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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ariano Irpino, Italy: Very Good, Somewhat Pricey, Restaurant In Central Southern Italy

La Pignata
Viale dei Tigli 7
83031 Ariano Irpino, Italy
Phone number: +39 0825 872571
Prices: €€€
Our camerieri (waiter) Ezio, the owner's son, was quite attentive, maybe overly attentive, as we were one of just three parties in the restaurant for lunch along with my wife and aunt and uncle who live 150 yards away in Ariano, Irpino. My aunt told it that the restaurant was a "cucina casalinga" (literally "home cooking"), so we expected a small, inexpensive place with good food and local wine.


As we entered, I saw several Michelin Guide stickers from recent years on the windows, so I realized that this was not at all a simple, local trattoria with home cooking and probably would not be cheap. The most I have ever paid at Michelin rated restaurants in Italy was about €25 per person, so I figured the tab (which we would be picking up) would come to somewhere between €80 and €100 max, maybe less because we were in the middle of nowhere and the owners were good friends with my aunt and uncle.






The restaurant was quaint, but warm and inviting. A pignata, by the way, is a simple, tall clay jug with large handles on both sides used to drink wine or other liquids. The walls and shelves were adorned with pignate (plural for pignata), copper pots, a double bass (like in an orchestra), an antique wine press, books, bottles of wine, fresh fruit and vegetables and a large blue stained glass wall with the scene of a dear in nature.

We started with mineral water and wine as is tradition in Italy. I asked for a vino locale (local wine), which is normally the house wine, likely made by the family or friends, and routinely quite cheap. What we got was a rather expensive looking bottle of wine, a Benito Ferrara 2014 Aglianico Campania I.G.T. "Passo del Lupo", a dry, smooth wine that is a deep ruby red with the "fragrance of cherries and violets". Made in Tufo, a small town of less than 1,000 between Benevento and Avellino about 30 miles away, I would hardly call that "local". Oh well.



The server told us there were no menus, so he started suggesting antipasti. I understood that he was bringing us a simple prosciutto, salame, and cheese board, but what arrived was much more than I was expecting. He first brought us a simple pizza fritta, a small flattened pizza dough that is deep fried and topped with a dollop of tomato sauce. The massive wooden platter that soon followed was full of antipasti, including crostini (toast) with pancetta cinghiale (wild boar), salsiccia (sausage), salame (salami), prosciutto crudo (raw, cured ham), three types of cheese (fresh mozzarela, a goat cheese, and another I did not recognize), and pancetta lardo (a delicacy of very fatty lightly cured pork belly). He soon followed with a large dish of artichoke hearts marinated in local extra virgin olive oil (EVO) and red onion agrodolce (a sweet and sour vinegar and sugar reduction). It was nearly a meal in itself with the accompanying fresh, local bread.
Then the next antipasto arrived. Beautifully presented in a bowl was a deep fried arancino filled with rice, funghi (mushrooms) porcini, pecorino (goat) cheese, sausage, and truffle carefully placed atop a base of a rich and decadent corn and saffron sauce. It was like no other arancini I have eaten, and I have eaten quite a few, being crispy on the outside, soft and slightly moist on the inside, and the saffron sauce was to die for.
Then the next antipasto arrived. Another one? This was one I would not have ordered, had I ordered it in the first place (which I did not), paccheri (a large tube shaped pasta designed for stuffing) filled with a mixture of bacala (salted, dried cod), yellow tomato, bread crumbs, and "grano Senatore Cappelli" (a hard, old grain originally from Foggia). It tasted like dried cod, not one of my favorite foods because I do not like anything that tastes "fishy" and this was very fishy.
Finally, the primo (first course) arrived, a hand made spinach papperdelle in a porcini mushroom sauce topped with an abundance of very expensive black truffles. It was a small serving, thank God, and was tasty, but somewhat bland and not very hot. I love all of the ingredients, but this dish did not rock my boat.
To top off this massive lunch, Ezio insisted on bringing us their signature secondo (second - meat - course), agnello alle brace (braised lamb chops) in EVO and topped with fresh ruccola. We told him that we were stuffed, but he insisted that I (just me) at least try a small porzione ("portion" - aka one small piece) of their specialty. He arrived shortly thereafter with a plate FULL of braised lamb chops, there must have been at least eight of them and not at all what I would call a porzione. They were delicious as advertized, charred and basted in olive oil, eaten with the hands like fried chicken, never a knife and fork.

When I went to the front to pay the bill, while my aunt and uncle were engrossed in a conversation in the kitchen with his mother, Ezio tapped away on the POS screen, then said "that will be €140". I did not notice if he saw my jaw hit the floor, but I quickly whipped out my trusty Visa and let him swipe away. Do not get me wrong, the lunch was excellent and probably worth every penny, but I felt that he took advantage of the situation just a bit, not necessarily purposely with greedy intent, but by trying to show off for the Americans (at our expense). He poured me a complimentary glass of grappa and told me that the coffee had been included, making feel a little better, very little.


Actually, €35 per person is not a bad price for such a massive and delicious meal at a Michelin Guide rated restaurant. We do not eat at such expensive restaurants every week (hence the blog's name ... TravelValue), but when we do splurge stateside or anywhere else, the bill normally comes to about $100, including a bottle of wine, making La Pignata a pretty good value. The thing that bothered me most was that the waiter brought us much more food than we wanted or ordered, resulting in a deduction of one BOMB in my rating below.

CombatCritic Gives La Pignata 7 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!


Seven Bombs Equates To:


Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp - Elite '14/'15/'16/'17

Tabelog - Official Judge (Silver)

Zomato - #1 Ranked "Verified" Foodie

View my food journey on Zomato!



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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!


Read Chris S.'s review of La Pignata on Yelp





Title: Ariano Irpino, Italy: Very Good, Somewhat Pricey, Restaurant In Central Southern Italy

Key Words: La Pignata, la, pignata, Ariano Irpino, Ariano, Irpino, Avellino, Michelin, guide, Campania, Italy, Pompeii, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp

Translation for Civilians: S&G = "Shits & Grins"

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