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Entries in Corsica (4)

Monday
Nov152010

The Gourmet Side of Corsica and Some Amazing Corsican Beverages

This is my fourth and final post about the extraordinary island of Corsica. I hope you have enjoyed reading about this wonderful place as much as I have enjoyed writing about it. I know I will return to this island someday. I just hope I don't have to wait too long!

I started off talking about Corsica's natural beauty. Then there was the glorious Specialty Food Scene (check out this cool website offering awesome Corsican specialty food products you can order online). In my most recent post, I talked about the cuisine of Corsica and some of the yummy meals we enjoyed in inland Corsica and on the coast. Now I'm wrapping up this series by talking about the more "gourmet" side of Corsican cuisine.

Chocolate Sphere with Coconut Ice Cream and Poached Mango Much of Corsica's cuisine is hearty comfort-food or simple grilled meat or fishes. The flavor of the food is bold and striking and fantastic. And everything we had was always expertly prepared. But, as in all places, there is a difference between the world of comfort food and the world of haute cuisine. It turns out Corsican cuisine happily and deliciously exists in both arenas. During our stay on the island, we enjoyed some very refined, sophisticated meals that elevated Corsican cuisine to the next level.

Filet Mignon of Veal with Macaroni Gratin at L'Antigu L'Antigu is in the heart of the old city of Porto Vecchio. It is an elegant restaurant with a giant open window that runs along the length of the room and offers a great view of the port below. The food is a perfect example of the French-Italian fusion that defines all Corsican cuisine.

Homemade Linguine with Barely cooked Shrimp and Pesto at L'Antigu To start, we shared an eggplant Mille Feuille, or napoleon. The dish was French in name, and the delicate layers of eggplant, tomato sauce and goat cheese lived up to the Mille Feuille title. But it was really Italian in flavor, tasting much like a delicious eggplant parmesan. Matt's dish of Filet Mignon du Veal, on the other hand, was a tender, seared medallion of veal with a veal stock reduction sauce, accompanied by a cheesy and yummy macaroni gratin. Very French. My dish took us back to Italy with fresh linguine tossed with barely cooked shrimp in a light and buttery pesto sauce. It was a seamless and delicious blend of French and Italian cuisine. An excellent meal.

Charming Main Square in Corte lined with bars, restaurants and shops In the inland city of Corte we had a great dinner at Le 24, a sort of upscale, modern Corsican restaurant. Corte is the former capital of Corsica and it is a beautiful place, surrounded by granite hills and mountains. There are charming cobblestone streets, an old church with a bell and watchtower, colorful houses with terra-cotta roofs and a striking Citadel perched above. Corte is tucked away in the mountains and it seems like a million miles from the touristy town of Porto, where we had stayed the day before. This feels like a real city, independent and proud, like the "real" Corsica. We loved Corte right away.

Main street in Corte. You can see the surrounding mountains in the distance And we loved our dinner at Le 24. We began with a "Petit Claufoutis de Morelles." The dish arrived in a mini cast iron crockpot, a luscious sort of scrambled egg custard chock full of big earthy morel mushrooms. It was a satisfying and comforting dish.

Earthy Custard with Morel Mushrooms at Le 24 For our main course Matt got the Filet Mignon du Porc: thin slices of seared pork tenderloin with baby yukon gold potatoes and a delectable pan sauce.

Matt's tasty Filet Mignon du Porc at Le 24 I got the Filet du Bouef. It arrived, much to my surprise, topped with a giant piece of seared foie gras. There was no mention of foie gras on the menu. And the steak itself was sitting in a rich foie gras sauce! It was very decadent. Earthy, honest food with sophisticated but familiar flavors. Delicious.

My filet mignon dripping with Foie Gras at Le 24 Another great restaurant was in the magical city of Bonifacio on our last night in Corsica. When we arrived at L'Archivolto, there was a line outside the door. A very good sign. There was an outdoor seating area that was roped off to prevent people from wandering in off the street. It was the first time I felt my New York instincts kick in while on this trip. I was anxious. I found myself eagerly peering into the restaurant, waiting for some indication that someone was about to get up. An empty plate…a napkin on the table…a signal to the waiter for a check. When a table finally opened up, someone tried to walk in and cut in front of us. I snappily told them we were here first. I'm sure they had no idea what I was saying. But my tone was clear. Don't mess with a hungry New Yorker.

