Monday, September 28, 2009

Trattoria Barberini

On our first visit to Trattoria Barberini, we accidentally found it after trying to replace a lost passport at the American Embassy on Via Veneto. Losing a passport is a rather psyche rattling experience, so my nerves were frayed (especially after seeing my new passport photo taken after a sleepless night on a train from Sicily to Rome...10 more years, oh no). I needed comfort food fast and this restaurant was the first we found as we walked west, away from the embassy. All I remember from that visit was a delicious pasta with porcini mushrooms. We tried finding it on our next trip, but no such luck. We didn't have the name and what we remembered was walking downstairs into a small dining room; that was the physical description we had to go on. Even when we saw it again, we weren't certain. It was small indeed with four tables on the ground floor and only four more downstairs. This hardly seemed like the kind of place where you'd get a great meal. But after a quick peek downstairs I realized, this was it.

It was only lunch and I wasn't hungry, but I ordered 2 courses anyway, since I wanted to review the restaurant and share it with others; difficult with only 2 items. So my first choice was the ceci (garbanzo) and clam soup, the oddest sounding item on the menu and the classic Roman gnocchi. Even though his beloved Spaghetti Carbonara was on the menu, my dining companion ordered the Pasta Puttanesca. It had regular black olives instead of salt cured olives which are more pungent, and fresh tomatoes instead of sauce, but they both proved to make a nice departure from the classic recipe. The soup was good with a mild flavor of the sea that did not dominate the soup, but enhanced the flavors, much as anchovies do in many classic Italian recipes. I'll be attempting to recreate it at home.

The best dish of the afternoon was the gnocchi made with semolina flour instead of potato and all purpose flour. I've always seen it cut into disks, so the hearts were a creative device for making the plate look more appealing. They had a polenta type texture with a pasta taste and the creamy sauce was very buttery and quite good. For a little hole-in-the-wall, with a young chef I would be happy to dine here again.
Via Della Purificazione 20
00187 Rome Italy
39 06 4743325

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Il Peperone

If you find yourself on the Via Veneto in Rome and are strapped for cash, but hungry and in need of a meal, Il Peperone may be just the ticket for you. The food is not classically Roman nor is it the best you'll ever have, but it's adequate, filling, and most importantly inexpensive compared to every other restaurant on the street.
The above photo is not of a Cesar salad, although it does employ some of the basic ingredients. The anchovies were very tasty however this salad could have been so much better. Most salads in Italy fall short on inspiration and few if any have onions, an essential ingredient for flavor enhancement.
The suppli or arancini were not hot enough to allow the cheese to melt thoroughly, so it would be pulled thinned out like thin telephone wires (long story), but they were good enough to eat, so eat them I did.

Of everything offered on their menu, Il Peperone did best with their pasta courses. I selected the farfalle (butterfly) pasta that we Americans usually refer to as "bow ties", because I had yet to taste a pasta sauce made with fresh tomatoes. This selection also introduced zucchini to the mix and that was also appealing to me, since it seemed more like a recipe made at home, rather than at a restaurant. It was a decent selection and it was filling.

My dinner companion selected Spaghetti Bolognese that he never seems to go wrong with, and it was also a decent rendition of a classic recipe, though not the best ever made nor tasted. In a pinch we'd come back here, but with so many great Roman restaurants, it will not be any time soon.

Via Vittorio Veneto 97
00187 Rome Italy
Tel 064884592

Friday, September 11, 2009

Le Bon Vivre

Le Bon Vivre is a lively brasserie recommended by a friend who had traveled to Toulouse a year or so ago. I trusted her judgement and of the restaurants we tried in this city, this was the best, and would still have been the best, even if the other restaurant hadn't been so terribly bad. It was a  very good call.

As is the custom, we were first served bread and what better to go with that than foie gras. Really, I can't even think of going to France without ordering some, and for all those who think French geese are mistreated, they should take a look at the poultry industry in the USA.

This foie gras was served in generous portions and I was only sorry we did not have enough time for a second meal at this restaurant. I would have been totally satisfied ordering this for lunch, and my calorie "dance card" would have been full with little consequence to my wallet.

Perhaps the best reason for visiting Le Bon Vivre would be to order the cassoulet, perfectly executed with an oven crisped top and succulent duck and sausage underneath, nestled in creamy beans. Toulouse is the perfect city in which to order this nationally acclaimed dish. Eating it should be a travel requirement for visitors to southern France.

I couldn't resist trying the side dish of fava, but ended up returning it to the kitchen. They were not fresh, but dried beans, and the plastic canister they were stored in must have cracked because my side dish came with a plastic "garnish". Trying potatoes fried in duck fat is another must order at a restaurant in France, but I'm sorry to say these were a bit soggy, as though they had been covered after frying, and therefore became steamed from their own trapped heat.

It hardly mattered, not only did they taste good despite the texture, but the roasted duck breast dominated the plate and my attention. If the menu at this restaurant doesn't inspire a person, there were many more restaurant on this street to choose from and many had outside seating, just perfect for a warm evening.

15 Place Prés Wilson
31000 Toulouse, France
05 61 23 07 17

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Le Parvis in Albi

Albi is such a charming town, it was no surprise to find a very nice restaurant, and especially one directly across the street from the Saint Cecilia Cathedral. When we stopped here for tea that afternoon, we took a look inside and placed a reservation for dinner. They had an early reservation available, but the restaurant filled up fast, so we were lucky to get a table at all.

Escargot, the dependably good starter to any dinner in France was excellent; garlic laden, buttery and tender, it was a great way to assess the kitchen.

Duck Gizzard Salad, how could one possibly resist something not seen on a menu before? I jumped at the chance and thought the gizzards were very flavorful and much less chewy than I had expected. I'd order this again, if the opportunity ever presented itself.

Cassoulet is not quite the same in each restaurant, but the basics are. This particular interpretation was not bubbling over the edges of the casserole dish nor was it very crisp on top, but it was made with the right ingredients.

Besides the beans, duck confit and sausage, the Le Parvis cassoulet had a nice piece of thick cut bacon added. The multiple meats contributed more complex flavor to an already outstanding dish.

This particular duck breast arrived as a thick cut rather than a whole breast. I couldn't help but wonder what happened to the rest of it. Was it so big it was divided between two patrons? There were more things to worry about on the plate. The duck fat fried potatoes weren't crisp, but perhaps they were roasted and not fried. Not being able to read French, the nuanced description from the menu was lost on me.

White chocolate mousse over a sponge cake with a caramelized apple dollop on top was creamy, sweet and spicy with cinnamon. This restaurant is worth visiting again. I've linked their website, but I'm afraid it has no menu listings.