In Rome With Miss Expatria – Monday Morning Coffee Stories

Gentlest reader Jeremy’s first trip to Europe was to visit me in Rome in the spring of 2004. He is now spoiled for life, as you will read below. Jeremy is a union man, a grip in the film industry, a musician, an artist and, at 2.30 in the morning in a dive bar in Brooklyn, the devil.

Read his observations, and a LOT of food descriptions, below. I know it’s only Monday morning, but you might want to start to think about lunch – and dinner.

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C wakes me up and we make our grocery list and head down to the supermarket. We pick up a ton of stuff. The cheese aisle in the supermarket makes me want to pass out, as does the wine aisle. Yeah, there’s a wine aisle – just like there ought to be. We buy six bottles of vino rosso and lots of other goodies.

After the supermarket we have a leisurely breakfast of: fresh pecorino romano and gorgonzola cheeses, hard salami, fresh bread and red wine. It’s 1pm. That rocks.

I then venture a bit further into Rome than the day before and just wander for hours. It’s totally cool. I see the Pantheon. Holy crap. How the hell did they build that thing? Unreal. I take a lot more photographs, have a beer at a pub and have the most delicious cappuccino flavored gelato I’ve ever tasted. I also learn the difference between how to say “good evening,” and “have a good evening.” I feel smart.

Had one of the best cappuccinos of my entire life at the TRAIN STATION of all places! I could’ve had a gallon of them.

Then, it’s off to Giovanni’s for dinner and an Italian TV show called Music Farm.

Music Farm is hilarious. It’s like Survivor crossed with American Idol starring a panel of Italian pop music has-beens. They all perform super melodramatic songs – poorly. The host takes comments from the guest panel – which includes people who have already been kicked off the show as well as other contestants parents, girlfriends, dogs, etc. It’s amazingly bad, and funny. The gay mafia assembled at Giovanni’s all sing along, yell insults at the TV, give singers the finger, classic. Afterwards we finish off all of the wine and then watch our favorite parts of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. You heard me.

Notes on Italian Music:

Ana Oxa – Vincenzo loves her. No one else does.

Loredana Berte – Everyone likes her because she’s a total bitch with balls of steel who dresses like Mohammad Ali.

Giorgia – Christine loves her. We all hate her – especially me and Vincenzo.

Scisma – We all think they are cool as can be.

Any male vocalist – We all pretty much hate all of them.

Everyone sleeps in on Saturday. While C gets ready I go next door and have some coffees and catch up the journal. I return to Marco cooking up ingredients for one (!) of tonight’s pasta dishes, which smells so good I think I might pass out.

After MUCH procrastination C and I go to what she describes as the “Dinkins-era NYC grocery.” She seems to be dead-on. Our shopping list: five bottles of wine, two bottles of milk. Yeah.

O.K., dinner:

Gio brings some appetizers – cheese in a spicy jelly sauce, an egg fritatta cut into small pieces, baby octopus marinated in whiskey, onion and garlic. Yeah, you read that right.

Vin brings marinated mushrooms that his mother grows, picks, prepares and preserves at her country house in southern Italy. They are unbelievable. Vin smiles and giggles, happy that we all like them so much.

Then it’s time to eat what Marco has been preparing all day. Two pasta dishes: The first is a baked macaroni with mozzarella, gorgonzola and parmesan cheese! The second is penne in a béchamel cream sauce with baby zucchini, mushrooms, etc. Both are unreal and sinful.

Then, out come the pastries that C and I bought that afternoon. The one I choose is called a chocolate ‘bomb’ which is so rich and delicious that I almost pass out. Note: chocolate + red wine = perfect combo.

After all of the pastries have been devoured Viola brings out a gigantic cold pastry dessert that she made for us. It’s a chocolate and ricotta mixture surrounded by lady fingers soaked in Amaretto. Are you kidding me? Though we can barely sit up straight, let alone form sentences, from being so full – we dig in. Viola is disappointed in it. We are NOT.