Outside L'Archivolto, where I nervously wait for our table We scored a great seat right outside. I glanced at the people who had tried to elbow their way into the table we had so patiently waited for, standing there behind the rope. Maybe I smirked at them a little.

Anyway, now that we were seated I could relax and focus on the task at hand. It was clear from the moment we sat down that this was a serious place. The plates coming out of the kitchen looked amazing, not only delicious food, but wonderful presentation. The menu and wine list were both outstanding and we could tell right away that this was a real "foodie" restaurant.

Excellent Tomato Tarte Tatin at L'Archivolto Our first course was a tomato tarte tatin which was so delicious that I have tried to reproduce it ever since, without success. The gently roasted tomato sat on a flaky round of puff pastry, topped with a mixture of scallions and fresh herbs bathed in olive oil. To the side there was a salad of baby greens and fennel flowers in a lemon vinaigrette.

The flavors were fresh and clean allowing the natural sweetness of the tomato and the buttery goodness of the pastry to shine through. The salad tasted as if it had just been picked straight from the garden, practically bursting with freshness. Each element of the dish was perfectly executed and it was as fine an appetizer as you would find in any New York City restaurant. We were very impressed.

Matt's amazing Goat Cheese and Eggplant Lasagna at L'Archivolto For the main course, one of the dishes on the menu was a goat cheese and eggplant lasagna. Matt could not resist. The taste of the lasagna we had in Evisa still lingered in our minds. We wanted more! And if the tomato tarte tatin was any indication of the quality of this restaurant, it promised to be a damn good lasagna. It was.

Corsican eggplant is particularly delicious. It is very tender, sweet, almost creamy. We had many dishes featuring eggplant while in Corsica but this was perhaps the best. Layers of homemade pasta alternating with delicate disks of fried eggplant and dense, fabulous goat cheese. Tomato sauce was used sparingly, just enough to bring the dish together without overpowering the other ingredients. A generous layer of grated parmesan cheese topped it off, along with some shredded basil and olive oil. It was a delectable lasagna. Different from the one we had in Evisa, but just as fantastic.

Awesome spaghetti with herbs, breadcrumbs and bottarga at L'Archivolto It was hard to compare anything to the wonder that was Matt's lasagna. But my dish came pretty close. Spaghetti with a generous portion of shaved bottarga (dried tuna roe), roasted almond slivers, breadcrumbs, lemon juice and an assortment of fresh herbs. It was a simple dish, but packed with so many different flavors and textures. It was crunchy, salty and briny with a burst of citrus freshness from the lemon juice. I loved every bite.

The evening before we went to L'Archivolto, we made the mistake of going to the restaurant Stella D'Oro. It was our only bad meal of the trip. The restaurant was stuffy and old fashioned and the food was boring and uninspired. I was pretty upset after that dinner--a whole meal wasted! But L'Archivolto made up for that meal, and then some. It is a must go to if you visit Bonifacio.

Outside the outstanding restaurant Le Troubadour in Porto Vecchio Our most "gourmet" meal was at the restaurant Le Troubadour, back in the town of Porto Vecchio. Le Troubadour is off the beaten path a bit. You have to wander outside the loud, busy central streets of Porto Vecchio's Citadel to a more quiet area just beyond. At first glance the restaurant is a bit off putting. The downstairs is a modern room, almost all white and shiny, brightly lit with televisions and uncomfortable looking seats. We almost walked away. But then Matt spotted a greenhouse on the second floor, jutting off the side of the restaurant. It was decorated with pretty lights and we saw tables full of happy people dining. It looked intimate and inviting. We decided to take a chance.

We feel right at home in the cozy upstairs dining room of Le Troubadour We were led up a flight of rickety wooden stairs into a completely different universe. While the downstairs was cold and uninviting, the upstairs was like walking into a charming farmhouse. Attractive copper pots hung from iron racks on the ceiling. Wooden tables and benches complimented the textured whitewashed walls. The greenhouse was off to the left looking just as lovely as it had from the outside. There was an air of tasteful elegance that made us feel instantly at home. This was gonna be good.

Perfect and refreshing Kir Royale's at Le Troubadour For our aperitif, the waiter offered us a Kir Royale flavored with black currant. We sipped on our drinks and began to peruse the menu.

Along with sea urchin, there is one other ingredient that I can never resist when I see it on a menu: heirloom tomatoes. Maybe it's because I used to hate tomatoes that I am so passionate about them now. But I just can't get enough of them and when I see an heirloom tomato salad on a menu, chancing are I'm going to order it. Some heirloom tomato salads are better than others. But when it's done right, and when a chef knows how to coax the maximum sweetness and tomato-y-ness out of these beautiful fruits, it can be an example of simple perfection.

