2015 ITALY FOOD DIARIES, DAY 8

Friday was another beautiful day in Florence.  Our apartment is so centrally located yet so quiet that it is easy to sleep late.  We did hit the streets before 10am, which was pretty good for us. Our first stop was the Central Market – Mercato Centrale – for breakfast.

20150417_095850

Last year (just after we were here) they re-opened the upstairs of the market and turned it into what one might call a fancy food court.  There’s a large Eataly stand up there, and many many vendors all preparing ready-to-eat foods (unlike down stairs which is primarily ingredients – produce, meat, fish, pasta and more). I was eager to check it out. Well, it’s cool I guess, in a fancy schmancy kind of Iron Chef sort of way. Hip, retro, quality, overpriced. There’s a slick cooking class kitchen set up in one corner too. Funky signage and graphics. And a $300,000 white truffle in a display case for all to admire.

20150417_100224

We grabbed a twisted pastry thing for Joe with chocolate chips on the outside, he gave it an average rating. I paid for and then waited forever for a simple caffe macchiato. The baristas seemed more concerned with putting on a show for the tourists than being efficient. Almost as if to say “Observe the art involved in preparing a proper espresso.” Well I get it, I owned a coffeehouse. There are a lot of factors (well beyond my skills) in perfecting coffee. But I’m more impressed with the barista who can make my espresso, rinse off several other cups, get a fresh cornetto for the guy standing next to me and shout a ‘ciao bella’ with a wink and a smile to the mail lady all within 45 seconds. So anyway, the upstairs of Mercato Centrale is very hip and cool,  but I’d much rather dive into the noise, grit and authentic flavor of the downstairs.  Which, by the way, is just what we did when we left the fancy food court and went down to grab another porchetta sandwich from the guys at Nerbone. Perfection.

Leaving the market we headed over towards Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The last time we were here they were doing construction in that area and we weren’t able to visit. While we didn’t go in the church we hung out in the square for a little while, renaming it the piazza of the strong turtles.

Next stop was Santa Croce. We wandering a bit in getting to that side of town and started looking for lunch places. We tracked down a few Trip-Advisor highly rated places in that hood and discovered most of them were not open for lunch. (I have a love – hate relationship with Trip Advisor). We found ourselves in front of a little place called La Maremma and decided to give it a try. (www.ristorantelamaremma.com) Great decision – lunch went something like this…

They offered a couple of pre-fix-ish combinations for lunch. I went with Pears with Caramelized Honey and Pecorino  Cheeses, a mixed Green Salad, and a glass of house red.  Joe ordered the Tuscan crostiini (chicken liver pate on toast) and spaghetti al vongole (little clams). He loved it all, but it was a little too much food for lunch.  I would totally return to that place for lunch or dinner. Funky sleek interior, nice bathroom (that can be an issue in these parts), really friendly servers, reasonable prices, and delicious food.

20150417_123358

20150417_124846

So…Santa Croce church. Not only is it spectacular artistically and architecturally, a lot of dudes so famous you only need a single name are buried there, including Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Michelangelo, and many others. We used the audio/tablet tour which was incredibly informative, and also captured the interest of the teenager more than my commentary could have. Worth the visit.

Not far from Santa Croce we came upon a delicious little gelato shop (Amalo) where they were making their own gelato and also did a lot of fresh fruit, smoothies, crepes, etc.  I tried to order a ‘shakerato’ – espresso shaken with ice – as I was overheating, but instead I think she heard me say ‘chocolato’ and I ended up with the thickest richest hot chocolate ever. Not what I was looking for or needed, but amazing just the same.

20150417_150704

For dinner we were on a mission to find some Florentine Bistecca – that 2+ inch thick sold by the kilo served rare delicacy that this town is know for. We tried getting a table at del Fagioli (we’ve thoroughly enjoyed their Bistecca in the past) but they were booked.  I called another place – Trattoria da Georgio – a place near Santa Maria Novella said to have a good bistecca at a reasonable price. When I called there was a very quick conversation in Italian….and no reservation taken.  I couldn’t quite figure it out,  I heard something about ’10 minutes’. I decided that perhaps he said ‘ we don’t take reservations but come wait outside and we will have a table ready for you within 10 minutes.’ or maybe he said ‘call back in 10 minutes and someone might be here who speaks English’. Either way, we set out in that direction and found it within about 15 minutes.  It was quite full, very bustling, but no line. They were able to seat the two of us at a table for 6, which we shared with a young couple and their toddler.

