Category Archives: Restaurants

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.

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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Levanzo

Levanzo is one of the three Egadi Islands off the western coast of Sicily (the other two are Favignana and Marettimo). A 20 minute hydrofoil ride from the port of Trapani, Levanzo is super tiny, with a total area of 5.82 square kilometers (2.25 sq mi). About 65 people live on the island year round. I spent several days there last month.thumb_IMG_1761_1024

This is how it happened. I was having dinner with the Upstairs Vegetarian and our friends Marzio and Giulia one night in the dead of winter when Giulia started rhapsodizing about this island where she had spent a lot of time when she was younger: Levanzo. She described the island as a paradise: beautiful, unspoiled, quiet and super-undiscovered. My buddy Jane and I had been talking about a beach holiday this summer and when I sent her the name of the island she snapped into super-organized holiday planning mode and quickly made all the arrangements.

As it turns out, I probably should have asked Giulia a few more questions. My idea of the perfect beach holiday is lying on a sunbed with an umbrella, a book and a big bottle of water. Every so often I’ll wander down the sandy beach to the water’s edge and have a little paddle. Levanzo is not a place of white sandy beaches and lazy long days with a good book. There are three beaches on the island — Cala del Faraglione, Cala Tramontana and Cala Minnola. Two of them are very pebbly and unprotected from the blistering hot sun; Cala Minnola is a sort of concrete slab once used for landing boats. The concrete beach is backed up by a copse of trees, which provides some shade but getting there requires scrambling up a rocky hill. I tend to be clumsy and to fall down a lot (loyal readers may remember the Great Broken Back Caper of 2015) so I’m pretty unenthusiastic about rocky hills. Getting into the water is also a challenge — more rocks, many more rocks. Great for snorkeling though, which is Jane’s thing. It’s possible to rent boats to take around the island and swim from the boats, neatly avoiding the rock issue, but three of the five days we were there were windy and the boatmen wouldn’t take us out. On the plus side, the ferry couldn’t cross from Trapani, cutting down on the number of day trippers. On the other hand, by the end of the three days, the island had nearly run out of supplies — Levanzo has no agriculture to speak of and completely depends on Sicily for produce and water.thumb_IMG_1757_1024

Levanzo has just one tourist site: the Grotta del Genovese, a cave containing prehistoric cave drawings (we didn’t get there). I understand that there are lots of nice hikes to be taken but that’s not really my thing. There is a tiny grocery store and an excellent bakery. If you are looking for lots of restaurants and nightlife, this is not the island for you. I don’t care much about nightlife but I really, really care about food. As you know. Fortunately, Levanzo did not let me down. There are two restaurants, one of  which is attached to the slightly down-at-heels Paradiso Hotel, and one of which is a bar/superb lunch and dinner spot: the Romano Bar, Pizzaria and Restaurant. We ended up having breakfast and dinner there practically every day (we tried the Paradiso but it was just so-so). At lunch we went to the bakery for a cabucio (also known as pane cunzatu), an amazing Sicilian sandwich on a soft bread loaf with fillings like tomatoes, oregano, anchovies and different kinds of cheeses.

Here’s some of what we ate.

Stuffed mussels

Stuffed mussels

Roasted squid

Roasted squid

Mixed fishy antipasto, mostly variations of marinated anchovies, squid and shrimp rolled up in marinated veggies. So good.

Mixed fishy antipasti, mostly variations of marinated anchovies, squid and shrimp rolled up in marinated veggies. So good.

And more

And more: raw shrimps and some fried stuff

Fried squid and some local (bony) fish

Fried squid

Gigantic shrimps

Gigantic shrimps

And the very excellent Sicilian salad of tomatoes, onion, capers and basil, which we had at every meal

And the very excellent Sicilian salad of tomatoes, onion, capers and basil, which we had at every meal

Even though Levanzo might not be my first choice for a beach holiday in future, we did have a lovely time. We stayed in a very clean and comfortable little apartment (La Plaza Residence). The main drag along the port is about two blocks long and practically everything you need is there (there is a bank machine up the hill a bit). Everything else is dirt roads — virtually no cars on Levanzo. Very quiet and relaxing. And because there are so few people, it only takes a few days to pretty much know, or at least, recognize everyone. It’s a friendly place. Everyone pulls their weight: the guy who sold you coffee in the morning might be taking you out for a boat ride at noon, unloading the ferry at four and waiting on your table at night. So that was fun.

