Roma blogging: mercoledi — cena, or “Trampin-in-Trastavere”

il Gelato di San CrispinoWe begin the evening with more superlatives. By all accounts, the best gelato in Rome is to be found at il Gelato di San Crispino. We almost miss the little hole-in-the-wall joint. Expecting to encounter a huge line, having arrived at 18:00, we find the place empty. Told by a sign to take a number, we decide to be anarchists and just walk up and order. My cup is filled with cocoa maringue and the signature “il Gelato di San Crispino”. The latter is a simple, but beautiful blend of honey, arbutus berry and vanilla ice cream. It’s good. NAM partakes of the pistaccio and Crema all’Armagnac. Enjoying the sumptuous ice cream, we slowly amble over to the Trevi and again marvel at its Bob Guccione-like overthetopitude. Followers of Audrey Hepburn are supposed to enjoy their gelato on the Spanish Steps, but we’re too mesmersized to bother finding them at the moment.

From there, it’s on to the best coffee in Rome, which everyone agrees is served by Sant’ Eustachio il Cafe. We take a seat in the piazza and order two of the Gran Caffe Speciale. That’s some good coffee. What makes it special isn’t so much the coffee itself as the opulent mousse resting on top. It’s luscious and at least a centimetre thick. The sugar and caffeine buzz was just what we needed to get us going for the next step.

Trastevere is, as its name implies, just across the Fiume Tevere. And, we found out, it’s where the cool kids at. Finally! Civilisation, instead of ancient civilisation. We arrived at about 9ish and the narrow streets, full of bars restaurants and cafes, were already filling up with the euro-hipsters and their navel-baring gfs. Wandered around a bit before settling on Paris, which features Roman and Jewish food. The latter was represented by the carciofi alla giuda that we shared along with fiori di zuccha. The artichokes were flattened and fried to a crispy diet-damning goodness. The fried zucchini flowers were also rather calorie-laden and even better. Each flower is stuff with a single anchovy, some mozzarella, battered and fried. Wow! Next moved on to some some grilled langostine-type critters and tuna for NAM. So-so. Not so for the wine, however. The place had a great list feauturing many 97 (the vintage of the century?) Tuscans. After some consultation, we settled on the col D’orcia Poggio Al Vento 1997 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. Winespectator rates this one a 95 and writes “A fantastic, powerful wine with incredible richness of berry, plum and roasted fruit. Full-bodied, with silky tannins and a long finish. A real treat to taste a beautiful 1997 Brunello now. Drink now. 1,500 cases made. (JS)” Nothing really more you can have after a wine like that, so we just strolled along the Tevere for a while, hopped on a bus without paying, and headed back to the Flora.

Sant' Eustachio il Caffe

Roma blogging: martedi — cena

After the requisite siesta, sorry, don’t know if that’s Italian or not and too tired right now to look it up, we went directly across the street to Harry’s Bar. What a fantastic bar and what a shame it attracts such a lame clientelle these days. If tonight was representative at all, that is. The opening gambit is a Manhattan for me, a Gibson for her. The Gibson seems fine by all accounts, although the number of onions is a bit overdone. I think any more than one is too much, but that’s me. The Manhattan is definitely of the sweet variety, and made with Seagrams VO, no less! This momentary lapse was more than made up for by the little crevette canapes they brought out for us. Deciding to let bygones be bygones, I moved on to a Negroni (on the rocks) while she sampled the Bellini, which is good, but not George V good. The bitterness of the Negroni more than compensates for the previous round.

And now for the main event. Is the best pizza in Rome, by default, the best pizza in the world? That’s what we set out to discover. Da Baffetto is just off the Piazza Navona and just down the street from where we had had the lovely lunch at Cul de Sac. Just like Grimaldi’s, there’s always a long line out front. (Party of swank, dressed-down-to-the-hilt bicoastals in line in front of us. I’d have to guess entertainment lawyer for the guy who seemed to be the leader.) And if there’s any other contender for the world’s best pizza, Grimaldi’s would have to be it. But here’s why I’m calling it for Da Baffetto. First off, everything else. A rocket salad that just rocked. Bruschetta that was beyond simple and rustic, just thick slices of great tomato on some toasted bread with olive oil. I though that for 13 �, the large Chianti would be a big glass or small pichet, but no, it was a whole bottle. Does-not-compute! It wasn’t bad, either. Quaffable pizza wine. But now for the pies themselves. Thin crust indeed! They make John’s or Grimaldi’s seem like deep dish in comparison. These are truly wafer thin. We went for two classics: a napoletana (always my fave) and a mushroom & onion. What to say? This is pizza.

Finished the evening having a nightcap on the Pizza della Rotonda, having a heated discussion on the nature of evil. My basic argument is that since humans have a concept of good and evil, but, in the aggregate choose the latter, they ain’t the former. For evidence, see the 20th century. Sitting in front of the Pantheon getting price-gouged at a tourist-trap terrace (but worth it for the mise en scene) is the perfect setting to have this conversation. But by the time we again pass the Trevi fountain, we’re too engaged to enjoy its marked stupidity. The fountain’s, that is.

