Tutto Qua!

I’ve been meaning to write about this place for a while. I first stumbled on it when I went to pick up my Italian identity card at the police station. I often time such errands to take place during the luncheon hour and if there happens to be an interesting restaurant nearby and I happen to pop inside, what’s the harm in that? Tutto qua (That’s all) is a small place with a bistro-ey vibe and a frequently changing menu full of wonderful, creative stuff, most but not all of it fishy in nature. It calls itself an EnOsteria, which I suppose is a mashup between an enoteca, which principally serves wine, and an osteria, which principally serves simple food. Here are some things that I’ve eaten on various visits there.

This here’s a pullet stuffed with foie gras and arrayed with roasted baby vegetables. It was amazing. Pullet is one of those things that I always sort of knew what it was but not really. It’s a baby hen in case you are equally ignorant. As the U.V.’s sister once asked me, “Who knew eating babies could be so delicious?” For the record, she was referring to baby sheep, not baby humans

Baby hen is joined by her baby veggie friends: beet, peppers, carrots and cauliflower.

Here are a couple of artichokes atop a puddle of melted pecorino cheese and lots of black pepper. My number one recommendation to all aspiring cooks is this: if you want to make a dish that’s amazing and that all the people will love, EITHER fry it, melt chocolate on it or melt cheese on it (the ‘it’ being pretty much anything). This is foolproof!

Below is a velvety shrimp tartare accompanied by smoked burrata. Yum. Buratta is the best cheese in the world and the smokiness of this one set off the fresh, pelagic taste of the little crustaceans to a fare-thee-well. You always hear about how mixing seafood and cheese is a big Italian non-non. But I’ve started seeing it on menus a lot. Mamma mia. The next thing you know, Italian mothers will let their kids go swimming less than four hours after they’ve eaten!

Roast pork with roasted cabbage slaw. The ultimate comfort food.

And spinach sautéed with raisins and pine nuts.  

The sign says ‘Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t care about food.’ A truer word was never spoken. 

Another highly recommended restaurant find in Monteverde. Plus they do a bunch of different kinds of burgers, which I plan on trying out soon. Yay, my ‘hood rules!

Tutto Qua, Via Anton Giulio Barrili 66. Tel: 06 580 3649. Open everyday for lunch and dinner except Sunday night.

Brazilian sushi?!

Manioka, Viale Aventino

Romans are major bandwagon jumpers. Meaning that if somebody stumbles on a good thing, before long everyone is doing it, at which point it is arguably no longer such a good thing. Here are some examples: Back in the 1990s, someone thought it would be a good idea to open an Irish pub in Rome (actually there were a couple around prior to that). Before long there was an Irish pub on every street corner. Now most of them are closed. Electronic gambling parlours, smokeless cigarette stores, hamburger joints, Dutch-type french fry joints, dollar stores (mostly run by Chinese people), late night convenience stores (mostly run by Pakistani people) followed suit. I have no idea whether bandwagon jumping is a strictly Roman proclivity (the last two examples would argue that it is not. Or perhaps it’s something in the water?) but it is definitely a thing here. So I wasn’t particularly surprised to find that Rome currently hosts no fewer than five Brazilian sushi restaurants. What surprised me was the Brazilian sushi part. 

Japanese immigrants working on coffee plantation, Brazil

It shouldn’t have. The phenomenon is akin to the myriad Cuban-Chinese restaurants that dotted Manhattan’s Upper West Side when I was in grad school. That weird combo was due to the fact that Cuba imported hundreds of male contract workers (‘coolies’) from China in the 1850s to work in the sugar fields. Likewise Brazil, which today has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Japanese immigrants began arriving in the early 20th Century, enticed by a labour shortage on the coffee plantations. Interestingly, the shortage occurred when Italy passed a law in 1902 forbidding subsidised immigration to Brazil. When the slave trade was outlawed in 1850, the Brazilian elite decided to offer virtually free passage to European immigrants, both as a source of cheap labour but also to ‘whiten’ up the population, which included large groups of African ex-slaves and native American. Millions of Europeans — mostly Italians — migrated to Brazil in search of a better life but once there they were abused and cheated and paid practically nothing by the Brazilians who hadn’t quite lost that slave-owning mentality. Hence the Italian law. Meanwhile, the end of feudalism in Japan caused enormous poverty in the rural areas, which led many people to emigrate. The Japanese weren’t allowed in the US thanks to a nifty little law banning non-white immigration from certain parts of the world (Yes, it is true. We have always sucked).  But Brazil welcomed them with open arms, except for the massive racism and forced assimilation part. But that’s another story.