Heirloom tomato salad perfection at Le Troubadour This heirloom tomato salad was so wonderful. The tomatoes were juicy, almost bursting with ripeness. Tiny leaves of pungent basil and spicy arugula adorned the top. The tomatoes were dressed, just right, with a heavy dose of an excellent local extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and cracked black pepper. When we had eaten all of the tomatoes, we were delighted to find that the juices from the tomatoes and the olive oil had gathered at the bottom of the bowl, creating a perfect sauce to sop up with a piece of crusty sourdough bread. Simple and spectacular.

Matt's homemade Pappardelle with Braised Veal Ragu Then came the main course. Matt wisely went with one of the day's specials: Pappardelle with Braised Veal Ragout. This was as fine a pasta dish as you could find in any restaurant in Italy. Thick, chewy Pappardelle with an unbelievable ragout that was exploding with flavors. Rich, herbaceous, creamy, a little citrusy. Unreal. There was a heaping pile of pecorino cheese to top it off and more of that excellent local olive oil. Wow.

Fine dining doesn't get much better than my main course of Filet Mignon with Gnocchi at Le Troubadour But my dish was equally as delicious. A rare-seared piece of filet mignon wrapped in bacon drizzled with a meaty pan sauce. The beef was sitting on a bed of asparagus and delicately blanched haricot vert. The chef won major points for the presentation of the asparagus. Peeled at the bottom in what must've been an excrusiating task for some poor prep chef. But there was a really cool texture contrast between the peeled and un-peeled parts of asparagus that made it worth the effort. Accompanying the beef was a little cast iron dish of tender gnocchi bathing in that same salty beefy pan sauce that went with the beef. Awesome.

Painstakingly peeled asparagus at Le Troubadour. Worth the effort. For dessert, we ordered the chocolate and coconut "globe": a dark chocolate sphere containing a layer of light and airy coconut ice cream and poached mango, sitting on a disk of more dark chocolate. It was delish. And when you broke open the sphere, the inside looked exactly like a Cadbury Cream Egg.

Does this not look exactly like a Cadbury cream egg? At the end of the meal, Matt told the waiter that I was a caterer in New York City. The waiter insisted on telling the chef and bringing him out to meet me. We were shocked when head chef Julian Diaz walked out of the kitchen. He was only 28 years old! His cooking reflects an amazing complexity and depth that you would expect from a chef twice his age. Chef Diaz told us he was born in Marseilles and that he trained alongside the head chef of one of the top, Michelin starred, restaurants in Corsica, Casa Del Mar. He also worked as a chef in Bolivia, London and Iraq.

Photo op with Head Chef Julian Diaz He was shy and humble. Matt and I gushed over the meal. To our surprise, Chef Diaz seemed almost shocked that people from New York City would be so blown away by his cooking.

Because Corsica is so insular and seemingly isolated from the rest of the world, it may seem like this restaurant in a relatively small town on a relatively small island could never be compared to a restaurant in New York. But that couldn't be farther from the truth. Le Troubedour, and Chef Julian Diaz, could easily stand up to many of New York's finest. And if you look at the larger picture, the current world-wide trend of sourcing out local and seasonal ingredients puts Corsica at the forefront of today's foodie scene. In fact, in many ways, Corsica's food culture is the ultimate example of the local food movement. This is foodie paradise. And Le Troubedour is only one excellent showcase of just how good Corsican cuisine can be.

THE BEVERAGES OF CORSICA

Inside the magical La Vielle Cave in Corte It may seem strange to dedicate a whole section to beverages. But the drinks here are just that good! And we were surprised to find that Corsica's commitment to serving local products extended beyond just food and speciality food products. When you are on this island, you will drink local Corsican beverages almost exclusively.

First off, there's the nonalcoholic drinks. I know it may be crazy to say this, but even Corsican water is distinct and outstanding. Orezza, the local sparkling water, is bottled in Corsica and sourced from an ancient spring. It tastes clean and fresh and really very different from other mainstream sparkling waters. The still water, Zilia, is equally as pure and clean, almost sweet, and comes from a spring located in the mountains. Corsica even produces it's own Cola: Corsica Cola, which tastes like a mix between Coke and Dr. Pepper.

