Sunday, April 13, 2008


As I should be in Sicily right now, as I write this (my trip was very suddenly and unfortunately cancelled), I’m going to finally post about my trip to Rome. This will either be some kind of therapy and comfort me for not being able to eat cannoli right now, or it’ll be self-inflicted punishment, but either way, you get to see pictures of Italy (at least the food). Fair warning though, I think the bulk is going to be pictures with a bit of writing, as it was months ago so I don’t remember everything as clearly as if it were last week.

The first meal in Rome was dinner at a restaurant somewhere near the Trevi Fountain and some piazza, it felt like there were piazzas at the end of every street we walked on in the center, and I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. I think ‘crudo’ and ‘cotto’ (raw and cooked) were in the name and we were on our way to a famous restaurant that’s in the guide books, called Da Sergio in the Campo de’ Fiori area, and got there to see the long line and turned around. We went back the slightly fancy looking restaurant we passed just down the road and decided to try it. My pasta was absolutely wonderful, and before going to Rome I researched a bit and discovered some of the local dishes, so I knew what I was ordering. It’s called paccheri alla gricia.

Paccheri is the pasta, as you can see a big, smooth tube shape, and alla gricia means with bits of guanciale (or bacon as a substitute) and pecorino cheese, it sounds very simple but was delicious and has been recreated since this trip. I would go back to this restaurant for this dish. The other standout plate at the first dinner was the salad, which included radicchio, butternut squash, and guanciale again. A really good combination, the sweet squash and the bitter radicchio, and of course the salty meat. We got another pasta dish, which I don’t remember and obviously didn’t find it significant enough to take a picture, and a plate of assorted meats and cheeses, which was just mediocre. We’ve had better in Barcelona. Also had better in Italy.

The next day for lunch we went in search of a place I had looked up and read reviews about, called Agustarello in Testaccio. First of all, let me say Testaccio is a neighborhood in the south of Rome and was originally were many of the stables for horses and livestock were kept before being slaughtered (if I remember right, but you can google for more information). Testaccio means ‘ugly head’ so this is not supposed to be the nicest part of Rome, but it was my favorite, just because it felt more authentic and less touristy, although they still made their way down there. One more thing about Rome: they’re sometimes known for their offal based dishes. That’s to say, after the butchers sold all the parts people wanted to buy, they ate what was left over. So for weak-stomached Americans such as myself, it’s all unappealing stuff like tripe and tongues and more. Lucky for me, anywhere you go in Italy, you can find pasta. There’s one dish that is specifically Roman: pajata. Get ready for it, weaklings. It’s baby lamb’s or cow’s intestines that aren’t cleaned out and therefore still have the mother’s milk in them.
I knew that I was not going to try this. D knew that he had to. When we got to Agustarello it was a bit on the edge of Testaccio, and it was a quiet Saturday afternoon, it felt like Sunday. We got there right when it opened, so it was quiet too. The wait staff was nice enough, and more than waiters, it felt like some family that owned it sent out the stylish Roman woman to talk to us and take our orders. I couldn’t decide between two pastas, so we talked to her and agreed on a sample plate of both. D jumped on his first chance at pajata, served with rigatoni. Anyways, my first pasta was great. I’m kicking myself now for not remembering the name of the noodles, but they were something like picci where they are a little thicker in the middle and thin out at the end of the tube. They were served with simple chicory, and some grated cheese over, and really good. I would’ve taken two plates of that. Next, I got gnocchi because I do love them, but these did not seem homemade and were just ok. But that first pasta definitely made up for them. I did not try D’s pajata, he thoroughly enjoyed it, but I opted out of it. And if you look closely, you can see inside the intestine. That night we ventured back to Testaccio and went to a place we had read about in guide books called Trattoria da Oio o Casa Mia, and had to wait in a line. we ended up eating next to some friendly Germans (it was the kind of restaurant where the tables are separate but maybe by the space of an inch). It was very loud and crowded, and I enjoyed my pasta, I got carbonara, which is also typical Roman (I saw it on just about every menu along with bucatini allla amatriciana) but more well known outside of Italy than the previous things we tried. It was nothing different, like my alla gricia or with ciccoria, but it was creamy and rich, just how I like it. D was not so happy with his, he got something like lamb and thought it wasn’t very juicy or tender.