Indeed a bargain, they had a pre-fix bistecca option (the steak with one side, bread, bottled water and wine – or a coke)  for 28 euro. Now usually bistecca is sold by the kilo and it’s considerably more.  They had a non-bistecca three course option – also with wine, bottled water and bread – for just 14 euro. I opted for gnocchi with gorgonzola and walnuts (fabulous!!), bresaola (kind of a cured beef salami) with arugula and pecorino romano, and a mixed salad. Everything was delightful, service was great, portions were generous and delicious, and we didn’t break the bank. Not fancy (the bread comes to the table in a bag), kind of tight on space, but great fun.  This is a picture I will remember for a long time…

20150417_201828

Advertisements

2015 Italian Food Diaries, Days 6 & 7

20150416_155825

First 2 days in Florence – Abbreviated Version (to embellish later)

Wednesday Morning – Last stop at La Renella for Potato Pizza before we leave Rome. Taxi to termini station, train to Florence, arrived at noon .

Apartment – awesome. On via Zannoni, 5 min from station, 30 seconds from Central Market

Mercato Centrale for Porchetta sandwich at Nerbone (2pm, no line)

Walked past Duomo, no line to climb (strange!) Bought tickets and went up.

Break for Coke and Spritz….

Meet up with friends for prime seat on the square, and lemoncello.

Stop at Grocery (love grocery shopping here)….bread, olive oil, butter, wine, lardo, salami, cheese, strawberries, water coke, lettuce, yogurt, milk, breadsticks….apartment now stocked.

Sleepover with the kids – pasta, berries, salumi

Day 2, Florence:

Lardo on toast for breakfast.

Baptistry by Duomo (on 24 hr ticket). See ceiling:

20150416_114910

Cannolo Siciliano at Gilli on Piazza della Republica

Picked up tickets for a little cooking class on Saturday (rain in forecast)

Gelato at Venchi (Caramel, Mascarpone-Fig)

Walked past sculptures and through Uffizi courtyard. No risk of Stendahl Syndrome on this trip!

Across Ponte Vecchio to Trattoria Casalinga for lunch. Fabulous!! Mixed antipasto (tomato bruschetta, white bean bruschetta, chicken liver pate bruschetta, something with egg?, salumi, cheese, lardo, bread), arugula salad with lemon, joe had roast beef, a little water, a little wine, un caffe. (30e)

Walked to Pitti Palace then cab to Chiesa San Miniato al Monte – church on hill. Worth the 10e cab.

20150416_152904

Time in graveyard, so cool, then into church. Magnificent views.

Walked down to Piazza Michelangelo then down steps and long walk back to apartment.

Laundry, chilled out for the evening. Little vacation from vacation 🙂

2015 Italian Food Diaries, Day 5

Tuesday was our last full day in Rome and we were determined to make the best of it. We started at 10am with, of course, a stop at La Renella for Joe’s breakfast of choice: potato pizza. Wandered a bit east in Trastevere towards the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum…yesterday’s two day ticket still allowed us entrance into that area. Stumbled upon bar “Long Island” and grabbed a quick caffe….I think it was the best I’ve had. Really hot, a slightly caramel flavor (or it was the particular brand of raw sugar I added). Delicious. Soon after stopped at a pasticceria and grabbed two small lobster tails – one cream and one chocolate. Amazing. I have no idea the name of the shop.

Crossing the bridge we popped into the church, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, behind the Mouth of Truth. The church is worth a visit, and despite the large crowds gathering in front for a photo op a la Roman Holiday (OK, we did that on our first visit too), the church itself is usually quiet and almost empty. There are frescoes from the 11th century, a bell tower from the 12th century, the skull of Saint Valentine and the most amazing mosaic stone floors. The basilica sits on the site of an ancient temple of Hercules, and a crypt in the basement contains some artifacts from that time.

