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EATING AND DRINKING IN ROME, Part II by John Mariani
Notes from the Wine Cellar: When in Rome Drink as the Romans Do by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: Pair of 8's by John Mariani
EATING AND DRINKING IN ROME, Part II
by John Mariani
The Tiber River with St. Peter's in the background
Rome is awash with wine, especially in its growing number of wine bars. One of the oldest is Casa Bleve (below) on the Via del Teatro Valle, still very popular, with a marvelous array of antipasti, walls of wine, and a very large tasting salon. The diversity and depth of
Another revered old-timer is Cul de Sac (73 Piazza Pasquino), a stone’s throw from the Piazza Navona, with an outdoor trattoria and a wine store attached with more than 3,000 wines, grappas, and digestivi. Here you may also sit down at a shaded outdoor table on the piazza and enjoy all the traditional Roman dishes, like coda alla vaccinara (stewed oxtail), trippa alla romana (tripe in tomato sauce), and spaghetti ai cacio e pepe (with cheese and pepper), while sampling any of the dozens of wines offered each day by the glass. Prices for the food are modest: A three-course meal will run you about 30 euros ($36), including tax and service, but without wine.
Nearby is L’Altro Mastai (53 Via G. Giraud), with a new restaurant across the street where chef, Fabio Baldassare (right), a protégé of the great Heinz Beck at La Pergola, is doing modern riffs on Roman food. Newer still is the very hip Fluid (46/47 Via
Rome is not known for its seafood, yet the capital draws all the best of every kind of food to its bosom and belly, and great seafood abounds, although there is no great Roman seafood dish, as there are pasta and meat dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara and abbacchio al forno. Rome’s finest seafood restaurant is La Rosetta (8 Via della Rosetta; 06-68-61-002; www.larosetta.com), whose premises date back to 1763 as a “Grande Ristorante Rosticceria”; in 1965 Carmelo Riccioli and a photographer, Romana Colella, brought it to its present reputation, now with one Michelin star to its credit.
The premises are handsome, with cream-colored walls, perfect lighting, and a large display of glistening fish on ice up front. Riccioli’s son Massimo has carried on as chef in a kitchen where practice has definitely made perfect, beginning with the selection of the finest seafood available. So La Rosetta is not cheap: Figure on $100 per person, with wine, tax, and service--depending on the wine you order.
I wanted to order all the antipasti on the menu but settled for a plate of fried octopus sprinkled with
We then enjoyed a hefty portion of spaghetti with true scampi--prawns, not shrimp, as in
Desserts here are housemade (not always a given in Rome), including a pear “crumble” with pignoli ice cream and lime honey, with which was suggested a late-harvest (tardiva) gewürztraminer ’02 from the Trentino producer Tramin. A “coppa esoterica” incorporated crispy fruits with an amazingly good coconut milkshake and took well to a glass of Ronchi di Manzano verduzzo ’01.
La Rosetta’s wine list is about 300 labels strong, and selected mainly from modern, small estates, with featured wines of the month.
One of the new hot spots in
The food is described as “updated Roman tradition,” meaning that gnocchi potato dumplings come with dried tomatoes, salt cod, and the ubiquitous mint ($15.50). The platter of cured meats--lardo, salsicce made from the china negra pig, and prosciutti--all from the master salami and sausage maker Fulvio Pierangelini, have the deep, rich, well-fatted flavor of the best charcuterie. Yellow tomato soup gets a gloss of Campanian olive oil and a little slice of mozzarella, while a plate of crudi (raw) white shrimp, tuna, and white fish is glossed with olive oil.
There is a torta of onion and cheese, and I tried two excellent pastas--tortelloni with lamb and cheese in chicken broth, and tagliatelle with artichokes and mint--a very Roman dish. Breast of duck is glazed with honey and served with dried figs in a sweet-sour red wine sauce ($23.50), which went spectacularly well with a Borgogno Barolo 1967.
Owners Stefania and Arcangelo Dandini stock a well-focused, 300-label wine list on which every selection is there to enhance the kitchen’s lusty cooking, from a Cori Bianco 2003 by Azienda Agricola Carpineti ($23.50) to a magnificent, impeccably aged Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 1975 by Emidio Pepe ($143) that goes splendidly with the filet of beef dusted with coarse salt and rosemary, then cooked in beer.
Desserts include unusual millefoglie puff pastry with Chantilly cream; fabulous bignets (fritters filled with custard cream and served with candied orange peel and caramel), and a carpaccio of pineapple with crushed black pepper and sage-scented gelato, with which we drank a Poggio Le Volte Cannellino 2003, made from Frascati. We ended off with crisp Roman cookies called tozzetti, feeling full and wonderful, in need of a good walk back to our hotel.
