She picked with her eyes, selecting boxes of bonito, branzino, clams and gurnards for the day’s meals at Alice, which she founded with the chef Viviana Varese a decade ago — a rare female team in charge in Italy. Since 2014, the Michelin-starred fish restaurant, whose name translates to “anchovy,” has made its home on a second-floor space inside Eataly’s teeming emporium of Italian delicacies. Inside the restaurant, serenity reigns, with sloping glass walls that look down on a piazza below inducing the woozy, soothing impression of being aboard a boat in central Milan.
Sit down at a table, and you will hardly use a fork. Salad comes in a finger-food bouquet with edible flowers. Creamed codfish is served in a cone and topped with orange rind shavings, like a fragrant, savory ice cream. Declawed scampi nestled in an oversize spoon are poured over with a sauce of five apples, then devoured in a single bite. “My starting point is Italy, but I’m cooking to widen your palette,” Ms. Varese said. This restaurant is tasting menu territory, and though it doesn’t come cheap, the grand seafood journey created by Alice’s masterful and inventive chef is a profound reminder of the revelatory pleasures of eating out.
The flavor explorations that Ms. Varese serves are a rarefied treat, but for the straightforwardly simple pleasures of Italian seafood, Milan is blessed with Langosteria, which last year added to its higher-end restaurant and nearby bistro a third cafe location behind the Duomo. The restaurant is pervaded by a sultry, date-friendly light and a crowd of Milanese scenesters.
Beyond the new restaurant’s bronze central bar is an open kitchen lined with window boxes of oysters, mussels, shrimp and lobster waiting to be steamed and piled on icy plateaus. The signature dishes are plain-spoken versions of Italian classics: orecchiette pasta with a tangy marriage of shrimp and fava bean cream; meaty Cantabrico anchovies served on bread with whipped butter. “A dish should be easy to read, otherwise it’s mute,” Enrico Buonacore, the owner, said.
More humbly low-key, Pescheria I Pesciolini is a neighborhood joint in Milan’s center. “You’re dining at a fish stand with tables,” owner Simone Rozza said. The seafood purveyor expanded with a full restaurant in 2016, but it’s the vitrine stocked with the day’s catches that greets you.
The absolutely beachiest feeling in this midland city was imported straight from the shores of Puglia, where fish vendor Bartolo L’Abbate and local friends opened the first location of the seafood sandwich shop Pescaria by the waterfront. Last September, they inaugurated their Milan outpost, supplied by their longtime southern fishermen rather than the city’s market. Just steps from Corso Como, the narrow hallway of a space is crammed with young locals most days, the tables shimmering with glasses of white and rosé under fisherman-basketed lights.
It feels sunny against the sometimes gray backdrop of Milan, especially when an order of briny delicacies arrives: a savory Pugliese cartellata of deep-fried dough piled high with tuna carpaccio, buttery stracciatella cheese, and green chili peppers, alongside a sandwich of crunchy fried octopus topped with chicory greens and soft ricotta. I was biting into the octopus when Mr. L’Abbate leaned in my direction. “It tastes just like being by the sea,” he uttered, his eyes wistful, his smile full of pride. And hours from the seaside, I tasted it.