Edamame with fresh ginger, rice vinegar and soy sauce.

Salmon and avocado with sweet and sour sauce and cassava mayonnaise.

So, Brazilian sushi. The notion confused me at first since I have always associated Brazil with feijoada and big chunks of meat from the churrascaria. But, as it turns out Brazilians eat a lot of fish– especially in the north and coastal areas — and they eat a lot of sushi. Brazilian sushi is a fusion thing, which brings together the raw fresh fish we all love with typical Brazilian tastes. Think salmon with mango, yuzu and a spicy passion fruit sauce. Or tuna with coriander, cucumber and a spicy gazpacho sauce. Or tempura shrimp with guacamole, cashews and teriyaki sauce. And samba. And caipirinhas. Trust me, it’s pretty great. And available at a rapidly growing number of restaurants throughout Rome.  The one on Viale Aventino is highly recommended.

Salmon and tempura shrimp with spicy mayonnaise.

Manioka, Viale Aventino 123. Tel: 06 5742149. Open 7 days a week, 12:00-2:30 & 7:00-11:30.

Angelo

This is Angelo. thumb_img_2793_1024I don’t know if that is his real name or if he ever really had a name at all. Not that it matters.

Angelo was a stray dog who lived in Sangineto, a town in Calabria. Sangineto doesn’t seem to have much going for it. If you Google the town, all that comes up is a one-sentence Wikipedia entry and 3 000 news stories about Angelo. Last June, four teenage boys tortured Angelo with hammers, hanged him from a tree and beat him to death with clubs and shovels. They filmed it all and posted the film on Facebook.

It has been my experience that Italians tend to see things as either black or white, bypassing entirely the shades of grey. For example, Italians are never neutral about dogs. They either love them or they hate (more correctly, fear) them. Around here, the predominant feeling is love. That’s because I live across the street from Villa Pamphili, Rome’s largest public park and exactly where you would want to live if you owned a dog. The off-leash dog area is just up the hill and Morgan likes to sit on the windowsill watching his little dog friends run around and whining at me to take him out to play already. So pretty much everyone you meet in the park or on the street is a big fan of the canine persuasion (the exception being the teenage girls who think it’s cute and sexy to squeal about their fear of dogs when there are boys around, which is super pathetic, especially since my dog is approximately the size of a toaster).

Angelo’s torture and death sparked enormous outrage among dog lovers throughout Italy. There were demonstrations all over the country (including, to its credit, in Sangineto). This breathed new life into the national campaign against animal abuse of which Angelo became the symbol. The campaign’s major issue has been the relatively moderate penalty (as compared to other European countries) for animal abuse: 3-18 months imprisonment or a 5 000 – 30 000 Euro fine. The campaigners are trying to get that changed before Angelo’s lowlife scumbag murderers face their day in court on 27 April. thumb_img_2794_1024

Donors and sponsors. The Gandhi quote reads 'The civilization of a people can be measured by the way they treat their animals.'

Donors and sponsors. The Gandhi quote reads ‘The civilization of a people can be measured by the way they treat their animals.’

Morgan at Largo Ravizza doing what he do. I tried to get him to pose next to Angelo but that was a non-starter.

Morgan at Largo Ravizza doing what he do. I tried to get him to pose next to Angelo but that was a non-starter.

In Rome, the cultural association La Vela d’Oro raised the money for a bronze statue in Angelo’s memory. The artist is Alessandro Di Cola. Someone had an old photo of Angelo and he worked from that. Isn’t it lovely? They erected the statue in the mini dog park in Largo Ravizza down the street (the statue occupies about 25% of the park!) complete with a little ceremony (and the municipality’s blessing) in late January. Those papers you see by the statue tell Angelo’s story from various angles (in some cases from his own perspective, which is weird: “Oh! Here come some boys. Maybe they want to play with me!”). There are also messages and photos directed to other dear, departed pups. It’s very sweet and touching and heartbreaking. I must say that the Italian tendency to be operatic and over the top can be trying at times (e.g. during disputes over who is next in line at the post office) but, when applied to their animals, it is super endearing.