We continued over to the lower entrance to Palatine Hill, where we entered and made a sharp right towards the Forum (again taking advantage of the complete lack of line at this entrance). Using some downloaded Rick Steves audio guides, we synchronized our phones and enjoyed a one hour tour of the Forum. Surely it would take more than a week to understand all that’s happening there, but in an hour you get get a general idea, and don’t suffer heat stroke (or impatient teenager syndrome). Following the history lesson, we walked up the hill behind the Vittorio Emanuele Monument (aka “the typewriter” or “the wedding cake” due to its bright marble facade and enormity). We climbed the stairs to the main viewing level, but then took the elevator to the top. What a view of the city! (all of my pictures came out blurry, I believe there was some pastry cream involved…)

We were a little weary from walking and climbing and artifacts and the heat, so we stopped at the little cafe on the main viewing level of the monument. Expecting an overpriced cold drink but at least a place to sit, I was pleasantly surprised. Joe had a Coke (it’s made with real sugar here and he likes it) and a prosciutto panino, I had a roasted veggie panino with generous slices of fresh mozzarella, a bottled bubbly water and a macchiato.  13 euro, a cool breeze, a well-needed break, win win.

We descended the huge old staircase I’d pointed out to him when we arrived in the city, and walked home through the Jewish quarter, stopping of course at Punto Gelato for a cone.  While back at the apartment for a little siesta, I called and made reservations for dinner. It’s always fun to call and speak the native language. When my part of the conversation is clear enough that they reply in Italian, I’m a little bit flattered that they understood me, but always left wondering if they really did. Do we have a table for 6 at 8pm tonight? or a table for 8 on the 6th? or did I just order take-out? Without the advantage of in-person hand gestures (a significant part of the Italian language), it’s a bit of a challenge.

The call must have worked. We arrived at Flavio al Velavevodetto in Testaccio and they had our table waiting.  We were one of the first tables seated but alas, travelling with kiddos, the 10pm seating wasn’t going to cut it.  Our guide Katie had recommended this place, and I’d read a lot about it lately. The menu looked something like this…

20150414_195613

Pardon the poor picture quality…I didn’t want to be too much of a geek taking a picture of the menu. We had several selections…

Bottle of House Red, One glass of Prosecco, One Coke in a glass bottle, Still and Frizzante waters

Carciofi alla Giudia (Jewish style fried artichokes) – Fabulous

20150414_200354

Frittata con Fiori di Zucca – OK. Reading this now I get it – I was thinking it was fried zucchini blossoms, but really it was a zucchini blossom frittata. It was a fine frittata, but due to my own poor translation, I was just expecting something else 🙂

20150414_200404

Rigatoni alla matriciana – with tomato, pecorino and some crazy delicious guanciale which, as it turns out, is cured pork jowl…and tasted sort of like bacon, but better. Think guanciale is to bacon, like bacon is to bologna.

Rigatoni alla carbonara – with guanciale, pecorino, egg and pepper – very good, perhaps a little sharper and less creamy than some of the other carbonaras we’ve had….but ooh that guanciale!!

Ravioli all velavevodetto – with fresh buffalo ricotta (wow!!), tomatoes, herbs, deliciousness

20150414_202125

Tonnarelli cacio e pepe – with cheese and black pepper – loved it

20150414_202156

Polpette fritte di bollito – fried meatballs made of savory shredded beef, served with sauteed chicory and roasted potatoes. “They were fanTAStic” says Joe. Well, I had the chicory, which I loved (sort of like collards. sort of)

20150414_202050

For dessert we went with the tiramisu (amazing), the zabaglione (good, but served frozen, was expecting creamy), and what they called a dutch chocolate cake….more of a brownie, seemed to be a good quality chocolate, and better with a scoop of the frozen zabaglione on top.

Finished the night with a couple of espressi, one refreshing glass of house white, and all in at 139 euro. Not bad for 3 adults, 3 kids, apps and desserts. I really liked this place….Roman classics done well, reasonably priced, unpretentious, and not a word of English on the menu. It’s probably a toss up for me between this and da Franceso for my favorite restaurant in Rome. Da Francesco is more accessible to the historical center, but “Velavevodetto” is more fun to say. Both have great vibes. And here I got to ask for extra spoons with our desserts, giving me the opportunity to use one of my favorite Italian words, “cucchiaio” (coo-key-eye-oh).It’s the simple things. It’s all good.