Our favorite Corsican red wine, Oriu But we weren't just sipping on glasses of sparkling water. Corsica produces excellent wines, specializing in Rose, Red Wine and the sweet dessert wine, Muscato. While we were in Corsica, we only drank Corsican wine. In fact, the wine list of every restaurant we went to in Corsica only offered Corsican wine. And that was fine by us. The wines are sophisticated and complex and delicious. We sampled wines from vineyards all across the island, drinking crisp and refreshing Rose's during lunchtime, and deep, rich reds at night. Our favorite wine was called "Oriu" from a vineyard near Porto Vecchio.

Refreshing fruity Cap Corse We began every meal with the traditional Corsican aperitif, a fortified sweet wine called Cap Corse. Cap Corse is served over ice with a thin slice of lemon. It is a dark colored and intensely grape-y drink. We brought back a bottle with us and one friend said it tasted like a Fig Newton. It totally does. If you go to Corsica act like a local and order "Un Cap." The waiter will nod approvingly.

Ah, Pietra Corsica also produces whiskey, liqeuers flavored with local fruits and herbs, brandy, and an amazing beer called Pietra. Pietra is brewed with local chestnuts and malts. It is a lovely amber color, light enough to be very drinkable, but also rich in flavor and very well balanced. The Pietra website describes the beer as "Strong and delicate, solid and soft with a touch of bitterness…" I'd say that's accurate. What a great, great beer. I really miss Pietra.

To end this series of posts, I will share one of our most memorable experiences in Corsica. I think it sums up everything we love about this island.

Entering mysterious La Vielle Cave Before we left Corte to drive to Porto Vecchio we walked around the city a bit more. We did some shopping, bought an inviting baguette at a cute bakery and took a quick visit to the Citadel. As we made our way back to our hotel we just so happened to look down a small side street and catch a glimpse of an inviting and mysterious looking shop: La Vielle Cave.

Wine filled barrels at La Vielle Cave We immediately walked over. We went down a few stairs into a dark, musty, cave-like room. Bottles of wine lined the walls, along with bottles of unlabeled liqueurs and giant, unmarked barrels. On the far end of the room hams and salamis hung from the ceiling. There was a strange looking contraption that looked like some sort of home-made distillation machine. In one corner a group of red faced, balding Corsican men sat around a bunch of overturned barrels now being used as tables. They were drinking wine and having a heated discussion about soccer (which later turned into an even more heated discussion about Corsican politics).

Distillery contraption at La Vielle Cave Upon entering, the owner beckoned us over to a barrel table and instructed us to sit down. We had only intended to look around but within seconds he had produced two wine glasses and filled them to the brim with a pretty pink Rose. He looked at us and smiled. Another few seconds went by and a shell-shaped aluminum ash tray was placed before us filled with thickly sliced salami.

Brimming glasses of excellent Rose wine at La Vielle Cave We sat back, taking in the bizarre and wonderful scene. We drank our Rose and it was magically refilled. One of the louder, more passionate of the Corsican men suddenly broke into a mournful song. Some of the other men raised their glasses and joined him, singing along in harmony. After a few minutes they returned to their argument. At one point a guy parked his Vespa outside the door of the shop and walked in carrying a tall empty water bottle. The owner took the bottle over to one of the barrels, filled it up with Rose wine and handed it back to the guy. Matt and I looked at each other in amazement. Was this place for real?

Salami on the house at La Vielle Cave We both would've happily stayed at La Vielle Cave for the rest of the day. But we had to get going. We asked the owner to recommend some wines and liquerrs for us to buy to take home. He insisted we try a couple to see what we liked. We did not refuse.

There is meat hanging everywhere at La Vielle Cave. What a happy place. We left with 3 bottles of wine, 1 bottle of Muscato and 2 bottles of liqueur. La Vielle Cave was probably the main reason we ended up paying a hefty overweight charge for our luggage on our return home. But it didn't matter. Because anytime I want to remember that magical place, and the magical island of Corsica, I just open up the golden honey and myrtle flavored home-made aperitif and I'm right back in that room, sitting by those barrels, sipping a glass of Rose, Corsican singing drifting through the air…

Au Revoir from Corsica!
Friday
Nov122010

The Joys of Corsican Cuisine

In my previous post, I talked about the Terroir of Corsica and the honey, cheese and meats that contribute to Corsica's wonderful and sophisticated specialty food scene. Now it's time to get into the cooking and cuisine of Corsica, and talk about the many, many meals we enjoyed while on the island.