And then there’s this. thumb_IMG_1767_1024

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Dining out in Umbria

My birthday was a few weeks back and to celebrate my friend Susan kindly invited me and some other friends to her spectacular country house outside of Orvieto for the weekend. It’s seriously bellissima — and available for rent. I stayed there with my whole family several years back and have very fond memories, except for the part where my dog ran away but that’s another story. Susan had planned the weekend like a champ and we did many memorable things, most of which — surprise, surprise — centered on food.

Here are some highlights.

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Play with meeee!!

Baby goats! We went to the Fattoria Il Secondo Altopiano to taste some cheeses and play with the world’s most adorable baby goats (there were also sheep, donkeys, a handsome rooster and a Little Sebastian-style mini-horse but the goatlets were the cutest). We also tasted (and bought) some delicious and super fresh goat cheese and yoghurt made right on the premises. Whenever I am fortunate enough to O.D. on cheese, I always think of this (from the 1.30 mark).

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Yoghurt tasting at the Fattoria dell’Altoplano. There is no comparison between this and the store-bought stuff.

Dinner the first night was at Trattoria del Conte. Unpretentious local spot with unpretentious local food with a twist. Really great. The first thing we ate was fagottini al formaggio e pere al burro ed erbe cipolline – little pasta sacks stuffed with a creamy cheese and pears in a buttery sauce. They were exceptional — and that really should mean something coming from me because I’m no great pasta eater. The most impressive thing was how they managed to tie up the tiny sacks with a sprig of chive. I’d never have the patience — or the dexterity — to do that.thumb_IMG_0921_1024

Next, I had guanciale al’aceto and puntarelle in salsa di alici. Guanciale is hog jowl (la guancia is cheek in Italian) and is a major ingredient in such things as carbonara. In this instance it was cut in long slices, like bacon, sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and draped over toasted bread. Very melt in your mouth stuff, the richness of the guanciale offset by the tang of the vinegar. thumb_IMG_0927_1024Puntarelle, a member of the chicory family, is named for the pointy-tipped stems hidden within spiky outer leaves. It’s super crunchy and fresh tasting and I love it but it usually comes swimming in a sea of anchovy vinaigrette. My salad was perfect: just enough dressing to give it a flavourful punch, not enough to weigh it down. thumb_IMG_0931_1024My dining companions were more reserved (but, hey, it was my birthday weekend) and ordered plates of greens for their next course. I know, good for you, but kinda boring, right? Jane, bless her, had a giant pork chop. Jane loves pork chops.thumb_IMG_0930_1024

The next night we went to La Locanda di Colle Ombroso. Open on the weekends, this tiny restored farmhouse has only about five tables. And a roaring fireplace. It was enchanting. All of the ingredients are either produced on the farm of the restaurant’s owners — a charming young couple, Igor and Eleonora — or sourced locally. thumb_IMG_0979_1024

First, they brought out an array of meats and cheeses. A particularly delicious thing was the carpaccio di lombetto (cured pork loin). And some boring little chickpea cake that I gave to the Upstairs Vegetarian in exchange for some porky bits. The bread (which I don’t have a photo of, sorry) was homemade using wheat from the farm. thumb_IMG_0981_1024

Lombetto with fresh goat cheese and chickpea whatnot for trading.

Lombetto with fresh goat cheese and chickpea whatnot for trading.

The next course was a cream of leek soup (the Italians call it vellutata or ‘velveted’) with a gorgonzola cream and a hearty chickpea one. Both super yum. thumb_IMG_0984_1024

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Next up was thinly sliced roast beef with two sauces (one béarnaisey, one more of a vinaigrette); roast pork with a creamy sauce involving mandarins and, for the U.V., a flan involving lentils with a curry sauce. thumb_IMG_0990_1024

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Dessert was a chocolate torte with sour cream. Yes, we did push the boat out that night. thumb_IMG_0993_1024

Dinner was lovely, but it is really the atmosphere that makes La Locanda di Colle Ombroso such a special place. thumb_IMG_0978_1024

The next day, we visited Cività di Bagnoregio, which if you haven’t been, hie you hence at the first opportunity. It’s beautiful and dramatic and also reminded me how incredibly unfit I am (much walking uphill is required to get there). thumb_IMG_1010_1024After visiting the wonderful painted egg museum, we moved on to Orvieto to check out the shop of Marino Moretti, a friend of Susan’s, who does the most extraordinary ceramics. Check this out (you might want to turn off the sound, which gets old fast).