Roma blogging: mercoledi — pranzo

(Backwards blogging until I get caught up.)

When Elizabeth and Richard were in town in 1963 filming Cleopatra, they used to eat often at Taverna Flavia. Good enough reason to try it out? Not really, but we wanted something in the hood that wasn’t lousy with Americans. This place fit the bill perfectly. Not a word of English in sight. NAM’s Elizabeth salad–buffalo mozarrella, shrimp, cherrry tomatoes (the kind with flavour, which is generally what they have in Roma) on a bed of arugala–was good, as was my swordfish & rocket. The swordfish was smoked and sliced thinly, (just like yesterday’s smoked tuna at Cul de Sac, but you’ll have to wait to hear about that. The Vermentino I ordered turned out to be gone, so we made do with a nice Collio Chardonnay instead. For primi, NAM had rigatoni with pesto and tomatoes, and I had a kick-ass cacio e peppe (which I have not yet had at the New York restaurant of the same name, but which I will now have to try). Fruit, coffee, perfetto. Back into the 31C furnace.

Roma blogging: martedi — pranza

We were actually looking for Da Baffetto, which turns out not to open for lunch. Instead, we headed into Cul de Sac, an enoteca near Piazza Navona. Started with some black olives (again) and some great shaved smoked tuna. Might mistake it for ham if you saw it on the plate. Delicious! Then I had the salt cod brandade while NAM feasted on a salad with beans, tomatoes and Italian tuna. Great! We started off with a couple of whites, I had a lovely Vermentino from Sardinia. After that, I wanted to try their best super Tuscans, but after tasting it, I opted against it. Had some very obvious oxidation on the nose. The dude disagreed, but suggested the Chianti instead, which was absolutely killer and half the price.

Intermezzo

How’s this for a trifecta:

Thursday night: dinner in Rome
Friday night: dinner in Paris
Saturday night: dinner in New York

I have finally lived up to my Jet-Set moniker.

Roma blogging: giovedi. Ciao, Roma!

Again craving something simple and hearty, a pizza perhaps, we acted on a tip from the distinguished Romaphiles, PL & PM, and headed back to Piazza Navona to Da Francesco. No pizza at lunch (a conspiracy to not fire up the ovens during the day?), so spaghetti for both of us. Cacio e pepe for me, with tomatoes for her. The self-serve antipasti is plentiful and excellent. How’s this: baked potato slices each topped with an anchovy and a dollop of marinara sauce? As I write, I’m thinking that I will never eat again. Except for those potatoes. The plonk we had along side was a gentle reminder that not every bottle can be a ’97 Brunello.

Sticking with a good thing, or two good things, we returned to the scene of the coffee crime and had another splendid Gran Caffe at St. Eustachio’s, this time enjoying it for half the price at the counter. Also explored their back-room roastery a bit. This place smells great! And in the name of science, we needed more samples of the San Crispino gelato.

Mirabelle is not the finest restaurant in Rome. That distinction goes definitively to La Pergola. When I asked earlier in the week about the possibility of a reservation there, I was told that they’d be happy to give me a table in mid-July. But Mirabelle also serves great food, and, situated on the seventh floor of the Hotel Splendide Royale Roma, also has a spectacular view of the city. We actually dropped by earlier in the day so that I could reconnoiter the wine list. Surprisingly, it wasn’t quite as good as the one at Paris from the previous night. But I did jot down the names of several promising bottles, in order to research them back at the hotel. When we arrived back at the restaurant at the designated time, or perhaps a few minutes, well twenty or so, late, there was a shocking turn of events. We were shown to a table inside! After some back and forth about the terrace being completely booked and, there was nothing to be done about it, and my insisting, we were shown to a nice table on the terrace. And then came a surprise! They brought over the pen which I had left behind a few hours ago. Ah, we were all friends again. As good as the food was, we were already reaching the saturation point, and the servings were huge. The standout was NAM’s pasta dish. The wine, a Marchesi di Gresey Barbaresco Camp Gros Martinenga 2000 was stunning. In a blind tasting, I would have guessed it was a red Burgundy. A mere 92 from Winespectator, but I preferred it to the Brunello from the night before. Disappointed our waiter with the “no room for desert” line, but did of course go for some more of that nice Labardolive bas Armagnac, this time the 1985. Good stuff. In all, we spent about two and a half hours there. The view was stunning, with the Villa Borghese below us and the Michelangelo’s great dome off to the left. If Rome is a beautiful city, it is at night, and from this perspective, it’s hard to resist its allure.

Not ready to say buona notte just yet, we popped in again to Harry’s. This was after checking out Cafe de Paris and being chased away by the bad music. Sitting on the terrace at about midnight, the clientelle was a little more interesting this time around. Starting to feel a little homesick, I had them search for some bourbon and eventually they dug up some Jim Beam for me. The Via Venetto of La Dolce Vita is long gone, but this gave us some feel for it.