Lungomare Doria, 2
Tel. +39 0182 540304
Il Gran Fritto del Nautico (Mixed fry of calamri, shrimp, anchovies and vegetables)
Sauté di cozze con la nostra emulsione di pomodoro leggermente piccante (Mussel stew with creamy spicy tomato emulsion)
Filetto d’ombrina boccadoro mediterranea al forno, cremoso di trombette di Albenga, patate arrostoe gocce d’olive taggiasche (Ombrina fish filet, creamy trombette mushrooms, roast potatoes and Taggiasca olive drops)
Some places you just can’t help but enjoy, and Al Nautico is just such one restaurant. Nestled in a sheltered beachfront location, when dining there you have the benefit of an amazing seascape and excellent food in a charming, pretty setting. Add that both food and wines are excellent and you realize Al Nautico will make for one of your most enjoyable dining experiences of the year. I know that, come year’s end, it will be one of mine.
Fact is, just about anyone dining there seems to think the same way, given how packed the place is all the time. And it should be. The tones of whites and blues mirror the gorgeous Ligurian Sea off to the side, the young staff is friendly, fast and helpful, the other patrons well-behaved and before you know it your lunch or dinner will be over. Much too soon.
The Gran Fritto, or grand mixed fish fry, is just that: grand, both as in goodness and size. Really, two people can share one comfortably. Best of all the fish and vegetables (carrots, zucchine) are extremely well fried, tasting light and airy. It is the rare dish that tastes as good as it looks. The mussel stew is also a winner, especially because of the sauce, a creamy but light tomato emulsion that is welcomingly lightly piccante and so good that short of letting go of all your well-educated inhibitions and licking the plate clean with your tongue, you’ll be looking for a spoon just to finish it all off. Last but not least, the ombrina is well-cooked and delicious: as general word of advice to my readers, never pass on an ombrina dish in Italian seaside restaurants. The ombrina (Umbrina cirrosa) is a very common fish of the Mediterranean Sea (it’s also found in the Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea), and for those who are into their gastronomic ingredients, one of the best-tasting. It is usually found living in shallow waters over sandy soils and is never especially large (though one fish caught off Turkey was unexpectedly huge, weighing in at 74 kilograms, essentially an unheard of size for ombrina) but is characterized by one of the leanest and most delicate meats of all salt-water fish, and of low caloric content (roughly 74 kcal/100g). It looks and tastes similar to a white sea bass (branzino or spigola) but its meat is more refined still, and considering that the spigola is one of the grandest tasting fish that swims (at least those that aren’t farmed), well, that tells you all there’s to know about ombrina.
La Vecchia Cantina 2016 Pigato Spumante Metodo Classico Ubertu 93
La Vecchia Cantina 2021 Vermentino Pinea 89
The wine list carries a good if not extensive selection of fine wines and the two we had performed admirably well with the food. The La Vecchia Cantina 2016 Pigato Spumante Metodo Classico Ubertu is excellent, a creamy-saline and complex sparkler that gives many Champagnes a run for their money. It’s a very good example of just how good the wines of lesser-known grape varieties such as Pigato can be. The La Vecchia Cantina 2021 Vermentino Pinea is also good but less interesting, if only because its rendition as a Sauvignon Blanc wannabe forcibly makes it less interesting; this is a typical enough scenario that unfolds when you pick the Vermentino grapes early, saving and highlighting the variety’s thiolic components to the nth degree; but while this makes for fresh lemony wines that match well with easygoing seaside food, ultimately they also lack a little interest.
The Al Nautico restaurant was born in 1964, and is part of the city of Albenga’s local nautical club, hence its name. Current chef Marco Scapellato arrived in 2022, and he and his efficient, likeable team are ensuring with their day-to-day work that they won’t be needing to look for new work anytime soon.