Just north of Portofino on the Italian Riveria, on the Genoa side of the Monte di Portofino Regional Park, is a perched hamlet called San Rocco di Camogli. This is the best place on earth to devour the marvelously flavorful minnows that come from the Gulf of Genoa, which the locals call rossetti
- little red things. And little red things they are: about an inch long, thin as a thermometer, translucent, and with a little red dot near the gills. You don't just pop rossetti
in your mouth whole - you fork in dozens of them at a time. And the best place to do this is on San Rocco di Camogli's single street, at the venerable restaurant La Cucina di Nonna Nina - Grandma Nina's Kitchen.
You will not find Grandma Nina in the establishment: she left her corporeal essence behind some years ago, and never set foot in the place anyway. She also left behind many delicious regional recipes from yesteryear, recipes transformed into exquisitely delectable dishes by the elusive, retiring, shy Paolo Delpian and his wife, Rosalia, Grandma Nina's natural heirs.
Paolo says little and works a lot: he's not a super chef and doesn't like "super" anything, including wine. He's an excellent cook who makes everything from scratch, fresh, using local ingredients. Rosalia runs the show. A bona fide grandmother, she doesn't look the part. She's fashionably turned out and has little of the plump, flour-dusted Italian nonna of yesteryear. The restaurant and its food reflect the owners' personalities: quiet, discreet, tastefully simple.
Tasteful simplicity is the root of the best Italian cooking. Paolo gets his minnows squirming fresh - they're too small to flip. They're fished along the jagged coast below the restaurant - whose dining room is blissfully unequipped with a distracting panoramic view. Into boiling water go the minnows, and mere seconds later, they're slid onto a warm plate, then onto your table and into your watering mouth. Purists eat them this way, naked. Others dribble their minnows with the lightest, fruitiest local Ligurian olive oil: full-bodied oil would spoil the delicate flavor. A minnow-sized pinch of salt is also allowed. And then: piscine heaven.