The run up to departure was a travel obstacle course – Richard’s back, our sewer backed up, Liz had a terrible cold just before departure……blah, blah…………but we made it and we’re back in Rome!
The flight was much better than expected – forgive us but we finally exhausted all our airline points and flew steerage, for the first time in a decade. Fewer screaming kids than in Biz Class, good food (Alitalia does pasta!), nice service and Liz got us exit row seats (“Got”? says Liz “Bought!” more to the point)
A driver picked us up at the airport – he drove Rome traffic like Schumacher out to pick up a loaf of bread. No quick stops, no rapid acceleration, no fingers at other drivers; just constant calm, aggressive, forward movement. It was a pleasure to watch a master at work. (booked him for our departure – of course!)
Now we’re sitting in our living room overlooking the Tiber River through a wall of French doors. We would be on the balcony but it’s spitting rain and rather chilly. Just back from a pleasant antipasti lunch and planning our restaurant assault over the next 8 days. Lunch pics follow. It was good – but the pics aren’t! Too much white against white
If it’s Thursday it’s gnocchi – so lunch tomorrow is at Checco in Trastevere – our home base when we were last in Rome 8 years ago. It’s poignant for us because Rome was our first winter away from Toronto. Tomorrow morning we’ll visit 2 food markets that are new to us – near the Vatican (note our priorities)
The apartment is lovely. Bright, great view, high ceilings that dwarf Elizabeth, a Belle Epoque elevator and rows of restaurants around the corner. (pics tomorrow or Friday – hoping for a bit of sun)
It’s always a delight renewing our love affair with Italy
This time, as a special gift, we brought the head colds we had been incubating in Toronto. The viruses have flourished in the Italian sun and as we lurch – sneezing and coughing – around the city, we may be launching the largest case of germ warfare since the Crusaders returned with the bubonic plague.
The 4th floor apartment is lovely – with multiple French Doors and balconies overlooking the Tiber
We sense it’s a high end neighbourhood for two reasons
1. The wine stores and deli/specialty food stores make Pusateris look like 7/11. Who knew there were 312 ways to pickle, brine, marinate, liquidate, make into pesto or even serve fresh…..the humble artichoke.
2. We needed something from a hardware store. There are no hardware stores. The inhabitants have Polish immigrants do their wiring and plumbing
We did however find our favourite butcher from 8 years ago (we called him “Ham Man”…..we still do). We lived on his ham, cold cuts, and spectacular take out Pizza for the first day (pictures of Ham Man to follow)
The apartment is bright, large, nicely appointed and its 11 foot ceilings are a feature we are especially fond of
A large bedroom with a fireplace, and modern bath
The Galley kitchen is relatively small, huge by NYC standards; but we plan to eat out at old favourites and new recommendations so all we need is a functioning fridge. The ladder is for access to very high cupboards that contain previous guests who refused to depart. We leave food out for them in the evening.
Of course the apartment – like everywhere we’ve lived in Italy – has a lock that Fort Knox would envy….
After a pleasant walk to a very active local market we set out to “Metamorofosi” – a Michelin one star with a reputation for modernist cuisine.
A crisp design and very efficient waiter set the tone
A very interesting, big oak, bottle of Sicilian Chardonnay came, with the sommelier’s recommendation. We weren’t in the Chile section of our local LCBO anymore.
The Amuse Gueule was smoked scallops on a corn custard….loved the scallops
Now we don’t tend to do sweets, but along with the Amuse Gueule came some lovely house baked bread and a new favourite – olive oil ice cream. It’s a little bit cold and the texture of gelatti and you want to slather it on everything and everybody near you
Next, Liz had an incredible two part dish. On the left – fried pasta and pork rind. Now, “fried pork rind” is more often associated with Wal Mart than a one star Michelin restaurant. On the right, pecorino cheese foam with bacon and an egg coddled at 65 degrees for 40 minutes. A deconstructed Pasta Carbonara
Liz described it as “fantastic …. anything with pork rind is good”…..
Dickie had perfectly grilled scallops with radicchio spears and flavoured goat cheese. These scallops did not come frozen in a bag from Costco
The next round of exceptional house bread arrived to consume the remaining olive oil ice cream
Next course - Dickie had butter filled ravioli in broth with shaved truffles. We were starting to get concerned …. first the fried pork rinds, then deep fried butter a la the Texas State Fair….is this chef doing fusion of Italian and Red Neck Cuisine?
No worries – it tasted great and you could feel your arteries harden
Liz’s dish looks simple, but tastes great. Perfectly al dente pasta with mussel dust……yes, they dry mussels then grind them up and dust the pasta. It is the distilled taste of the sea
And finally, one of those dishes that makes life worthwhile. A half American lobster tail in the shell on a bed of hot stones on a cedar board. The discs to the left are “lobster cream”
We eat a lot of lobster. Last time we had anything this good was a decade ago at a 3 star in southwest France.
