Would YOU show up at a stranger's apartment in Rome and pay them to cook for you? We have to admit this strikes us as a huge risk and with all the great places to eat in Rome, who would take such a culinary adventure?
Turns out to be quite a few based on last night's delicious experience! While Larry doubts he'd ever be adventurous enough to do this without knowing something more about the program than could be found on a webpage, the other 10 folks who joined us seem to have no qualms about such an arrangement. And good for them, because it was a special night.
Heather's off hobknobbing with her fellow philosophical wizards in the USA this weekend so Larry decided to try TheEateryinRome since a) he had to eat somewhere as the Academy kitchen is closed on Saturday evening b) he hates to eat alone c) Domenico (pictured above with partner Sofie) is the same Domenico who ran the show when Larry "helped" in the Academy kitchen awhile back. Yes, he's one of the Angels of the Kitchenso there was zero doubt the experience would be tasty and fun.
Larry roped a colleague of Heather's here at the American Academy, Denise into joining the group. Some folks from Canada were there along with some folks from Denmark - a good mix of tourists and folks who live in the Eternal City, including a few who'd enjoyed dining here in the past. We also had a Danish sommelier dining with us, who also (no surprise!) chose the perfect wines to accompany each dish.
Sofie served the various plates (we'll skip a drawn-out description and just say all were as creative as they were fresh and delicious) while Domenico slaved in the tiny kitchen. Lively conversation + great food and wine + created by people you like = a wonderful evening!!!
Grazie Sofie e Domenico, buon lavoro!
PS-we'll make a return when Heather's around to enjoy it too.
Last Friday Larry headed over to Villa Borghese as noted in a previous post. Here are some photos from the grounds, easily enjoyable on a bike, including some available for rent in the park itself.
There are paved roads, gravel paths and bits of single-track trail to enjoy here amid all the sculpture, not to mention the villa itself, home to the Galleria Borghese which contains some gorgeous works by the vastly (to Larry anyway) underrated Gian Lorenzo Bernini. On this day I didn't go in as my plan was to visit Lazzaretti and I didn't have the required appointment. The photos on the wiki page you can see via the link are much better than any Larry could have taken anyway.
While riding around here I encountered Celeste Milani who we'll meet again soon.
We are truly spoiled here at the American Academy. Perhaps the only thing keeping this from being like a 5-star hotel is the fact that you have to make your own bed each week when the new sheets are dropped off?
Above you see a typical pranzo menu on the blackboard. Lunch is served buffet style with a hearty soup and a pasta, plus an array of fresh, tasty salads, many created using the fresh vegetables growing on the Academy grounds. All part of the Rome Sustainable Food Project.
On Saturdays they let folks like Larry volunteer to help in the kitchen. Of course they don't let us mess around with anything truly important, this is serious business! Above you see Domenico who was in-charge this day flanked by Brianna who was pretty much second-in-command, Around 9 AM there's a meeting to learn what's on the menu, how it's going to be prepared and who is going to do what.
Larry LOVES the look of most commercial kitchens. Just like his favorite bike shops there's a place for everything and everything's in its place. Gleaming polished stainless-steel everywhere, good lighting, just what people want and need to do their jobs well. Bike mechanics are no different.
We get jobs that are tough to screw up. Above you see Domenico showing us how to operate the pasta roller, a larger, electric (no cranking like Larry does at home for our ravioli parties!) version of the Imperia units a lot of home cooks use. Brianna had already mixed up the dough, so the skilled part was pretty much done, all we had to do was roll it out and cut it, using the chitarra, a stringed instrument that you can actually pluck like a guitar. This makes a delightful, square-cut type of spaghetti, here they called it tonnarelli as you can see on the blackboard.
After we finished with the pasta they put Larry to work preparing onions. He feared making a mess of it compared to the gorgeous examples Domenico had made, but in the end it was all thrown into this big pan and baked, pretty much obscuring any damage Larry had done. After he posed with his creation it was put back into the oven to evaporate the liquid and concentrate the flavors. These were the cipolle marinati you can see on the blackboard.
Meanwhile, Domenico had mixed up his batter for farinata, a chickpea fritter famous in Liguria. He'd baked them in pans in the oven, then cut them into pieces to be grilled as you see here. These were served over lentils. the second-to-last dish you see on the blackboard.
Domenico's recipe for Amatriciana sauce was cooking all the while. Our tonnarelli were to be served with this. Larry loves the size of these pots! We had only around 30 Fellows to serve this day, but it's much better to have food left over than to run out!
The taste test is important, but Domenico wants to taste too, just to make sure things are perfect.
And he oversees the plating as well, wiping that stray bit of sauce off the platter before it goes onto the buffet. As most know, you eat with your eyes too, so it's important for the food to look good as well as taste good.
An hour before "show-time" the staff gets to eat, another form of quality control as well as just reward for everyone's efforts. Some of the Academy staff join in as well as kitchen staff who might have the day off. Most of these folks areinterns, here to learn Italian-style cooking and gain experience in the food service trade. After a day in this kitchen Larry can say for sure that you gotta love this, otherwise it's way-too-much work. All of these folks really are ANGELS of the KITCHEN!!!
No rain in the forecast but the trail along the Tiber is a mess from the recent heavy rainstorms drowning Italy. So Larry decided to ride over to the Villa Borghese (more details on that next time) and squeeze in a visit to the famous LAZZARETTI The World of Cycling shop.
