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Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Thanks to our friend Rena, who lived in Florence for a year, we had some insider recommendations about where to eat.  The most interesting (and delicious) place, by far, was Mario’s, which serves only lunch.

The menu is scribbled on a piece of paper, and is replete with meat.  The seating is first come, first served, and is “con l’altro”—with each other.  Three parties of two might share a big table.  Everyone sits on little wooden stools.  The kitchen runs right alongside the dining area, and the inevitably loud conversations are punctuated by the bang-bang-bangs of the cleaver on the butcher block, chopping up the next set of lunches.

nice ceiling

the most delicious pork and beans I've ever had

Jack liked Marios.

We also went to what many agree is the best gelato maker in Florence: Vivoli.

I know I should have tried the cinnamon-orange, but I couldn’t resist my favorite nutty flavors.

The other high point in dining was Tranvai, a restaurant constructed out of an old tram-station, with excellent food.  They offered offals and brain, but we stuck to slightly more familiar cuts… veal and rabbit.

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We’re in Florence.  Today’s my birthday.  Yesterday we went to the famous gelateria Vivoli.  I know I should have tried the cinnamon-orange, but I can’t give up an opportunity to savor one of the nutty flavors I love so much.  Yesterday I went for the classic nocciolo—hazelnut.  Jack had a puckering cup of limone mixed with fragola (strawberry, but the word always reminds me of “Fraggle Rock”).  Jack also got a big kick out of the address of the gelateria, in Isola delle Stinche.  Stinky—ha ha ha! (He’s just about five, so that’s the height of humor.)

Last night we took a chance on a restaurant, and it turned out to be an enjoyable meal.  The highlights were the antipasto dish of fagioli con bottarga, and the Florentine steak, which my mom, Peter, and I all ordered.  It was rubbed with rosemary, grilled rare, sliced thin, and served on a bed of arugula. Perfect.

Pictures will come….

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Walking through Rome the other day, I had two missions: get a pizza lunch at Roscioli, and try on some shoes from the list of brands my doctor gave me. It became an emotional journey, with it’s own motifs and atmosphere of ironic pathos that is captured so well in that Dylan song, (which I love in The Band’s rendition) “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” that came to mind when I walked past this scene.

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble;
ancient footprints are everywhere.
You can almost think that you’re seeing double
on a cold dark night on the Spanish stairs.

This road repair was on the way to Campo di Fiori, where I stopped at the market stall that is the humanized, de-DIY-ified version of what we call “the bulk section.”  The man who runs this stall is a virtuoso of Eur-Anglo languages and regional Italian sauces.  Every time someone stepped up with a bag of herb-pepperoncini mix, he would ask “Inglese, Francais, Espanol, Deutsch?”  I heard him explain in three languages what kind of sauce should be made, and when to add the herbs to the tomato base.

herb blends for sauces

other "bulk" items

From here, I took my prematurely ancient footprints the few blocks to Roscioli, where I saw its sign rising like a beacon on the horizon (and creating a great color juxtaposition with those shutters):

Most days, I eat at the Academy, because it’s right at home and the food is regularly extraordinary.  But sometimes I just get the craving to carry out a sandwiched slice of Roscioli pizza.

My favorite kind is the sauteed, garlicky, salty spinach and mozzarella.  It’s simple, and exquisite, folded in a piece of brown paper.  Often, people stand around these cask & board tables to eat their quick bite.  12:30 was too early for the average Roman, though.

table outside Antico Forno Roscioli

I limped with my lunch toward the Corso, passing on my way the scaffolding-covered Pantheon. (Glad I saw it before those went up.)

And finally, I began my hunt for a better shoe, based on my doctor’s list of brands.  Some of these are quite chi chi, with snooty salespeople to match.  As soon as I was done in the Geox store, for example, having decided that they were all either too stiff for my feet or too flashy for my taste, I became a despicable object of scorn to the saleswoman.  And her store is nothing special next to Hogans, where the staff is even more disdainful, the sequin-studded leather even more attitudinal. I tried on probably 12 pairs.  Someday, I’ll make a decision.

Someday everything’s gonna be different,
when I paint that masterpiece…

When I finish that dissertation? No, I’m not that delusional.  Speaking of that behemoth document, though, here’s my favorite recent piece of Byroniana (which might just be the unintentional irony of the shopkeeper’s name… but I don’t think so).  Right next to the Keats-Shelley museum, in Piazza di Spagna, whose name looms larger than life?  Lord B’s, of course.

