Saturday, June 11, 2011

Rome, Take One

Rome is a place I have wanted to go to for a long time, ever since a school trip there was cancelled when I was 16. So a good chunk of our week in Italy was devoted to exploring that ancient city. We did all the usual things; got up early to wander the Forum in blistering heat, but with relatively little company (my goodness that place is big, so much more so than I initially thought; it took us about two hours to cover at a leisurely pace)

 Then we headed over to the neighboring Coliseum, skipping the enormous line thanks to the Roma Pass we had purchased the day before (seriously, get this pass; the 25 euros is so worth it)

 We did all the usual things, dutifully braving the hordes of tourists to climb the Spanish Steps, step into the cool dome of the Pantheon, and toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain so that we would return one day to Rome. We woke up early on our last day there to be first in line at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, climbing to the top of the Duomo for spectacular views, gazing at Michelangelo’s Pieta and the rest of the sumptuous and awe-inspiring interior, and visiting the entombed popes in the crypt. We stood on line for an hour to get into the Vatican Museum, and then shuffled along with hundreds of other tourists to view Rafael’s frescoes, the golden-ceilinged map room, and Michelangelo’s famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

We did all that. Anybody reading who has visited Rome has surely done it, and those of you who will go in the future will do it, too. But there are other things you can do, things you might not realize should be done. I’d rather tell you about those things.

A Southern California man through and through, Todd was the sight and feel of salt water and sand after months away from the ocean. So on our first day in Rome, a trip to the beach was in order. Once we had settled into our hotel (we were staying just a few hundred meters from Termini station, a great location), we jumped on a metro and rode right to the end of the line, joined first by commuters and later on by younger people in beach sarongs and flip flops, til we arrived at the Lido, a strip of beautiful beach on the Mediterranean. Still too cold to go swimming (though that didn’t stop some intrepid Italian youths), we still enjoyed laying out on the hot sand under the umbrellas already set up and waiting for us, and dipping our feet in the cold, clear water.

After returning from the beach and shaking the sand from our shoes, we set out for an evening walk in the city, strolling past the Forum and Coliseum, crossing the Tiber River into the Trastevere, a trendy neighborhood of twisting, medieval cobblestoned streets and ancient, narrow houses leaning in close. Here we had the only meal not taken in a casual trattoria, though it wasn’t our intent to make this a special dinner; we were simply hungry, and the menu, though pricey, looked good.

And man, it was good. Todd started with spaghetti dressed simply with olive oil and black pepper, tossed with chicory, which the water described as “like spinach” and indeed it looked like spinach, but tasted more bitter (I had it on an antipasto platter the next day). But Wikipedia says that chicory is what is known as radicchio in the States, or sometimes Belgian endive, both of which look completely different. Oh well, it tasted good! And in a stroke of genius, the pasta was piled onto a thick slice of bread, which acted as a sponge to sop up the lovely juices. For his second course he chose a side of vegetables “gratin,” which in the U.S. usually implies something baked with liberal amounts of cream and cheese. This dish, however, was simply a variety of vegetables (onion, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini) broiled with breadcrumbs on top. Simple, clean and tasty.

Being the seafood fanatic I am, I went with two seafood antipasti: one was a salad of cured seafood, a typical dish on Italian restaurant menus, but this one was upscale. In the center was a cup of radicchio leaves containing a vinegary mixture of marinated baby shrimp, squid, tomatoes and a few other vegetables; arranged on the outside of the plate were a few thin slices each of salmon and what I am pretty sure was swordfish, along with three silvery sardines. All impeccably fresh and delicious. Then came a dish I ordered simply because it sounded intriguing: cylinders of zucchini (I want to say either poached or steamed) stuffed with a filling made of sea bass, with two tiny tuna meatballs alongside. The whole sat in a puddle of what was described on the English menu as a “bittersweet” sauce, the components of which I am clueless to, but it was wonderful. The tuna balls in particular were fascinating, as I have never had anything like that before. I couldn’t tell you whether it was canned tuna or fresh, but I’m pretty sure they contained breadcrumbs and some sort of cheese, probably egg or something as a binder, and herbs. Beyond that I have no idea. And I couldn’t even begin to guess at the components of the sea bass stuffing. All I know is that it was wonderful, and worth the splurge. My only regret about going there is that we were too full for dessert (and that I was too shy to take pictures of the food, but I doubt it would have looked as appetizing as it tasted).

It was a great way to recharge after our treks around Florence and before another whirlwind of sightseeing in Rome. More next time!

1 comment:

  1. sounds yummy. There seems to be a significant variation in the naming of leafy greens from place to place. Long as it tastes good right?