Departures' Guide to Naples
Departures uncovers the best of Naples cuisine, culture and curiosities.
Goethe’s famous advice, “See Naples and die,” can be taken one of two ways. With its history of organized crime, unkind volcanoes and chaos, Naples has indeed been treacherous. But Goethe didn’t mean to equate visiting Naples and dying; he meant the city’s beauty could not be bested. The unspoken follow-up was: “See Naples and die happy.” If only he could see it now.
Chipped into the Mediterranean shore, Naples is the gateway to the Amalfi Coast and to the islands of Capri and Ischia. But it’s not just a throughway—it’s a hub. For true Italophiles, the city has always been every bit as important as Rome, Florence and Venice. Naples has been undergoing a renaissance over the last few years, with several luxury hotels and a crop of new sophisticated restaurants, shops and museums opening their doors. “There is such a contagious energy here now,” says Gianni Lotti, a sommelier who recently opened the chic Cru Do Rè restaurant in the tony Chiaia district. “Naples is very much alive.”
As a trading hub, Naples is adept at incorporating foreigners. The same goes for its cuisine, in which a careful palate can discern French, Spanish and Asian influences in the seafood-heavy canon. Nevertheless, for years Neapolitan cuisine meant staples like spaghetti with clams on the menu and a television blaring the latest S.S.C. Napoli match in the main dining room. When Radici opened, in 2005, locals were skeptical about the minimalist decor and unusual cuisine (dinner, from $55; 268 Riviera di Chiaia; 39-081/248-1100; ristoranteradici.it). But the chef, Carlo Spina, refused to succumb to their hesitancy, and his stubbornness paved the way for other newcomers. Now dishes like ricotta ravioli infused with lemon and drizzled with clam sauce and shrimp-stuffed zucchini flowers topped with paprika keep the place booked days in advance.
One of the most exciting new additions is the year-and-a-half-old Cru Do Rè (dinner, from $70; 11–12 Piazza Vittoria; 39-081/764-5295; crudore.it), the sister restaurant to Gianni Lotti’s A Taverna Dò Rè (dinner, from $45; 2 Fondo di Separazione; 39-081/552-2424; atavernadore.it). Each night is a performance. From the intimate dining room one can watch chef Angelo Carannante hustle in the open kitchen. The menu is presented in gilded picture frames, and the food is no less theatrical. Cru Do Rè combines elements of Eastern cuisine—crudo is essentially sashimi—with fresh Mediterranean products. A lunch menu includes both crudo and cotto (cooked) dishes like swordfish carpaccio with capers and risotto with blue lobster, cannellini beans and lemon zest, while for dinner, the chef’s choice depends entirely on the luck of the local fishermen. Fresh shrimp in Champagne tempura over a bed of puréed chickpeas might be on offer one night; the next, bottarga and broccoli risotto with local lupini clams.
Even with these newcomers, the most fashionable place in town is still ten-year-old Terrazza Calabritto (dinner, from $45; 1A/B Piazza Vittoria; 39-081/240-5188; terrazzacalabritto.it). A meal here is best begun with a Champagne-based aperitivo made with seasonal fresh fruit at the intimate ground-floor bar, where the only way in is to have a coveted dinner reservation upstairs. (These are most easily made through connections: a concierge at one of the better hotels or a friend of regular customers.) The terrace tables upstairs overlook the sea; the eclectic menu changes frequently but always incorporates local ingredients, often with exotic spices. Red tuna, for instance, is laced with saffron and fresh tomatoes from Sorrento. Risotto is studded with shrimp, radicchio and coriander. The owners recently opened the similarly scenic Ristorante Terrazza Tiberio (dinner, from $85; 11–15 Via Croce; 39-081/978-7111; capritiberiopalace.it) on nearby Capri, just a ferry ride away.