Category Archives: Rome

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.

Advertisements

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 market 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.

thumb_img_2406_1024

Bonci’s pizza is a must when in Rome.

thumb_img_2248_1024

His bread is pretty great too.

thumb_img_2259_1024

All these dishes are full of truffles.

thumb_img_2257_1024

Rome’s Central Market

thumb_img_2393_1024

This is the stall of famed butcher Roberto Liberati.

thumb_img_2396_1024

Lunch was a succulent sliced steak and potatoes.

thumb_img_2397_1024

Morgan waits patiently for a handout.

thumb_img_2399_1024

Chefs have to eat too!

thumb_img_2401_1024

Have you ever seen such beautiful cheeses?

thumb_img_2403_1024

And fish?

thumb_img_2404_1024

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.

thumb_img_1979_1024

Ten things to know about Italians

It has been my observation that virtually every expatriate with access to public media eventually writes something along the lines of “Ten things about (country X) you need to know before you go” or “Ten things about (the natives of country X) you need to know before you go.” I totally understand the impulse. I mean how much fun is it to reduce an entire nation of people to a stereotype? How much fun is it to make blanket generalizations from the pedestal upon which tourists (American tourists at least) tend to place themselves when abroad? So much fun. Now it’s my turn!

TEN THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ITALIANS

1. They HATE to be next in line. Queues in Italy reflect an insane need to be done with whatever one is doing. Instead of quietly standing behind the person who is actually first, they all stand side by side, creating confusion as to who is really first. Heaven forbid if the clerk calls on the wrong person to come forward. When that happens, everyone starts yelling at the clerk and each other (see #4). If the queue is forced into vertical formation by space or other considerations, Italians spend the entire time massively invading your personal space, trying to sneak in front of you or just stepping in front of you, pretending they never saw you were there. I suspect this is why so many banks and supermarket deli counters now use the take-a number-approach. The deep-seated queue aversion is particularly annoying at traffic lights, where the microsecond the light turns green everyone starts honking their heads off. The Italian obsession with getting there first seems very counterintuitive in a country that is supposed to epitomize the Mediterranean penchant for chillaxin’.

2. They love milling around and getting in the way. Even when Italians are not deliberately trying to jump the queue, they’re in the way. Every conversation in the out-of-doors — no matter how lengthy or how many people are involved — has to take place either in the entrance of the shop you are trying to enter or in the middle of the sidewalk you are trying to traverse. Every one. I do not know why this is.

3. Italian teenagers are very polite. That doesn’t mean they are not as loud and obnoxious as teenagers anywhere else. They are. I live across the street from Villa Pamphilli, Rome’s largest park. There is a water fountain right by the entrance and, in the summer, every day the dog and I have to run the gauntlet of 20 or so teenagers filling up water balloons and throwing them at each other while the girls run around squealing and the boys strut around with their little hairless chests on show. If their mothers knew about this they would totally freak out (see #5). Italian teenagers do a lot of screaming on buses. Singing on buses is another favorite activity.  But they always open the door for their elders and give up their seat on the bus on which they are screaming or singing. It’s Italian family values or something.

4. They loooove the drama. It’s no coincidence that Italians invented opera. Pretty much any everyday experience can launch an ear-splitting aria. Here’s an example. The park across the street features exactly two (2) picnic tables, both of which are in the dog area. For this reason, picnics abound in and around the (albeit badly-signposted) dog area as do, obviously, picnic-loving dogs, one of whom — I’m not naming any names but it rhymes with Gorgon — believes the picnic table to be his own private throne. In the summer, this happens every day: some dog or other goes nosing around the picnics in the dog area. The picnickers yell at the dog owners, who politely point out that dogs are allowed to be off-leash here. The picnickers, not caring, yell some more at which point the dog owners yell back. This goes on for a while until everyone’s day is ruined.

But it takes a lot less than a picnic-sniffing dog to set off a good old-fashioned opera. I once saw a car driver curse out a woman on crutches for taking too long to cross the street. He wasn’t trying to be mean. He was just in a hurry (see #1). All of this yelling may explain the obsession of Italians with their livers — if an ailment isn’t being ascribed to a colpo d’aria (see #5), it’s usually the fault of a mal di fegato.  For an Italian, the liver is where all your anger is stored and it’ll hurt if you get angry.

Gorgon surveys his realm.

Gorgon surveys his realm.

5. They have an extreme fear of drafts. Tell an Italian that you have a headache, sore throat, stiff neck or pretty much any ailment and they’ll explain that it’s the fault of a blast of air or colpo d’aria.During the winter (meaning from November to May, no matter the actual air temperature),  they wear puffy coats and wooly undershirts (maglia di salute or shirt of health) and wrap scarves around their necks. In the summer, they stay away from air conditioning, no matter how blisteringly hot it is outside.  If you are lucky enough to find a restaurant with air conditioning, some group will inevitably come in and ask for it to be turned off (for their health). No one but a tourist would dream of opening a window on a train.

I'm not sure if it has anything to do with digestion, but if an Italian goes swimming less than three hourr after they have eaten, they will die.

