TripAdvisor VIP survey

TripAdvisor asked me about my favorites restaurants, hotels, and places to travel, plus my travel suggestions for San Francisco. Here’s the interview:

VIP Survey: Laura Fraser

Author Laura Fraser (photo by Cristina Taccone)

What’s your favorite hotel (and why)?
The Hotel Alto Atacama in the Atacama Desert in Chile. It’s a low-key, elegant, environmentally-friendly lodge with all-inclusive meals, wine, and wonderful outdoor excursions in the incredible desert and volcano surrounds. The adobe architecture melds into the landscape, and it’s peaceful and cool in the rooms. At night, you can climb a hill and use a telescope to see all the stars in the southern hemisphere.

What’s your favorite restaurant (and why)?
La Ciccia, in San Francisco. The owners, Lorella and Massimo, serve authentic Sardinian cuisine in a cozy neighborhood restaurant. It’s amazing food with no pretensions; when I go there, I always feel like family.

Can you tell us about a “hidden gem”– like a non-touristy, neighborhood restaurant– you’ve found in your travels?
There’s a little restaurant on the island of Filicudi in the Aeolian archipelago north of mainland Sicily called Villa la Rosa that serves the best pasta sarde anywhere. The dish tastes like the fresh sea breezes all around.

What’s the best travel advice you’ve ever received from a friend?
Learn to speak Italian fluently.

Please tell us about your best and worst travel experiences.
My best travel experiences are always the simplest ones–a fresh meal on a terrace with a sunset, a swim. Somehow, these experiences almost always happen in Italy. My worst experience was being assaulted, once in Egypt, and once in Samoa. It’s good to travel with a friend.

If a traveler had only one day to spend in your hometown, what are the top five things they should make sure to see or do?
San Francisco is such a wonderful town. I would tell people:
– Take a walk in Golden Gate Park in the arboretum.
– Go to the Farmer’s Market in the Ferry Building.
– Wander around Valencia Street in the Mission to take in the funky boutiques, then eat a pizza atDelfina or have a pastry at Tartine.
– Take a bicycle ride in the Presidio, over the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then eat at the Presidio Social Club.
– Wander the streets of Chinatown and North Beach and go in to City Lights Booksellers.

Where do you want to go on your next vacation?

Laura Fraser is the author of All Over the Map (Harmony Books), the follow-up to her New York Times bestseller, An Italian Affair.

A quick escape to Sardinia in San Francisco: my favorite restaurant

I’m having the pre-book jitters, in a big way.

The thing about writing a memoir is that when you’re writing it, alone in your office, you get obsessed with trying to strip things down to an essential emotional truth, more naked than naked. It doesn’t matter, because there you are alone in your office with nothing but a dirty coffee cup staring back at you. Who cares if you’re naked.

Then it hits you that the damn thing is going to published. That people are going to read it. Your mom is going to read it. The guys you dated and gave fake names to and then described in the book may read it. Friends you went to high school and college with are going to read it. People you don’t know are going to read it and cast judgment on you. They will compare your book with Eat, Pray, Love, even though you wrote your first memoir before Elizabeth Gilbert wrote hers. They will call it “chicklit.”

Then you will want to call up an airline and book a ticket somewhere far, far away, which is your usual antidote to any kind of stress.

Instead, you have to stick around, send out emails announcing the book, do all the social media networking that is required these days, and pray someone buys the book. You have to write targeted Facebook ads and personal essays that tie in with the book and go on the radio and try to explain just what the heck you were trying to say.

It’s all overwhelming. The thought of being so emotionally naked in just a few days is freaking me out.

So tonnight I went to yoga with a friend, which was calming. Then, since we were nearby, we went to my favorite restaurant in San Francisco.

Here’s another time when I ought to keep things to myself, but instead I am spilling the truth about something that ought to be kept private. My favorite restaurant in San Francisco: La Ciccia.

“La Ciccia” means a full, happy, chubby belly, which is the perfect antidote to stress. We popped in to the restaurant and Massimo and Lorela made us feel right at home, speaking in Italian, greeting us like family. All my worries melted away with a glass of prosecco and the anticipation of a Sardinian meal.

We were just going to have appetizers, but one thing led to another. There were grilled sardines on the menu, for instance. And there was spaghetti with bottarga. When there’s spaghetti with bottarga on the menu, there is no way to say no. Then there was tuna with an olive sauce. And carta da musica, the flatbread with rosemary that is famous in Sardinia. Massimo brought out some housemade spaghetti with tuna conserva, just because he knew I would like it, and I did; I nearly swooned. He also brought some fresh ricotta and some little hot pepperoncini with tuna stuffed inside, along with some cherry tomatoes with little anchovies…I was transported to Sardinia. WE had vermentino, we had cannonau, we had a wonderful time.

I was with my friend Cecilia, a size 0, who managed to put away half a plate of the tuna conserva before an entire portion of the spaghetti with bottarga. After the main dish, Massimo brought over some gelato he’s working on: one with bottarga, another with goat cheese and fig, and another with malvasia and dried prunes. The bottarga gelato was interesting–how often do you get a fish aftertaste with gelato? The others were perfectly sweet and balanced.

The atmosphere at La Ciccia is so friendly and unpretentious, and the food is so good, that I was in Sardinia for a few hours this evening, where nobody speaks English, and nobody is going to read a new memoir coming out on Tuesday. On Tuesday, I’m sure my dread will be replaced with good cheer, since I’m fortunate to have so many friends and well-wishers in my life, but for today, I was happy to escape to Sardinia, right here in San Francisco.

Favorite restaurants in Italy this trip

Ciao, Italia!