The texture was sublime. Truly buttery. No fiber. Just a very large lobster flavoured scallop texture.
Then the flavour….essence of lobster with a subtle smokiness.
Later discussions with the Chef revealed the recipe:
….and, if you believe the Chef told us all we need to know to replicate the dish…..we have a bridge to sell you.
To cap the presentation the claw is poached and presented separately …
Richard’s dish – while eclipsed by the lobster – was lovely. A perfect piece of Baccala (cod). Minimal flavouring ex: a spiced crust and a potato Napoleon hidden under a leaf
We rarely eat dessert but Liz relaxed over an Espresso with some petit fours
We of course end up in the Kitchen. The Chef (green sweater) is Columbian. The Sous (white jacket) is Swedish. All speak English. We exchange restaurant likes and legends. The Chef gives us recos for Sardinia and Lucca – our next stops – much writing ensues
It was a perfect day!
A closing note – last evening we walked over to Campo dei Fiori and settled into a cafe. The door man and our waitress were Romanian. The owner is Palestinian. We all ended up at our table drinking, eating, smoking and discussing politics. We love to eat, but these moments are what we most care about.
Mach, the Palestinian Cafe owner, in response to a question about religion said…..”hey, I’m Muslim and I own a bar, no, 2 bars”
Julian – the Romanian door man who is 22 years old – is an electrician but can make more as a Door Man because the….and we quote….. “unemployed Italian guys would rather live with their mothers than work like we do”
The waitresses story was very similar.
There’s a whole lot of cliché, legend and simple misinformation in these stories. But we heard the same tales from Zimbabweans in Cape Town and immigrants in NYC. No great insightful conclusions here – other than that in a globalized world the young and ambitious will move and do the jobs/take the entrepreneurial risks that the locals won’t.
Thomas Wolfe was wrong – you can go home again.
Today was a nostalgic return to the Trastevere neighbourhood, where we lived in this apartment for 2 months 8 years ago – it was our first winter away from Toronto. Our apartment was the balcony and window above the store and entranceway. We tried to rent it again this year but the owner has it on the market to sell and it would have been awkward had there been real estate showings.
The neighbourhood is surprisingly unchanged. Our favourite baker, green grocer, gelateria, barber & grocery store are still there, as are many of the bars and restaurants we lived in….and our English language bookstore and owner survive.
It is a place of narrow streets, cobbled roads, ancient buildings and surprising openings onto sunlit plazas (not today though – it poured rain). We still love it.
Enough nostalgia. On to Osteria La Gensola – a well regarded Trastevere restaurant specializing in fish. A very discreet doorway (to the right of centre) opens into a warm, traditional pair of dining rooms. Note we took one of the room photos as we left – it was packed when we arrived and we were the last to leave
The Amuse Guele was munchy fried raviolis stuffed with smoked cheese. We vacuumed those down.
Liz started with the house special – tuna tartare and horseradish sauce – it was exceptionally good
Richard’s starter sounded great, but didn’t deliver on any dimensions – visual, texture or flavour. Mini ‘meat balls’ of deep fried tuna in a tomato, caper and onion sauce. Tasted like it looked
We split a pasta course – large raviolis filled with bass – really good. Do love big raviolis
For her main Liz had grilled anchovies on greens. Wonderful flavour and perfect doneness. She even let Dickie have some – aren’t they cute – all their little heads lined up (vegetarian friends scroll down quickly)
Richard’s main was a more conservative John Dory on a bed of fall vegetables. Perfectly cooked, satisfying but not the panache of the anchovies
Overall a satisfying meal – not perfect but what we want from contemporary Italian cuisine. Not all things worked (at least to our taste) but they are trying new things and new ways. Dining becomes an adventure and not a ritual.
Tomorrow – the rain washed away our colds, so a walk down the street to the Pantheon and possibly over to the Vatican to see the Pope or at least some of the art…..and for lunch, well Liz will surprise us.
After our swim to and from the Pantheon we retired to our dry apartment and Liz served an excellent Carbonara. Next day the sun shone and we were off. A quick shot of Liz on one balcony taken from the other balcony
From the other balcony we could be staring at St Peter’s … except for the tree. Walk down a block to the left and you can see the Catholic Church Corporate Headquarters
The Tiber is still at flood stage and the lower riverside walks are all submerged
We took a cab to EATALY – think of it as IKEA for Italian Food. It’s huge – a renovated Terminal near a train station with 4 floors (top floor is a fine dining restaurant). Incredible variety, high quality, antiseptically clean and with 23 restaurants (Pizza, Pasta, Fried, Fish, Rosteria, Pesce, Cheese, panini, beer, bars, coffee, etc, etc); all surrounded by racks of appropriate food
We went on Monday morning – it was empty so a good time to see the facilities but it missed the buzz of the crowds such as we experienced at the NYC EATALY outpost (which is only 25% the size of the Rome branch).
