Monday, October 28, 2013

Osteria Merlone

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Since we were staying in the Campo Dei Fiore neighborhood of Rome, we made a decision to try restaurants in the area that were new to us. This was a tough call, because it meant we would not be going back to La Carbonara, one of our favorite restaurants in the city. Luckily, we stumbled across Osteria Merlone on Via Dei Cappillari, just north of the Campo. Each time we walked past it we saw the menu that promised their grandmother's recipes for the main dishes. It's not easy to pass up a classic Nonna dish, so we finally walked in on our last evening in Rome. Had we known that Nonna Merlone was from Le Marche, we wouldn't have waited. We were expecting something less than outstanding, so were pleasantly surprised when our dinner arrived.

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Although the restaurant was new as of October 2013, the family has been in the restaurant business long enough to know how to create a pleasant atmosphere with good service. They own Taverna Lucifero next door, their restaurant that specializes in fondue. I asked if they shared the kitchen, but they do not, although the bar at Lucifero seems much larger and the Scotch we ordered was walked through a small doorway in the shared wall of the two spaces. It was a pleasure to be served a bread basket that included grissini (breadsticks) that did not come in a plastic package.

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Our first indication of a non average menu was the appearance of a croquette made with eggplant. The flavor was very nice but the contrast in textures made this antipasto stand out.

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Wish I could remember the name of this pasta dish, but it's their specialty, so it will surely be on the menu. Composed of sausage, porcini mushrooms and a cream sauce with Parmigiano Reggiano, it was an outstanding example of Northern Italian cuisine. It made me want to visit Le Marche to see if this was a classic dish or Nonna Merlone's exclusive creation.

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When in Rome, if you want to eat like the Romans, Veal Saltimboca has to be on your radar. The combination of savory tasting sage, prosciutto and veal is a revelation. I can't see how anyone could be satisfied with a veal roast or Veal Milanese after trying this dish with it's rich pan gravy. Rosemary roasted potatoes proved to be a good side dish pairing for it; a comfort food if ever I tasted one.

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Osteria Merlone's stewed rabbit may have been plated less elegantly than other's I've eaten. It may have seemed over loaded with carrots and under represented by tomatoes or any other ingredients with contrasting color, of which there were none, but it was delicious. Braised to complete tenderness, this interpretation of a classic was generously portioned and nicely done.

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When asked about dessert, we confessed that we were too full, but that did not stop the restaurant from giving us candies, meringues and dessert wine. With generosity like this, Osteria Merlone, only a few weeks old on our first visit, should be around for a very long time.

Via Dei Cappillari next door to #28
Rome Lazio Italy            
no website found

Sunday, October 27, 2013

New Asia Restaurant

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For some reason, when I hear the word Asia in a restaurant name I think of Chinese food, or even Japanese food, but very seldom do I put together the idea of India producing an Asian cuisine. No matter what you call it, it's undeniable that New Asia serves good Indian food at prices that won't blow your travel budget. They serve quite a variety of cuisines from different regions of India including recipes that represent these styles; Balti, Vindaloo, Korma and a variety of others that I have yet to see on other Indian restaurant menus that I find in the U.S. The restaurant was styled in a manner that was adequate for the customer base, tourists. There were linens on the tables, and artwork on the walls. The lighting was soft and set a nice mood, but the tables were a bit close. We had a choice of two restaurants for Indian food that evening, One was a take out/eat in restaurant, very modern and spare, while the other was New Asia which just looked more appealing.
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We decided to split an appetizer and selected a very simple fried shrimp. It was more than we had expected and admittedly better looking. The two shrimp were butterflied and battered together with a breadcrumb surface that was fried and crispy.
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I'm a big fan of the Korma style of cooking, I really enjoy the coconut and mild flavors. I've tried it in several countries and have discovered that it's different everywhere. It seems to be prepared differently in each country, As though there was a confederation of Indian restaurant owners who set a standard for each community. This time, I decided I had to go out of my comfort zone and try different things, as long as I had this opportunity that presented so many new options. We didn't stray too far, as we found ourselves ordering Vegetable Korma. It was, however, the first time that we have ordered it without chicken or lamb, and I found it less flavorful. Some Korma sauces are heavy on cashews, while others are predominantly coconut based. This one was definitely a coconut based Korma sauce. Now I find it very confusing to identify Korma sauce at all.
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My dining companion, cannot break his habit of ordering Lamb Vindaloo. Even after being cautioned by the waiter that Vindaloo is very hot in England, he went ahead, and ordered it. All I can say is, his very large bottle of Cobra beer and a glass of water were gone in a very short period of time. DSC05504 DSC05507
To break the Korma habit I asked about something on the menu that I never saw before, and since it was described as being medium hot I decided to give it a try. Bhuna Gosht turned out to be delicious over the steamed rice. It was made with lamb in a tomato sauce with a very large amount of shredded onions that were not overcooked. They still had a little resistance in them, which added a very nice texture to the dish overall. The heat was noticeable, yet tolerable. No beer needed, although I did have a mango lassi available if needed.
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I don't think one can dine in an Indian restaurant without ordering naan. We decided on the garlic naan, and to continue on the idea of trying something new, we also ordered a Peshwari naan filled with coconut. Not too much coconut, just enough to flavor it. It really was a delight to use this to enjoy the last of the Korma sauce; they were perfect partners. 


