We weren’t being fair to Ristorante Clemente. We knew it . . . but we couldn’t help ourselves. We had allotted one night, one dinner in Abruzzo, a region in which neither of us had passed time. We sought to “taste Abruzzo” in that one meal. No small order.
We were in the small city of Sulmona on our way to Puglia. Our Ital’guru Fred Plotkin, author of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, picks Sulmona as his “Classic Town” of the mountainous region east of Rome. Ristorante Clemente appears first on his “Dining List” and his description appealed to us. For insurance, we inquired of our hotelier and a local barista where we should dine. “Clemente,” they both answered. We even scouted out the restaurant location, tucked on a tiny back street, so we’d have no problem finding it later in the dark.
So it was that Walter roused me from a my nap at 7:15 p.m. so we could arrive when the doors opened for dinner service. He worried that a place this touted would fill up fast. No such problem transpired. Upon entry, we were invited to choose our own table and selected one deep in the rear of the main room under a splendid stone vaulted ceiling. Stone and gesso walls the color of cantaloupe cream, exciting food-related art work, photos of family members and a couple canvasses and prints of Sulmona created a cozy setting.
Chef/owner Clemente Maiorano, with warm brown eyes and salt-and-pepper Julius Caesar haircut-greeted us with a one-page menu. We asked if we could place our appetites in his able hands. He seemed pleased and disappeared through the archway into the kitchen. The waiter took over and reminded us how perfect service in Italy can be. Not obsequious, not aloof, just professional.
We ordered a bottle of the recommended Collefisio 2005 Uno, a DOC Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a red wine made from from Montepulciano and Sangiovese grapes (different from the Tuscan Vino Nobile di Montepulciano). The lush fruit was balanced with structure and integrity.
Very soon, the dishes came and kept on coming.
Salsiccie di fegato, distinctive liver sausage, and a fine prosciutto. A fried pastry called ciambellini. Bruschetta drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and coarse salt. A piadina, flat bread, topped with cooked broccolino. Paper thin strips of grilled zucchini, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.
Warm fresh ricotta served in a basket, with no embellishment necessary.
Involtini melanzane, thin sliced eggplant rolls stuffed with ricotta, spinach and tomato.
Cuoratello d’agnello, a stewed dish of lamb and onion.
Pecorino arrosto, baked fresh Pecorino cheese that was spongy, tangy and salty.
A lentil and chestnut soup with potatoes.
Paparadelle pasta with broccolino romano, guanciale (cured pork cheeks) and pecorino.
Lamb braised with artichoke, asparagus, carrot, and potato.
The cornerstones of Abuzzese cooking—pork, lamb and sheep’s milk (in cheese), durum wheat and vegetables—were all represented in this cavalcade of dishes.
Glasses of golden Apianae 2005 Muscato del Molise (DOC), with aromas of orange flowers and honey, were proffered for “bathing” some almond biscotti.
The dessert question was settled by sampling one of everything: tiramisu, a lemon cream puff crowned with a spun sugar web, panna cotta, torta della nonna with vanilla/hazelnut/apricot jam overtones, and sliced strawberries with pastry cream.
Clemente emerged from the kitchen to greet his grateful audience of two. Despite Walter’s apprehension of a full house, we were the only diners that evening. Clemente shrugged. The previous night, the restaurant was busy. La crisi, the financial crisis, has made patronage erratic.
He’s in the business for the long haul. He learned to cook with his mother Wanda, who was a professional chef. His son Alessandro, representing the fourth Maiorano generation, cooks with his dad and is also in a rock band.
Clemente’s grandfather, also named Clemente, worked as a contadino for an aristocrat but also became a “norcino,” a specialist in butchering hogs and curing pork products such as salumi and pancetta. Clemente opened a cantina serving salumi and other simple foods. It became a trattoria and then a restaurant in Sulmona.
Clemente is proud of his heritage and his vocation. He recently volunteered for nine months in Cornwall, England, teaching in the Training for Life program which takes an entrepreneurial approach to educating disadvantaged youths in the restaurant industry.
Vico Quercia, 5
67039 Sulmona (AQ)
Telephone 0864 52284
paul and Daniela says
Had a fantastic meal last weekend, best restaurant in Sulmona !
Ciao Paul and Daniela,
Lucky you dining at Ristorante Clemente.
Did you stay in Sulmona?
I dined with two friends at Clemente this week. It IS a feast in deliciousness! We run an opera festival in Sulmona every summer, and we are always proud to bring our guests to Clemente. The head waiter, too, has a gregarious and humorous personality. We all laughed as he chided me for breaking etiquette and ordering a cappuccino after dinner. It’s a wonderful place to spend an evening. I heartily recommend it, just as long as there will be a table left for us!
Thanks for your lovely comment. Sulmona is such a sweet town–your opera fest must be fun.
Looking forward to eating here just next week when our choir arrives for a brief Italian visit.
It sounds amazing!
Please let them know you read about them on SimpleItaly.
Thanks for commenting.
I can’t remember! It’s been a while. It was very very light, though, and I don’t remember that it was creamy, buttery or eggy. It was as if essence of lemon and very little else coated each strand… I’ve tried just olive oil and lemon with a touch of cream but that just wasn’t the same.
I’ve seen the spaghetti al limone recipe that was in the NY Times a while ago, and I don’t think that was it either.
Bet you that the setting, the fresh homemade chitarra, and homegrown lemons had something to do with the magic…
Now I am really going to research this chitarra alla limone dish. Lemon is one of my TOP beloved flavors so I will get on the case!
Sharon and Walter
grazie per il bell’articolo.spero di rivedervi presto a sulmona
con affetto clemente maiorano
Sulmona’s where I had maybe the best pasta dish of my life…but I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. The dish was chitarra al limone, unlike any I’ve had before or since. I’ve tried several recipes, but nothing comes close. When I asked the owner for her secret, she said “limone!” I said, I know…and what else? She smiled and said, “solo limone, signora.”
She’s going to her grave with the secret. I thought it might be that they used that panna that comes in little tiny cartons and doesn’t need refrigeration, but I tried it and that wasn’t it. The secret’s still in Sulmona…
If you go to Sulmona, don’t miss the Pelino factory on the outskirts of town, where they still make the famous confetti–sugar coated almonds, traditional for weddings.
The chitarra al limone sounds so good. . .you mentioned trying panna (heavy cream). . what other ingredients were in the recipes you tried? I’ll do some searching in my regional Italian recipe books. . .
Have to repeat Ciaochowlinda’s remark “OMG, what a meal.” There are always so many reasons to want to go back to Italy but I have to admit anticipating the wonderful food is at the top of my list. My maternal Grandparents are from Abruzzo and I was there for just a couple of days. Can’t wait to go back, spend more time and try Ristorante Clemente in Sulmona.
What an incredible find! Don’t you love it how places like these soon take up permanent residence in your mind’s food lore? This ristorante sounds like it’s worth the flight to bella Italia and the drive or train ride from wherever you are in the country to visit it!
OMG, what a meal. I was in Sulmona last fall and how I wish I’d eaten here.