I left Italy this morning and heard my last “arrivaderci.” I was sad to go, not only because I had a wonderful month doing stories there, I was starting to feel at home in Italy, and my Italian improved over the month, but because I have to leave that glorious food behind.
This was not a culinary trip, but you have to eat, and if you are as interested in eating as I am, as the people I know in Italy are, well…it was a culinary trip.
Here a few of my favorite meals on this trip. I was in Puglia (Salento), Sicily (near Palermo and Salemi), Rome, and Orvieto.
In Puglia, I wasn’t concentrating on the food, and have to say I didn’t have anything that amazed me, but I was nevertheless so delighted when I first arrived at an airport hotel in Brindisi to have such a good pizza at La Locanda ti li Spilusi. The atmosphere made me happy, as did the wood-fired pizza.
In Sicily, I was doing a food-related story (see in a few months), but most of the best food I tried was in private homes. My friend Giuliana Schimicci Scaduto made an amazing meal with a group of her friends, cooking pasta with tuna bottarga and serving it in her lovely garden; she is starting cooking classes in Palermo: Her sister, Daniela, is managing a lovely aperitif bar in Palermo I’d heartily recommend, called Parisi7, right near the Via Liberta (carpaccio di polop!)…. I went to a couple of traditional osterias in Palermo, the tiny ones where they cook the pasta to order, nothing fancy: Osteria Paradisa Giuseppe Corona, Via Serradifalco, 23. Another is Osteria con Cucina Lo Bianco, via Emrico America, Palermo. Both were simple with authentic Palermitano ingredients…

The best meal of the trip by far was in Rome at Alfonso Iacarrino’s “Baby” at the Aldrovandi Palace in Villa Borghese. It was an expensive meal, but worth the experience–a lovely terrace, impeccable service, and a rare meal, truly memorable. The best lunch in memory. Iacarrino is the chef, passion, and mastermind behind Don Alfonso 1890 Restaurant  in Sant’Agata, the Amalfi Coast restaurant that RW Apple, Jr. named as one of his top 10 restaurants in the world, before he died—and the only one in Italy. Iacarrino is obsessed with the quality of his ingredients, which he picks daily from his garden and are front and center on the plate. Each incredible dish had only four or five ingredients—everything was simple, showcasing the freshest ingredients of the season. I had a pasta dish with only four ingredients–flour, water, tomatoes, and ricotta, with a sprig of basil–that was the most amazingly intensely-flavored pasta I’ve had, purely from the quality of the ingredients. The dishes were modern, but simple.

As Apple put it: “(…) Alfonso and Livia Iaccarino grow herbs, lemons and peaches, artichokes and eggplants and, of course prize tomatoes, plus the olives for their own tangy, fruity oil, in a sun-kissed garden facing the isle of Capri near their restaurant on the Sorrento peninsula. In their lovely pastel dining room, they serve fresh, understated, unmistakably Italian food in great profusion – ravioli with caciotta, wild marjoram, barely heated chopped tomatoes and basil, or rolls of baby sirloin filled with raisins, pine-nuts, parsley and garlic, atop a ragout of wild endive. The tufa cellar, first excavated by the Etruscans, is stocked with wines from all around the world. (…)”

I’m just going to put the menu here, because I was so overwhelmed by the lunch I could barely take notes:

Ricciola affumicata alla cannella con macedonia di patata viola
ed arancia di Sicilia
Cinnamon smoked Amberjack with potato and Sicilian orange

Il peperone …….
The Pepper…….
(this was a delicate pepper filet, plus a pepper stuffe with anchovies)
Ravioli di caciotta fresca e maggiorana
con pomodorini vesuviani e basilico
Ravioli Stuffed with Fresh ‘Caciotta’ Cheese and Marjoram,
‘Vesuvian’ Cherry Tomatoes Sauce and Basil

Paccheri di Gragnano cacio, pepe e scorfano
Pasta from Gragnano with ‘Cacio’ Cheese, Fresh Pepper, and Scorpion Fish

Dentice in sfoglia di zucchine, schiuma di curcuma e limone confit
Dentex Fish with Zucchini, Lemon Confit and Turmeric Sauce

I also tried:
Calamaro ripieno di provola campana e ricotta
con fagiolini e salsa al nero di seppia
Squid Filled with Provola and Ricotta Cheese Served
with Green Beans and Squid Ink Sauce

and for dessert:
Concerto ai sapori e profumi di limone
A Concert for the Lemon: Fragrance and Flavour (served in a cold lemon skin)

Sinfonia di pesca con salsa ai frutti di bosco*
Peach Symphony with Wild Berries Sauce

Nothing else in Italy compared to that meal.
In Salemi, where I was doing a story, I had two wonderful meals. The first was at La Gummara, where we had a homemade pasta with tuna bottarga and wonderful service, and the other was at Valentino, where the fish was delicately friend and fresh.

We spent one day in Orvieto, and ate at Al San Giovanale, at a lovely terrace overlooking the hills. We had a flan with black truffles, a pasta with fennel and prosciutto, and game hen with potatoes…a beautiful meal from the hills…

Now I’ve left Italy for Russia, where all of a sudden I can’t speak a word and have no idea what to order! Next: St. Petersburg.
photos by Casey McSpadden

Top: pasta with pork and fennel at Al San Giovanele in Orvieto.

San Giovanele

Second: stuffed squid at Baby

Peppers at Baby

Baby Roma

Baby Roma, Don Alfonso Iacarrino

Valentino, Salemi

Lightly fried fresh fish at Valentino

Ravioi with gamberi and bottarga

House-made ravioli with gameri and bottarga at La Gummara

La Gummara, Salemi

Octopus at La Gummara

Palermo market fish

Little fish in the Palermo market, and vegetables.

Palermo Capo Market