©2015 Chris Terrell
When we met last, I was one week away from leaving for a quick trip to Rome for Labor Day weekend. During my trip, I had the opportunity of discovering whether the real Rome lived up to the romanticized Rome, at least when it came to food. Surprisingly, it did.
- Yes, the Italians eat a lot of pasta, but small portions;
- Italians don't really walk around snacking on food like Americans, except for gelato;
- The mozzarella is a 1,000 times better than what we get here;
- The wine is good and inexpensive; and
- Like France (my favorite foodie destination), it is hard to get a bad meal in Italy.
Well, except maybe at McDonald's.
Yes, I ate at McDonald's in Italy! Bear with me here, there's a method to my madness. Whenever I travel overseas, I like to have one meal at McDonald's because, invariably, there's always a few things on the "menu" that we don't have back here in America—items that are intended to invoke the indigenous cuisine of that particular country. For example, Belgium and France have the Le Croque McDo, which is Micky Ds version of a croque-monsieur. You can also get Macarons in a French McDonald's. Score! In China, you can get a mashed potato burger....hmmm. But my favorite, and though not international, is McSpam & Eggs in Hawaii.
On the morning we took the train to Bologna—the foodie capital of Italy and the home of the Culinary Institute of Bologna—we grabbed breakfast at the McDonald's across the street from Termini station. I ordered prosciutto on toast and a cafe Americano. I was thinking, "We're in Italy, this has to be good because this is the home of prosciutto, right?" Wrong! What I got was a lukewarm ham and cheese sandwich. I should have stuck with the Egg McMuffin, or whatever they call that in Italian.
At least all the other meals we had, made up for this momentary lapse of reason. So here's a re-cap of our culinary journey.
Friday, September 4th
11 Via Borgognona
By the time we walked to the Trevi Fountain, sans water, as it was being renovated, and a brief respite on the Spanish Steps, we were pretty hungry for dinner—even more so because we took a nap rather than have lunch.
|©2015 Chris Terrell|
I found out about Ristorante Nino in an article in The New York Times. It has served traditional, home-style Italian food since 1934. And there's a reason why this place is still around. The fresh mozzarella we had as an antipasto may have been the best I've ever had. And talk about fresh! If you closed your eyes, you would actually see and smell the green, grassy Tuscan pasture where the cow that provides the milk for this cheese lives.
For our primo I had fettuccine with mushrooms and Laura had the fettucino bolognese. Both were excellent. For my main course, I had ascé di Nino, which was a minced beef dish. Laura got tagliata, which is sliced steak seasoned with black pepper and parmesan—simple, but good. We washed all this down with a Cabot Mentin 2008 Domenico Clerico Barolo.
Saturday, September 5th
31 Via Properzio
Our first full day in Rome didn't have the best start. We had tickets for the Vatican Museum but had to endure a torrential downpour for 40 minutes under two tiny travel umbrellas that could have collapsed under at any minute. Fortunately, the rain stopped and the sun was shining brightly over St. Peter's when our tour ended around noon.
We headed over to Il Sorpasso, in the Prati neighborhood.This is usually only a ten minutes’ walk from the Vatican. I say usually, because it stretches to 25 minutes for two Type A American tourists who stop and argue over the map not once, but twice!
Il Sorpasso is a cozy little restaurant that thankfully was devoid of tourists, something I always take as a good omen. We started off with a great selection of local charcuterie and cheeses followed by tagliatell funghi (yes, again!) for me and orechietti pomodoro for Laura. Our wine was a 2014 St. Michael Eppan Alto Adige.
Saturday, September 5th
Via Boschetto 73, Rome
In English, the name of this restaurant is "The Golden Donkey," named after a well-known Italian story. But don't let the the name fool you. My notes for this restaurant begin simply with: "O.M.G.!"
But it almost didn't happen.