7 Hogarth Place
London SW5 England
Earl's Court Tube






Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dar Filettaro A Santa Barbara

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We consider ourselves lucky to have friends in Rome. On the evening that we met Alessandra and Michela, we had decided to take them to the Fillatteria Di Santa Barbara, a restaurant we've been meaning to go to every time we travel to Rome. We had been trying to make time for trying it for the entire two weeks that we were in Rome and only managed it on the second to the last evening. We were very pleased that we finally tried their fried baccala made from dried cod that had been soaked in water for three days. It was extraordinary.

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Baccala was nothing new to any of us. Both my husband's grandmother and mine had spoken of it, and the girls had eaten it all their lives. I had finally put myself into the right head space to give it a whirl in Portugal, many years ago, but it was stringy, and very fishy in taste and I swore I would never eat it again. Learning its history in Norway gave me a greater appreciation of it, so I was willing to give it one more shot, though a bit begrudgingly. What a revelation! We loved its fresh taste and thought the texture was not unlike that of fresh caught fish. The batter was crisp too, and all was right with the world.

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Dar Filettaro has a very interesting menu. It was extremely limited, and every item on it cost exactly five euro. The first thing the waiter asked upon arriving at our table, was how many pieces of baccala? Each piece was 5 euro. If we wanted salad, which was the traditional Roman salad composed of chicory and anchovy you paid another 5 euro. I wanted to try the giardinaria, pickled, grilled vegetables. That added an additional 5 euros. Fried zucchini anyone? Another 5 euro.

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All in all, it was still the cheapest dinner that we ate in Rome, considering the number of people that were eating. Everyone had a good meal, everyone was full, and each of us has plans to return to this Roman institution of fried food. I'm grateful to report that the bread seemed to be gratis, but this was a no frills operation, as is evidenced by the, I use the term loosely, napkins. That did not deter the long line of people waiting at the door to get inside.

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Largo dei Librari 88
Rome, Lazio Italy
06 6864018

No Website

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pierluigi

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Following in the footsteps of my friend Carol, I rented the same apartment she had discovered several months earlier, just off the Campo Dei Fiore in Rome. As I worked my way around the area and found many restaurants, workshops and stores, Carol and  I kept up an email conversation about our various impressions of the neighborhood and all it had to offer. While strolling down Via di Monserrato, I walked past Ristorante Pierluigi several times, but it was closed. When I finally managed a lunch there, I emailed Carol and asked if she had tried it. She had and on that day saw Secretary of State, John Kerry dining there. That should tell you something about this restaurant; reputable, impeccable, and expensive. Had I known, I may have stopped in without an armful of groceries.
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When I looked at the menu, the prices seemed higher than those of other restaurants in the area. Two options came to mind; walk away or stay and see how good the food was. It very likely could be that the restaurant would not have stayed in business, if the food did not warrant the prices. My experiment in probability was a success. Pierluigi serves food that is worth the prices it charges.
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I've eaten more than my share of fried zucchini flowers in Italy, but most of them were from Tuscany or Emilia Romagna and were not filled, unlike the version from Lazio. Since they were being sold by the piece I decided one wouldn't spoil my appetite. Because it was stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy, it was not as light as others, but it did pack in quite a bit of flavor for such a small antipasto.
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The menu included quite a few selections of fish carpaccio, something I've come to enjoy while traveling in Italy. While swordfish is a favorite, this time my selection was of a fish I had not seen prepared like this before, yellow fin tuna. Delicious, its only flaw was that the serving seemed much too large for one person. The combination of the very fresh fish and the grassy house olive oil was outstanding.
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The pasta course was a tonnarelli with a saffron cream sauce laced with squash flowers. Having forgotten about the saffron, the unusual taste was difficult to identify. It was very nice, but I couldn't put my finger on it. After talking with waiter, it occurred to me that I have been overusing saffron in my own cooking and have not experienced how lovely its flavor could taste. I'll be using it with a lighter hand from now on.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ristorante Campo Dei Fiore

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While La Carbonara is the grande dame of restaurants in Campo Dei Fiori, there's a new girl in town and she's right next door. At Ristorante Campo Dei Fiore, you can get a front row seat to the street theater playing itself out on the campo while you dine. As the hostess shoos away the panhandler from the front of the restaurant, the accordion player makes his way through the restaurant across the street. Then the guitar player accompanies himself with percussion on his amplified instrument, when his wife is not tapping her tambourine. The menu here lists much better food than one could find at a dinner theater in Florida.

