Great Fish in Lucca!
As Lucca is land locked, it can be pretty tricky getting really good fish at a restaurant and I have been disappointed on countless occasions. In fact, if you ask many Lucchesi where they go to eat good fish, they will often reply that they go to Viareggio. A friend of mine, Lucchese and fellow fish lover, Stefano Cinquini, told me that if I really like fish I should try the fish market by the Coop and Mercatone Uno in Sant'Anna, about a 5 minute drive from the walls on the road that goes to Viareggio.
Il Mercatino del Pesce, (Fish Market) has a very friendly, serviceable air to it. There is a large fish counter that forms a U shape in the center of the market, and here you can buy fish to take home and cook yourself. On the far end of the U is a pre-prepared fish section for those that want to eat fish at home, but don't feel like cooking it. This offers all the old standard fish sauces to put on pasta, such as lobster sauce, clam sauce, octopus sacue, and shellfish sauce. They also have at least 3 or 4 seafood appetizers you can choose from. So you can have them give you a 1/2 kilo of whatever sauce you like along with a few appetizers. They'll pack it up for you and all you have to do is reheat and serve over pasta when you get home. Really simple and it's actually got me thinking that it would be really helpful for dinner parties when you don't have time to cook all the courses.
The real jewel of the market, however is the very unassuming restaurant, with only a a handful of tables, just a few feet away from the actual fish counter. As there are few tables and the restaurant only takes diners from 12:00 to 2:30 p.m., it is best to either come early, say no later than 12:30 p.m. , or to reserve a table in advance. They are closed on Sundays and Mondays.
To order your meal, you have to go up to the pre-prepared section of the fish counter and there you will find a very friendly lady who will explain all the specials of the day. You can point and choose the prepared dishes you like, or you can find out what the cook has got available for the day. The day I went, we ordered a plate of mixed seafood appetizers (antipasto di mare misto), Livornese style fish soup (Cacciuco) filled with shellfish and big lumps of local fish and served with crispy chunks of bread, and then I special ordered a mixed grilled seafood plate (grigliata mista di pesce). The mixed grilled seafood was prepared on the spot, after I placed my order. I told the woman at the counter to just put in whatever was freshest that day. It was seriously delicious. The chef really knows how to prepare seafood properly. The plate came with grilled squid seasoned with just a bit of olive oil and parsley, super tender and sweet to eat, a skewer of cuttle fish and shrimp dipped in bread crumbs and baked in the oven, and then two fillets of a white fish whose name I did not recognize. The entire dish was some of the freshest fish I've ever eaten. Really, really good. The Cacciuco was also excellent. Not heavy and greasy like others I've eaten. Also, the mixed seafood appetizers were really good and featured a fresh shrimp and spelt salad along with batter dipped and deep fried smelt, hot out of the fryer.
I noticed, after ordering, that other people got oven baked potatoes, which looked delicious. And still others got fresh "fritto misto", (a mix of shrimp, calamari, and small local fish that is batter dipped and deep fried). I think the next time I go, I'm definitely going to order the fritto misto, it looked fantastic. I also noticed that they advertised that all the vegetables they use as well as their bread was organic. Nice touch. My son, deeply inspired by all the yumminess, ordered an organic orange soda, which I have to admit, despite my misgivings, was actually really tasty, not too sweet like most kids drinks. We finished our meal with a small cup full of home made tiramisù. We spent 45,00 euro total on the meal, which I think was a good deal for mixed antipasto for 3 people, two seafood entrees, water, soda, and dessert for 3.
Mercatino del Pesce
via Giacomo Puccini, 1534
Tel: 0583 512753
Opening hours of Fish market: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays
Opening hours of restaurant: 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Driving directions from the walls of Lucca: exit Porta Sant'Anna (the gate that opens up onto Piazzale Verdi, the bus stop and the tourist office), go straight through the light taking via Giaccomo Puccini in the direction of Viareggio. Pass the church of Sant'Anna on your right. Continue straight until you hit a stop light with a mattress store on your right. Turn right at this light and immediately start looking for a parking space. The Mercatino del Pesce is the store with the orange awning that is on the opposite side of the street from the mattress store. You can also bike to this place from the Walls and it should only take you about 10 minutes.