On this trip, we were trying to be somewhat spontaneous, not a easy task for two Type A people. (See above reference to map reading.) And on this night, we really didn't have any plans for dinner. Luckily, I found L'Asino on an app called "Eat Italy" that I had downloaded just before we left. It may turn out to be the best app I've ever downloaded.
When we arrived at the restaurant around 9:00PM (very continental!), we discovered that they couldn't seat us until 10:00PM without a reservation. I was pretty hungry and didn't want to wait. We tried another restaurant that looked promising but the wait there would have been about 20 minutes. We really wanted to try this restaurant, so we hurried back and put our name on the list. Then, in order to kill some time, we went in search of a bar.
[Here comes another digression.]
Another instance where America and Italy, and most of Continental Europe, differ widely lies in what constitutes a bar. The bars in Italy are not really bars in the American sense. They are nothing more than a cafe that happens to serve some liquor and beer behind a cramped, standing-room-only bar. (And don't even get me started what most European bartenders can do to a martini!) If you want more of the kind of bar we are used to, then look for ones that describe themselves as "American Bars."
But unlike an American bar, you are likely to get a plate of complimentary tapas to accompany your drinks. This came in handy that night because we were both hungry. Laura had a glass of wine, while I had Jack Daniels on the rocks. Kinda hard to screw that up.
Ten o'clock finally arrived. It was worth the wait.
For our antipasto, we got an omelette with figs. The figs tasted like they had been picked off the tree around 8:00PM that night. Hard to go wrong with the sweet and savory combo.
For our primo, I got octopus with panzanella and melon and we split a dish of fettuccine with wild boar. For our main course, I had lamb meatballs with blue cheese and pears. Laura ordered rabbit with herbs, peppers, pine nuts, and black olives. It was clearly the best meal we had in Rome and one of the best meals we've had, period.
Oh, and the wine was damn good too: Casanova di Neri, 2008 Brunello, a wonderful wine that was about $50 cheaper in Rome than in the States.
Sunday, September 6th
Lunch & Dinner
Not much happened on this day from a culinary perspective. We slept in. Had pizza at a nondescript restaurant in the Campo di Fiori; dinner at the hotel. I guess the jet lag caught up with us.
Monday, September 7th
Osteria del Cappello
Via Dè Fusari, 9, 40123 Bologna
As much as we loved it, we decided it was time to leave Rome. We picked Bologna because it was a relatively short train ride (2 hours) and the foodie capital of Italy. (It's the home of the Culinary Institute of Bologna.)
After several spats about who was better at navigating the streets of Bologna and a tug of war with the map, we found Osteria del Cappello on a short side street, where it has resided since 1652.
We started with a prosciutto platter and a bottle of Lambrusco: CeCi Otello NerodiLambrusco 1813. Keep in mind that lambrusco, or good lumbrusco, is a great food wine and should not be confused with what our parents drank in the 1970s while sitting on the bearskin rug watching Sonny & Cher!
|©2015 Chris Terrell|
No, this is not an episode of Jersey Shore;
that's a real cop.
Sandwiches from the dining car. Yeah, it was a major let down after lunch in Bologna, but the late lunch meant that we were not hungry before the two-hour train ride back to Rome. Besides, we had more fun sitting outside at a bar watching six police officers take 51 minutes to decide whether to arrest two hapless guys in New Balance sneakers. You have to love Italian inefficiency.
Lunch & Snack
UA Flight #971
Somewhere over the North Atlantic
After such wonderful food, we had to slum it with airplane food. At least we were in business class, so not too bad. And the G&Ts were free!
So, there you have it. Our culinary adventure to Rome. Did it live up to my expectations? Yes. I found the food to be every bit as good as I remember and as I expected. Italians love to eat and they love food, and that is reflected in the quality of the meals I had. And like the French, the Italians are all about tradition and respect it highly. As Tara Gresco of the New York Times wrote recently, "When it comes to cooking like a Roman, there may be no absolute truth, but there are well-defined limits."
Unfortunately, there were no limits to my waistline when I returned.