Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Haley's Great Roman Adventure

My nearly perfect niece, Haley, recently went on a nearly perfect trip to Italy. Both could have easily achieved complete perfection by inviting me to tag along, but since she didn't we both have to live with the consequences. I didn't even get the cazuela I gave strong hints about before she embarked on her trip. And, yes, I do know a cazuela is not technically Italian, but I am sure she could have found one there. Spain is not that far away from Italy. Heck, I didn't even get a t shirt emblazoned with, "My niece went to Italy and all I got was this dumb shirt!"

She did offer to write a guest post and tell about some of the amazing food she enjoyed, so I am going to forgive her this one time! Take it away, Haley!

My Greatest Takeaway from Rome

Cesare, the charming Italian waiter at Osteria dei Pontefici, walked away from my table stifling a laugh. What had I done wrong? I ordered “water with no gas”, I didn’t ask for an espresso after 11 a.m., I even managed to ask for cheese using my very best Italian. “Vorrei formaggio, per favore.” So, why was he snickering as he headed back to the kitchen? And then it hit me. Only tourists ask for their order to-go.

In Rome it’s uncommon for one to take home leftovers, and it’s considered a sin if you wake up the next morning and microwave leftover noodles for breakfast. These are two evils I was about to commit with no shame. Cesare pointed me out to a fellow waiter and they belly laughed as he pulled out an aluminum tray with a separate sheet of tin foil to cover my transgressions.

Located just 5 minutes from Vatican City, Osteria dei Pontefici is a smaller establishment tucked under the high-rise buildings of Via Gregorio VII. From the outside seating, your horizon line is framed by the dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral and, when he’s working, the cheeky grin of Cesare. After searching the menu, I was interested to see how fettuccine was treated outside of the U.S. As many travel experts will tell you, fettuccini alfredo is an American dish—to insist otherwise is profanity. But, I was curious to see how the Italians enjoyed their fettuccini; so, I settled on fettuccine ai funghi porcini (fettuccini with porcini mushrooms).

The noodles were thick and rich and—here’s the best part—there was no sauce. That’s right. All the noodles needed was a generous treatment of butter, olive oil, and what I can only describe as a handful of mystery spices offered to the chef from Saint Lorenzo himself. He of course is the patron saint of cooking and the only reasonable explanation for why Italian food is unquestionably the best. The mushrooms were flavorful and light, and a hint of smokiness trickled to my nose as I forgot my manners and threw my face into my plate.

And what’s this? Next to my plate in a delicate jar was freshly grated parmesan. I picked up the tiny spoon and amply dusted my noodles with the aromatic cheese. Surely this was heaven. Of course, helpings in Italy are no joke, and this restaurant was no different. This was actually one of the few places in Italy that didn’t charge us for bread service; normally, you have to pay extra, so don’t be disappointed when you sit down and the table next to you has bread but you’re left starving. There’s a good chance they are paying for it. (Tip: If you want ice in your drink, you have to request it. Although, you will immediately blow your cover if you are trying to hide the fact that you are a tourist.)

Of course now, it was time for dessert. Tiramisu della casa or homemade tiramisu is a piatto that can be found in any American-Italian restaurant. But, had I been served a weak copycat of the popular dessert my whole life? Turns out, Americans don’t do a terrible job of recreating this sweet treat. At Osteria dei Pontefici, the tiramisu is light and spongy, and the cinnamon sprinkling on top mixes well with the creamy interior. I made sure to wash it down with a foamy cappuccino. Reaching the bottom of the frothy drink didn’t mean I was finished with it; I used a spoon to lap up every last ounce of foam collected on the bottom of the cup.
After everyone was satisfied and planned on rolling back to the apartment, walking was no longer an option, we waited and waited for Cesare to bring us the bill. Minutes passed and we still sat in our chairs digesting our embarrassingly large meals.

“Cesare?” I waved him down.
“Yes?” He hurried over.
“Can we have a check please? Oh, and, can I get this as a takeaway?” Cesare looked stunned.
“Where are you from?” He leaned against the table and looked me up and down.
“Alabama. It’s in the sou..”
“Si! Si! Alabama! Like Forrest Gump!” I covered my face in shame as he walked away to pack up my leftovers. “Ok, Forrest. I get you your takeaway so you can run, Forrest. Run!”
So, what’s the greatest takeaway from my Italian holiday? When in Rome, finish your food.

Three Friends and a Fork
Three Friends and a Fork

This is a short biography of the post author. Maecenas nec odio et ante tincidunt tempus donec vitae sapien ut libero venenatis faucibus nullam quis ante maecenas nec odio et ante tincidunt tempus donec.

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