If you have any form of social media, you have probably seen the gorgeous cliffside restaurant in Polignano a Mare, Grotta Palazzese. Yes, the one light up in blue with white tables perched on a sharp cliff above the Adriatic (or maybe Ionian) sea. The location is truly stunning.
Dan and I had a dinner at Grotta Palazzese on our recent trip to Polignano a Mare in Puglia. In sum, you are paying for the location, but the food was much, much better than many reviews would lead you to believe. This article is a summary of my experience. I am glad that we went, but I would probably not go back for full price.
Grotta Palazzese offers two dinner tasting menus, which change seasonally: the 6 course Menu Essenza for 230 euro per person and the 4 course Menu Istinto for 190 per person. Grotta Palazzese also serves a la carte, with a minimum number of courses. Recent menus and prices are clearly displayed on Grotta Palazzese’s website. A wine pairing is offered which each tasting for 120 euro (6 glasses) and 80 euro (4 glasses), respectively.
We opted for the Menu Essenza, figuring: when in Polignano?! Before I get into the food, know that it was a ton of food and honestly well prepared. I wouldn’t call it classic Italian, but it was definitely “upscale” and “exciting” menu fare.
Despite loving wine, we skipped the wine pairing. We are very particularly about Italian wine (well really, wine) and after looking at the menu, decided it made more sense to order a fancy bottle that we love and cocktails, rather than opting for an unknown wine pairing, which would almost certainly include whites. I think we made the right choice.
As expected, we went with Sagrantino for our wine, which decanted while we had two rounds of drinks: Il Torino Milano and a classic G&T. Both cocktails were excellent. The wine was too, but that was expected. A tasty plate of Puglian breads and olive oil is served to every table when drinks are brought out.
FIRST COURSE – CARBO MARE
Moving on to our food, the first course was a “Carbo Mare,” which consisted of a red shrimp carpaccio, crunchy egg yolk (the fried bit on top, GREAT), pork cheek, pecorino cream cheese, and mint oil. The dish looked uber fancy and like something that may be prettier than it tastes, but the Carbo Mare was actually excellent. It was a delicious, good sized portion of the shrimp carpaccio that paired well with the other ingredients. The fried egg yolk was a nice touch.
SECOND COURSE – VEAL SOUS VIDE
The second course of the night was “Veal, Low Temperature Cooking.” I was not expecting to love this dish, as I am not a huge veal person, but I loved everything about it. It was my favorite dish of the evening. The dish centered around a sous vide thin veal, similar to the consistency of roast beef, with chips made from Parmesan cheese, a delicious mustard, and cocoa bean crumble. The mustard really made the dish in my opinion, but everything worked together perfectly.
THIRD COURSE – LEMON TAGLIATELLE
Up next was the first of two pastas: Lemon Tagliatelle “La Pasta di Aldo.” This course was the very prettiest of the evening. The dish consisted of a lemon tagliatelle pasta topped with caviar. Definitely a summer themed pasta. The pasta was well cooked and the lemon flavor was tasty, but this was probably the least excited dish for me. Then again, I am not a caviar fan, so…. It was, however, solid quality. I think someone with a different palate may pick this as a favorite dish.
FOURTH COURSE – PARMESAN BALAZONI
In contrast to the very summery lemon pasta of Course Three, our second pasta dish was quite autumnal. This dish, Parmesan Balanzoni, was a pasta stuffed with cheese and topped with pork cheek, truffle, and potato chips. If you know me, this is a surely a Fleming dish. And, it was great, although heavy for a late summer evening. My second favorite course of the evening. Everything worked well together (it was just odd to eat after the Lemon Tagliatelle). The potato chips (i.e. crisps) were fantastic (and I am a bit of a connoisseur).
FIFTH COURSE – ROAST TURBOT
The fifth and main course was Roast Turbot, or a generous portion of Turbot fish served atop creamed potatoes and topped with a yellow tomato dressing. This dish was good, but I was pretty stuffed at this point after all the pasta. The potatoes were interesting and the fish was…normal. I was expecting a bit more for the “main course,” but everything else was so tasty and filing, I really didn’t mind.
SIXTH COURSE – DESSERT
The sixth and final course was Mojito Semifreddo with lime gelée. This was a beautiful dish that was not too heavy and a good refreshment after such a large dinner. The dish was similar to panna cotta, and a good way to end the meal!
A few notes on dinner. First, it was really great. We had a number of reviews stating that the food was mediocre, including a tourist really complaining about it on our way in (we previously met him – he was drunk did not know what he was talking about), but the food was very good, exciting, and well prepared. A lot of thought went into it and each dish was plated perfectly. You are still paying for the location, but the food is interesting, seasonable, and tasty. The service was also excellent.
Since prices are clearly listed online, you shouldn’t be too surprised by the prices. There’s not much of an option of getting out without spending less than 300 euro per person. Even on the a la carte menu, a minimum order is required. As Grotta Palazzese says on their website, “If you’re going big, go for it!”
Aside from the wine pairing, the restaurant has a large wine list that I did not find to be too over priced, especially for Italian wine. The cocktails were pricey, but not “break the bank” pricey. I think they were around 12 – 15 euro per drink, and mine were strong. In other words, you do not need the wine pairing if you don’t want it or are trying to save money.
There is a dress code of upscale, but I did not see it being strictly enforced. You can probably get away with anything but shorts and beach attire. People wore everything from sequined full length gowns to sundresses. I wore a long caftan with heels and Dan wore kakhi pants and a polo shirt with loafers.
You should know that hotel guests receive priority to sit at the cliffside tables. That being said, we sat a bit back and it was still gorgeous. If you are really going for views, lunch will provide better sunny views, without the false lighting. You really can’t even see the sea at night because it’s so dark.
Reservations are absolutely necessary and can easily be made online via the website.
STEAL OUR DINNER
Grotta Palazzese: Via Narciso, 59, 70044 Polignano a Mare BA, Italy. Reservations essential and should be made online in advance. Upscale dress. Prices are fully disclosed online. CC accepted. Parking information online, but if you are in Polignano a Mare, you can easily walk there.
ON A BUDGET
There are many, many, many restaurants in Polignano al Mare that serve delicious food at a fraction of the cost. Skip Grotta Palazzese if you’re on a budget. It’s not a “must do” in my opinion.