2015 Italy Food Diaries – Day 4

20150413_182522

Monday, Monday….so good to me. Monday morning, it was all I hoped it would be. (everybody sing along!) So Monday was a fun day.  We rarely hire tour guides (they can be fantabulous, but we travel cheap), but we had arranged to spend yesterday morning with Katie Parla. Katie’s a Jersey girl, living in Rome, went to Yale, knows lots and lots about food and wine and history and culture. Lots.

It was tricky getting up before 9, but we managed. Punto Gelato (our current favorite) was closed at that hour, but we joined our friends at Nonna Vicenza for coffee and pastry. I had a caffe before we crossed the bridge, but Joe got a gorgeous and amazingly delicious pistacchio cannoli. Ricotta filling to die for. I realize now that I forgot to get a picture and the only proper way to remedy that would be to return. I wonder if there is time…. Anyway, if you’re in the hood, check this place out. Beautiful Sicilian bakery, quite fancy (they even have a bathroom!!) and worth the trip

20150413_091935

From there we high-tailed it along the Tiber, past Circus Maximus, and over to the lower entrance of the Palatine Hill to meet our guide. Big thanks to Katie for making us aware of this little convenience….this entrance had no line, and you can buy your ticket there for the Colosseum and the Forum/Palatine Hill. They are two separate spaces, but the ticket you buy gets you entrance to each space. You can also use it on two different days. We bought the tickets (Katie’s friendly smooth Italian ensured the ticket office gave us the best discount – I’m pretty sure the kids were free. It’s only a 12 euro ticket, but every penny counts) and then strolled over to the Colosseum (just 200m away).  We were able to walk past the long lines of folks buying tickets there, and go right in. She was fabulous with the kids, and a wealth of information. It’s one thing to read about a place, or try to read about it in a little guide book while you’re there, but it’s another to have a knowledgeable guide point out all the cool stuff and explain the history, question the myths, and answer every question. (Have I mentioned she knows A LOT?)

After the Colosseum we hopped an Uber van to the Testaccio neighborhood.  Testaccio is an authentic, working class Roman neighborhood. Low on tourists, high on reality. It lies south of the Colosseum and across the Tiber from the southern  part of the Trastevere neighborhood.  We hadn’t explored that area before, and I was eager to check it out. Our first stop:  Pasticceria Barberini for, well, yeah, more pastry, I had a delicious ‘lobster tail’ filled with the most amazing cream ever (I need to find out what those are called in Italian), Joe had a cornetto (croissant) filled with hazelnut-infused chocolate, I had a macchiato, Amy had un shakerato….espresso shaken with ice. Very yummy….and also something I’ll be re-creating at home on a regular basis. There may be a Vitamix blender involved.

20150413_115609

Next stop was the location of the old Testaccio market, now a lovely square with a newer fountain in the shape of the old olive oil vessels. We learned so much about the old market, the vessels (how the old vessel dumping ground is now a mountain…think Hartford dump but centuries older, cleaner and, well, kinda cool), the people who worked there, and how things changed with the new market. Then we walked a few blocks to the shiny new market. Much more sterile than rustic, but oh such deliciousness inside.

Our first stop was a little Sicilian booth for arrancini…the girl at the counter was kind enough to cut them into smaller pieces for us, as these were the size of baseballs. Some filled with a meat ragu, and some with ham and cheese…both wonderful. Then we moved on to Mordi e Vai….

20150413_123630

This is the dude. Apparently he ran a butcher shop in the old market and when that closed he retired. But, missing the business, he came out of retirement and opened this sort of fast food joint in the new market.  Here he makes all the favorite classic Roman dishes and puts them into (awesome crusty) sandwich bread to go.  We had one that was a Roman style artichoke (trimmed and steamed in a seasoned stock) literally smashed into a sandwich and topped with a sharp aged cheese. We also had a shredded beef one, and some fried flatted meatballs. There were tons of other varieties, including classic peasant real food, using all parts of the animal.  Katie recently worked with Andrew Zimmer (Bizarre Foods guy) on three episodes airing soon, that include this stand. (Also check out Katie’s blog for more).

