Oh my GOD it has been so long since Miss Expatria has updated her informative, witty blog! Shame on her.
But to be honest, I was busy having fun OOPS I MEAN DOING FIELD RESEARCH for my dedicated readers.
Since I’ve started this blog I have given you some of my best-kept secrets and favorite tips for traveling and eating well. But, I must confess: I’ve been holding back.
There was a place I didn’t tell you about, because I love it too much and want it all to myself. Also, I like surprising guests with it when they come over to see me. It’s in San Lorenzo, and it’s ugly as sin. But holy crap, the food that comes out of that kitchen is divine. But its name and exact location will not be revealed here! You’ll simply have to come over for yourself and have me take you there.
The other night, Mr. and Ms. Pants and I were sitting at the roof bar at the Hotel Mediterraneo in Rome, nursing some Prosecco (OMG THERE’S A FESTIVAL OF PROSECCO? See link OMG) and watching the sun set behind St. Peter’s big ol’ dome. It was their last night in town, and we were deciding what to do for dinner.
We had already eaten at all of their favorite places – this was Mr. Pants’ third time here and Ms. Pants’ second, and much of our time was spent fitting in all the meals they had been dreaming about in the year since their last visit.
However, we passed another place near my neighborhood that was not open yet for dinner, but the smell was unbelievable. We asked Leo – bilingual, bicultural artist extraordinaire and cherished member of the Gay Mafia – if the place was decent.
He paused for a few moments, then said, “Well, it’s OK. Yes, you could eat there. It’s very Roman food. It’s not bad.”
Not a rousing endorsement from someone who took us just a few nights prior to Primo in Pigneto, where we fainted 700 times due to the fabulousness. (Fried sardines, most tenderest octopus, a semi-freddo that brought me to my knees. They have a Gambero Rosso rating, and now I know why.) But we were tired from schlepping all day and wanted to eat close to home, so we gave it a shot.
It is yet another ugly place. Bad lighting, paper tablecloths, long tables. But charming and obviously much loved, with pictures of neighborhood foodies and bad paintings and inside-joke art on the walls. We sat at the only table not reserved; a good sign.
The owner came over and sat down at our table with us. He does this with everyone, and over the course of the night we saw tables fill up but with one seat at each left empty so he could come back for more food orders, chatting, or yelling at people. He knew it was our first time, so he and I quickly negotiated small portions of different pastas for a starter; he said he would come back to list the meats available for the second course. He then stood up, yelled to the kitchen, then came around the table and sat on the other side of me so that he could talk to a guy who was eating alone at the other end of our long table.
Two wooden trays came out, each heaped with identical pairs of different pastas. We dig in and swoon. Rigatoni with a meat sauce – you know the kind, it’s been cooking for a day and a half and it’s practically orange – and homemade fresh tagliatelle with some kind of walnut mushroom yumminess piled on top.
DONE! Meat course, please. Another lengthy conference, but by now Mr. and Ms. Pants were paying serious attention due to the incredible pasta we had just eaten. They wanted to make sure we got aaaaalllllll the good stuff.
The owner ran down the list of meats available, and my jaw dropped (then closed, as I immediately started a drooling Pavlovian response). Ox tail, bull’s balls, tripe, sweetbreads, fried or grilled lamb, steak, on and on he went until I cried “ZIO!” (joking – I don’t think they cry the equivalent of “Uncle!” here) and we settled on tripe for me, homemade grilled sausages for Mr. Pants and fried lamb for Ms. Pants. We also got grilled radicchio, puntarelle (no idea what this is in English, but it’s awesome) and a crispy grilled artichoke.
Rapture. Plates kept coming out, and we kept eating. Everything was simple and done to perfection. We ate like men condemned and finished off the liter of wine, then sat back and looked at each other as if to confirm what had just happened. All we could do was laugh remembering what Leo had said – “Oh, it’s alright, you could maybe go there.”
But you know it wasn’t over. Oh-ho, no.
Out came a bottle of Romanello homemade dessert wine, plunked on the table after the waitress made fun of us for not being able to down what was already in our glasses in one gulp; and biscotti, and a tiramisu that was absolutely shameful. I asked if Ms. Pants could take the biscotti that remained in the basket home with her for the flight the next day, and not only did the waitress say yes – out came another basket and extra napkins to wrap them in.
We stumbled out of the restaurant like three drunks on a bender, practically reeling from gastronmic ecstasy and giggling at what had just happened to us in there. The owner was outside having a smoke, and ciao’d and kissed us all and made us promise to come back. I said to keep the water on, and he laughed.
What? Oh, um, well, no. I won’t tell you where it is. You’ll just have to come over and have me take you there.