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May 2014 in Rome -trip report

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Rome 2014

After short flight from Paris / airport lunch, without dinner reservations and out for a walk, we fell into Cul de Sac. It was drizzlng. Gruff person in charge misunderstood my English attempt to be agreeable to eating inside or out, whatever came first. (Serves us right for knowing no Italian.) While others took the open outside tables, we were not seated. Finally an outside table opened up and I made for it. We sat in the rain. Gruff service turned accommodatingly friendly as umbrellas were arranged to shield us. We split partridge pate with juniper berries (excellent), green salad, homemade meat lasagne, and two different glasses of interesting red wine from among the hundreds on the list. An enjoyable first meal. Cul de Sac demands a lot of decisions. It is easy to gorge on delicious rich choices and get dizzy from the wine list. I appreciated the initially “gruff” server’s advice. 37 Euros.

Three weeks of cooking once a day in the kitchen of our apartment was one of my favorite pleasures this trip. Macelleria Il Fiorentino, the fabulous butcher shop on the Campo, provided meat (and kudos for figuring out the pantomimes of what and how I wanted it). Bread came from FORNO or BAKERY ROSCIOLI. The nearest stand to the butcher provided all my vegetables (Elizabeth Minchilli has a photo but I failed the upload task). They were not so thrilled with my pickiness and lack of Italian but we managed.

I’ve selected a few meals to report, leaving out the many I cooked for spouse/guests and those where we were entertained at homes:

Lunch at Ditirambo, reserved the day before. We shared a wonderfully memorable “triple platter” appetizer: steak tartar with truffles; fried zucchini blossom stuffed with cheese (burrata?); and prosciutto (didn’t note what kind but it was unusual) with diced melon and hazelnuts. Then we shared the special of the day: Tagliolino (thin pasta) with spring vegetables —not especially memorable — our neighbor’s cacio e pepe looked better. Two glasses of house wine and one espresso. This restaurant for whatever reason seems to take longer than others that may bend more to our pace. This meal took an hour and 45 minutes —a long time when there are places to go and people to see. 57 Euros.

Dinner at Constanza, unreserved, after spouse's long work day. The weather was pleasant and we accepted an outside table, missing out entirely on the atmospheric inside until an after dinner look. Service was prompt, efficient, and the opposite of Ditirambo—even a bit too quick for our mood but better than the reverse. They were out of Roman artichokes, but we split an excellent Jewish artichoke, cacio e pepe which came pre-divided in parmesan cheese cups, veal with lemon sauce, glass of house wine, and a good tiramisu. I’d choose this restaurant again on a night whenI wanted a warm inviting inside space. Reservations probably necessary for inside on such a night. 50 Euros.

Dinner at Pace del Palato, reserved the day before. I wrote a (rather snarky) post on someone else’s thread about this restaurant and inadvertently (and probably wisely) deleted it. With the passing of time the edge has softened. It was our favorite meal last year - romantic, delicious, special. This year it wasn’t, mostly because the two servers could not handle us and the party of 6 and the party of 12. We got left behind. Overworked staff makes ME anxious for them, even if no one else cares. Off night for food, most likely, so I’ll forgo the description. (IMHO they still have the best, freshest salad greens in Rome.) 77 Euros.

Baffetto 2. Having never been to the original Baffetto, it took a conversation with a tout on the street to get the difference. Apparently, the original serves only pizza — many, many kinds. Baffetto 2 has an antipasto buffet, fewer pasta choices, and other main dishes that we never ate. When tired and hungry, Baffetto 2 served our purposes well. Quick edible pizza, long opening hours, no lines, no complaints. However, if we had arrived at the same time as large family/school group, who knows. About 24 Euros.

Fortunato Al Pantheon for lunch. Professional service warmed my heart. Split Carbonara (richer than I like but very good), and excellent chunky steak tartar which probably meant hand cut. An ok salad and mediocre asparagus which I ordered off the menu (serves me right). Half bottle of (to me) a boring Frascati chosen by the waiter. 85 Euros.

Lunch, etc. at Gusto. Split excellent spicy salami pizza, a salad, and roasted vegetables. Yum. Took home a roast chicken for dinner. Served the purpose but frankly not as good as the take out roast chicken in Paris. C’est la vie. (About 40 euros for lunch, I think) The chicken and the two square pizza pans I persuaded them to sell me make the bill confusing. FYI - the pans designed for their hot, hot wood burning pizza oven are terrific for roasting vegetables at home. Those pans are not sold at their otherwise impressive kitchen store.