Life changing Lasagna at A Tramula restaurant in Evisa Corsican food is a seamless blend of French and Italian cuisine. It is Italian in style, with menus dominated by pizzas, pastas and tomato-based dishes. But it is often heavily French in flavor, rich, meaty, earthy and buttery. The food is fragrant and assertive with the use of the powerful herbs of the Maquis (click here to read my previous post about the Maquis). The flavor of the Maquis is in fact one of the defining characteristics of Corsican food. Its taste lingers in sauces, and sausages, in pasta dishes, cheeses and in the honey.

Perfect example of Corsican's French and Italian roots at the farmer's market in Ajaccio. On one side, pizza, on the other, Croque Monsieur There is an emphasis on hearty stews and braised meat dishes, wild boar being among the most famous. Pork in Corsica is particularly delicious as almost all of the piggies are either free range or genuinely wild. Corsica is also famous for it's chestnuts, and many products are made with chestnut flour, including polenta and beignets.

Our first taste of classic Corsican food came on our first night in Ajaccio. We went to a restaurant called U Pampasgiolu located on a quiet side street close to the port. Tables were set up in a sort of large alleyway which made for a very cool dining atmosphere. Matt and I both got the same dish. It was essentially a tasting menu but it arrived all at once, served on a large wooden "planche". There were 7 different dishes ranging from cheese to veal stew. The waiter told us the correct order in which to eat everything and we dug in.

A massive tasting platter of traditional Corsican dishes at U Pamapasgiolu First off, a yummy beefy, hearty soup filled with potatoes, carrots, onions and celery. Then there was a ham, brocciu cheese, spinach and wild mint tart that we felt tasted a bit like toothpaste. Not our favorite part of the assortment. But the other dishes were fantastic. Braised eggplant in tomato sauce stuffed with breadcrumbs and ham, veal stew seasoned heavily with herbs and a burst of sharp vinegar alongside creamy garlicky polenta. Then a charcuterie plate with salami, a thick sliced prosciutto and a gamey wild boar. This was our first taste of Corsican charcuterie and in my journal I noted that the meat was the "gamiest, smokiest, most delicious 'meat leather' we had ever tasted." Finally, there was a Manchego-esque cheese served with a thick fig jam. It was a major meal. Delicious and enormous. And an amazing introduction to the world of Corsican food.

Savoring the last sips of excellent red wine in the charming outdoor seating area of U Pampasgiolu We had another great meal on the road from Corte to Porto Vecchio at A Mandria, a huge restaurant with a large outdoor garden and patio. We arrived and were led to the outside where a family of about 20 were happily eating at a long banquet-style table.View of the outdoor garden and seating area behind the restaurant A Mandria The menu was extensive and, as usual, only in French and Corsican. So we had no idea what to order. Surprisingly, the waiter spoke English and he insisted that I get one of the specials of the house: an assorted meat platter with chestnut polenta, twice baked potato and braised beans in tomato sauce. I obeyed. Matt, on the other hand, opted for a lighter option, an omelette that must have been made with at least 8 eggs, filled with tangy aged Brocciu cheese and also served with a twice baked potato and braised beans.

Matt's massive Brocciu filled omelette at A Mandria My plate arrived. It was enormous. 3 different cuts of thick, grilled bacon-esque pork slabs, blood sausage, the stuffed potato, a hunk of Brocciu and the polenta. It was a meat bonanza. The bacon was really smoky, having been grilled right on the gigantic wood burning grill at the back of the garden. The rind was right on there, which added for a nice crunch with each bite. The sausage was juicy and impeccably seasoned. The beans, creamy and comforting.

My artery-clogging pork festival plate at A Mandria It was a ton of food. I finished about 1/4 of the plate before I conceded and let the bees have their way with it. (click here to read my earlier post about the meat-loving, ever present, occasionally pesky, but harmless Corsican bees)

Matt's omelette was lovely, light and fluffy and streaked with the crumbly cheese. And I should mention that, as expected, the bees had no interest whatsoever in Matt's boring old vegetarian omelette. But my pork? They came from miles around. I'm telling you, these bees love their piggy.

This was the first place we learned the concept of the "bee offering." We put a couple of pieces of my pork at the edge of the table. The bees went right to it. And while the occasional bee strayed over to my plate to inspect the remnants of a smoky piece of pork fat, most of them were happy to stick with what we had so generously set aside for them.Appease the bees: A generous pork offering for these meat-loving insects For dessert we had an amazing chestnut caramel flan and a much needed espresso. The waiter than made us taste 2 home-brewed liqueurs: one myrtle flavored (myrtle is a pungently flavored berry that grows among the maquis) and one chestnut flavored. Both were yummy, sweet and strong. We rolled away from the restaurant in a meat-induced haze.

