacement for a mushroom dish and it was delectable. The beef tartare almost had a silky whipped texture that melted in your mouth and harmonized with the mayonnaise flavored with tart raspberry vinegar.
Tommaso had the cardoncello mushroom, also known as king trumpet mushroom, and loved it. The mushroom was steamed then roasted and had a savory umami quality.
The second bread course was made with potatoes which resulted in an extremely moist interior. However, I found the crust to be a little too hard and dry.
Succulent and supple pork belly was accompanied by sweet celery root. The two sweet components together weren’t overpowering since both flavors were subtle enough.
Tommaso had this dish and loved the delicate handmade ravioli stuffed with almonds.
I had the buttone instead of the almond ravioli and this was one of my favorite dishes. The refined yet intense broth had nuances of onion and was seasoned with saffron that adds a floral aroma. The actual buttone were filled with nutty salty Parmigiano Reggiano cheese that just complimented the delicate broth.
Who knew cauliflower could be this tasty? Perfectly cooked with the purest taste of cauliflower but intensified with a cauliflower cream underneath.
Without a doubt, this was the highlight of our lunch. Heavenly morsels of tortelli filled with pollo alla cacciatora, or hunter’s style chicken. The filling had all the delicious flavors of this rustic dish with herbs and spices all encapsulated in pasta that was coated with rich chicken jus.
I’ve never had fettucelle before but its quite similar to fettuccine. These long strands of pasta were coated with a sauce made from the shells and heads of the red prawns. A few raw pieces of the red prawns added more sweetness and texture while the pink peppercorns added some spice.
This was another dish I wasn’t thrilled about as the turnip tops were quite bitter but that is their natural flavor. I didn’t find that the goat cheese helped balance out the bitterness of the turnip tops and overall I just didn’t understand the reasoning behind the dish.
Nicely cooked pigeon breast was just simply prepared with a powerful pistachio cream. Both the components were tasty but it didn’t leave me wanting more like the tortelli dish.
What a unique and compelling dessert. When eating the licorice granita seasoned with white vinegar it was completely off-putting. However, eating the granita with the white chocolate underneath and the airy cream on the outside made the dessert something completely different. The more I began to eat it, the more I started to love it. Somehow the bitter acidic granita with the subtle cream flavor and sweetness from the white chocolate all came together in the best way possible. Beautiful, creative, and enticing.
The chocolate gelato was also surrounded by lemon juice served with a lemon infusion.
Both the poached pear and the little coffee flavored caramel white chocolate cookie were scrumptious. On the other hand, the gentian root crisp was so bitter and left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.
What I appreciated the most at Ristorante Reale was the chef’s restraint in creating these simplistic dishes and allowing the ingredients to shine on their own. Each dish looked clean and straightforward but once eaten, there was much more complexity. Service was also top notch so my rating is a 8/10.