Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Trattoria dal Billy - Getting out of the Scrum in the Cinque Terre

My friend Sandy (Mr Soul City for you regular readers) has been after me for ages to get contributions for NoCrowds from my well travelled family and acquaintances. “Well Sandy”, I keep telling him, “they just don’t send me stuff. What am I supposed to do?” “Try blackmail” he advised.

And just when I thought that the idea of creating a community of like-minded travellers was going nowhere, into my mailbox drops this wonderful post from Gary and Lorraine, from the Cinque Terre in Northern Italy. By way of introduction, while most of us dream about someday paying off the mortgage and seeing the world, these two have been living the dream while managing to hold down jobs, raise children and yes, pay off the mortgage. That is why I am particularly proud to offer this review of a great NoCrowds destination from two admirable nomads who I didn’t even blackmail.

Trattoria dal Billy

Manarola is a tiny place nestled on the Mediteranean and practically clinging to the steep escarpment that rises out of the water up into the lesser alps that sit behind this section of the Italian Riviera. It is town number two in the cinqueterre, the 5 lovely staircase-encrusted towns that have spent most of their lives cut off from land based access to the rest of the world. Tourism has definitely come to Manarola, as hourly ferries and the putt-putt local train that winds impossibly through ledges and tunnels disgorge plenty of visitors into the town center, where olive oil shops, basil shops and wine stores stocking sciacchetera, the local dessert wine, abound.

The restaurants on the main gallery through town are packed at lunchtime, but the hardy walker has a wonderful alternative. Perched high on the southern cliff that forms half of the town, a tiny place with the improbable name of Trattoria dal Billy clings to a tenuous foothold almost directly above the town square. With a lovely indoor dining room, but a truly spectacular terrace that boasts 6 – count em 6 – tables, you will find yourself in culinary heaven, literally looking down on the mere mortals crowding into the pizzerias in the center of town. Just a word to the wise—if you’re there in the summer when the crowds are, try to get there by 1:00 which is the very beginning of the lunch hour, otherwise those tables may well have been taken for the duration.

My companion and I decided to start with the antipasto de mare, a combination of cold calamari and incredible lemoned anchovies with warm polpe (octopus) and the most incredibly seasoned vongole (tiny clams) you might ever eat. We weren’t sure how this magic was woven with olive oil, butter, garlic, and fennel, but it served not only the clams but a fair amount of dipping of bread. A very serviceable bottle of Billy’s own vino bianco di Tavola was a perfect accompaniment. Following this, we chose to share the grilled sea bass, sold by the gram. A mere 320 grams later, we were more than impressed with the chef’s ability to perfectly cook this delicate fish to perfection, and finished every mouth-watering morsel.

Sitting back and enjoying the view after the satisfying repast, we enquired after the postres. With our espresso, Billy recommended what he called “something with milk and eggs and cheese and fragole, which was in fact a unique and light cheesecake with the tiniest strawberries I’ve ever seen as a topping. However, enquiries about after dinner drinks brought disappointing results. The sciacchetera, he agreed was magnificent..but he had none. Limoncino? Wonderful way to end the meal. Unfortunately, he had finished the last of it himself last night. We settled for the grappa and happily finished our coffees before heading back onto the cinqueterre trail.

Trattoria dal Billy
Via A. Rollandi 122
Manarola, La Spezia
Photo of Trattoria dal Billy (circled) by Gary and Lorraine.


  1. Can you tell me what the prices were of this place? And is it more casual or were people dressed up? Thanks!

  2. Belated comment. We stayed in a little apartment right beside Trattoria Billy a couple of years ago. We were served a spectacular meal right on our own terrace. One of those magical moments to remember.

  3. Belated comment. We stayed in a little apartment right beside Trattoria Billy a couple of years ago. We were served a spectacular meal right on our own terrace. One of those magical moments to remember.

  4. We ended up going last year and loved it! The balsamic vinegar was THEE best I have EVER tasted.