If our first dining experience in Santa Margherita was a disaster, things got much better the next day, when we finally made it to our original destination, Trattoria da Pino (Via J. Ruffini 15).
We ended up eating at the small, unpretentious family-run restaurant twice -- once for lunch and once for dinner -- and had some of the best meals of our trip.
The restaurant is operated by the daughter of Pino, whose picture can be found on the cover of the restaurant's menu -- standing, with the sea behind him, proud of a surprise catch of the day, a (very short) swordfish.
Here, we found the Ligurian cuisine we were craving.
I had a particular hankering for insalata di mare, the warm seafood salad you will find nearly everywhere in Santa Margherita, though served with slight variations. Sometimes it's topped with a dollop of pesto. Sometimes it includes tiny clams and mussels. Sometimes it's rubbery and cold.
At Trattoria da Pino, the salad was impeccable -- just thinly sliced squid and moscardini (baby octopus) tossed with shrimp, potatoes, and dressed only with herbs, olive oil, and a couple of lemon wedges. Everything was so fresh and incredibly tender (you could even eat the little tails at the end of the shrimp without scarring your throat).
I asked the owner how she made the salad, and she explained to me that everything is cooked separately in hot, salted water and then combined to order: the calamari cooks for an hour, the baby octopus for as long as two. Once everything has been cooked, all of the seafood then remains chilled until an order is placed. The ingredients are then briefly warmed in hot water, drained, and tossed with olive oil.
Even though I could probably have just eaten two orders of the insalata di mare and been happy, I don't want to short-change the rest of the menu. The pastas we had were also wonderful -- fresh trenette with pesto, green beans, and potatoes, as well as pansotti with walnut sauce, plump blond dumplings whose color reveal a potent filling of dark green herbs and cheese.