La Matricianella (3 Via dell Leone; 06-683-2100) is a very wine-oriented trattoria, with a 95-page list, including four pages on the wines of Latium (Rome's province) alone, with wonderful, fascinating names like Dithyrambus 2001. There is nothing very wonderful about the two dining rooms here; they are merely typical, with wood beamed ceilings, blue-checked tablecloths, and a fast pace, with waiters wedging between tables carrying the specialty platter here--fried seafood, done to a golden turn and served on brown paper. There are many Roman dishes here as well, from excellent, rich spaghetti alla carbonara and bucatini alla amatriciana, abbacchio (roast baby lamb) al forno with roast potatoes sprinkled with rosemary, and involtini of eggplant in a creamy tomato sauce. Don't miss the side dish of spinach gratin.
La Matricianella gets a very Roman crowd, from fashionistas and business people to young lovers and big tables of friends who always manage to have a very happy time without ever getting raucous or loud. If the weather is good, they park their Vespas next to the restaurant door and vie for an outdoor table (left), all the better to watch the world of Rome go by in a sashay.
You can spend a fortune here on wine, but the food is very reasonable. A three-course meal, before wine, but with tax and service, will run about $40 per person.
DEPARTMENT OF AMPLIFICATION
The Rooftop Restaurant at Rome's Hassler Hotel, written about in last week's issue, will be closed for renovation and re-open in early fall.--J.M.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
W hen in Rome,
by John Mariani
since the party-loving Roman general
Lucullus (110-56 BC) lent his name to a word for unbridled gastronomic
extravagance, wine has been central to
Unfortunately the wines of Latium (Lazio, in Italian) have never enjoyed the kind of recognition those of Tuscany and Piedmont have, although Italian wine laws give 26 Latium wines a D.O.C. (denominazione d’origine controllata), legal status requiring the wines must be made according to traditional methods and with specific grape varieties. Many, like Atina, Circeo, Genazzano, and Zagarolo, are almost impossible to find, even in a Roman wine shop, and few Roman restaurants carry more than a handful of the better-known D.O.C.s like Frascati, Castelli Romani, Orvieto, and Est! Est!! Est!!! This last gets its strange, exclamatory name from a Twelfth Century legend about a bishop who sent his servant ahead of him to
Under the rubric to do as the Romans do when in
One of the
I also enjoyed several examples of Frascati, which is usually produced in huge bulk from malvasia bianca di candia, trebbiano toscano, malvasia del lazio, and other grapes. The best known in the U.S. would be Fontana-Candida, a dreary, acidic white wine that sells stateside for about $8 a bottle. Better contemporary producers include Castel de Paolis “Vigna Adriana” (not available in the U.S., but about 11 euros [$13.30] in Italy), a white blend of malvasia with several other grapes, including bellone, cacchione, trebbiano, bombino, grechetto, romanesca, and up to 40 percent viognier. Also among top Frascati wines is the single vineyard “Vigneto Filonardi” made by Piero Costantini at Villa Simone, which sells for about $11 in the U.S.
A few Latium producers, like Antonio Santarelli of Casale del Giglio, have started making wines from international varietals like merlot, petit verdot and shiraz (the Australian name for syrah). The estate’s Mater Matuta—named after the Roman goddess of dawn--a blend of these last two varietals, has raised eyebrows for its quality and its price—about 25 euros.
Such wines are made in small quantities and are still rare on Rome’s wine lists. But interest in them is growing, and the more familiar Latium wines are finally getting the attention they have long lacked. So if you do find yourself in Rome, drink them with pleasure but without undue seriousness. And don’t pay too much.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
PAIR OF 8'S
568 Amsterdam Avenue
The taste level of the Upper West Side continues to rise with the opening of Pair of 8's, whose name derives from the simple fact that it's near 88th Street, certainly easy enough to remember. You will, however, remember it for a good deal more once you sample Chef Bill Peet's cooking in this small, utterly charming spot opened by Ron Didner, former manager of Café des Artistes. Add to the mix wine director, Tiffaney Prewitt and you have a happy place doing what it believes it can do best without resorting to handstands or fusionary complexities better left to the Lower East Side.
Peet has a quarter century experience cooking in French restaurants, including 15 years at Lutèce, eventually as sous-chef to legendary chef-owner André Soltner. Afterwards Peet worked at La Petite Rose in Westfield, NJ, then back in
Prewitt's commitment is to an ever-changing, 150-label winelist based on what's new, interesting, and complementary to Peet's seasonal menus. As the list grows I trust she will put more bottles on there under $50; at the moment I count only ten in that price range. She has insisted that those wines be served in first-rate wineglasses, though she seems to have lost the battle to put cloths on the tables; for once, though, naked wooden tables work with the decor, which includes nature-based abstract Polaroid images by Filipino artist Augusto Arbizo, weathered wood from an old barn, and farmhouse lanterns. Textured woven cotton chenille fabric panels with metallic threads on the walls add warmth and also absorb sound. There is a back dining room available for private parties and special wine dinners.
