Naples, Italy isn’t for everyone. I get that.
The city is dirty. Thieves, pickpockets and urchins abound. And if Gomorrah, the Netflix series on Naples’ drug trade is accurate, life can be very cheap there. (Check out my recent posting of August 3rd, 2017.)
On the other hand…
The architecture is beautiful, the surrounding area stuns, and the food couldn’t be better. If you can afford a stay at the Excelsior Hotel, so much the better.
(Just remember to leave your finest jewelry at home. Buy a Timex at Target.)
For those of you, like Joanne and I, whose sense of adventure trumps your trepidation, Naples is a real delight – rich with culinary experiences and a convenient jumping-off point for day trips to Sorrento and Capri. Just catch the ferry right near the hotel, and off you go. A bit of advice: For a few euros more, you can take the speedy hydrofoil instead of the regular ferry. In half an hour you’ll be docking in Capri.
This must-visit destination is as manicured as Naples is gritty. In fact, Capri numbers among the most beautiful and sophisticated places in Europe, replete with chic shops, hotels and fantastic restaurants – particularly for seafood. Moreover, the absence of cars in the town center makes it a paradise for pedestrians. By comparison, Positano is a tourist trap of t-shirt shops and gelato stands.
Take a Capri taxi at the port up to the village (They’re modified full-size cars that end up as kind of weird 4-door convertibles). Visit the BLUE GROTTO – touristy as hell but beautiful as can be. Stroll the town (without worrying about pickpockets). Then dine at ADD’O RICCO DE GABRIELE, high up and outdoors overlooking the Mediterranean.
I guarantee, you’ll want to go back to Capri the very next day, but don’t do it if that means passing up an opportunity to visit SORRENTO – a great strolling city, with restaurants that rival the best of Capri and Naples. If you stay overnight (and why wouldn’t you?), I recommend the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, which offers a spectacular view of Naples Harbour. It’s pricy in high season, but surprisingly affordable in the spring or fall.
But now back to Naples…
I really got to know the city during my early Buca days, and on one of our trips I discovered the best little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Naples: DA DORA. Immediately it became a mandatory stop for the Buca culinary team.
Located on a dimly lit, almost spookily desolate alley off the Rivera di Chiaia on Via Ferdinando Palasciano, Da Dora is actually easy to spot. Just look for the rather large illuminated shrine out front. “Hey … it can’t hurt.” Inside, you’ll find a tiny room – maybe 40 seats – that hasn’t changed since it was opened in 1973 by a married couple, who, prior to that, had run a seaside seafood shack. Both Giovani and Dora, the restaurant’s namesake, were children of fisherman. My sense is that the restaurant has always been entirely run by the family – including kids, aunts, uncles and cousins. There are no frills here, no pretension, no gimmicks – just straightforward preparations of just-caught seafood.
That no-nonsense, “we are what we are” quality is what I love about Da Dora. Far, far removed from the touristy spots that line the harbor, it has a genuineness and an innocence that can be neither concepted nor duplicated.
I’ve since discovered that the restaurant has achieved cult status among Italian celebrities ranging from the late Marcello Mastroianni and Fredrico Fellini to Giorgio Armani.
Check out the images below. Iterations of seafood pasta dominate the menu. Their Linguine Alle Vongole (clams) as well as the Crudo (raw seafood) appetizers were the best that I can recall ever eating. Also, look at the image with the octopus and the tiny, twice fried fish called ceruses, which means “baby”. Eat them whole … crunchy and salty. Grilled fish, lobsters and octopus are NOT TO BE MISSED!
Every time I’ve been there, Dora (no spring chicken) has been working the floor – serving, clearing, singing…and DANCING! Below you can see Buca’s founding chef Vittorio dancing with her after dinner…all to the tunes of a rather annoying guitarist.
To this day, I remain charmed by the unaffected, authentic innocence that the restaurant projects.
To wit: A recent and modest ad (not from Satchi & Satchi, that’s for sure) for Da Dora simply said, “Lunch, Dinner, Alcohol and TELEVISION” – and not a giant Samsung flat-screen. More like a Philco or Emerson or Magnavox. Remember them?
Go to Da Dora. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.