We continued the market tour through the produce stands. No fish today, she said they only sell fish there on Tuesdays and Fridays. (If you’re into fresh fish markets I totally recommend Rialto Market in Venice!) Then we visited the old slaughterhouse area – a very sophisticated production area in its time, now regenerating as a cultural cluster with galleries, shops and more. We did manage one more quick gelato stop – Katie’s preferred spot wasn’t making gelato for the season yet, but the kids needed a little refresher. OK, me too.

20150413_125330 20150413_125839 20150413_130045 20150413_125857

Our tour with Katie Parla was quite fabulous, and I can’t recommend her enough. She’s so knowledgeable, personable and flexible. Check out her website (I’m going to add links to everything when I’m home on my real computer), contact her very helpful assistant Vanessa, and see where Katie can lead you!

We relaxed a while in the afternoon on our terrace with a bit of cool white wine….then regrouped in the evening for dinner. A stroll by the Pantheon first, the kids discovered how to take some cool panoramic pictures with the phones….I’ll have to post some later. We had dinner at Cantina Lucifero, a block or two off of Campo Dei Fiori. Everything was yummy but I forgot to take pictures…..here’s what we had though…

They welcomed us with complimentary glasses of prosecco then…

Antipasto – bruschetta with lardo and truffle-infused honey (trust me on the lardo), also a salumi plate with speck, prosciutto, ham, cheese, and some grilled zucchini and eggplant.

Spaghetti with Marinara and Veal Meatballs (for once Joe could not order shellfish but he was delighted), Lasagne Bolognese, Artichoke Gauteau, Zucchini/Potato/Speck Gauteau, and Toma Cheese with a boat-load of shaved white truffles.

These guys (and their sister Lucifer Taverna) love to do it up with the truffles, and do not disappoint. My only disappointment is their lack of house wine. I’m not a wine person and I’m usually perfectly happy with the vino della casa.  The owner was supremely kind though, and gave Amy a small jar of the truffle honey upon our departure.

Returned back to our Roman home with happy bellies (um, yeah, the kids did get one more gelato at Punto – Joe was proud to now order it all by himself), and tired legs.

Another bella giornata en Roma!!

2015 Italy Food Diaries, Day 3

We’ve covered so much territory in the past 2 days I’m  not sure if I can remember it all…but I’m willing to try.

Sunday was another late start….after so much walking on Saturday we sort of took our time. Before I got my morning caffe, we grabbed a small slice of Joe’s new favorite potato pizza at La Renella, then walked across the lovely Ponte Sisto to meet up with our friends. We could not, of course, walk past Punto Gelato without Joe getting a morning cone. I think he got salted caramel, but honestly I’m losing track.

20150412_114801 (1) 20150412_120158

We wanted to walk by the Vatican area to show the kids, so we headed west on via Monserrato (we rented a fabulous apartment there on our first visit) and then via Giulia. We popped into a bar on Monserrato for a bit more caffe and some fresh squeezed orange juice for the kids.  We’re fond of a little bar on via Giulia but it was Sunday, and it was closed. One more gelato stop for the kids before we crossed the river again to Castel Sant’ Angelo.

Without doing the research,  I can’t tell you much about Castel Sant’Angelo except that it’s a rather massive cylindrical building that you can climb up into (picture the spriral ‘staircase’ at the Guggenheim museum.)…I feel like it was somebody’s crypt but that could be totally wrong. There IS a sizable wall/tunnel connecting the castel to the Vatican, and it was meant to be a place for the pope to run to for safety if he needed protection. Anyway, the view from the top is pretty stellar, but there was a big line to get in so we opted to check back later. We walked around the back of the structure where there was a playground, shade, and plenty of locals chilling out on a Sunday afternoon.

