Living on the coast of Liguria has advantages, especially like this one!
Oh yeah! I’ll gladly die at the altar of fritto misto di mare, a bountiful rendering of a mix of fried seafood. I’m still going back to the featured image to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Sorry, the photo isn’t high-art, but my mouth is still watering.
Before I go into the longer story, I feel compelled to say that there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel incredibly fortunate to live in this slice of paradise. And my “pay it forward” is shouting to the mountaintops that Liguria is an incredible place to live or take an extended holiday. Sadly, most non-Europeans make a beeline to the Cinque Terre. It’s a well-deserved destination with incredible beauty. But Cinque Terre is overrun with tourists and the weather pales in comparison to the western parts of Liguria, where we enjoy significantly more days of sun. In the past forty days, including January and the first part of February, we’ve had perhaps three cloudy or rainy days.
So back to a feast of fritto misto di mare.
Il Pesce Matto (The Crazy Fish) is the place!
On the western side of Imperia in Borgo Prino, Il Pesce Matto sits amongst other seaside bars and restaurants. It has lovely outdoor seating smack dab next to the sea. The view is hard to beat. Inside, it’s larger than one might expect and has two large levels of seating. The staff is exceptionally friendly and the menu, designed like a newspaper, is full of yummy stuff.
A warning: antipasti and primi may fill you up.
That’s the danger if you don’t choose and pace yourself. There are two types of mussels, one in marinara (which, incidentally is a white sauce, not a red one). The other is in a red sauce with nduja, a particularly spicy salami paste/thick puree that hails from Calabria. I’ve had the latter on a previous trip and they were exceptional.
On this outing with family to celebrate my father-in-law’s birthday, I opted for Spaghetti di Gragnano, made with garlic, peperoncino, olive oil, and bottarga (a type of preserved fish roe). It was just the right amount, leaving me just enough space to sample some Linguine della Regina a tutto mare con una leggera gratinatura. It’s packed with a medley of frutta di mare in a red sauce. Take a look at the photo below. Everything about it was exceptional.
Then, the main event, the fritto misto di mare.
The official title on the menu is “Orrizontale di Fritto Misto di Pesce e Verdure.” That means, “Horizontal of Mixed Fried Fish and Vegetables.” It comes in centimeters of portions: 30 cm for 1, 60 cm for 2/3, and 100 cm (1 meter) for 4/5. We ordered the big guy! Talk about oohs and ahhs when then giant plank laden with the lightly battered and fried seafood and vegetables.
Sitting there in amazement I wished that my parents were alive to witness and consume this along with me. They were responsible for my sisters’ and my current addiction to seafood.
Now, I understand the name of the restaurant and why “crazy” is the distinguishing adjective. When I saw that meter-long seafood feast being placed at the center of our table, I thought, “This is crazy!” Some people say that presentation is everything, which does indeed help. But this medley of calamari, shrimps, small fish, totano (aka European Flying Squid), zucchini, onions, carrots (and more) was crazy delicious.
Cellphones flew into position to immortalize this fritto misto di mare. With bragging rights images securely captured, phones were put away and we began devouring the seafood feast.
While I thought we’d never be able to eat it all, we did make a sizable dent, leaving scant evidence of what had been piled on the large plank just fifteen minutes before.
Then a specially-rendered tiramisu
We’d spied a couple at an adjacent table partaking of this dessert fantasy. The restaurant’s signature creation of a revered final course includes a classic Italian Moka pot (read about its history here), used to make espresso on the stovetop.
The tiramisu is cooked in the bottom and the top houses thick melted chocolate. When the Moka pot arrives, it’s unscrewed, revealing the treasure in its base. Then thick freshly whipped cream is generously dolloped on top to your liking. The crowning touch is pouring the densely delicious chocolate on top.
And here I’d been thinking that the fritto misto di mare was the only thing making this restaurant an out-of-the-ordinary experience.
Most the family concluded with an espresso. I chose a grappa bianca. I’ve come to swear by grappa as a really effective digestivo to ward off feeling that I’ve entered into food coma territory!
We’ll be going back, again and again.
Imperia offers so many options for incredible seafood. But Il Pesce Matto has moved to the top of our list. And if you find yourself in beautiful Imperia, or anywhere close by, I highly recommend that you experience it for yourself.
Il Pesce Matto
Lungomare C. Colombo, 140, 18100 Imperia IM
Daily: 12:00 to 14:30 and 18:30 to 23:00