It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed with guilt after a good meal at a restaurant. Why didn’t I order the fish instead of the steak? Maybe that vegetarian option that my eyes have lingered on for so long wouldn’t have been so bad? I should have skipped dessert or resisted the temptation of a second bottle of this delicious red. Ridiculous, I know, as life is too short and if you can’t indulge in the immense pleasure provided by a meal created with love and ingeniously flavored, frankly what’s the point?
The problem can be particularly frustrating on vacation when home cooking isn’t an option and the evidence of your overindulgence is evident when you spot your reflection in the pool. Luckily for me, I was dining at La Calce, the Due Camini bistro at the Borgo Egnazia Hotel in Puglia, Italy, where as much attention is paid to the health benefits of dishes as to their taste. It’s a vegetarian restaurant and although my stomach initially groaned at the lack of a medium-rare tenderloin, I soon found that it lacked nothing by omitting the meat from the menu.
Chef Domenico Schingaro is a man of few words but describes Puglia, which lies in the heel of Italy where so many of the country’s most appetizing creations were born, as the “homeland”. He is a fervent follower of the culinary traditions of the region and this militant spirit is reflected in each dish.
One starter was a traditional bread salad which involved huge chunks of a freshly baked bread mixed with tomatoes that were so nice and ripe that I wanted to take them home to continue enjoying their flavor. We also opted for an eggplant, burrata and arugula creation which was warm and hearty and everything good Italian food should be.
Like all good Italian dishes, next came the pasta: green ravioli mixed with wild vegetables picked directly from the hotel garden for me and spelled spaghetti with tomatoes and ricotta for my date.
Chaos ensued as we argued over how much food we should share, and you know you’re enjoying a meal when you refuse to part with a single piece.
But there’s another reason to clean your plate here – the ingredients are said to help you live longer.
La Calce is billed as a ‘reinterpretation’ of Mediterranean cuisine and the owners claim their dishes are designed to help ‘slow down cellular ageing’. Providing the right amount of calories and having a balanced nutrient profile is seemingly guaranteed and my post-dinner sense of physique is a testament to that.
There was no tummy or bloating, no feeling stuffed, and not a hint of remorse even after devouring the almond ice cream from the dessert menu. I literally went back to our room and it wasn’t just because of the excellent wine pairings given to each course by our waiter.
The other point that I would like to underline at La Calce is that there is a fantastic atmosphere there. We were seated outside where we could enjoy the balmy evening air and listen to the soft music and tinkle of other diners enjoying a guilt-free meal. The occasional celebrity passed by, but no one paid attention to them. There were also a significant number of children despite the late hour. They were well-behaved, contented children who ate with their parents or enjoyed a bit of freedom as they explored the vast hotel grounds. There was not a single tablet or smartphone in sight as they chatted with their friends and played games without a hint of discord, suggesting that healthy eating might have even more mysterious and magical benefits than we don’t think so.
The friendliness underlined what a Borgo Egnazia family hotel is and why it is so difficult to get a room here during the summer months. The restaurant is definitely one I intend to return to. However, as I’ve since learned that you can add meat to your meal off the menu, I might be tempted next time to challenge Chef Domenico to prove he’s just as talented at grilling a steak. nasty.
Address: Strada Comunale Egnazia, 72015 Fasano BR, Italy
Call: +39 080 225 5350