20150412_130637 (1)

Behind Castel Sant'Angelo

Behind Castel Sant’Angelo

After a brief rest in the shade we strolled over to St Peter’s. Never have I seen so many people in the square. (The square that is a circle). We had no plans to go inside (while I’m willing to sleep in on a vacation, I’m not willing to wait in a line for half the day)…just wanted to show the kids the area. Our group got split up in the masses, so Joe and I decided to spin off and take a walk south of the Vatican back towards our neighborhood. (Getting split up is infinitely less stressful in the era of cell phones and texting!)  I had never walked in that area and was curious.  After a quick gelato/macchiato stop we started on the main road toward our ‘hood. It turned into a slow incline with no turn-offs. We were tackling Gianciolo (Janiculum) Hill.  I could almost hear Janus whispering from the earth “Don’t even THINK about turning around now….I’ve seen what you two have been doing with gelati!!  In the end, we survived, and were rewarded with a fabulous view from the top of the hill.

20150412_145458 (1)

Several decending staircases later, we were back in our little neighborhood. Our goal for lunch had been a place called Pianostrada Laboratorio Cucina. We found it, it looked awesome, it was tiny, it was packed and we were too tired to wait. (It was also pushing 3 pm and we didn’t know if they might close the kitchen soon). We reluctantly wandered around the corner to Taverna della Scala. I have to say, the food was pretty good, but the service was so impersonable that it sort of wrecked the meal.  We had bruschetta with beautiful prosciutto (drizzled with a delectable olive oil), a little cacio e pepe suppli (a cheesy peppery fried rice ball), an artichoke potato ‘pie’ and potato encrusted sea bass. While individual elements of the dish were tasty, there was something about the combination of fresh lemon on the fish with the potatoes that just seemed an odd combo. (And a service charge with unwelcoming service, and not even bread, is just not ok.)

20150412_15361920150412_155035

The short stroll back to our apartment included, of course, gelato. From Cremi, right around the corner. Can’t remember the flavors, but it was yummy.

20150412_16230320150412_162250

We took a little siesta. OK, maybe a big siesta. I’m trying to remember if there was anything we actually accomplished after lunch and before dinner. Nope. I think just a siesta. And some reading. Well, it is the foodie tour after all.

Around 8 pm we walked out our door and all of 75 feet to Antico Caffe del Moro. Joe had a delicious Risotto della Pescatore….risotto with all kinds of seafood. I had a mouth-watering bruschetta with gorgonzola cheese, paper thin pears, and a little dollop of sweet jam (totally re-creating that on the deck when we get home)…..along with a classic, (and very filling) lasagne bolognese. Delicious food, and delightful service. I told the waitress in Italian (I think) that my son enjoyed the meal very much and he will write a good review on Trip Advisor. It looked like they had a nice appertivo hour going too, but we were a little late for that. Next time.

20150412_20440420150414_105732

2015 Italy Food Diaries, Day 2

Holy Roamin’ Empire.  Today was a self-guided wander around town to get a glimpse of some of the main tourist attractions. It is a first time visit for two of the youngsters in our party, so we wanted to give them an overview. Our day started late – slept in until close to noon. I used to frown on such behavior on a culturally rich vacation – why waste time sleeping when there is such magnificence right outside your door? Well, I’m mellowing. And I’m determined to continue this as a once a year (at least) gig, not a once in a lifetime excursion. And, well, it is not advisable in any country to interrupt the peaceful slumber of a jet-lagged teenager.

So, in a nutshell, we went from Trastevere to Campo dei Fiori to Piazza Navona to the Pantheon to the Trevi Fountain to the Spanish Steps to Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli to the Colosseum to Circus Maximus to the Temple of Hercules and back to Trastevere. All told a 9.4 mile cobblestone stroll according to the fit-bitish app on my son’s phone. Such an outing, of course, requires FUEL. Primarily espresso and gelato. (technically “espressi” and “gelati”….the plural forms of the words….but when I listed each “panino” on our menu at the orchard, people wondered how a panino compares to “a” panini….so, well, I will try not to complicate….)

After a nibble of wild boar salami we hit the town. On the way to meet our friends at their Campo dei Fiore apartment, we stopped at Punto Gelato, just across the Ponte Sisto bridge. Joe had the stracciatella (essentially chocolate chip) and the pistachio puro. Breakfast of champions.

