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Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

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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Going to Venice for a long weekend is like being transported to a different realm.  In this immersed city, we immersed ourselves in grand-scale Renaissance art, long winding walks, gelato, spritz (Amaro—a bittersweet red liqueur—and prosecco), and seafood.  What everyone says about the acoustics stands out as a strong sense memory: without the sound of cars, the ear hears the click of heels on stone, voices talking, murmuring, laughing, and the soft splash of water against stone and brick.  True, there are motor boats, but their rumble is nothing after the roar of Roman traffic.

We ate well.  Oh, yes we did.

On the first night, we turned the corner from the little alley where we were renting an apartment (with 5 others from the American Academy), and happened upon Paradiso Perdito, a wonderfully unlost paradise of seafood, pasta, off-beat music, and attractive diners and servers both young and old.  Here’s a sampling of that meal.

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antipasti

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vino di casa pump

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frito misto

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amazingly flavorful garlicky pasta with a never seen before crustacean

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squid ink pasta

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Jack fell asleep on my lap.

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see the rosemary sprig?

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nicely boned

Other highlights: The dolci, which we all agreed were better than any in Rome.

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how many pistachios are in this torta?

This place especially, which Lisa discovered at 7:30 one morning, by following the aroma of buttery baking, had the most amazing almond croissants we’ve ever had.  They weren’t overly sweet and flabby like so many, but were improbably both dense and flaky, and were almost savory in their delicate sweetness.

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bread turtle?

I didn’t actually take any photos of anyone eating gelato, because I always had a drippy cone of my own to control, usually with some combination of fruity and nutty.  My favorite duo: cherry and hazelnut.  Jack’s favorite: strawberry and cherry.  But this is the place to get it:

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We happened upon this graffito, which to me says, “Is this a gelato I see before me?”

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We also saw lots and lots of art.  Jack was inspired to do some painting, and then ran off to chase pigeons.

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We took one gondola ride, but it only went across the Grand Canal, took two minutes, and cost 50 cents.  Still, it seemed to make everyone happy.

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Susanna & Stephen

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Peter

Our last meal was at the Anice Stellato—the Star Anise—and it was a meal to remember.  I wasn’t so good at photographing every plate, but my favorite dish was a lamb tenderloin rolled in crushed pistachios.  Oh, my….  The wine, a local carmenere blend, and an antipasto plate called sarde in saor, with sardines, polenta, and pickled onions, also stood out.

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Jack enjoyed hanging with the grown-ups.  And I think they liked his company too.

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Aurelia, Jack, Richard, me

(For more photos, check out my Flickr page.)

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Everyone says it’s impossible to get a bad meal in Italy.  That’s not true.

After spending a wonderful morning in the galleries of the Museo Borghese, feasting our eyes on the Caravaggios, like his “Self Portrait as Bacchus,” and on the sculptures Bernini carved—improbably rendering marble as smooth and pliant as flesh—we took the bus back to Trastevere in search of a good lunch.  You can’t tell by the facade of authenticity, or by the menu, or the prices, or the aromas coming out of the kitchen.  But some meals are disappointing.  The pasta was greasy, the porcini were soggy, the stew was bland, the antipasti boring.

But we did see some other interesting sights.  An ivy covered house:

ivied house

Marcus Aurelius’s copycat version of Trajan’s triumphal column:

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and some black laundry items hanging out:

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Today is Saturday.  We have big plans.  We’ll start at Dolci Desideri with Ramie and Harry, and then go to the market around the corner to buy some veggies for tonight’s dinner.  Then, I’m getting together with my new friend Ruth, who works for the non-profit Diversity for Life, an organization that promotes education in agricultural biodiversity (mainly in the U.S. and Africa, where it’s most needed).  After that, Jack and I will meet up with his friend Dylan for some play date fun.  Then dinner… what will I cook?

The day started off with a beautiful sunrise:

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we went

wewe

we

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Tropical Storm Danny is pouring long ropes of rain down the walls of the Truro Public Library.  I’m taking advantage of the wireless, while Jack negotiates with the hordes of other kids for a few more minutes with the trains.   He’s into non-fiction lately, so we’ve just read books about tornadoes, hurricanes, the first railroads, and kittens.