We always like lunch at Piperno. (Just like we go to Shun Lee Palace in NYC - good old-fashioned service, familiar setting and food. Entirely predictable.) We split an artichoke, I had handmade fettuccine and spouse had spinach ravioli, then split veal saltimbocco, and a vegetable. I had my favorite wild strawberries with lemon sauce and spouse had good blueberry tart. Glass of Prosecco and another of white wine. Coffee. 88 Euros.

After a heavy last morning of sightseeing, we passed up several nondescript places to eat and in mid-afternoon stumbled on Hostaria Isidoro, of which we had never heard. (Via di S. Giovanni in Laterano) Exactly the right choice. They were kind enough to serve us, even though the lunch meal was almost finished. Spouse had ravioli in a rich sauce (“velluata”)— he liked it. I had sea bream baked in a potato crust. I loved it. We split a green salad. A carafe of house wine and an espresso. 41 Euros.

Spent an afternoon with a friend in an outdoor cafe on the Campo. I was yearning for a taste of touristy Tartufo (Chocolate and whipped cream — I ate every morsel.) One espresso, and that Tartufo plus 5.50 euros for water cost 20 plus euros, but we were there for almost three hours. Worth every euro. (Hard to get spouse to ever sit in an expensive cafe because we would have been done in 20 minutes.)

A shout out to a very good conference dinner at Hotel Fenix. Cocktails in the lovely garden, then pasta with calamari, clams, and shrimp, then dentrice (a fish I loved), and a carpaccio of pineapple with coconut ice cream.

Some random comments. I write these reports as much for my records as for readers (though I like readers). I also write for my own understanding; here is what I learned from writing this post:

—Service matters inordinately to me, at this point, especially servers who can pick up cues about pacing our split meals. Not too fast but not too slow. I don’t want to have to flag down someone for another glass of wine; I want it offered.

—We order in a very narrow range — which almost excludes me from being a true Chowhounder. I am a more adventurous eater than my spouse but when we travel I try to eat things we can share.

—It seems as if we habitually skipped desserts. Not so. Lots of gelato and treats from the Campo bakeries, especially the Sicilian bakery Nonna Vincenza (Via Dell’Arco del Monte 98a, 00186)

—What I liked best about food in Rome this trip (after two weeks in Venice and two weeks in Paris) was cooking in a beautiful kitchen with wonderful ingredients. And home cooked meals at other people’s houses.

—We ate a lot of raw meat in Europe, possibly because we both grew up eating it weekly and it is pesty to get a NY butcher these days to grind a small amount.

—Back in NY I am wistful for all those fresh ingredients and Marcella Hazan’s cookbook advice to let no time elapse between buying the asparagus and putting it in the pot (wild from Sicily, at the above mentioned market in Campo). The sell by dated NYC “fresh” pasta makes me sad.

—We’ve been home for 6 weeks and have not had one bit of dried or fresh pasta. Perhaps tonight…..

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  1. You can find super fresh veg at the Union Sq Greenmarket--maybe not asparagus, but you got with the territory. And a pleasant trip to the Bronx will l;and you at Borgatti's family pasta shop on E 187 St near Arthur Avenue. No sell by dates here, only perfection. So it can be done, alas.

    1. your NYC Greenmarket asparagus will be fresher than the (imported to Rome) sicilian produce in the Campo, although the season is probably ended now. If you want freshness and select vegetables thats the place to go. NYC is lucky to have these places.

      1. Thanks for the reminder about Arthur avenue (not exactly around the corner but "it can be done". Tx.

        I did get some farmed asparagus last week at my corner green market (not union square). Not bad but not like the taste in Rome. I grant the possibility of romanticizing Rome!

        1. Thank you for your report, esp. your news about Cul de Sac; when I'm in Rome again, I'll try more wine bars for midday or for an apéritif before supper.

          Also for Ditirambo and Fortunato -- two places which I've had my eye on. And Hostaria Isidoro; I've been looking for a place near St. John Lateran.

          1. Thanks so much for taking the time to check back in. It's always so helpful to hear back on your experiences!

            www.ElizabethMinchilliInRome.com