Though I had meat coming out of my ears, I could not resist the silky chestnut caramel flan at A Mandria Myrtle and Chestnut Liqueur at a Mandria helped to revive me from a meaty black hole Perhaps our favorite meal was an unexpected stop in the tiny mountain village of Evisa. We drove through Evisa on our way to Corte, after leaving the town of Porto and enjoying a lovely hike in the Gorges de Spelunca. We had had a late breakfast and so we had planned to drive straight through Evisa to the Foret D'Antoine and then on to Corte (Click here to read my previous post about Corsica's natural beauty). But as usual, the drive took longer than expected and we arrived in Evisa around 1:30. Lunchtime.

View from the terrace of A Tramula in Evisa One of my guidebooks mentioned that there was a small family owned restaurant off the tiny main road in the town. We entered A Tramula and knew right away it was our kind of place. The restaurant itself is tiny, just one small room with a bar and a couple of tables. At one table in the corner a group of Corsican men sat drinking beer and bickering with one another. To the left of the bar was a kitchen, if you could call it a kitchen. It was basically just a closet with a grill, a little oven and a small four burner stove. But magical things were happening in that little kitchen closet.

We were escorted through the restaurant to a patio overlooking the beautiful Maquis covered mountains and the charming red-roofed Evisa houses. The air smelled sweet and clean. We sat down at our table with big smiles on our faces and ordered a half bottle of Rose.

Matt in Lasagna bliss on the terrace of A Tramula On the menu there was a special of the day. We didn't bother asking the waiter what it was because we would not have understood what he said anyway. So we just pointed to the words on the menu and ordered "deux."

It was not even 10 minutes later (service in Corsican restaurants tends to be amazingly fast) that we had before us a mouthwatering square of lasagna covered in tomato sauce, layered with some sort of soft and crumbly goat cheese and sprinkled with dried maquis herbs. We were speechless for a moment. It looked that good. And smelled that good.

Legendary lasagna at A Tramula We simultaneously brought our forks to the pasta and dug in. The lasagna was meltingly soft and tender. The pasta, cheese and sauce melded together in perfect harmony. Each bite was better than the next. The sauce was fresh, a little sweet, fragrant from the herbs. We sat there and ate in silence, slowly, carefully, as if the lasagna was a piece of art to be lovingly treasured. We looked up at each other occasionally, shaking our heads in amazement at the awesome-ness of this meal. We didn't need to speak because we knew what we were both thinking. Bite of lasagna. Sip of wine. The breeze of the cool mountain air, scent of the maquis drifting around us. Life doesn't get much better than this.

COASTAL CORSICAN CUSINE

Langoustine delight The food in Corsica's coastal towns does not differ drastically from the food that you find further inland, except for the obvious addition of excellent seafood. And almost every seafood based meal we had was eaten either right on the beach, or within sight of the sea, making everything taste that much better.

The Beach in the town of Cargese, where we had one of our favorite Coastal-Corsica meals All of the seafood we had in Corsica was impeccably fresh. But there was one type of seafood that was really outstanding: Shrimp and the mighty Langoustine.

I don't tend to think of shrimp as much of anything. I mean, I love it. But it doesn't have all that much flavor and there's nothing particularly special about it. Shrimp in Corsica, on the other hand, is a mind-opening experience. Every time I had shrimp, which was often, it arrived head and shell on, simply grilled or poached and drizzled with some olive oil and crunchy sea salt. To taste these shrimp is a revelation. They are so sweet and briny, so fresh. When you eat these shrimp it as is if you are tasting the little crustacean for the first time. As if you finally know what shrimp are supposed to taste like.

Dining outside at Sous La Tonnelle in Porto Vecchio At the restaurant Sous La Tonnelle in Porto Vecchio, I had one such enlightening shrimp meal. The restaurant is very pretty, located on a busy side street in the main part of the Citadel. As with most places we went to in Corsica, there was outdoor sidewalk seating. We always opted to sit outside when we could as the nighttime weather was a consistent balmy 75 degrees with a lovely cool breeze.

Sous La Tonnelle is known for it's traditional Corsican food, (as so many restaurants proudly boast) but we were also right on the coast so seafood was prominent. I pretended to look through the menu but the truth was, as soon as I saw shrimp as a main course, I knew what I was going to order. From the very first time I’d eaten a Corsican shrimp I was hooked. At this point in our trip, if it was on a menu, I was going to order it.