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It is delightful to report that there are more than two salads on the menu and that they are inventive. By well established Italian standards, that means they are composed of more than lettuce or chicory, or lettuce and shredded carrots. 

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Their version of Caesar salad, unlike those in many European countries does not include prosciutto,  bacon or even ham, but does actually contain anchovies. I've been threatening to write a comparison study on the Caesar salads of Europe, as a joke, since no two are alike and all are Caesar in name only. This one contained a reasonable facsimile of a classic Caesar dressing, along with Romaine leaves, croutons and Parmigiano cheese. It ranks as the best we have tried in Europe.

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Another successful combination of ingredients made up the Spagna salad, composed of arugula, raw mushrooms, walnuts and shaved Parmigiano. As is typical for most salads in Italy, the dressing was a do it yourself affair with the ingredients of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper already on the table. I used the balsamic that was provided, but believe red wine vinegar might have made it taste even better.

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Since we were trying to avoid pasta during this meal, my partner in crime ordered meatballs, polpette. They arrived at the table looking more like falafel than meatballs, but once he got through the overly fried exterior, they were just what he had expected, succulent and flavorful.

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Moscardini fritti were the most playful items on the table; I found myself enabling them to dance across the plate to the chagrin of my dining companion. The English translation on the menu described them as cuttlefish, however they were actually octopus, baby octopus; could they have meant "cuddle" fish? They were rather precious looking.

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Once I finished playing with my food, I noticed that they tasted like calamari, with the same texture. Since I had been looking for fried calamari, this turned out to be a very good choice with an added bonus, their entertainment factor.

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Halfway through the meal, we decided we needed some bread, so we ordered a piadina or flatbread, with rosemary and a splash of olive oil. It was extraordinary and we were really happy that we tried it. The bread was on par with the best pizza bianca we have eaten. It was chewy, moist inside with a crisp exterior. The piadina had a wonderful fragrance as well as taste. Because of the dough formulation, it was more dense than pizza bianca.

 

Campo Dei Fiore at Via del Pellegrino
Rome, Lazio Italy

No Website Found

Enoteca Corsi



Located up a side street off of Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Rome, Enoteca Corsi is very easy to find on Via Del Gesu, just across the street from Chiesa Del Gesu. As you walk up the street and it narrows and darkens from the shade from the surrounding buildings, don't lose heart. The enoteca is just up the street to the left at number 87-88. 


Number 87 is the enoteca with its dark wood paneling and matching bar. Bottles of regional wines and grappa make their way to the ceiling surrounding a smattering of wooden tables. Take in the atmosphere and enjoy it. Enoteca Corsi is from another era and you will likely not see more places like this in the future as modernization sweeps the many trattorie and osterie in this city. 

When we walked in, we saw local workmen at the bar, ordering carafes of wine filled from the spigots behind the bar. Most of the other diners lingered over their meals and were speaking Italian. With the exception of ourselves, the only other person speaking English was our  hostess, after I showed her the David Downey book Food and Wine Rome, one of his new terroir books. Her family owns  the enoteca, and her husband was proud to point himself out in one of the photos. They were tickled to see the book, because they had only seen an article, perhaps a tear sheet, from the author. 

We told them that we had come for the Carbonara, which was not on the daily menu. They were happy to make it up for us and even offered us a choice of pasta; we ordered both. The menu was very modest in price with pasta costing 9 euro instead of the usual 10 - 12. It included meat and fish as well as antipasti. As it turned out our special order cost 12 euro per plate, but we were very pleased to be accommodated and were happy to pay that.

What about number 88? I walked outside and discovered a very large room filled with more tables. It can easily be imagined completely full, but since we walked in within 20 minutes of closing, it only had the family and their friends sitting around one of the tables chatting.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Nonna Vicenza Pasticceria

Prior to our most recent trip to Rome, it seemed prudent to look up the address of the apartment we would be renting and take a look at the neighborhood. As 
I studied the Google map, small icons appeared and when clicked they revealed the names of the restaurants, churches and stores. Furthermore, some revealed links to reviews for various sources such as Google and TripAdvisor. I was hooked and started looking at various eateries; that's when I spotted Nonna Vicenza's.