Angelo and the cherry blossoms.

Angelo and the cherry blossoms.

 

Rome Central Market

Anyone who has ever been to Rome has probably passed through Termini Station. Until recently it’s not been a place you would want to linger.  There were a couple of coffee bars, newspaper kiosks and a McDonalds or two. The station was rife with pickpockets and drunk homeless folk. Those guys are still around, truth be told, but there has been a big effort to jazz the place up over the past several years. Now there’s a nice department store, Sephora, a Moleskine store where I get my notebooks (used by Hemingway, Picasso and van Gogh among others, doncha know), a two-story bookshop (Borri Books) with an excellent English language section, a huge Benetton, a bagel store (I haven’t tried this yet — has anyone? The bagels look authentic enough but Italian bagels are usually just round bread rolls with some seeds strewn on top. Like brunch, of which bagels are a critical part, Italians just don’t get it), a whole load of decent burger, sandwich and juice bars, a fancy chocolate store and much else besides. I have to say this about Italy: it eventually catches up with America’s great innovations (e.g. microwaveable popcorn, train station malls), it just takes about 20 years to get there. In fairness, Italy was several decades ahead of America in the racist/misogynist/sexual assaulting/fascist/orange/criminal/money and fame whore head of state sweepstakes.

Just over a month ago, restaurateur Umberto Montano opened Il Mercato Centrale in a former piano store at the Via Giolitti entrance of Termini. Isn’t that a weird store to be in a train station? I can imagine purchasing many items as I’m waiting for the 6:52 to Torino — coffee, magazines, maybe some fancy chocolate or stockings (which kind of makes it sound like I’m an American GI going to Torino in 1943), but a piano is definitely not one of them. The Rome merket is a follow-up to Montono’s hugely successful Florence Central Market, which gets three million visitors a year.

The Rome Central Market is like a foodie’s food court on steroids. About 15 artisanal stalls are arranged around a square on the ground floor. The market floor is dominated by the ‘cappa mazzoniana’, a gigantic marble hood designed by architect Angiolo Mazzoni in the 1930s. Many of Rome’s foodie superstars are here: famed pizza/breadmaker Gabriele Bonci, Beppe the Cheese King of the Ghetto, the Galuzzi family, which has been selling fish in Rome since 1894, the so-called ‘Guru of Meat’, Roberto Liberati and Stefano Callegari, the inventor of the much ballyhooed trappizino. This is a triangular pieces of dough, which is baked and stuffed with fillings like chicken cacciatore, meatballs, braised oxtail, cuttlefish or tripe. There are places to get pasta, super fresh local vegetable dishes, ice cream, chocolates, truffled everything. You can take out or eat at the market:communal tables in the middle of the hall seat 500 people. The first floor of the market is occupied by a restaurant overseen by multi-Michelin star-winning German celebrity chef, Oliver Glowig. The second floor is for conferences, events, etc.

Whether or not you need to pass through Termini Station next time you are in Rome, check out the Mercato Centrale. It’s worth the trip.

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Bonci’s pizza is a must when in Rome.

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His bread is pretty great too.

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All these dishes are full of truffles.

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Rome’s Central Market

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This is the stall of famed butcher Roberto Liberati.

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Lunch was a succulent sliced steak and potatoes.

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Morgan waits patiently for a handout.

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Chefs have to eat too!

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Have you ever seen such beautiful cheeses?

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And fish?

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This whole bucket is filled with discarded artichoke leaves.

Via Giolitti 36, Rome. mercatocentrale.it

A Very Roman Day

I have often observed that accomplishing any task of note here in Rome takes half a day. Note the ‘of note.’ I do not mean to insinuate that everything takes half a day. I am quite sure, for example, that you can buy a stick of gum or a slice of pizza in less time than that. But the moment you have to go anywhere or get involved in any kind of process, you might as well pack a good book and cancel your appointments for the rest of the day. Doctor’s visit? Half a day. Need a new checkbook? Half a day. Have to pay some bills? That’ll take half a day. The crazy thing is that such services are about a million times more efficient than they were when I arrived here back in the days of mimeograph machines and no cell phones. Took a half a day then. Takes a half a day now.