Braised endive with crispy pancetta at Sous La Tonnelle We started with a delicious dish of braised endive swimming in a balsamic reduction and topped with delicate slices of crispy pancetta. The endive was so tender and buttery it almost disintegrated into the sauce when you cut into it. Flecks of the crispy smoky pancetta mingled with each bite, creating a yummy mix of saltiness, bitterness from the endive, and a sweet tang from the balsamic reduction. A great start to the meal.

For our main course, Matt got a seared duck breast that was smothered in sweet caramelized onions, creamy fingerling potatoes and a dense meaty port-sauce. It was great. Really scrumptious.

Simple and spectacular shrimp at Sous La Tonnelle But the shrimp. Oh the shrimp. My dish was so simple. 4 or 5 large shrimp, some rice with herbs and vegetables, a couple of roasted cherry tomatoes. But it was perfect. I could've eaten a hundred of them. Head meats and all. Corsica has managed to elevate a humble, ordinary shellfish to a whole new level.Don't miss a single bit of these delectable shrimp. Consume from head to tail! One of the reasons I was so impressed with the shrimp was because of the enormous difference between the Corsican version and the one we get here in the states. But let's not kid around here. The shrimp were amazing and mind blowing and all that. But when it all comes down to it, a shrimp will still be a shrimp. It will never be able to stand up to what I consider to be the grand-daddy of all Crustaceans: The Langoustine.

You've heard me go into great, gory detail about Langoustines before, in my post about Barcelona. If you've never had a langoustine, the flavor is basically a cross between a lobster and a shrimp. They are actually related to lobsters. Langoustines are big, about 6 inches or so long, with lanky claws that extend far beyond their bodies. Their shells are much harder than shrimp but much softer and easier to split than a lobster. The meat is sweet and delicate. I rarely see Langoustines on a menu in NYC but in Europe they are very popular. And in Corsica they are at their finest.

Soothing view on the terrace at the club house at Sperone golf Course During one lunch, I indulged in an absolute langoustine bonanza. Matt only had a couple. He just doesn't get it. I had at least a dozen, and I only stopped because I thought the waitress was giving me funny looks. But how could I hold back? It was a Langoustine BUFFET!

World's greatest Buffet? Langoustine galore We had just played a round of golf at one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed course called Sperone. Sperone is astonishing. Beginning at the 10th hole, you see the Mediterranean in the distance. From there on, hole after hole, you are bombarded with one breathtaking view after the next.The 16th hole at Sperone is right on the water. It's Matt's happy place. Some of the holes appear to be right in the middle of the ocean. The water was a rainbow of gorgeous blues and greens, and it was so clear we could see straight down to the bottom. Sperone even has it’s own wonderful beach: Petit Du Sperone. It is a tiny stretch of sand surrounded by green hills. A great place to take a refreshing dip after a perfect round of golf.

Some of the nicest water we saw in Corsica was around the Sperone golf corse View of Petite Sperone beach. A small, quiet beach. You just walk right down from the golf course Sperone is a swanky, expensive course. And with every swanky course comes a swanky clubhouse to go with it. After our round we headed up to the clubhouse to grab a bite to eat. We were thinking a nice turkey club sandwich, some fries and a beer would be great. Instead we were greeted with an all you can eat gourmet buffet filled with delectable salads, cheeses, charcuterie, poached and smoked salmon, shrimp and a gigantic platter of glistening pink langoustine.

I was shocked. Langoustine are expensive, a luxury ingredient. And here they were, an endless supply at my fingertips. The buffet wasn't cheap. But for 35 Euros, unlimited access to not only langoustines but a host of other very high end ingredients made this a great deal. I grabbed a plate and began.

My Second Plate at Sperone Buffet: All Langoustines all the time Everything was great. There was curried shrimp, pasta salad with tuna and artichokes, avocado salad with fresh tomatoes, beet salad, endive salad, mozzarella salad with tomatoes and red onion. It went on and on. At first I loaded up my plate with a sampling of most of the dishes. But then I focused in on the main event, happily tearing apart one langoustine after the next. It was amazing.

We had another wonderful seafood meal in Porto at the restaurant La Mer. La Mer is a beautiful space with a large outdoor patio under a canopy of leafy trees. Strings of lights hang between the branches creating a magical secret-garden-esque atmosphere.