For the size of the restaurant and kitchen, the menu may have two or three too many items among the appetizers and entrees, but most we tried were done with real panache. Peet is particularly dedicated to the provender of small New York State farms. Steamed Littlenecks and mussels were tender and sweet, with the addition of spicy chorizo sausage, and a fried calamari salad with frisée took on added depth from morsels of lemon, strips of prosciutto, and a balsamic glaze. I was a little suspicious that fried artichoke hearts would be dull, as they so often are, but a sprightly spicy mustard and caper-herb aïoli dipping sauce gave the dish a nice snap. New York restaurants are teeming with crabcakes, but Peet delivers, if not anything unusual, a good fat meaty cake with the addition of sea scallops, with a side of Asian slaw. My favorite of the starters was a plate of grilled, smoked prawns with mâche and a roasted tomato dressing, with lots of texture and sweet-peppery flavors.
There are nightly specials printed on the menu, one Thursday a grilled, honey-brined pork chop of real heft and succulence, served with spaetzle and good old collard greens. If you wish to go a very hearty route, by all means consider the short ribs of beef braised in dark beer, with whipped potatoes, and a lush roasted tomato jam. If seafood is your preference, Peet does pan-seared sea scallops as well as anyone in town, keeping them just shy of translucence and giving them a delightful garnish of champagne-scented sauerkraut and juniper sauce--kind of scallop choucroute. Also very good was grilled branzino just sprinkled with herbs and olive oil.
You may go with a cheese plate, but desserts are really good, from an over-the-top chocolate walnut brownie à la mode with hot fudge sauce to a fine and delicate apple galette with vanilla ice cream. The Meyer lemon cheesecake with raspberry coulis will make you glad you come too.
Pair of 8's, which is open daily, is, as noted, on the upper west side, where brunch is de rigeuer, so they bake up waffles, create their own smoked trout and salmon, lobster Benedict, and special hamburgers made with ground sirloin with pecorino romano cheese, and another with crumbled bacon mixed in the chopped meat. One of the best bargains around is their "Neighborhood Night" that offers an appetizer, entree, and beverage for just $25. Otherwise, appetizers at dinner run $7-$14 and main courses $16-$33.
CAR 54, WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?
In Thibodaux, Louisiana, Sharita Williams protested that her onion rings were cold at the Malt-N-Burger, then dialed 911 to have the police aid her in demanding a replacement. The police arrived and arrested Williams for wasting emergency police time.
DEPARTMENT OF WRETCHED EXCESS
"As you and your dogs sniff through these recipes--cooking your way to hound dog heaven--we hope you will paws from time to time to enjoy . . . ." Mark Beckoff and Dan Dye, Cooking the Three Dog Bakery Way (2005).
To all media publicity agents: Owing to the large volume of announcements received regarding holiday events, I will only have room in this newsletter for those that have a unique distinction to them. It would be impossible to list all Valentine's Day dinners unless they are part of a much larger, more extensive format like those below.--John Mariani
* On Feb. 6 NYC’s Women for WineSense hosts an “Evening with Ted Allen of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” for an "Essence Tasting" from chocolate and black pepper in Cabernet Sauvignon to grapefruit and vanilla in Fume Blanc, featuring Robert Mondavi Private Selection and a book signing at Jolly Hotel Madison Towers. $45 Member and $55 Non-member (fee includes a free copy of Ted Allen's book) Visit www.womenforwinesense.org.
* From Feb. 10-15, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas is offering a Valentine’s package incl. 2 nights in an Executive Suite; Breakfast; Ritz Champagne and red roses; Two-day rental of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and ride to Red Rock Canyon, escorted by Chef Stephen Marshall, with a grill-picnic-for-two; airport transfers to/from the hotel. $3,200. Visit www.ritzcarlton.com or call 1-800-241-3333.
* On Feb. 11 amd March 25, The Ritz-Carlton,
* On Feb. 14 NYC’s Tavern on the Green will offer two couples who become engaged at Tavern between 6:30 and 9:00 PM a chance to prove their love as they vie for the title of “Best Matched Couple,” as determined by relationship expert Dr. Scott Haltzman. They will win a trip to
* On Feb. 16, at the Bohen Foundation in NYC, an event to raise money for the city of* On Feb. 20 at
*On Feb. 17 & 18, Tristan in
* From Feb. 22-26
* From May 8-13, Venice’s Hotel Cipriani is teaming up with nutritionist Mary Kent Hearon and fashion expert Elisa Rusconi to offer guests the opportunity to become “Nutrishionista™s” with a 3-day course in nutrition and fashion, inc. welcome ‘juicing cocktail’; shopping tour of Venice with the Beet Girls; nutritional and fashion consultations; 3 nights accommodation with full American or dietetic breakfast; in-room wellness kit; Choice of lunch or dinner. €1,050 (US $1,267). Call 800-237-1236 or visit www.hotelcipriani.com.
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