During our stay in Florence, we took a day trip to Livorno, a port town on the western coast of Tuscany. My dad has an old friend that lives there, and it's also right next to Pisa, giving us a convenient opportunity to visit the famous leaning tower. Many cruise ship passengers dock at the port to go to Florence, but Livorno itself frankly isn't much of a tourist destination. My dad's friend, Fabio, is a Livornese local, and it so happens that one of Fabio's childhood friends runs La Barcarola, a small restaurant on the main strip of town.
After the mega-dinner we had a Pinchiorri the night before, a simple neighborhood spot was just what we needed. La Barcarola is the classic, local, family-owned restaurant. It has humble food and a simple atmosphere, and absolutely zero presence on Google other than their own basic Italian website. It's exactly the type of no-frills place where you know there must be some good authentic eats.
While Tuscan cuisine generally puts a strong emphasis on meat, Livorno's coastal location and historic fishing tradition make the local cuisine much more seafood-heavy than the rest of the region. The word barcarola refers to a type of fisherman's boat. One of the local specialties is cacciucco, a seafood stew similar to the more famous French bouillabaisse. As we were still recovering from our last meal, we opted to get some apps and share some pastas instead. Prices and descriptions are a little murky - we just made a few requests and the food started coming out. Of course, as friends of the house, we ended up eating a ton anyway...
We started with this plate of apps, all quite tasty. The mussel arancini (basically a fried rice ball of risotto and cheese) was new to me - I've never had it with seafood inside before, and it definitely worked well. I'm surprised it's not done more often.
Next came a heaping plate of plump mussels steamed with white wine, garlic, and parsley. Simple, fresh, and delicious.
At this point we knew there was a lot of pasta still to come, and we were probably eating more than we should be after dinner at Pinchiorri. Oh well. The stars of this crudo plate were the tremendously sweet red shrimp, and the beautiful raw scampi. I like to think them as amaebi Italian-style.
The first pasta to come out was probably my favorite - scampi penne with a simple tomato sauce. It looks basic enough, but the perfectly al dente pasta picked up all the tasty scampi flavor.
Next was this hearty gnocchi with a creamy shrimp sauce. The gnocchi itself was made by a friend of the owner - the local gnocchi specialist, we were told. They were smooth, fluffy, and more potatoey than most gnocchis I've had. The tremendously flavorful sauce was the star here though.
This pasta was the least memorable. The sauce was again a simple tomato sauce, but kicked up with some chili. The mussels tasted good, but didn't bring as much as the scampi in the earlier penne dish. I guess we also felt a little bit of mussel overload already.
Of course we had to try at least one risotto, and this did not disappoint. The rice seemed a little shorter grain than usual, but it was perfectly cooked. Baby octopus and mussels were the main proteins - the baby octopus in particular were delicious.
We were absolutely stuffed at this point; the meal certainly did not lack in carbs. My dad claims that compared to some of the feasts he's had at La Barcarola over the years (he's been going occasionally for 20 years with Fabio), this meal was fairly mediocre. I thought it was the perfect not-fancy counterpoint to a Michelin meal, and the straight up pastas really hit the spot. I look forward to returning one day and trying the cacciucco.