Jeremy Party Happiness, the following evening:

Vincenzo lives right on what (1000’s of years ago) was the Roman Aqueduct in an apartment that C refers to as a “total pile.” We arrive to kisses all around. I am immediately handed a glass of wine and we go sit on the terrace. The table is all set up and looks great. We then sit down for appetizers: rolled crepes with spinach inside and cheese on top. Also, marinated green tomatoes that V’s mom jarred ! Amazing – tangy goodness with breadsticks on the side. We also drink wine that his mom MADE!

Then, Vin (who wears his apron all night) brings out the first course: pasta (that he made from scratch) with meat sauce. Earlier he had shown me a table covered in home-made pasta that he had prepared that day just for the party. The pasta totally kills, and Vin jokes that he is serving “American portions” in my honor.

We sit and catch our breath for a few minutes and then V brings out plates of roasted veggies surrounded by little meatballs made from his mom’s recipe. Not surprisingly, they are as delish as everything else. 3/4 of the way through the meat course I need to rest. I then rally, and finish them off. I comment that I am hallucinating from eating so much.

After what seems like a very short break, V brings out a dessert cake that you can smell from like six feet away! We groan, but dig in. It’s a moist white custard-filled cake with chocolate on top and it RULES. Afterwards I feel that I may expire, but don’t seem to care.

Just when you think it’s over, V (still donning his apron) brings out a plate of hunks of dark chocolate and a bottle of after dinner liquor. Giovanni pours out cups for all of us and without asking or thinking, C and I dig in. The stuff is so strong that it about stops both of our hearts! We both cough and laugh, and everyone begins razzing us for being wimps. We then pour both of cups into Gio’s glass and he gulps it down for the rest of the night. That guy is tough.

Next night: I head down to Marco’s shop and meet C. We go to the seafood place near her old neighborhood in a place that everyone refers to as “piazza del dogshit.” It’s full of gigantic old mansions that are amazing and beautiful. The restaurant is really cool and packed with nicely dressed older folks. And us.

We start with spaghetti with cockles in olive oil – EXCELLENT! We are drinking white wine tonight because you’re not allowed to drink red with seafood. No cheese either! The food rules are pretty serious, and you could seriously offend someone by doing the wrong thing. C orders me the mixed seafood plate for secondi, she has calamari and prawns.

My plate consists of: calamari, prawns, 2 small grey fish, 1 small, flat white fish and 1 small red fish – all with heads still attached. We don’t what they are, but they are all delicious, as are the prawns. Salty, buttery and totally great.

The best of the night however are the calamari! Soooooo fresh, and cooked absolutely perfectly. EASILY the best I’ve EVER EVER had. We agree, they are unbelievable. We joke about ordering another plate of them. Then, we order another plate of them. Oh yeah.

Venice:

For the first hour or so of the day it rains off and on. Each time it starts, we duck in somewhere. We go to this little wine bar that C knows and have Prosecco – a dry, sparkling white wine that is absolutely delicious! I had never had it or heard of it, but I really like it. All white wine should be like this. The rain persists and we hang out under and overpass and watch the little old men with their umbrellas. We then decide to give up and go to lunch early to stay out of the rain. Hopefully it will pass by the afternoon.

So, we go to Cucina Casalinga and take a table under the awning so we can still be outside. We have a fish appetizer that’s a lot like sardines and is crispy and delish. C has pasta in a black ink and cuddle fish sauce which is totally rich and amazing. I get the seafood platter which consists of fried prawns and calamari. The calamari is great, but the prawns are absolutely ridiculous. We pass out numerous times while sharing these delicacies. They are so good in fact that, once again, we order up another plate of them along with another carafe of vino rosso.

So, lunch lasts for well over 2 hours – such luxury, this is how it should be. Plus, our evil plan has worked perfectly, and the sun is now shining brightly. We still plenty of time so we decide to wander more. More photos, more photos. Venice is so beautiful, it’s hard to believe it’s real.

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