Friday was a Very Roman Day — a VRD if you will. I was supposed to meet my lawyer at the big post office near Piazza Mazzini to turn over the documentation for renewing my permesso di soggiorno or residency permit. I’ve done this a couple of time before and here is what’s supposed to happen. 1) I give the permit forms plus backup documentation (every contract I’ve signed over the past year; all of my bank information; a photocopy of my complete passport, empty pages and all) to the grumpy postal worker (GPW for short. They are always grumpy — going postal appears to also be a  thing in Italy). 2) The GPW checks that all the necessary papers are present and accounted for and puts stamps all over everything. 3) I give everyone a whole load of money and go home to wait and see whether I get to stay on for another two years. Pretty straightforward, no?

Here’s what actually happened. The first challenge was getting there. Piazza Mazzini is about 15 minutes away by car, 20 bus stops or a €20 taxi ride. I don’t really drive in Rome anymore — long story — and normally I am all about public transportation but — of course — there was a transport strike on Friday. That was annoying, but strikes aren’t exactly rare or surprising in this part of the world and one adapts. The transport strikes usually run from 8:30 am to 5 pm so they only really inconvenience people who oversleep or leave work at a reasonable hour. When I used to commute to work (before my commute was a gentle amble across the hallway from the bedroom to my study) I used to be inconvenienced all the time because I usually did both. My appointment with the lawyer was at 10 so I took a cab.

We met up and idly chit chatted in the queue until the GPW called us forward. He flipped through my information with a telling lack of interest before looking me up and down and asking for my passport. Ulp. I didn’t bring my stinking passport.

The lawyer and I started protesting at the same time. Nothing in the application materials said anything about needing to bring my official passport (as I said, a photocopy of my full passport was one of the papers required). I had done this twice before and no one had ever asked for my passport. My lawyer had done it dozens of times for other clients and nobody had asked them either. Was this a new rule? Not a new rule, sniffed the GPW. Those other clerks had obviously not been doing their job correctly: seeing the ‘true’ passport was THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE PROCESS.

No amount of cajoling, gnashing of teeth or rending of garments could convince him to let it pass (sometimes that works, but rarely in the post office). So I had to take a taxi home. €20. Grab the passport and come back. €20. When I got to the head of the queue again, the first GPW fobbed me off on another GPW, whom he had clearly warned about me because the first thing she said was, “Do you have your passport? SEEING THE TRUE PASSPORT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE PROCESS!” The rest of the interaction, i.e. the money-paying part (money for the lawyer; money for the various bits of paper that needed stamping) went off without a hitch (that part generally does). Next, I will have to go to police headquarters with photos (and passport presumably) and confirm that I’m me but that’s not for another couple of months, fortunately.

Before embarking on my fourth and final €20 cab ride of the day, I decided to treat my frazzled nerves to a nice lunch. It was about 1:30 at this point. I stumbled onto La Nuova Fiorentina, an old-fashioned Tuscan trattoria with a local clientele. I had a very nice veal cutlet with tomatoes and arugula and spicy greens with garlic. I could have done without the many African gentlemen lining up to sell me kleenex but after all that queueing I was just happy to sit down. thumb_img_2241_1024thumb_img_2242_1024

When I got home it was, you guessed it, half a day after I’d first left the apartment. In fairness, part of the half a day was taken up by lunch. I do, however, consider lunch to be a necessary reward for successfully dealing with Roman errands and thus a legitimate part of the errand-doing on a VRD.

La Nuova Fiorentina. Via Angelo Brofferio 51. Tel: 06 37516181

Hostaria Pamphili

Last week was ‘Treat Yo-self Friday‘ and it was grand. First, I had my nails done.

Love this color!

Love this color!

Then I took myself to lunch. I’ve been wanting to try Hostaria Pamphili since it opened at the end of 2015. I have had quite mixed feelings about the restaurant since it took over the space left behind when my beloved Le Coq shut down a few years back. Actually, that’s not quite true. You see there was another restaurant in that space before the Hostaria Pamphili opened its doors: a place with the unlikely name of Pie Bros. The Upstairs Vegetable took me there for my birthday two years ago and we asked about the name. Apparently it came from the fact that, of the three owners, one was named Pietro and two were brothers. I have always maintained that Italians are crap at naming. Anyway, silly name notwithstanding, Pie Bros was just meh and didn’t last long. thumb_img_2135_1024 Hostaria Pamphili is a seafood place, although they are happy to scare you up a steak if you so insist. Like Pietro and his brothers before them, the restaurant’s owners chose not to redecorate so the place still has the light and airy front room and the back room that is so cosy it could be your living room (if your living room was covered in fairy lights and weird art) that I loved so much about Le Coq.