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Of activity, that is.  (The real flurries are more like blizzards, falling on friends and relatives all up and down the east coast.)

But life here has been moving so fast, and what do I have to show for it? No photos of food, anyway.  The food has disappeared before the camera reached it.  Friday night they served latkes with dinner, and many of us ate three or more.  They were just so good!  Crispy crunchy on the outside, soft and hot on the inside, potato goodness throughout.  Our Saturday lunch was another bonanza of flavors.  The risotto, in particular, was impossibly delicious.  Lemony, smooth, perfectly toothsome.  That evening, yesterday, we hosted a pizza party.  Twenty or so friends filled our living room, bringing beer, wine, chocolate, good stories and loud laughs, and I somehow managed to keep serving hot pizza in defiance of the size of our oven.

(I’ve actually done some roasting, baking, and pizza making in it.  My grandma used just a toaster oven for years….)

The pizza came from our local favorite, Pizzeria da Simone.  People are constantly coming in and out of this pizzeria on Via Carini, at all hours of the day.  Pizza rossa for breakfast?  No problem.  We got a whole range of toppings last night: zucchini blossoms and anchovies, sausage with cheese, sausage with mushrooms, spicy sausage with tomato sauce, mushrooms with tomato sauce, prosciutto with cheese, mortadella with artichoke hearts.  It was all devoured before I thought to take a picture.  I love Roman style pizza.  The crust is like what we’d call flatbread, but isn’t completely flat, and the toppings are combined in moderate twosomes or threesomes.  None of this deep dish everything nonsense.  (How will we ever reacclimate?)

This morning, Peter and I, along with Ramie, Rena, and Lisa, ran the 10K “Christmas Run” in Villa Pamphili.  The scene was a fascinating cultural tableau.  We were some of the only Americans in the crowd of 400.  The race was set to begin at 9:30, but the organizers and pace-setters lingered in the cafe adjacent to the “Punto Jogging” for an extra 15 minutes of leisurely cappuccino sipping.  Finally, after we had been jumping up and down in the 28-degree air (that’s Farhenheit!) waiting, the pace-setters, who wore color-coded balloons, took their places and the race got off to a silly, stumbling, good-hearted start.  Some of the runners, being typical Italians, talked the whole while.  Except on the uphills.   The course, like the balloon-following, was whimsical, winding through forest on narrow, muddy trails, and up grassy hillsides sparkling with frost, past fountains and the chestnut-lined avenue on this awesome piece of land that until recently was a massive chunk of private property on one of the prettiest hills in Rome.  I ended up running in a pack of middle-aged men, who were yelling and laughing to each other the whole time, (Ciao, bello!  Buon Natale!  Attenzione! along with much commentary on the mud puddles) and one other woman, who wore a set of red antlers.  Some people were dressed up as Babbo Natale (that’s Santa to you) and many wore the elf hats they gave us at registration.  It was a fun-run with decidedly Italian inflections of the good life: the cafe at the finish was mobbed with sweaty people sipping espresso, talking loudly, and gesticulating heartily.  The men wore tights, and the women’s black eyeliner was unmussed.

Back home, Peter and I polished off the leftover pizza, and I cooked some pasta for these elves:

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In the past two days I’ve been to two good old Roman basic restaurants that served delicious meals and a whole bunch of good old Roman basic tourist spots. (My parents are visiting.)

Last night: Il Galeone, in Piazza San Cosimato, just down the hill from us: either take the bus down the S-curves of Via Dandolo, or take the path through the grass to the two twisting staircases.  It’s one of those places that you really can’t judge from the outside.  Does it just look authentic, or is it really good?  I wouldn’t have tried it without the recommendations of numerous friends, who all said to order the fish soup.  OK.  But what do they mean by “mezzo” (half)?  Here’s what:

These sea creatures have as much dignity in this dish as the octopus wrestling with  Neptune in Piazza Navona:

Other fun things about this restaurant were the service—or was it just that the gentleman loved Jack, who ate a lot of spaghetti carbonara?

—or was it that he made a show of choosing the right glasses for the low-price-range vino rosso we chose?

(which turned out to be quite good.)

And the walls in our dining room, made of old liquor boxes, as if they were packed in a ship’s hold:

The tuna, before and after:

The coziness:

And the walk home past the Fontana di Aqua Paola:

This meal topped off a day of serious ancient-Rome tourism.  We went to the Capitolino, and saw Constantine’s giant digits, Diana of Ephesus’s many breasts, and Hercules’s manly pecs.

