Peccato di Vino, Otranto (Italy).

May 2017.

For some reason we were the only clients for lunch on a sunny Thursday in this well-reviewed and apparently highly-regarded restaurant. The reviews are correct in our opinion: very good food, good service, nice atmosphere. Not sure why nobody but us was eating there…

It was a little chilly but comfortable on the shaded outdoor patio, across a tiny pedestrian alley from the local church. Our server was an attractive efficient young lady, but we were also engaged in conversation a middle-aged gentleman who appeared to be sommelier, owner, or both.

Things started with little amuse-geule miniature vol-au-vents with honey- and orange-flavoured cream, almonds, and minute flowers, along with a fairly flavourless rose-coloured bubbly wine in flutes.

The menu choices were not overly numerous, arranged in the Italian four categories. The detail suggested a good cut above the usual standards, if not out-and-out haute cuisine. We shared a starter of three separate items: braised octopus with dark rice, parmesan eggplant, and mackerel with a sweet cabbage. These were all very good, but my impression was that the kitchen was going for originality as distinct from comfort food. The mackerel might have been a little overcooked, and I thought the octopus could have done with a little more braising time. But overall lovely contrasting flavours and very pretty and capable execution.

Our main was a barilla (I think it’s called): thick spaghetti, with a very comprehensive frutti di mare. I believe there were at least nine items including littleneck clams, mussels, baby octopus, white fish pieces, squid… others. This all floated in a fava bean pesto perked up by an unidentified herb. The server missed our request to share the course so we each got a full plate, no hardship. Again it was a minor culinary tour de force but this time also got a big check in the comfort food box.

Our sommelier with apparently little else to do chatted with us, and chose the white which we loved, a combination of two grapes new to me: fiano and d’alessano del Salento, from a small local producer called Jorche. Austerely fragrant and substantial in the mouth, this little number was a bargain at €22. The guy also suggested a couple of other small wineries which we may have a chance to visit. The wine list is strictly but extensively Puglia. We were told there is no market for the kind of trophy wines one usually finds accompanying this kind of cuisine. The whole cost was just over $100 Canadian.

I assume they make their money here in the summer. We were told they are open from March to October, but if our lunch was any indication they would have trouble covering their costs in the shoulder season. That said, this is high-class creative cuisine by local standards, at a pretty reasonable price.  Although the food here was very good and quite creative, I think we would probably go back to Laltrobaffo rather than this place, to avoid another long conversation with the wine guy.

Food 9.0, service just fine but can’t tell what it would be like with the restaurant full, ambience 7.9, value 8.7, peace and quiet: see service.

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 30 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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