And, oh, the food. I am generally more carnivore than whatever fish eaters are called. But this was really great. First was appetizer of raw fish: shrimp, ricciola (yellowtail) and ombrina (umbrine in English. I have never heard that word in my entire life). The yellowtail was diced up with tiny pieces of strawberry and something else. Bacon bits?  Dunno, but yum! The umbrine was sliced up with radishes, dill and caviar. A few leaves were artfully tossed about. So fresh and delish. Take a look for yourself. thumb_img_2128_1024

My main course was a mix of fish and vegetables fried up tempura-style. It was super light and not a bit greasy. There was shrimp, cod, umbrine again, zucchini, stuffed zucchini flowers and some other things I don’t recall. Oh yes, and fried oysters that made me purr audibly (the waiter looked at me quizzically but he must have seen it before). thumb_img_2131_1024There were also roast potatoes that achieved the rarely-seen feat of being super crunchy on the outside and super creamy on the inside. thumb_img_2132_1024The service was just attentive enough and the friendly owner came over to check on me and have a chat. All in all a super-pleasant treat for mo-self. Can’t wait to go back. thumb_img_2134_1024

Hostaria Pamphili. Viale di Villa Pamphili n.35 Tel: 06 581 6474. Open 12:30-3:00 (except Monday); 7:30-12:00.

Caffè Propaganda

If you come to Rome, chances are that you will at some point find yourself in the vicinity of the Colosseum. It well might be that you find yourself in the vicinity of the Colosseum at or around a mealtime (if, like me, you define mealtime as any moment between 10 am and midnight). When that happens, you can fall prey to one of the many smarmy Italian men or bored Japanese girls waving menus in your face (“Meece? You want dreenk? I make you good price.”) in front of the line up of sad and overpriced establishments across the street. Or you can nip around the corner  to Caffè Propaganda. thumb_img_1980_1024

Caffè Propaganda is very cheese-eating surrender monkeyish — think early 20th Century Paris bistro. If you like the idea of hanging out in a cosy zinc bar, with overstuffed chairs, Métro de Paris tiles on the wall and blackboards advertising the day’s specials, while you sip your café au lait and nibble your macarons and pretend to be Ernest Hemingway, then this is the place for you. Also, it’s air conditioned, which is very critical to one’s happiness (and very rare in Rome) as the dog days of summer limp towards the autumn, tongues lolling.

Caffè Propaganda is well-known as a cocktail venue with a large, cosy bar area (which would have been a bit more up Hemingway’s alley I warrant) and while I can’t speak to that, I have eaten lunch here a couple of times and enjoyed the experience greatly. The menu is decidedly Italian (with the exception of the odd hamburger and the aforementioned macarons); the clientele is chic and tends towards the local. Most recently I had fine, fat, fried anchovies resting on a bed of panzanella (a Tuscan summer salad of bread and tomatoes, sometimes with onions and basil), which in turn rested on a limpid puddle of pecorino cremathumb_img_1976_1024

My main course was a perfectly fine Caesar salad with chicken — very good if a fairly uninspired choice on my part. I do love me a good Caesar salad, which did you know was invented by an Italian immigrant/restauranteur in Mexico? thumb_img_1978_1024Next time I’ll be a bit more daring and choose from the oyster menu or the ‘eggs of Parisi’ menu. Paolo Parisi, also known as ‘The Egg King’, is greatly renowned for the quality of his eggs. So renowned that his name can be found on various egg menus around Rome, including that of Caffè Propaganda. But seriously, I’d eat this: ‘poached egg of Parisi with crunchy asparagus in a parmesan cream sauce’. Poached egg in Italian is, by the way, ouvo in camicia, meaning egg in a shirt.

Caffè Propaganda, Via Claudia 15, 00184 Rome. tel: 06/9453425,  06/94534256.  http://www.caffepropaganda.it/. Warning! The website incessantly plays a song by some froggie or other, which gets old very quickly. There is a hold button in the bottom left hand corner of the site. You will want to use it.

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