We also saw the Forum and waited out a rainstorm.

And we happened upon a Ferrari parade.  Holiday sale?

That was yesterday.  Today, we did the Vatican Museum, Via Cola da Rienza, Piazza del Popolo, Via del Corso, Piazza di Spagna, the Trevi Fountain, and more, in the rain. We found a warm spot and a surprisingly delicious lunch at Il Fagiolo Magico, (the magic bean) off of Via del Corso.  I had pasta cacio e pepe—cheese and pepper. The consistency is hard to get right, but they did it.  Very restorative with the vino rosso della casa on a damp day.

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1.  To walk about at large, to roam without restraint; to move about freely in space, wander at will.

2.  To speak or write at some length; to enlarge; to be copious in description or discussion.

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I spent the morning expatiating, in both senses of the word, with my friend Camilla in the Villa Pamphili park.  We wandered through sun and shade, stepped around puddles, paused and gestured for emphasis, and covered all of the topics new friends find themselves covering: life, plans, confusions, kids, other new friends, grandparents, religion, food, tea or coffee, sisters, blogs, books, jobs, husbands, hometowns, the past, cooking, friends, writing, childhood, life in Rome.  She’s come to Rome from Oslo with her husband and two little boys, and will be here for four years while her husband works at the Norwegian Institute.  We walked slowly while the Roman joggers passed us, listening to their i-pods, talking on their mobiles.  Vivi Bistrot had just opened for the day, so we sat in the sun on their patio for a good hour, eating cornetti integrale with bitter honey and sipping tea (Camilla) and cafe latte (me).

New friendship is like getting to know a new place in a particular season.  You think you have a good idea of what a landscape or city looks like, in the fall, say.  The light slants a certain way, the trees and flowers have certain aromas, it’s cool in the shade and warm in the sun.  We met each other two months ago.  We’re both 34 and living temporarily in Rome.  Our lives exist as they do here and now in the particularity of these circumstances.  But as we walk and talk, through the seasons, we’ll get to know each other in different air, light, and seasons.

Thinking about this brings to mind my good friend Liz. When we met, I was pregnant with Jack, just on the cusp of the biggest change I’ve ever gone through.  We know each other well, but she’s always known me as a mother.  I’m the same person, but also very different. I wonder what she’s doing, now.  Still working on that community garden?  I don’t want to say we’ve lost touch, but the lines of communication have stretched thin.  I miss her….

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Today was beautiful.  Daylong full sun, a few big cumulous clouds drifting by, sandwiched between rainy days.  This morning I went on an epic shopping run, stopping at two open-air markets for fruit and vegetables, the GS supermarket, and a toy store (for the birthday party tomorrow), pulling my heavy cart behind me.

When I finally got home, it was time to go out again—to refuel with coffee before Jack’s playdate in the park.  I walked and Jack scootered over to the Academy bar, and while I sipped my esspresso, he scooted into the kitchen to say ciao to all of his friends there.

Then, we swapped the scooter for the bike and continued on to the sprawling Villa Pamphili park, where there were lots of huge tempting mud puddles for Jack and his friend Felix not to ride through, please!  Felix’s family arrived here this summer from Norway, for his father’s fellowship at the Norwegian Institute.  Jack and Felix are classmates, and both are learning bits of Italian at school.  They rode along shouting strings of nonsense punctuated with words like “basta” and “guarda!”

At the top of a broad hill, after climbing up and down through open gardens and umbrella pine groves, a new playground has been installed.  The boys had fun climbing and swinging.

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The other great thing about this park, besides the playground, the running paths, the beauty, the pond, and the people-watching, is the cafe at the top of the hill, Vivi Bistrot.  We went there with the hope of sitting at a table and having a warm lunch, but all of the tables were booked.  This must be a good spot!  All—or most—of the food they serve is organic, and they do their own baking.  They couldn’t seat us today, but we assembled a nice picnic out of pesto pasta with tomatoes, organic chicken wings, pizzeti (sandwiches made with pizza bianca), and some interesting juices.  The oddest item was a strange twist on American imports: a wrap containing “crudo & Philadelphia”—prosciutto and cream cheese.  Jack ate it, but I thought “yuck.”

Here’s the bucolic setting for this spot, which would be a nice place to have an aperitivo in the middle of an evening walk, or a quick jolt of cappuccino during a leisurely jog:

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Tonight, for a change, we’re going out for Chinese.

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