The row of restaurants along the Neapolitan waterfront enjoys some of the best real estate in the city, with patrons privy to frequent fireworks displays and a pedestrian walkway that curves past pristine parks and colorful street vendors.
But the popular setting can also make it difficult to find a good meal. When restaurants don’t have to work hard to attract customers, prompt service and quality food aren’t always a priority. The result is too many of these waterfront cafes serve up bad attitudes, watery pasta or overcooked seafood at high-end prices.
Lo Scoglio di Frisio in the Mergellina neighborhood of Naples, Italy, is a noteworthy exception. The family-run restaurant dishes out well-made Neapolitan meals with modern flourishes. Fried shrimp come with a sprinkling of curry powder. Instead of the traditional grappa or limoncello digestive drinks, meals here often end with a shot of arugula-fused liqueur.
Repeat customers are greeted by name and with handshakes and double cheek kisses. The restaurant will make up a fixed-price menu on par with what a moderate meal costs in Naples, including multiple courses and dessert. Even first-time patrons whose Italian skills start and end at “ciao” are treated warmly and with fast service. Wine and water carafes are refilled without having to ask. During extended courses, soiled plates are traded for new ones, to protect flavors and ensure a pristine table.
The small staff managed by brothers-in-law Giovanni D’Ambrosio and Giancarlo Zazzaro speaks only a few English phrases, but is more than fluent in good cuisine. Recommendations come frequently without much prompting. With the customer’s go-ahead, a parade of dishes will emerge from the kitchen in minutes.
On our first visit, we shared an order of clam soup with an irresistible herb broth that months later still might be one of the best things my picky taste buds have encountered. Tender ravioli filled with mozzarella and coated in a simple but impeccable tomato sauce came next, followed by a generous platter of fried fish that arrived warm and perfectly seasoned, with no greasy aftertaste and just enough salt. For dessert, we binged on a creamy ricotta-and-pear cake that could easily replace gelato as a favorite sweet treat.
On another visit, we turned ourselves over to D’Ambrosio’s and Zazzaro’s recommendations and watched in awe as our table for four was quickly overtaken by plate after plate of imaginative and hearty fare. The antipasti included slightly sweet mussels in a savory broth, eggplant slivers arranged artfully around plump shrimp, potato cakes dotted with chunks of ham and an octopus salad adorned with fennel and red cabbage. We shared a plate of crab spaghetti next, after the brothers-in-law good-naturedly teased us for complaining we were too full to go on. They persuaded us to continue by emerging from the kitchen with a bowl of live crabs and gesturing that this would be our entrée.
The staff insisted we end our evening with multiple desserts. Even after we shook our heads and pointed to our achingly full stomachs, they brought them anyway, on the house, which, we are learning, is customary in Naples. The ricotta-and-chocolate cake came smothered in chocolate syrup, while a trio of beignets arrived in a pool of ricotta custard and chocolate sauce. My out-of-town visitors, who had just sworn off food after several days of gorging themselves with pizza and mozzarella, left both plates clean.
We ordered grappa to wash it all down, but D’Ambrosio suggested rucolino instead. The arugula-based liqueur is made on the nearby island of Ischia, which can be seen through the front door from most of the seats in the small restaurant. The drink tastes similar to Jägermeister, the German herbal liqueur, and doesn’t quite burn your esophagus as much as the traditional grappa shot.
During another visit, the staff introduced a new roster of antipasti dishes, including prosciutto cups filled with ricotta and mozzarella, fried sardines coated with olive oil and freshly ground pepper, marinated artichoke combined with grilled calamari and fried shrimp coated in curry powder with a dipping sauce of roasted peppers.
Once again, we begged off dessert and once again it was served with assurances that it would be worth the calories and on the house. The kitchen produced a cup of homemade tiramisu and a shot of rucolino for each diner. It was an artful end to an hours-long meal of fried seafood, multiple cheeses and various pork products. At last, there is a fun way to fit more salad into your Italian diet.
Lo Scoglio Di Frisio
Location: Via Mergellina, 1, Naples. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the Mergellina metro station and a 20-minute drive from Capodichino Airport.
Hours: Noon to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to midnight Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesdays.
Prices: Moderate, averaging roughly 8 euros for appetizers, 10 euros for pasta dishes, 12 euros for fish and 15 euros for steak when ordering from the menu. If you allow the staff to bring you whatever they want, they will make up a fixed menu price that averages about 30 euros per person for multiple appetizers, pasta, several bottles of wine and water, dessert and after-dinner drinks.
English menu: No.
Information: Reservations not necessary. Call 081-761-2518. Website: www.loscogliodifrisio.it.