20150411_122833

I passed on the gelato and opted for un caffe macchiato (espresso with a touch of foamed milk on top) at Bar Farnese before stepping into the open market for some breakfast nibbles. I have a few favorite vendors there, primarily the ones that LOOK like real hard-working Italian farmers selling real seasonal vegetables. Last year I helped one of them write a sign that said “DO NOT TOUCH”…handling the produce is totally uncool here. Amidst her frustration with other carciofi-squeezing turisti, I was somewhat honored that she asked me to help her. Anyway, I went to her stand and selected (pointed to) a beautiful, luscious…are you ready for this? Una MELA. Yup, an apple. I live on a orchard and traveled 4000 miles to buy an apple. Oh heck, it just looked like the perfect little traveling breakfast snack, and it was delish.

My son has decided he LOVES arancini…those yummy little balls of risotto that are filled with meats or cheeses and fried. “Decided” I should say, because I decided I wanted to figure out how to make them recently and he was my guinea pig. Success. So arancini sampling has been one of our goals since we started planning this trip. I knew they had them at il Fornaio, a bakery near Campo,  but when we passed by it was much too crowded. By the time we got to the Pantheon he was droopy with hunger so we stopped a place called Pizzarius which, well, I think may be the Italian equivalent of Subway. Anyway, we were getting desperate. We grabbed two suppli, which is sort of like arancini. It was a bit of a crap shoot…they looked fine, but I had heard that a popular filling for suppli was chicken livers. Not wanting him to know that was a possibility, I just pretended they were going to be filled with cheese, the way I make them at home. Fortunately, they were just cheesy and saucy and perfectly fine. Not amazing, but they hit the spot at that moment.

Joe was playing with the Trip Advisor Rome app which has a bunch of restaurants in it, and located one near the Trevi fountain that he wanted to try, called La Fontana de Venere. I sort of take the Trip Advisor ratings with a grain of salt….it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the barrel and bring down the rating of a great establishment, so I try to read the actual reviews. This place was hidden away on a side street and the reviews mentioned ‘lots of locals’ which is always a big selling point for me. The staff was lovely, food very good, and I think Joe hit the jackpot with his frutti di mare pasta.

20150411_151841

After lunch we walked to nearby San Crispino gelato….so delicious. I had zabaglione and, oh, reporting failure, I can’t remember what everyone else had.  I think there was a Barolo wine flavor involved though.  Good stuff.  Another gelato stop a few miles later at what might have been a chain (‘Wonderful Gelateria Creperia”?) was just what we needed to keep the kids from passing out. We’d been walking about 5 hours by then and they didn’t have much energy left.

Before returning to our apartment to rest, we popped into La Renella, a bakery just a few doors down. Fabulous focaccia bread, beautiful selection of pizza al taglio (cut to order, priced by weight, usually rectangular). We picked up a small slice of simple pizza with thinly sliced potatoes. Yum. We will certainly be returning!

Not too hungry but still wanting to go out for dinner, most of us headed to Mario’s (literally across the street). It’s a family run restaurant, no tourist menu, no one outside soliciting diners (a typical practice in the tourist areas), no fake food samples set out for people to admire (?!?!). I’m pretty certain we were the only non-locals in there, which is perfectly fine with me. House red wine, penne arrabiata, spaghetti amatriciana, pasta with mushrooms and truffles, and a bolognese. Lovely friendly staff…they even made a pasta dish to-go for one of the kids to eat back on our apartment terrace (all that grown-up dining out business can be way too much effort for the young ones sometimes). We wanted to order more (a cheese plate with honey passed by our table) but all the walking and gelato had taken its toll.  If you want unpretentious, authentic Roman cuisine, Mario’s is great. (via del Moro, Trastevere). It’s a wonderful way to step out of the tourist stampede and duck in with the locals.

More pictures to download soon, and I want to put links to some of the places, but not tonight. A very long day, time to rest.   Buona Notte from Roma.  Oh, one more thing…we also saw two brides (and grooms) today – one at the Pantheon and one near the Colosseum…and walked into a church (Quattro Fontani?) where a wedding was about to begin. Crazy…we always see newlyweds here, out with their photographers….going for eternal memories in the eternal city.

