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Da Adolfo: Chasing the Red Fish

09.08.2017. Best of the Coast

Beach-shack restaurant Da Adolfo is a Positano institution. Their ‘red fish’ boat, which departs from the Amalfi Coast resort’s main beach, is a familiar sight for regular visitors. Each day in season, it ferries guests eastwards along the coast to the rocky cove of Laurito, which is accessible on foot only to experienced walkers with a head for heights. Here, gentle giant Sergio Bella welcomes all-comers to the simple but rather special beachcomber trattoria he inherited from his father Adolfo, whose local nickname was ‘Pinkerton’.

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He was quite a character, Sergio says. Imprisoned on the Greek island of Crete during the Second World War, Adolfo managed to escape and make his way back to Italy where he joined an anti-Fascist partisan resistance unit near Parma, taking part in a number of sabotage missions. Returning to his native Positano after the war, he set up a small bicycle, scooter and car rental business, but also worked in the summer season as a water-ski instructor to the holidaymakers who began, in the 1950s, to discover the charms of the resort.

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Among these was a pretty American girl, Lucille, who became his wife, gave him three children, and helped him realize his dream – a simple beach bar in the deserted cove of Laurito, a place that reminded Adolfo of the wild beauty of Crete, which he had grown to love despite being confined there as a prisoner of war. When it came to creating a sign for the boat that would convey guests here for lunch, a fish was the obvious symbol for this wave-lapped corner of paradise, and red the obvious color to paint it, given Adolfo’s lifelong Communist sympathies.

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Today, Da Adolfo is as unfussy and genuine as it always was, but its clientele is wide-ranging and international, with celebrities, captains of industry and prominent political figures sprinkled in the mix. They come for that grilled mozzarella, resting on a fragrant lemon leaf gathered from the trees that grow wild on the slopes above the cove, but also for evergreen classics like zuppa di cozze (mussel soup), scialatielli pasta with totani (baby octopus), a sapid, rustic meld of tomato, fried zucchini and seafood flavors; or a seared tuna steak served with a delicate pesto of parmesan, lettuce and carrot. And of course a little glass of fennel liqueur to chiudere in bellezza, as Italians say – to end in a state of grace.

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Lunch at Da Adolfo is pure culinary theatre, as waiter Peppe jokes with guests, orders are shouted up to the kitchen twenty steps above the restaurant’s al fresco terrace and diners watch amusedly as a particularly strong swell challenges a boatload of new arrivals to jump from jetty to beach without getting their feet wet. “For lunch at Adolfo”, a lady on a neighboring table remarks as we watch the action, “I think I’d be willing to jump into the sea with all my clothes on”.


Da Adolfo, Spiaggia di Laurito


photos © Roberto Salomone

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