Why you should care

Impress your friends by saying you dined “pieds-dans-l’eau.”

The first time I visited the Trabocchi Coast in Italy, on a rainy December day, I had the best fish meal ever. And it was served up in a slice of Italian history, in a wooden hut suspended above the sea called a trabucco. However, the rickety structure, while rustic and quaint, was missing one creature comfort normally found in a dining establishment: a bathroom.

The trabucchi, which sit a few meters from the shore, are not part of your average restaurant. The collection of stiltlike dwellings, large enough to house about 30 diners each, were first used decades ago to catch fish via nets dipped inside the water. Now they have been restyled into a popular seafood tavern, a mecca of posh ocean nosh — after a brief period when the tumble-down huts were used as romantic discos “where you could dance in the middle of the sea under the stars,” says local historian Gianfranco Bonacci.

I savored raw, tiny shrimps marinated in a delicious lemon sauce, which melted in my mouth as I gulped each one down.

But now, this little slice of the Adriatic coast is the place to get a pieds-dans-l’eau lunch — a fancy-sounding French expression meaning “feet in the water.” On the menu: linguine pasta with scampi, sea urchins, crab and a plate of mixed fried little fish shaped like sperm called latterini. Or try the delicious plate of stuffed eel dumplings topped with grated Parmesan cheese. I savored raw, tiny shrimps marinated in a delicious lemon sauce, which melted in my mouth as I gulped each one down. Seriously, more addictive than a bag of Doritos. For dessert, wash away the fishy taste with a palate-cleansing homemade lemon-ice slushie.

What makes the experience even more memorable is the ambiance: Sitting on the circular platform where fishermen once butchered their catch, waves crash below your feet, the sea splashes your face and hair, the ocean salts your lips and sea gulls squawk above your head. The view is spectacular: Through the torn nets that act as curtains, you can drink in the stunning coastline with other diners a few meters away. And luckily for diners, prices start at about $32 per person — average for seafood in the area.

But there’s a secrecy to the place, making reservations tricky. There isn’t a name for the restaurant. Locals refer to the trabucchi as Trabucco No. 1, No. 2, etc. according to their progression along the shore. (I dined at No. 3). And you’ll need to book in advance. However, the restaurant is only open on weekends, and it’s a popular spot year-round. Even the owners, a team of four fishermen, are elusive — forget calling or trying to email; neither will see a response. So like most things in Italy, you just need to know the right people to book your unique lunch experience.

Still, it’s worth the work to book and get out to the hut (unless you tend to get a bit queasy near water; the flimsy wooden walkways to the hut shake and squeak with each step). No worries if you do fall in, though — the water’s only a meter high. And waiter Giovanni Bianchi assures me that the structure has weathered the worst of storms “and even pirate attacks.”

And what should you do if nature calls? You’ll need to head back to the beach, which is some 100 meters away, to a bar or restaurant. Or the nearest bush. Fishermen likely tossed their business directly into the sea, but you’d be ill-advised to try that now.

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