We had a good meal last night, at Mac’s Shack in Wellfleet.  Mac’s original restaurant is more the shack—right on the sandy shore of Wellfleet Harbor.  It’s all take-out from a window, picnic tables, paper and plastic, and BYOB.  It’s a kid-friendly spot that also serves excellent food.  The story about the more expensive and relatively fancier “Shack” is that they hoped it would be less of a kid and family destination, and more of a date or dinner party spot.  But last night—Saturday at 6—almost every table had a child or two. The building’s facade is pretty inviting to those little people for whom reality and fantasy are often blurred:

macs shack

(Jack asked if the fisherman was real, but he knew the lobster was pretend.)

I haven’t been able to persuade Jack to eat fish except in highly disguised forms, so he ordered a bacon cheeseburger.  Good boy.  While he waited impatiently for his fries, I let him have the camera.  He took portraits of everyone, but I won’t embarrass Peter, Anne, or Curtis by posting them here.

me at macs

Local shellfish was flying out of its shells, due to the fast, professional shuckers:

clams

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Pane e Salute

A meal at this osteria is a total immersion experience.  It was a celebration for us, so we went all out, from the delicate prosecco to the late-night liqueurs: with wine pairings, sopressata, chanterelles and homemade papardelle, wild sockeye salmon, sour cherry cake, and espresso in between.   Everything about the restaurant is an expression of the passion Deirdre and Caleb, the owners, have for food and the kind of hospitality they’ve experienced in Italy.  They wanted to transport not only the recipes and cooking methods home with them, but also the culture of food.  They gave us a good taste of all three last night, during our long meal.  It was all wonderful, but the highlights for me were the antipasti (sopressata, fresh mozzarella dressed with a little olive oil, a crostini with chicken liver pate); the olive oil served with the aperitivo, which tasted like fresh olives and greenery; the chanterelles and pasta, which melted on my tongue; and the wine pairings, which were certainly the most thrilling experiences my palate has had in a long time.   The standouts were, with the antipasti, a blend in the Alsatian gewürztraminer style made by the winery Lincoln Peak in… yes… Vermont; with the chanterelles, “Delfino della Contessa” (the—whimsical and rich—countess’s dolphin), a blend of riesling, chardonnay, and some others, which was bright and full of surprises; and with the salmon, Rainoldo Roso del Valtellino, a medium-bodied red made with the nebbiolo grape, which didn’t overpower the fish with fruit but held its own alongside the walnut-pinenut-basil pesto.

Certainly the most interesting part of the meal, aside from the company of my husband after several weeks apart, was the last part.  Deirdre, in her perfectly natural yet both eccentric and sophisticated grace, brought over two cordial glasses containing two liqueurs she had made herself.  One was dark, and tasted of walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and ginger.  The other was the color of iced tea, but was a combination of two mints, lemongrass, stinging nettle, and lavender.  I look forward to reading her new book, Libation.

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anticipation…

Going to Pane e Salute tonight with Peter.  A little taste of Italy in Woodstock, Vermont.  An aperitivo to our trip!

Check in tomorrow to see what was on the menu.

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The other day, I went back to visit friends from high school, whom I hadn’t seen in about fourteen years, in the town I haven’t visited much since then.  Why not, I can’t really explain.

It was one of the strongest experiences of sense-memory: watching the curve of the off-ramp come into view; feeling the curve in the tilt of my car; knowing when to slow down.  Driving from the Putney Road strip into the little downtown: they’ve redirected traffic, one way past the Common now, so where I expected the stop sign I’d failed to stop at during driver’s ed.—with the bulldog-owning bulldog of a teacher jamming on the breaks—there was none.  Past the library on the right, where I’d spent so many after-school afternoons.  Down the slope.