Lovely outdoor seating at La Mer We began our meal with a "Crumble de Nicoise." As usual, we had no idea what we were actually ordering, and as usual it did not matter. The crumble was some sort of mixed fish-tartare topped with, well, a crumble of breadcrumbs and herbs, sitting in a light curry tinged tomato sauce. It was an unusual and surprising dish that we loved.

Crumble de Nicoise at La Mer Though we were at a fish restaurant, Matt wasn't in the mood, having just spent the entire day on our boat ride through Scandola (click here to see my previous post on the marine nature reserve of Scandola). He'd had enough of the sea for the time being. So he got the Entrecote de Boeuf. And I gotta admit, it was awesome. A big, juicy piece of steak accompanied by a bernaise sauce that was so thick it could be mistaken for mashed potatoes. There were big roasted shallots, grilled cherry tomatoes and smoky grilled fingerling potatoes. There was also some sort of divine broccoli or spinach based puree that we couldn't quite identify. Fantastic.

Matt's Succulent Entrecote de Boeuf at La Mer I, on the other hand, was not messing around with meat. I knew that the fish at this restaurant came right from the waters we had been exploring earlier that day, and that meant I had to have it. I ordered the fish of the day which was sold by the gram. I don't actually know what kind of fish it was but it didn't matter.

It arrived whole, expertly charred on the outside, flaky, moist and delectable on the inside, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with crunchy sea salt. My sides included the same mystery puree Matt had, along with a sweet potato puree of sorts, a stewed tomato and raw, sweet fennel dressed with olive oil and wine soaked golden raisins. A stunning fish dish that I will never forget.

My whole delectable fish at La Mer My final, and perhaps fondest, coastal Corsican culinary memory takes us to a beach in the town of Cargese on our second day on the island. We left Ajaccio to drive to Porto. It was a gorgeous drive but it was our first experience with the narrow Corsican mountain roads and sheer drops into horrifying bottomless gorges. We were terrified. Well, at least, I was terrified. Matt didn't have time to be terrified as he squeezed past an oncoming truck speeding around a hairpin turn at 70 miles per hour. He was sweating. I was holding my breath. We were stressed out.

After about an hour and a half of driving, I reluctantly tore my eyes off the road and began to look through our guidebooks to get an idea of where we were and how close we were to Porto. We still had a considerable way to go. We were, however, near to the town of Cargese which apparently had a very nice beach. We had yet to experience a Corsican beach and we were in much need of a break from our little road trip. We entered the tiny town of Cargese and I told Matt to pull off at a fork in the road. The road, the guidebook said, would lead us down the the beach.

The welcoming beach at Cargese Soon we saw a line of parked cars. We turned a corner and there was a long expanse of white sand and a beautiful blue sea. Matt and I had no idea what to expect of Corsican beaches and we were pretty shocked to discover how Caribbean it looked and felt. We took about a thousand pictures of the clear water and the surrounding mountains.

Irresistibly charming beach restaurant on the sand at Cargese beach We walked down the beach and came to a little restaurant. It was love at first sight. Thatched roof, wooden bar, a floor of sand. The family who owned the place was sitting at a long table eating platters of seafood and drinking wine. We were so happy to not be driving, so happy to finally be on a beach relaxing and enjoying our honeymoon, so happy to have discovered this unexpected magical restaurant. It was paradise. We rented two chairs from the owners of the place and set up camp.

It's a good life on the beach at Cargese After we were sufficiently chilled out we took our first dip in the Corsican sea. It felt just as good as it looked. Then we made our way up to the restaurant for lunch.

Matt ordered a panini with ham, cheese and tomato. I don't know why, but sandwiches in Europe are always good. This one really hit the spot. I went a little bolder and got the dish I saw everyone eating when we had first walked in. It was a mixed seafood platter with shrimp, mussels, smoked salmon, calamari, octopus, crab, fresh mango, tomatoes and Bibb lettuce. It was tossed with a light lemony vinaigrette and that was it.

My wonderful Fruits de Mer Salad at the Cargese beach restaurant It was AWESOME. First of all, this was my first taste of Corsican shrimp. Like I said before, a revelation. The mussels were tiny and sweet and tender. Every single aspect of this dish was impeccably fresh and delightful. I'd never tasted seafood like this before and I knew right away that I was in for some serious seafood delights on this trip. Like all things in Corsica there is something in the air…something in the land…something in the sea that just makes everything taste different.

Up Next: The Gourmet Side of Corsica and Drinking in Corsica