Saturnino is a small restaurant in Forio, a town on the Neapolitan island of Ischia in Italy. It is run by Chef Ciro Mattera and his wife Stefania Coletta. Families in Ischia have always gone organic; it’s in their DNA. They did farm-to-table meals before we put a label on it in the United States. And Mattera is a firm believer in the island’s greatest culinary traditions. They serve as the cornerstone of his work.
Way Ahead of Their Time
At Saturnino, Mattera uses locally sourced fish and vegetables to create works of art with food. He and his wife are friends, and I don’t always pay for the dishes they serve me. So, for full disclosure, I’m totally bias. But I can tell you I’ve never had a dish of his that I didn’t enjoy. And the warm and inviting atmosphere of the restaurant, which looks out onto the street and sea, will surely draw you in.
Until this trip to Ischia, I had only sampled Mattera’s dishes in the United States. When he visited nearly two years ago, he created a tasting menu for an event at the Galloping Hill Golf Course’s Red Knot restaurant in Kenilworth, N.J., where my brother serves as the director of Food and Beverage. You can view Mattera’s dishes from that event in “Italian Chef Ciro Mattera Offers a Taste of the Dolce Vita in America.”
Feeling the Vacay Vibe
In Ischia, I was struck by the vibe of the restaurant, which is at once upscale and warm. The fact that it is small makes it cozy. Looking out the window onto the view, you may catch a glimpse of kids and their parents dipping their toes in the sea or lovers holding hands and making tracks in the sand. A couple on a Vespa will undoubtedly pass while the gentle sea breeze caresses your skin. It gives the feel of a paradise, where people eat, drink, and love life, which is just how Ischia prefers to present itself. Whether it’s true or not is debatable, but at lunch at Saturnino you can be a believer.
Saturnino Serves Up Respite
Of course, that ambiance set the right mood for a sophisticated lunch with friends and family. Throughout the meal, I could not help but stare out the window for the people watching and feel of being on vacation. This was all despite the interruption brought on by an already scheduled conference call for work. With paradise in my face, the call hardly was a chore. Because I failed to take copious notes on each dish, I will let the food speak for itself.
Even our 6-year-old’s specially made kids meal of nuggets and roasted potatoes was presented impressively with a sparkle of homemade barbecue-type sauce.
Each appetizer was small but gratifying. And the presentation remained larger than life.
Chefs in the know make use of food’s natural colors to create beauty in each dish. This one, which includes a paper-thin, purple potato chip and bright green peppers, is a perfect example of this treatment.
You can not go to a restaurant of this caliber in Ischia and pass up the chance at tasting the chef’s take on a pasta dish. The orange zest is an homage to the island’s citrus riches and provides beautiful color and a refreshing taste with the included fish.
A refreshing palette cleanser between the meal and dessert was a special treat because it was a far cry from the bowl of store-bought sorbet that most of us are used to eating.
This dessert was almost too pretty to eat. Almost!
Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press, 2012). She also has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.