I can’t believe how much has stayed the same over the decades. The same businesses with the same awnings, not updated in twenty years. (The sign remains for the Common Ground, though the restaurant is no more.  It was a true hippy spot: a cooperatively run restaurant, on the second floor, with creaky floorboards, a bottomless bowl of salad with great tahini dressing, and dense, buttery cornbread.)
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Over other storefronts, new signs : shiny, with spiffy, computer-designed lettering, but keeping in the spirit of the town–a store selling natural body products, another new-age bookstore.  I parked on Main Street, across from The Shoe Tree—there for as long as I can remember.  Above those buildings to the left (east) I see the top of Wantastiquet, that huge hump of a mountain I’d walked up and down with these friends so many times, (and remember parking in its secluded parking lot at night), rising up abruptly from its foot in the Connecticut River.
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I looked up Elliot St. and saw that familiar block between Main Street and the Harmony Lot, where we’d always circled slowly a few times before finding a spot.  There was McNeill’s Brewery on the left, Maple Leaf Music on the right, where I had my first real job (lots of dusting and re-alphabetizing of sheet music).  Just across Elliot Street, down the beginning of the steep hill to Flat Street, was the slanted storefront of Mocha Joe’s coffee shop, where I had my second, and probably favorite, job.  Everything inside was exactly the same.  Four steps down to the counter, display of Bodum pots, tea things, and tee shirts on shelves on the left, a little round table to the right, and the milk-sugar station, the high counter straight ahead.  They were playing The Smiths.  That sounds familiar.

I saw Shannon first at a table at the center of the same ancient-stylized floor painting of a bird’s head in a circular design.  She looked like Shannon.  She said, “you walked right past Ham.”  He was at the counter.  We gave each other a big hug.  I was shaking!  Shannon said she’d reached Amy, who had said she’d be here.  We waited just a few minutes and saw her coming down the stairs, looking exactly like herself.  She said, “I saw you on the street, and thought, yup, that looks like her.” It’s hard to express the feelings in all of our looks and hugs.  We’d known each other so well, and then had been so far apart.  We all felt as if we couldn’t explain why we’d lost touch. We stayed there for a few minutes and then walked down the hill toward the bridge to New Hampshire to the Riverview Café.  We sat on the deck above the river, looking over at Wantastiquet—that mountain that figures so prominently in my memories of high school.
wantastiquet bridge
Our personalities were the same, though we were all more comfortable in our own skin, and talked more like adults, less like self-conscious teenagers.  I remember all of their voices so well. And their laughs, mannerisms, bodies.  It was like seeing distant cousins you used to know well, but more complicated.  We didn’t do much reminiscing in part, I think, because our group memories weren’t always happy.  There was also the feeling that we didn’t need to repeat old stories: the stories were in the air around us.  We had so many shared memories, they were there in our looks more than our words.  We had a decade and a half to catch up on.  The fourteen years when we became “grown-ups” and made our lives what they are now.

One has traveled all over the world and lives in New York City, where he writes headlines for The New York Times; another lives in her childhood house, farms the land of Circle Mountain farm, and sells her organic eggs and produce to the locals; a third is a scientist studying the impact of climate change on different species, and on humans.  I’m working on a Ph.D. in literature and writing a blog about local food, living in Alabama, and moving to Rome.  All of these endpoints, and the paths that took us there, make perfect sense for who we were and at the same time seem paradoxically outlandish.  When I told Amy my dissertation was about eighteenth-century British literature, we both started laughing.  Shannon laughed at herself for knowing so much about the different beetles that are killing off the trees of New England.  Hamilton laughed about having a job that feels like professional ADD, and Amy said, “I’m a farmer,” and we all laughed.

Walking with them, back up to Mocha Joe’s, where Ham went in for another coffee, and then up Elliot St. and around the corner into the Harmony lot, felt so familiar.  My feet, legs, body, eyes remembered all of the little details: even the concrete sidewalks haven’t been updated. There was the little triangle of grass at the corner of the lot and the street that always gets trodden down to mud. The lot, and the back doors of old buildings leading to the same shops (The Book Cellar, Galanes’) were exactly the same.

As I drove up the hill, I remembered—in a deep mind/body memory—the little y intersections and nineteenth-century houses along the streets that led up to Western Ave.  I took a right onto the interstate, but if I’d gone straight, the third right would have been Orchard Street, the hill I walked up and rode my bike up so many times, to Meetinghouse Lane, and home.

Incidentally, the food we had was mostly local: goat cheese salads, grass fed cheddar-bacon burger, pulled pork.  We ate and talked.   The hours went by, and we barely noticed.

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