Laltrobaffo, Otranto (Italy).

May 2017.

This appears from the street to be a more class-act-than-most little trattoria in the old town of this small Puglia city. It has glassed-in porch seating and sits on a narrow medieval cobblestone street adjacent to some sort of ecclesiastical building. The menu looks inviting and prices are not noticeably worse than the little tourist-trappy places nearby.

Clearly tourism is Otranto’s major industry. A nice lady in a dress store told us the town is “dead” in the winter, comes alive in May, and that summer is “crazy”.  We had the familiar “oh no, we’ve made a big mistake here” sentiment as we googlemapped through the streets to find our airbnb in the part of town not included in the medieval walled city. That general part of town is sleepy and a bit dirty. But the old city is charming in that well-travelled and well-gentrified way of so very many European cities and towns.

Anyway, one of a couple of designer-stubbled server boys welcomed us to Laltrobaffo’s patio where we found a nice little table in sunshine, breezy and comfortable once he opened the glass sliding door. It’s a standard Italian menu with starters, first courses consisting of pasta, then mains and dessert. There are a few unusual touches, catch of the day presented as pasta and a main, sea urchin, and (not so unusual) octopus. Our quiet server wasn’t fluent in English and seemed worried when we commented on the first course, until he understood that we were delighted and then we got one of his rare smiles.

Carrying a cruiseship-larded extra ten pounds each we settled for a shared starter and pasta, and both were delicious. Wine was a Puglia rose, fruity on the nose with a nice little edge of substance in the mouth, €22. The octopus starter was a grand-slam homer. Fat tentacles orange in colour, served up with what seemed to be an octopus reduction, and a tiny bit of melted pecorino.

My octopus experience has been various. Best in history for me was a starter at Bernardin in New York: tender, succulent, and packed with flavour. This if memory serves after many years was on the same level, nothing like the usual stringy cephalopod chew just fried or otherwise undercooked. Here it had obviously been braised in its stock for a good long tenderizing time. Sharing the dish, I could see Robin getting antsy about the visible tentacles etcetera but one bite into this marine heaven and neither of us had any doubts. Soft and full of fresh mild crustacean flavour, it begged to be savoured with the minimal cheese floating mixed in the reduction sauce. Incredible treat. An anchovy orchietta done with broccoli purée suffered by comparison but was still pretty fantastic.

It was a grownup little group of about a dozen of us out on the patio with quiet piano jazz floating from the darker indoor space, until a couple of middle-aged English ladies with the strange and prevalent belief that their conversation needed to be heard by everyone in the room arrived. But we left soon after, out the door for about C$65.

We are probably here for at least a week and will certainly go back to this little place. Food 9.0, service 8.6, ambience 8.8, value 8.9, peace and quiet 8.6.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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