Al Kuwaitiah  

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

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A wedding meal extended a la Caprese

One exclamation echoed through the nuptial toasts and raucous feting at the Bounaoum marriage in mid-May: “We’re going to Capri!”

Party lovers Sara and Rony, newly dubbed Mr. and Mrs. Abou Naoum, refused to let the good times come to an end. The couple planned to extend the festivities with a two-day destination in Capri for a post-reception blowout with friends and family.

The reception may have come to a close, but the party was just getting started.

The extended wedding offered a rare opportunity to say a leisurely goodbye to the bride and groom before their honeymoon, and, of course, an excuse to keep reveling through the weekend.

Capri is in the Bay of Naples, just off the Sorrento peninsula and near the Amalfi Coast, in the Campania region of Southern Italy.

The island dates back to the ancient Roman times, when the Emperor Augustus built villas, planted gardens and took pleasure in his own little paradise. Today Capri continues to be a summer playground for Caprisians and tourists who want to unwind or brush shoulders with their favorite stars.

The post-party journey was exhausting. The itinerary took us from Beirut to Rome by air, to Naples by bus, culminating in a 40-minute ferry ride to Capri. For potential travelers, a direct flight to Naples would be much wiser. A wall of clouds greeted us at the harbor and hovered over the shabby port city of Marina Grande; rain had started to pour. We jumped into the first taxis we saw, and our driver was forced to tie down his overloaded trunk with a rope.

After a bumpy ride chugging up the hilltop village of Capri, we finally arrived at the central square and from there headed to the hotel – all 36 of us marching like Targaryen warriors invading the island. The sound of our carry-ons over the cobblestone footpath rocked the tranquility of an otherwise peaceful town all the way to the Grand Hotel Quisisana, one of Capri’s legendary hotels, located at the heart of town. Notable guests such as Jean Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway and Tom Cruise have stayed at the Quisisana, extravagantly furnished in a mixture of neoclassical and contemporary design and fitted with kitsch antique details and polished marble floors.

Starving, we dropped off our luggage, took quick showers and swarmed the first restaurant in sight: the Aurora. Nestled on Via Fuorlovado, the intimate restaurant was more than accommodating. Seeing the size of our group, the waiter chased away a couple that had just been seated and swiftly rearranged the outdoor terrace. We must have looked like vultures as we gobbled up traditional Italian bread, cracker nibbles and a divine deep-fried bocconcini with tomato sauce. The chef served the table fried stuffed zucchini, and I shared the seafood salad. It was the closest I’d ever been to Naples, credited with inventing Italian pizza, and it was here that I had my first taste of Caprese pizza in its hometown and made just like the salad with buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomato and basil.

Capri offers an appealing juxtaposition of rusticity and glamour. The narrow roads are lined up with chic boutiques and designer brands that combined make up the towns ritzy shopping hub. The rough concrete facades of Capri’s villas are softened with pastel colors, and bursts of green vines and magenta bougainvillea. Most restaurants displayed a gallery of photos boasting the celebrities who had eaten there.

The digestive walk led us back to the Piazza Umberto, the town’s main square as the sun was setting. Around this time, locals and tourists sip coffee and aperitivo along the central cafes, which look out onto a jaw-dropping waterfront view harmonized by a constellation of fishing boats.

The first night in Capri offered the gastronomic highlight: a formal dinner reception hosted at the famed Da Paolino restaurant on the Via Palazzo a Mare, isolated from the evening foot-traffic of the main square. Moonlight and fragrant lemon trees set the outdoor dining area under a natural yellow canopy.

Hors d’oeuvres included fresh burrata, bresaola arugala salad and eggplant parmesan. I advise going to Da Paolino hungry or else you’ll fill up before the mains. I recommend the lemon risotto and gnocchi Sorrentina as two starchy and satisfying main meals. Don’t forget to keep some space for the dessert buffet and sgroppino, a refreshing mix of vodka and lemon sorbet.

Da Paolino hosts evening piano music, which our large party interrupted with well-wishes for the bride and groom that then deteriorated, to the dismay of fellow diners, into Melhem Barakat’s “A-wa-wa-wa” and a parade of Lebanese dabke. That night Capri witnessed a traditional Arabian sahra, amusing locals and spectators with what surely looked like a loud, tribal ritual.

The following morning, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a private boat tour of the island. We sailed away on eight-person boats, soaking up the beauty of the sun-drenched island. Dramatic limestone cliffs rose out of the Tyrrhenian sea, where seagulls flew over hillside villas. We passed through an opening at the base of steep cliffs where the water glowed in translucent blues and greens, and a tiny statue of Padre Pio blessed Capri’s residents.

One site we missed was the Grotta Azzurra, the “Blue Grotto,” a sea cave that glows blue under the island sunlight. Our captain anchored the boat mid-sea and gaveus the chance to swim, snorkel and enjoy a simple fruit salad and some local wine.

Lunch took us to La Fontelina, another famed restaurant in Capri that is located on a rocky shore overlooking the Faraglioni, Capri’s iconic towering rocks. This is the place to go for Caprese seafood; the restaurant offers delicious selections freshly caught and served with specialty sangria. After lunch, we set sail again through the small passage of the Faraglioni where the captain asked us to make a wish, as is the custom.

Our last supper was at Villa Verde on Via Sella Orta. Favored by the island’s celebrity travelers, Villa Verde comprises an elegantly decorated dining room and a large, covered terrace.

Ready to pack it in before saying goodbye to Capri, we started with a range of shared seafood dishes and traditional pizzas. Among a row of photos boasting Villa Verde’s celebrity guests was a picture of Jay-Z and Beyonce. The manager confided that the Hollywood stars visit each year during the high season of June, July and August. “Do you want your picture there, too?” he asked. Maybe one day.

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