Following are some random shots of the many we took – so many Liz put them into an album
As mentioned we have been to EATALY in NYC (Mario Batali and partners Lidia/Joe Bastianich bought the NA rights) – while the concept is similar there are significant differences. The Rome version is many times larger and built in Suburbia. NYC is smaller and in downtown Manhattan.
Rome is a series of grocery stores built around a series of restaurants. NYC is a grocery store with some interesting restaurants inserted. Our big purchase was a cutting board as the apartment sorely lacked one!
We renewed our nostalgia trip and walked to the Trastevere neighbourhood. Here’s Liz in front of “our” bridge, the Ponte Sisto
It’s also next to the hospital where 8 years ago Liz had her sprained wrist fixed by Dr. Fabio….and he was Fabio!
We walked for hours this day - next post is lunch and a visit to HQ - aka the Vatican.
Off to Checco er Carrettiere, our favourite traditional restaurant. We were very frequent customers in 2003. Nothing had changed since we were last there.
They are famous for their artichokes done in the “Jewish style” – crunchy on the outside, creamy inside. We think theirs are the best in the world (Richard told the waiter that – in our terrible Italian – “Mondo?” he asked proudly)
On to the fried lamb chops with more artichokes (when in Rome – ha ha). Looks plain, tastes great
Liz had one of her favourites – mixed fried fish – delicious!
Basic traditional Roman food, perfectly prepared. We’ll go back in another decade.
Decided to walk home via Catholic Corporate Headquarters. It’s a stunning square and we love the art. The Christmas Tree and Nativity Scene were still up and there’s much renovation taking place
Stunning view when you walk in
Michelangelo's Pieta is just to the right as you enter – now shielded behind armour plate glass. It’s one of the many priceless pieces of art in the Vatican collection. We always smile when we remember Michelangelo was gay
The other sculptures – often tombs of Popes – are equally lovely….but aren’t Michelangelo’s
We were in a ceiling mood and shot up a lot
As always the doors of St Peters fascinate us. They show people being tortured. Not sure if they are martyred saints or victims of the inquisition….but definitely not depictions of love and happiness
This year’s outside Nativity is themed as a Tuscan village – quite charming.
(Liz found it funny that “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin was playing in the Tuscan scene!)
A wave goodbye to the always impassive (they never smile) Swiss Guards and a short walk past Castel Sant’Angelo to home. Our apartment is hidden in the trees behind the far right span on the bridge
Such a good day – we walked for hours which is such good news after Richard’s back troubles in the months before our departure!
Off for the very essential communications upgrade at the local TIM wireless store. Liz is going to issue separately a 12 volume index and evaluation of the telecom stores in Rome. We have seen them all. (long but true story says Liz!)
Wandering home we chanced upon a restaurant our dear friend Gordon recommended. When our God of Travel – “All Inclusivo” – gives us a hint….we take it. Trattoria la Buca di Ripetta was a good hint
Starting backwards – we always end up in the kitchen – here’s Liz and the staff and our waitress Melina. She’;s from Buenos Aires so as we were in BA last year we exchanged restaurant tales and whined about how corrupt Prez Christina is. Again the question – “why a waitress from South America”; again the answer “Young Italians won’t take a restaurant job and the restaurateurs don’t want to hire them” Myth or not? – we will continue our research
The restaurant is traditional, warm and welcoming, with a local clientele and an ancient Vespa scooter in the centre for reasons too long to repeat.
It’s an interesting and inexpensive menu – Melina recommended a degustation of starters – good choice
From 10:00 – deep fried stuffed zucchini blossoms on rapini; the ubiquitous but ever welcome artichoke Giudia; a delicious cheese (Tallegio) wrapped in prosciutto and tuna in an almond crust
Next course a favourite of ours – raviolis stuffed with radicchio in a gorgonzola cream sauce. We’d probably like raviolis stuffed with sand. (Liz – definitely making this when I get home)
Dickie has a habit that drives Liz crazy – actually many habits. If some other patron’s meal looks particularly good, the restaurant is casual and they seem friendly he’ll ask to take a picture. Here’s pasta in a bowl made from deep fried Parmesan. Anything served in deep fried Parmesan has to be good
We closed with a melt in your mouth roast suckling pig on a bed of fried potato cubes – delicious!
Note regarding the pasta and meat course – the restaurant was very accommodating – we split “uno per due” – one dish for two.
Overall a delightful mean, fun staff and great value – thanks to Gordon for the recommendation. One question though – we loved all the meat, but Gordon is a vegetarian?
Wandering home we stopped in at one of those esoteric shops we love in Rome – this one specializing in smoked salmon