Sicilian through and through it carries cannoli, cassata, those traditional replicas of fruit made from almond paste, and other classic Sicilian pastries. Housed in a shop with dark wood wainscoting, and large wood and glass cases, this shop exudes warmth and old world charm. There's also a small cart filled with artisanal gelati. The pistachio is so nut laden that it looks more like a nut butter than an ice cream. That is the precise description of an outstanding pistacchio gelati.



As we sat there for breakfast on Sunday morning, they usually serve cornetti (croissants) and brioche, but we went for the cannoli and beignets, I couldn't help but notice all the tourists walking in to take a look, then turn around and leave without making a purchase. What? This proved one heck of a missed opportunity. My guess was that they were all on automatic pilot due to jet lag. In hindsight, perhaps they were just taking a look because they knew they would be back, which is in truth what I myself had done.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Salumeria con Cucina Roscioli

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Roscioli is a big name on the food scene in Rome. Members of the family own this restaurant as well as a bakery a block or so away on Via Dei Chiavi . Cousins own several other food venues in the city, but this post is exclusively about their enoteca restaurant, which is too simple a description for this food and wine emporium restaurant. Having read about it, Roscioli was number one on my list of new places to try on this trip. Since their pasta à la carbonara was described as being an excellent version, I needed to see what all the fuss was about.

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As I understand it, Roscioli started out as a salumeria and expanded itself by adding deli items such as cheeses, prepared foods, and antipasti items. The big boy in the above photo is proof of that. Italian restaurateurs lovingly show off their equipment and this slicer can probably go through a salami in seconds. Soon it expanded further to became an enoteca adding a very large selection of wines from all over Italy. Now you could probably call it a gourmet store, they call it a kitchen, but I call it a fine restaurant. The menu proves that by identifying quality products that go into each selection on their menu.

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The book that I was reading suggested that a reservation was necessary. We decided to stop by in the middle of the afternoon when we happened to be walking down Via Giubbinori where Roscioli is located. Since half the room is taken up by the deli counter and all the walls are lined with shelves filled with wine, tables were minimal. Even though it looked completely full, I asked the waiter if there was any chance that we could get a table. I told him we did not have a reservation, which did not faze him. He took a look at the back portion of the building where more tables were, and told us the best he could do was to put us downstairs. So down we went, down several flights of stairs into the basement. It was lovely. It turned out that the basement is a wine cellar that requires reservations made weeks in advance and is highly sought after by locals. After seating us, we were presented with a menu and excellent whole grain breads along with pizza bianca. I suspect it came from the family bakery.

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After looking through the menu, giggling at the English translations (they call Roman pecorino cheese Romanian cheese) it was clear that we could not have a simple pasta lunch. It needed to be a culinary event, so we selected the Pecorino Ricotta and the Caprese Salad as our first courses. This was my first time tasting sheep's milk ricotta and it was even richer than cow's milk ricotta. I regret I cannot find this in the States. The basil flavored olive oil and peppers were just enough to turn it into a first course instead of an ingredient. The Caprese with the oregano emulsion (pesto) and basil flavored oil came with a cracker-like flat bread and an assortment of cured olives. We had to share, and then linger over this assemblage of flavors, textures and color.

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As much as I wanted to select another pasta, because they were all so enticing, I dared not miss the Carbonara. Even though my stalwart dining companion would let me taste his order, I knew one bite would not be enough, so we both ordered it. Good call. Eggs check, guanciale (cured hog jowl) check, pecorino cheese (Romanian or otherwise) check, black pepper, check. Every ingredient was in perfect balance and it was truly one of the best tasting pastas we have eaten. For me, Hosteria Romana is still the favorite, but Roscioli is possibly a tie. Another plate of their Carbonara will have to determine that.

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Although the dessert was listed as a Cassata, it was partially deconstructed and modernized. It was still composed of a sponge cake, ricotta, and candied fruit, but the pistachio marzipan was replaced with pistachio gelato. Not a bad idea, and not a bad cassata, very good in fact.

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Even  though we had ordered a dessert,  our waiter appeared with a small gift from the restaurant, two biscotti and a dark, rich , melted chocolate in which to dip them. This is a restaurant we will be going back to on every revisit of Rome. We're already planning another for next year and Roscoli has played a small part in that decision. After reading the menu on their linked website, it  is evident that their menu is seasonal, another plus for this exceptional restaurant.

WEBSITE

Via dei Giubbonari, 21
Rome, Italy 00186
Tel: +39 06 6875287
Fax: +39 06 6865621
info@salumeriaroscioli.com