They were very proud of their newly opened shop just a few doors down. The workshop should be pictured in a Park Tool catalog, though the workstand is from our friends at Bicisupport.The next workshop Larry sets up might get the nice work surface and drawer treatment like this one. Well, he can dream anyway!
Turns out the founder of the Gran Fondo Roma Campagnolo stopped by while Larry was there to pick up a bike for a press conference announcing the 2015 details. And who did he run into while cycling around the Villa Borghese a few moments before? Celeste Milani!
Milani was riding around the park too, and soon enough we were chatting like old friends. He spends some time down here during the winter so we'll likely meet up to ride or to enjoy a pizza.
Another museum Sunday was not the plan, but when we woke up this morning to gray skies and wet roads, our original plan to take the train with our road bikes to Lago Bracciano to ride around the lake and enjoy a leisurely Sunday pranzo were scrapped. While the forecast for the rest of the day wasn't dismal, we were not real keen on riding fenderless road bikes on wet roads, even if the sun would come out and dry them eventually.
"Plan B" quickly formed: why not walk over to the Baths of Caracalla? A museum of sorts, but one outside rather than inside, meaning we could enjoy those sunny skies if they appeared while getting some reasonable exercise. As you can see above, they eventually did. The ride around the lake could wait for another sunny Sunday (we hope).
This must have been an amazing complex. The black and white mosaics covered the second floor, which has fallen down but with pieces displayed propped up against the still-standing walls.
Our full-on Sunday pranzo was still in the plans however. We wandered over to the now trendy Testaccio district (think Trastevere a few decades ago) hoping to score a table for two at Flavio Velavevodetta which we found via Osteria d'Italia, the Slowfood "bible".
No tables were open right away, so we put our name in and wandered around this now trendy district. full of run down buildings housing nightclubs and what look like squatter's camps. The whole thing seems just edgy enough to attract hipsters without scaring away anyone with any real danger, at least during the day.
After a lap around Testaccio and a visit to a bike shop specializing in bici d'epoca called Ciclo, we headed back to Flavio and had a table pretty quickly, settling in for a nice Roman pranzo. A vegetable antipasto plate with a very nice caponata flanked by a pair of excellent suppli started us off, followed (again the portions are insanely large) by a shared plate of rigatoni in a sauce made from oxtails. This was good, not great. Second plates were an excellent hunter's style rabbit with lots of tasty olives and a peppery bite and a so-so involtino in tomato sauce. A very fresh mixed salad and some roasted potatoes completed our meal, washed down with Tufaliccio, a red blend from Lazio. Again like last week, we had no room for dessert and wanted to try another gelato place on the way home anyway.
Fior di Luna was suggested by someone here at the Academy as their favorite and after our sad experience last week, we were ready to be happy. We were! THIS was gelato like we remembered, creamy, rich and full of flavor.
Needless to say, another great Sunday in Rome, despite not riding our bicycles.
We've enjoyed a fair amount of cycling in the past week so Sunday was museum day. After sleeping in a bit (hey, it WAS Sunday morning after all!) and a stop at Bar Gianicolo (like last Sunday) we wandered down the hill and across Rome, our destination the National Museum of the Baths of Diocletian. Since we'd skipped cycling after riding up Monte Mario (a story for another time) on Saturday morning, we enjoyed the extended walk. The museum was not very crowded and we bought tix to let us into a few more over the next few days.
After this it was on to the museum called Palazzo Massimo, one of our favorites. They have the famous bronze "boxer" sculpture here, one we chased all over Rome years ago, only to find it being restored or on tour. At one time it was housed elsewhere and we finally tracked it down but now it seems to have a permanent home here. Larry likes that one just fine, but his favorite piece in this museum is pictured above. How can you beat a combination of a fantastically carved marble that happens to be of a beautiful young woman, naked and asleep? Does are get any better than this?
But then there's the flip side, as shown above. Not exactly a young woman I guess? Somehow I bet the sculptor had a mischievous grin on his face while carving this. Last time Larry was here, hoping to enjoy seeing this one again, IT was on tour! But she/he/it was here this time and looking as beautiful as always.
The collections of beautiful sculptures can be overwhelming, so two museums this morning was enough, especially as they ran into the afternoon as well. Between them we snacked on suppli and split a birra, hoping to enjoy a full-on Sunday pranzo afterwards.
It started to rain pretty hard once we exited Massimo so we beat a quick path, hoping to find one of our favorite eateries open and with a table for us. But Asino d'Oro is closed on Sundays so we were out of luck. As we walked down the rainy street dodging puddles, we'd spied another place and thought it might be OK as a backup plan.
Osteria 16 turned out to be much better than we hoped. It was pouring rain as we stumbled into a packed dining room around 2:30 PM. They told us they could happily feed us but we'd need to wait a bit. We sat down, as where else were we going in this downpour? The wait was not long and soon we were enjoying hand-sliced prosciutto from Amatrice and fried zucchini flowers along with a bottle of Cesanese wine from Lazio.
We wisely split a plate (portions were insanely large) of gnocchi with gorgonzola and radicchio, saving room for coda al vaccinara (oxtail stew) for Heather and roasted maialino (suckling pig) for Larry, along with some artichokes and roasted potatoes. We skipped dessert as we were just too full and thought gelato might be a better option during our walk home.
San Crispino's gelato turned out to be a let-down compared to our fond memories, but overall it was a wonderful Sunday in Rome.