Sunday, June 20, 2010

Il Cuore Enogastronomia

That's quite a mouthful to say...enogastronomia! Basically, Il Cuore, the heart, is a gourmet food and wine store with a space set aside for serving meals. It was not the comfort level of the rooms that conferred the title of ristorante to this small space, but the high quality of the food.

The refrigerated counters in the front of the shop were filled with soft and semi soft, regional cheeses from all over Italy, as well as prepared foods to take out. All sorts of delightfully Italian food products were available to tempt the gastronomia's regular customers, and we travelers who think food products are the perfect souvenir. I did not dare look too closely as the distraction would have delayed lunch and we had arrived rather late as it was. What I do recall most of all were the aromas of the restaurant wafting through the gastronomia onto the street.

The restaurant space was a rabbit warren of small rooms filled with bottles of wine for sale, and crates containing more wine. The plastic chairs were adequate for seating, but not comfortable for leisurely dining. It seemed more lake a trattoria or cafe, until the food arrived. Someone in that kitchen knows how to cook and has a link with the past, but is looking toward the future.

The steak ordered by our nephew was cooked in the Tuscan tradition, barely at all, but it was excellent in taste. The lightly sauced agnolotti were a nice addition to the plate.

Traditional tomato bruschetta was ramped up a notch with truffle oil. It was a nice way to start the meal, but not a very adventurous choice.

A better way to start the meal, at least for me, was the pear and pecorino soup, garnished with foie gras, white truffle oil and grapes. What a garnish!

I could not fault the ravioli filled with Castelmagno, a Piemontese primarily cow milk cheese. They were wading in a pool of red bell pepper coulis and were showered with shaved white truffle. Fall is the perfect time to travel in Italy, when fresh tartufo and porcini are readily available. This ravioli went well beyond traditional Italian pasta dishes and ranks with the better pastas I have eaten.

The cheese plate was as good as one might expect from an establishment selling fine cheeses out the front door. The selection included cow, sheep and goat milk cheeses. The walnuts, honey (in the bowl) and quince preserves rounded out the dish as well as the tastes of the cheeses.

Via Del Battistero 2
Lucca Tuscany Italy
phone: 0583 493196

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Blue Ice

One Roman gelateria we keep going back to is Blue Ice. Sitting just outside the Campo Dei Fiore, makes it an easy target for us, since we go there frequently, but it's not just the convenience of the location, it is most certainly the variety of the flavors that attracts us as well as the consistantly good quality of their gelati and sorbetti that include some non dairy options.

Fior Di Latte, strawberry, cream, pistachio, woodland berry,  coconut, cantaloupe and raspberry all take turns tempting customers.

Peach, vanilla, mascarpone, zabaglione, apple, mint and dark chocolate also take their place in the long refrigerated case.

However it's the mixed, proprietary flavors with nuts, chocolate and fruit syrup drizzles, and other additions that always get the most attention.

141 Via dei Baullari
Rome Italy 00100
phone: +39 06 687-6114

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ristorante Arco di San Callisto

The first time we found Ristorante Arco di San Calisto, it was in an effort to get out of the crowds of Trastevere, the cheap restaurant mecca of Rome. We spotted a small group of tables on a quiet side street and made our move out of the maddening crowds and into a realm of quiet tranquility. It was a good move too as I ordered the best abacchio I have ever found in Rome that first night, and it brings me back time and time again. On subsequent trips we discovered the subterranean vaulted rooms and like them even better than the sidewalk location. I made a solemn promise to try the grilled lamb next trip, because the owners are so proud of their wood fired grill, one has to pass it to get into the massive dining room.

Fried zucchini flowers are popular throughout Italy, but in Rome, they are uniquely Roman. Besides the batter, they are filled with mozzarella or ricotta cheeses and then layered with a fillet of anchovy for a more savory flavor. These are not as light as the unfilled variety, but are worth a try at the very least.

Fritti Misti turned out to be a variety of fried vegetables including, zucchini, artichokes and cauliflower. Although they were good, I really wanted something to dip them in for extra flavor. They didn't compete favorably with the zucchini flowers, so I'd skip them or try not to order both at the same time. Spaghetti Amatriciana is a classic dish from this region and was well prepared with the requisite pancetta, onions and tomato. It really is perfect with grated Pecorino Romano, the regional cheese for Lazio and much of the south.

Some people think Cacio e Pepe is Carbonara without guanciale, but it's different in that it uses Cacio cheese, not Romano and Parmigiano. Although it has no meat, it's still rich from the egg yolks and cheese. It certainly makes a nice vegetarian alternative to Carbonara with its creamy texture and pepper bite.

Abbachio, the famous roasted baby lamb of Rome, gets my attention every time and I order it frequently. It may be just as flavorful at Perilli, but Arco di San Calisto always seems to offer meatier portions, so this is my favorite restaurant in which to order it. The roasted potatoes, cooked in the same pan are deeply infused with the meat drippings, and provide a perfect compliment to the tender lamb.

In my experience Tiramisu never has looked the same from restaurant to restaurant. Everyone has their own spin on it, but it is most often delicious with the mascarpone, coffee and chocolate flavors. No "lady fingers" in this version. The Tartufo is another classic dessert made up of either vanilla or chocolate gelato covered in chocolate and cocoa powder. I'm sure the amusement caused by the name has more to do with why it's ordered than the actual taste. It looks like a black truffle, according to urban legend, but I'm hoping someone, someday, with surprise me with something more added to the interior.

Via dell'Arco di San Calisto
4500153 Rome Italy
06 581 8323