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A Taste of Positano

A Taste of Positano
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Oh, the weather. It’s that time of year in New England when, you know, you could stick a fork in us, cuz we are d-o-n-e. That’s not a complaint, but I’m definitely ready for some warm air on my skin. I didn’t get out of town this winter, a must for most of us, so I’ve been taking advantage of local events and a pampering massage every now and again — it’s sort of like a vacation, albeit a brief one.

Olives restaurant in Charlestown, Massachusetts, recently hosted four chefs from Italy’s Campania region (Positano, to be more specific, that fancy harbor village tucked into the cliffs along the Italian Riviera) for a “Taste of Positano” dinner. I signed right up. The afternoon of the dinner, I was still slugging around the house in my jammies (it was a cold, rainy Sunday) and ambivalent about putting proper clothes on. I thought it a better night to stay in, eat pasta, and watch a movie. I gave in and got dressed. Sighed my way downstairs and rushed with an umbrella over my head to get to the car. Second thoughts. It was that yucky, get-in-your-bones wet and cold — the kind you have to soak in a hot tub to get rid of. With windshield wipers slapping away, I neared the restaurant and thought, “I could still turn around — who’ll miss me? I could be back at the house and in those flannels in 10 minutes.” But no, as I slowed the car, Luis, the longtime valet at Olives, recognized me and waved me over. In I went.

Almost immediately, I began to warm up… the sexy red dining room and orangy glow of the wood-burning oven, smiling faces, riffs of Italian conversations floating about, and a glass of sparkling rose offered to me on a serving tray. Okay, I figured, this will be okay, I’ll get some pasta either way.

The four chefs worked well with the Olives kitchen crew, and together they created a gorgeous meal of beef carpaccio, perfectly cooked vermicelli noodles in an anchovy and walnut sauce, grilled fish over warm polenta, veal-stuffed cabbage, and a hazelnut semifreddo that I can still taste. I’m glad the chefs didn’t try a warm-weather menu, but instead collaborated and made a traditional southern Italian meal that makes sense for late February. (Even Positano gets a little chilly in winter.)

They also paired the food with some of my favorite varietals, some of the ancient grapes of Italy: two whites that I wish I saw on more menus, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, and a red Aglianico. The dessert wine, a “passito” from the island of Pantelleria, was a real treat, made from grapes that stay on the vine until they’re almost raisins-sweet and concentrated with deep flavor.

As I scurried to my car and the almost-frozen rain stung my face, despite the umbrella overhead, I did feel as though I’d had a little vacation. Who needs Boca?

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