One thing America is missing is all these little shops that specialize in just cheeses, or meats, or preserved things, or just some sort of fancy deli. I think they’re starting to kick in and grow, but in Italy, on every street there are little entrances into havens of bowls of pesto sauce, glass cases of cheeses waiting to be cut, fresh pastas, olives, and anything that could be necessary for a relaxed, Roman picnic.
This would be our Sunday lunch. There’s a famous deli such as this in Testaccio called Volpetti. It’s just a tiny shop considering the amount of products it packs in. They’ve got a little bread counter when you first walk in to your right, and straight ahead is the glass case that spans the length of the store, housing meats and cheeses. Down at the far end, they have the preserved things, like olives, artichokes, stuffed peppers, and sauces or spreads like tapenade and pesto and all that good stuff. On the opposite wall, there’s more cheese in a smaller case, I think for fresher cheeses like certain goats cheese and mozzarella. If there were no prices, we could have lived in this store. But we had budgets and realized we wouldn’t be able to take everything on our picnic, so I tried to remember what little Italian I knew and ended up getting some sort of mixture between Spanish, English, and Italian. The men behind the counters were very understanding and patient. We got our supplies and then on Sunday walked around the Coliseum and settled overlooking the ruins to eat everything, which included: focaccia, sundried tomatoes, artichokes, eggplant, olives, two types of cheese, one being a very soft, fresh goat cheese wrapped in some sort of cabbage leaf, wine, and of course, my favorite pesto. Can’t complain about the picnic lunch at all, I just wish I could do it everyday. Well this is where my food pictures stop. There was a complaint from D, that we never made it to have Roman pizza, we were going to on our last night, but I couldn’t wait and wanted pasta. We ended up at another place in Testaccio and I had bucatini al’amatriciana finally, which was just ok. So next time, we’ll have to try the pizza.

The disappointing thing about Rome was that I didn’t find any gelato that even looked like it came anywhere near to Florence’s. I tried one place very close to the Trevi Fountain that was supposed to be good, actually great, called San Crispino and after the first bite I was like ‘meh.’ Not convinced. I looked in at other gelateria’s but they all looked the same, done up for tourists and I couldn’t bring myself to risk another likely disappointment.

I don’t want to end on a bad note, so I will mention a shiny, friendly little bar just off of Via Marmorata, the main street in Testaccio, we stepped into on a Saturday night in Testaccio. We sat down and were brought a little napkin with a few tiny pastries on it and we talked to the young guy, apparently the owner, who told us it was his opening night. I’m sure there’s lots more to explore in Testaccio, we didn’t even make it to the market when it was open, but it’s got lots of restaurants, bars, and even a pizzeria or two that we popped our heads into, but too late, as we had already eaten and they were closed on Sundays. Next time, next time.

Via Giovanni Branca 98

Trattoria Da Oio o Casa Mia
Via Galvani 43-45

Via Marmorata 47

A good bar that we went to but I didn’t mention or take pictures of is
L’oasi di Birra
Piazza Testaccio 38-41

If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s a really nice, relaxed bar with an incredible list of beers and wine from all over the world, at times, a bit too extensive, as they had Xibeca from Spain which is like going to a brewery and ordering Miller Lite, but they did have some impressive choices, as well as a good-looking menu


Anonymous said...

Ha, those Testaccio pictures are great. But I think you need to explain a bit more about pajata, and how the calf's stuff is maybe just a little superior to the lamb's, and how it's much better if you don't drown it in tomato sauce, but bring out the natural flavours...

And picnicking in the Forum is one of the world's great Sunday lunches.

Helene said...

What a great trip! I love favorite diet is the spaghetti one :)
I love the plates at the first restaurat!

Unknown said...

Tremendous resource for a couple of Canadians eating in Florence and Rome. Thanks

Paul Townend said...

Thought I commented when we went to Rome last year - needless to say it was of much use ...

just recommended it to a Swedish friend travelling there from Lyon.

checking out the rest of the blog too now.