Then it was lunchtime. I have to say that by this time I was fairly convinced that I need never eat again (of course, in between the meals I’ve described there was plenty more eating of cheese, and bread  and cake). However, I bravely gave it the old college try.  We went to Hosteria Posterula, which was suggested by Marino Moretti. A cosy family-owned joint. The food was excellent and not pricey. I had a delicious dish of prosciutto over melted mozzarella covered in black truffle shavings. thumb_IMG_1076_1024Another offering was gnocchi with truffles and cacio and a third was umbrichelli with egg yolk, truffles and anchovies. There was a bit of a truffle motif, true. But it was a great place for lunch and I will go again for sure. thumb_IMG_1077_1024thumb_IMG_1078_1024

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Bye Orvieto! We’ll be back!

Trattoria del Conte. Localita’ Buon Respiro, 18. Orvieto. Tel: 0763 217046

La Locanda do Colle Umbroso. S.P 55, km 4.8,  Porano. Tel: 340 2714727

Hostaria PosterulaCorso Cavour 312, Orvieto. Tel: 0763 341245

La Renardière

Whenever I am in the Circo Massimo area, which I often am because of work and also because my bank is there, I try to make it around lunchtime so I can keep up to date with the globalization of the Viale Aventino restaurant scene. I have written about this before. In a few short years, this major artery — overlooked by the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations — has gone from hosting a decent Asian, a fly-by-night Mexican and a handful of so-so (and one very good) Italian places to being festooned with restaurants featuring cuisine from Japan, Greece, Mexico, China/Singapore, the US of A and France as well as a couple of high end sandwich places. I’ve been working my way through the newer additions over the past year and the other day it was the turn of France.thumb_IMG_0903_1024

I love French food. Probably because I love cheese and French cheese is the best, whether in its natural state or melted over something else. My chief rule for being a popular and in demand cook: fry it, melt cheese on it or dip it in chocolate and it’ll be a winner, no matter what it is. The Italians have a mad ordinance about not mixing cheese and fish in the same dish. Believe you me, I would not have made it through grad school without the help of the humble tuna melt and I’ll warrant the French would thumb their nose at the no cheese and fish rule themselves, e.g. to partake in mussels in a blue cheese broth spiked with white wine and garlic. Oh yum.

La Renardière (the fox’s den) is a friendly little bistro with about ten tables that features traditional French dishes (the owner is from the Champagne region). Here are some of the things on the menu: Quiche Loraine, escargot, oysters, raclette (melted cheese, yay!), onion soup with melted cheese (yay!), steak frites, steak tartare, coq au vin, plates of cheese and pates and various crepes and omelettes. The dessert menu includes the usual suspects: chocolate mousse, tarte tatin (spellcheck turned that into taste satin!), floating island and coffee with four mini desserts.thumb_IMG_0902_1024

I myself had the beef fondue (there was fish fondue as well, which sounds interesting). This was purely a nostalgic choice. In college, my roommates and I used to make beef fondue a lot. When one of us liked a boy we’d invite him and his roommates over for dinner so we could all check him out. The fondue was an easy but visually impressive dinner option. Wait, am I remembering this correctly? Is it possible that we had a fondue pot in college? Anyway, at La Renardière they bring a little fondue pot to your table filled with boiling peanut oil. Then your plate arrives: a pile of filet bits and five different sauces, each with a heavy cream or homemade mayonnaise base (gotta love the Frenchies for consistently throwing ze caution to ze wind on the cholesterol and waistline fronts). After you’ve cooked the meat in the boiling oil, you dip it in the sauce. Sacré bleu! Tasty and good fun! thumb_IMG_0900_1024

thumb_IMG_0898_1024Unfortunately I was on my own so I wasn’t able to try more than one main course (I draw the line at eating off the plates of total strangers). But I’ll be back. I’m excited about the coq au vin, the escargots and all that melted cheese. Not to mention the taste satin. Extra points for the real French dressing and pomegranate seeds in the tossed salad and the piping hot baguette.

La Renardière. Viale Aventino 31. Tel: 06 8778 5445. http://www.larenardiere.it