2015 Italy Food Diaries, Day 1

Our oldest son and I arrived in Italy today.  It is my 5th visit (as a grown up) and his very first.  He’s quite the food guy, so I’m making an effort to diary our culinary adventures.  Here’s day 1….

First, the travel progression to arrive in this fabulous destination.  We live a modest lifestyle, our biggest indulgence being an annual escape to Italy. So, well, I’m pretty darn frugal.  Which means we don’t generally book flights through Bradley and lately we have been flying into Milan. It’s about 30% cheaper than flying into Rome.  (We also flew American this year, and I totally recommend Emirates Air, which we flew last year.) Anyhoo, when you fly frugal, your travel path may look something like this:

Drive 3 hours to JFK Airport, and use the cheap and convenient Park Plus Airport Parking. (That place really is so easy and efficient, but their restroom facilities are a bit sketchy…or should I say a good warm-up for the Italian public restroom scene. FYI, TMI, always BYOTP.)

Take the parking shuttle to the terminal.

Check bags and go through security (and do a little dance when you somehow score TSA Pre-Check status and don’t even have to remove your shoes!)

Board plan for 8 hour flight. (I am a very poor vertical sleeper)

Arrive in Milan and go through customs, baggage claim and bathroom stop.

Board Malpensa Express airport train shuttle to central train station.

Take 3 hour train from Milan to Rome….because that’s where all roads and rail tracks lead to.

Grab 10 minute taxi to rental apartment in Trastevere (because the adventure of a Roman bus is not best tackled with luggage, no matter how lightly you pack.)

Brief power nap.

So basically 18 hours later we are in the Eternal City. Plan for next year: expand blog base from 35 followers to 35,000, capture some prime advertising dollars, and buy a first class ticket on a more direct flight. Hey, a girl can dream, right ? 🙂

But I digress. Before I forget the food (and pass out from travel exhaustion), here’s a little look at our first day of food in Italy.

Breakfast: continental something in a box on the plane. Nothing to write home about but the view over the alps was phenomenal.

20150410_013736

The brief snack stop at the Milano train station is something I’d rather not discuss. {Brings back the same feelings of disappointment from the time we ate in Piazza Navona for dinner on our first visit)

Acclimation stroll around Trastevere neighborhood – delicious artesanal gelato. Joe got chocolate chip and gianduia (chocolate hazelnut).  Quite delicious, I will find out name tomorrow. (I opted for a caffe macchiato at the next bar).

We walked over to Campo dei Fiori to meet our travel companions and popped into Norcineria Viola for some amazing salumi samples. In honor of my husband (who is staying home this trip to watch our other monkeys) we left with a small package of delicious ciangiale (wild boar) salami.  (Thank goodness for this little blog, or I would have forgotten that the savory little package was still in my purse).

Off to dinner at Da Francesco, on Piazza del Fico, near Navona.  Our go-to favorite dinner spot. Not fancy, reasonable priced, always delicious.  We dined early with the tourist crowd at 7pm….we usually arrive there after 10, but our jet-lagged bodies (and younger travelers) couldn’t manage that today. We were all in at 120 euro for 6 people, including a few bottles of house red, still and bubbly waters, foccacia with lardo (trust me), Jewish style artichokes, linguine with baby clams, a carbonara dish, a bolognese pasta, another pasta with abundant black truffles, a spicy gnocchi with artichokes and shrimp, and a crispy flatbread white pizza with parmesan, wild baby asparagus and a sunny side egg. We love the waiters there, they don’t mess around…no fancy cocktails, not even coffee service…just good fresh food with seasonal ingredients.

20150410_193754

20150410_194737

Finished our night with gelato at Quinto Gelateria just around the block.  The guys at Da Francesco recommended Quinto. Lots of flavors, friendly staff, but not my favorite gelato. A bit on the icy (not so creamy) side….and I had Creme Caramel and Tiramisu flavors.  I would add, however, it wasn’t exactly gelato weather around here this week, so maybe it wasn’t as fresh as it might otherwise be.

Pardon the lengthy ramble…this series is partial blog, partial diary. More tomorrow, when we hit the cobblestones with a day long wander around the city….with very frequent food breaks. Grazie for reading….buona notte from Roma!