I’m not sure if it has anything to do with digestion, but if an Italian goes swimming less than three hours after they have eaten, they will die.

Being sweaty or getting wet only worsens the effect of the colpo d’aria, which is why Italian mothers wait nervously by the edge of the pool, waiting to swaddle little Guido in a towel the second he emerges from the water. It’s also why total strangers yell at you if you go outside with a wet head or walk around barefoot (even inside) and why Italians whip out their trusty umbrellas the instant there’s a drop of rain.

6. They assume that they won’t understand you. I’ve lived in Italy a long time and my Italian is pretty fluent, if riddled with grammatical errors. I certainly speak the language well enough to be understood, even over the phone where I don’t have the added advantage of being able to wave my hands around and point to things. But my accent totally gives me away and, because so few tourists speak Italian, the person I am speaking to assumes that I don’t (EVEN THOUGH I’M BLOODY WELL SPEAKING IT) and that they won’t be able to understand me. At that point, they either stammer out a few words in English or run away. In fairness, I should point out that my Italian friends and acquaintances do not do this at all. They are super happy that I am are trying to speak their language and do their best to understand me.

7. They are every bit as bad on the road as you’ve heard. I don’t think that Italians are inherently bad drivers. They are just always in a hurry and hate to be next in line (see #1), which makes them do crazy reckless things like run red lights and make left turns from the right hand lane while going 80 km/hr. It’s a wonder that they are are not constantly crashing and dying but it does explain why every single Italian car has at least one dent in it. Oh, and they also quadruple park and drive and park on the sidewalks.

8. They are obsessed with their digestion. For an Italian, the notion of digestion relates specifically to the process that occurs after a meal when the stomach content settles. It is deeply influenced the combination of foods, when they were eaten and at what temperature. So cappuccino is off limits after 10 am because milk supposedly inhibits digestion. Icy liquids are also bad for digestion and may even cause the dreaded congestione – an abdominal cramp – that will apparently kill you. Salad comes at the end of the meal because it helps you digest. An Italian host will typically offer a digestivo at the end of your meal. A thimble of this typically bitter mix of herbs, roots, plants, spices and alcohol is supposed to hurry along the 3-5 courses you just consumed. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Brioschi, a digestive aid like Alka-Seltzer, which can be found in every Italian kitchen.

Eat your salad after the meal to help you digest.

Eat your salad after the meal to help you digest.

9. They care a lot about appearances (yours and their own). You can always tell the tourists, slobbing around in their shorts and flip-flops, baggy pants halfway down their backsides, baseball cap a la Luke Danes. For an Italian to dress like this would be to dishonor la bella figura. The way you dress and carry yourself indicates your social status, your background and your education level. An Italian may not have a lot of money to spend on clothes but the clothes they have will be fashionable, of good quality, clean and well-pressed (even if they have to wear the same thing every day). Anything less and they will be judged as a lowlife by all they meet. And so will you.

Looking good is very important.

Looking good is very important.

10. They appreciate food and they know where it comes from. I know. Duh. It’s not exactly a secret that Italians are into food. But the second part of that sentence is actually more interesting (and important) than the first. Most cities around the world are totally delinked from the rural roots of agriculture. For most people, food comes from supermarkets. This is only going to get worse with runaway urbanization — by 2020, an average of 70% of all people will live in cities. Urban growth is particularly affecting developing countries, where 50 years ago most people lived on farms. Losing our ties to the countryside has all sorts of implications, such as the demise of the smallholder farmer, loss of food traditions, over-dependence on highly processed, fatty processed foods with delightful spin-offs like obesity, malnutrition and related problems like cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. This is happening all over the world, the Western Foodie’s love for the farmers’ market notwithstanding.

Rome and many other Italian cities have a closer connection to the origins of its food than do many developing countries where agriculture remains the most important economic sector.

Rome and many other Italian cities have a closer connection to the origins of its food than do many developing countries where agriculture remains the most important economic sector.

But it is happening less quickly in Italy. In Rome, at any rate, there is almost a continuum between city and country. Drive a half hour in any direction and you are deep in agricultural country. And there are agricultural pockets all through the city. I used to live in an apartment in central Rome that backed up onto an archeological site that the government ran out of money to dig. So farmers came in and grazed their sheep there. Villa Pamphili is dotted with blackberry bushes and fig, lemon and orange trees and there are always oldies out there gathering wild greens and mushrooms in plastic shopping bags. Supermarkets only became a thing about a decade ago and there are still tons of fresh fruit and vegetable shops, about eight in my immediate neighborhood alone, not to mention a big farmers’ market up the road. I also count four butchers within a five-minute walk.

Are things changing here? Of course. There are fast food places everywhere (although quite a few MacDonalds have closed down in the past few years), supermarkets are supplanting a lot of the mom and pop groceries of yore and there are a lot more microwaveable options than there were five years ago. But most Italians still believe in the importance of a regular home-cooked family meal based on fresh ingredients. And as long as they understand and connect to the roots of the food they eat, that’s not likely to change completely.

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