Corsica welcomes 2 million visitors, mostly from mainland Europe, annually to its beach resorts and rugged mountainous interior, yet the island remains a secret to most Americans. It is well worth discovering—mixing a slice of Provence with a helping of Italy, yet all the while proudly and stubbornly Corsican. If it had only gorgeous scenery, great beaches and picturesque villages, it would be enough to fill any dream vacation. But Corsica also offers a singular, authentic culture, a rich cuisine and exciting wines produced from local grapes with tongue-twisting names.
When in Corsica, eat like a Corsican. The cuisine follows the seasons and can be sophisticated in the hands of top chefs, but it never gets fussy or decorative. In summer you'll find more seafood: fried calamari, octopus salad and whole fish cooked with wild herbs in wood-burning ovens. But the heart of Corsican cuisine is more turf than surf—featuring locally hunted wild boar as well as free-range pork and farm-raised lamb and veal. Try a variety of ewe's milk and goat cheeses, the queen of which is the mild brocciu that appears in dishes from stuffed pastas to desserts. Given the weak dollar, restaurant meals can match Manhattan prices, but the expense is offset by reasonable prices for Corsican wines.
When calling the establishments featured in this story from North America, dial 011, then the telephone number. Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars using the exchange rate at press time ($1 = 0.76 euros) and rounded to the nearest dollar.
WHERE TO EAT
LA TABLE DE BASTIEN
Hotel La Villa, Chemin de Notre Dame de la Serra, Calvi
Telephone: (33) 495-65-10-10
Open: Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $49-$62; tasting menus $93-$197
Credit cards: All major
Life doesn't get much more epicurean than dinner at Sébastien Sevellec's restaurant in this luxurious modern hotel. In the light stone and glass dining room and on the terrace overlooking Calvi's port and citadel, little amuses bouches start appearing—perhaps sautéed foie gras before the meal and chocolate cream with mangoes after. Sevellec is not Corsican, but the son of a Brittany fisherman, and he knows how to fuse products from Corsica and the continent and make them shine.
Try pave de lotte—thick, moist slices of monkfish served on a bed of glazed mushrooms alongside hand-rolled potato gnocchi. Save room for the signature dessert, a whisky soufflé accompanied by preserved chestnuts and Corsican citrus sorbet. Let the knowledgeable sommelier guide you to delights like the buttery 2010 Porto-Vecchio white wine from Domaine de Granajolo ($74). The 400 selections in the cellar are dominated by bottlings from Corsica, Bordeaux and Burgundy.
L'AUBERGE DU CHAT QUI PÊCHE
RD 80, Abro Hamlet, Canari
Telephone: (33) 495-37-81-52
Open: May to October, lunch and dinner, daily; November to April, lunch, daily
Cost: Entrées $25-$33
Credit cards: Cash only
From its awe-inspiring perch on the western coastal cliffs of the Cap Corse, this cool, casual restaurant and bar serves up simple, delicious meals to customers that include Patrimonio winemakers, well-heeled tourists and groups of local firefighters. On a pleasant afternoon, take in the sea and mountain views from a table on the deck-located across a two-lane coastal road from the restaurant-requiring the waiter on duty to dodge traffic.
The changing blackboard menu is straightforward and unfussy. When available, order fresh fish cooked in the wood-fired oven. Or try the house's hearty escalope Corsicana: Corsican veal layered with sheep's cheese and local ham. Though the restaurant offers only a handful of wines, they are all worth trying and the price is one of the island's best bargains. All bottles—including selections from Antoine Arena in Patrimonio, Clos Canarelli in Figari and Domaine Comte Abbatucci in Ajaccio—are $34.
Route de Palmobaggia, Porto-Vecchio
Telephone: (33) 495-70-54-13
Cost: Entrées $42-$60; weekday lunch, $38; tasting menus $113-$146
Open: Lunch and dinner, daily
Credit cards: All major
The restaurant of this beachfront hotel, with its palm-shaded terrace a few feet from the water's edge, is designed to resemble the ruins of a Genoese tower. But chef Philippe Nogier's Mediterranean-Corsican fare is strictly modern, using fresh seasonal foods combined in inventive ways such as preparing the Mediterranean rockfish known as denti de palangre in a crust of wild catnip and pancetta. Al dente Acquerello risotto from Italy's Piedmont is lightly blended with mascarpone and local seafood and oysters. Corsican staples, from chestnut flour to lavender and thyme, are used in everything from meats (including Tiger Beef veal) and fish to bread and desserts.
The three-course weekday lunch menu is one of Corsica's best gastronomic deals. The thick French wine list—meticulously organized, with explanations of soil type, geography and more—has more than 400 selections from island winemakers. Try a rare red wine made from the antique varietal Carcajolo Nero by Domaine Comte Abbatucci 2010 ($119) or Clos Canarelli 2008 ($133).
4 bis Rue St.-Jean (on the old port), Bastia
Telephone: (33) 495-58-14-22
Open: July and August, lunch and dinner, daily; September to June, closed Sunday and Wednesday
Cost: Entrées $24-$32
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
In Bastia's lively and colorful old port surrounded by stacks of rickety 19th-century houses, this small, casual restaurant and wine bar is the address for wine and food lovers. Sample just-caught fish, Corsican pork slow-cooked for 14 hours, and preparations of tender organic veal from Jacques Abbatucci, the Corsican aristocrat-farmer who breeds the island's now-rare indigenous race of cows known as Tiger Beef.
Try the quasi de veau—a broiled standing rump of veal, which arrives on a slate slab with a parsnip puree, topped with fresh mint and parsley and served with a terrine of lentils cooked with pancetta. It will have you calling out for another bottle of rich, complex Patrimonio, such as Yves Leccia's Domaine d'E Croce Patrimonio red 2004 ($53). Cleanse the palate with homemade sorbet in flavors ranging from bergamot to avocado and strawberry. Owner Christophe Giraud loves wine, and his 300-selection French list includes the best of Corsica.
2 Place Paoli, L'Île-Rousse
Telephone: (33) 495-47-67-70
Open: July and August, dinner, daily; September, lunch and dinner, daily; October to June, closed Sunday dinner, Monday lunch and Wednesday
Cost: Entrées $29-$50 Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
From the moment you walk into the simple 25-seat stucco dining room in this old wine cellar, you sense the journey you're about to take into Corsican terroir. To your right is a table of a dozen local sheep and goat cheeses; to your left a table laden with Corsican charcuterie; and surveying it all is a portrait of the restaurant's namesake, Corsica's leader during its independence (1755-1769). Chef Ange Cananzi and partner Dumé Casta serve Corsican market cuisine refined enough for a Michelin star but sufficiently earthy to keep their local credibility.
The changing blackboard menu notes the producer of practically every item. Hence you have veal from Monsieur Nessa, charcuterie from Mr. Albertini and arugula from local gardener Babette. On a cooler evening try the starter of mulatte de brebis, grilled beignets stuffed with sheep cheese and topped with roasted pancetta. In summer enjoy fresh local fish a la plancha on the terrace under giant platane trees. Local selections on the Corsica-dominated wine card include Domaine Alzipratu Pumonte white 2010 and red 2009 (each $60) and red Clos Culombu Ribbe Rosse 2005 ($80).
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions