Saturday, March 30, 2013

Restaurant Rec: Romeo In Prati "Is Off Da Hook!"

This won't be news to any Romans.  But for those of you who may be in town at some point, here's a restaurant rec.  And this is perfect for a post-Vatican Museum or St. Peters visit.

This is in the Prati area, which I love.  I feel like I'm walking around the Upper West Side when I'm there.  Anyways, there is a new restaurant/bakery that is just a few blocks from the Vatican.  It's called "Romeo" and, as I understand it, it was formed as a joint venture between two entities that were already legendary on the Rome food scene.  Here's the URL (and the website looks as good as the actual spot):

Romeo looks amazing, has a super cool vibe and environment, and has delectable food.  Everything we had was superb, and it was an absolute oasis after the hours spent trudging through the Vatican Museum.  We are not alone, mind you.  The reviews I have seen since Romeo opened last November have all been stellar.  

And, even though the place is swank, they are not haughty or aloof.  It was late in the afternoon -- later than the usual lunch crowd -- and Romeo was uncrowded.  One of the co-owners Cristina Bowerman came over to talk to us for a bit.  She was super nice, asked us how everything was, and talked to us about her experiences in Austin, San Francisco, and elsewhere in the US.  

As always, Irene summed it up perfectly and with -- unlike this blog -- an economy of words.  Irene said "Romeo is off da hook."

Thursday And Friday In Roma

Oomps, Irene and I spent Thursday and Friday back in Rome.  It was touch-and-go for a while, but it somehow did not really rain.  Which was good -- because we had a lot of ground to cover.  And we did pretty much get to the things we wanted to see.  This was Irene's first trip here, and Oomps and I wanted to make sure she saw the most essential sights.

Thursday afternoon was over on the Vatican side.  I tried to cash in on some chits to get us an audience, but Francesco was just too busy getting ready for his Easter and Good Friday responsibilities.  Understandable.  It's his first time.

The lines outside of St. Peters were immense, so we paused outside to take in the enormity of the basilica and the plaza, but we did not go in.  We were instead off to the Vatican Museum.  I think this was my fourth time at the Museum.  But it's hard to think of three people who love art more than us, so we of course lingered over all of the treasures -- we're not the types to dart as quickly as possible to the Cappella Sistina and get out of Dodge.   Not us....!  After several grueling hours, we were dehydrated, famished, and exhausted.  We luckily hit a hot new restaurant that took us for a late lunch, and we enjoyed a well-deserved and sumptuous lunch.  I'll write about that separately, for Romeo is a place you need to go to if you get over here.

After a little break to rest up, we made our way over to dinner near the Pantheon.  But we also made sure that Irene got to see the Pantheon and the Fontana di Trevi.  Both of them remain stunning even when you see them all the time.

Friday was slow going.  Our start was delayed by a couple of stops for Sicilian pastry and caffe.  It was inevitable.  This was the last day for Oomps and Irene, and we were tired.  But we eventually made it over to the Spanish Steps, where we lucked out to the max.  Maybe it was because this Friday was Good Friday.  Whatever the reason, we had this tourist haven just about all to ourselves!

Before I knew it, the time had come.  Oomps and Irene had to get to the airport, and I sadly saw them off.  Sooooo glad they came.  Best week ever -- from start to finish.

P.S.  OK, sorry.  That wasn't really the Spanish Steps.  The real ones were a little more crowded:

Quick Trip To Florence

Oomps, Irene, and I did a back-and-forth to Florence on Wednesday.  It's really not enough time; but it is better than nothing.  I hadn't been to Florence since 1998, and I forgot how easy it is to get there and back.  The fast-speed train is only 90 minutes each way.  And it's really an easy trip.

I'd also forgotten just how jaw-droppingly cool that Duomo is.  I love it.

There were a bunch of highlights that we packed into just that afternoon and early evening.  We probably spent the majority of our time staring at that David.  But, truth be told, even the fake David is pretty cool.  The sunset over the Arno also stood out: it looked just like a painting.

You can't take pictures of the real David.  But this replica ain't too shabby.  
Another highlight for me was having my first cappuccino.  I'm really branching out!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened At The Forum

Oomps, Irene, and I tried to do a little sight-seeing today.  The rain did not cooperate at all.  But we had a very cool surprise while walking near the Forum.  Adam Sandler is here making his next film, and he took a little time out to frolic with us while we passed by.  Here he is with Oomps and Irene.

By the time we got to the Colosseum, we were not laughing.  It was pouring virtually the whole time.  We're hoping for better weather tomorrow for our quick jaunt to Florence.

Enabling My OCD

Brother Oomps (Gregg) and Sister-in-Law (SIL) Irene were nice enough to ask me a couple of weeks ago if I wanted them to bring me anything from Stati Uniti.  I said that I pretty much had everything I needed but that, if it wasn't too much trouble, there actually was one minor thing that I'd not yet found in Rome.

Yes, you guessed it.  I had so far not been able to find any Purell here.  You know, the hand sanitizer stuff.  It's not like I'd looked that hard, mind you.  But whenever I looked in a grocery store or a farmacia, I could not find that gel of the gods.  Even Eataly did not have any!  I told them that, if they were in a Walgreens/CVS, it'd be awesome to have a couple of little bottles -- emphasis on "couple" and "little."

Well, guess who will now have the cleanest hands in Roma?  Here's what I got:

This should keep my hands clean for several anni sabbatici.  I may even start showering with the stuff.

Passover (cont'd)

Post-Seder Update:  It was a fabulous experience.  They advertised the Seder as running from 8:00 pm until midnight, and it did not end a minute before 12:00.

The Seder was conducted primarily in Hebrew, with interstitial instructions (like telling people what page we were on, when to pass around a piece of matzoh, or when to pour a glass of wine) in Italian.  It was accordingly the first Seder I've attended where I didn't understand a single word in two separate languages!   But it was still excellent.

The Seder was held in what amounts to a Jewish Community Center (the only one in Rome), and there were maybe 100 people in attendance.  Our table was mostly Americans.  The locals were gracious hosts.  There was a greeting at the start for English-speakers, and the man who ran the service came around to chat with our table during the meal.  Everyone was incredibly friendly.  Here's what the room looked like:

Because the Hagadah (the book that sets out the conduct of the Seder) governs just as it does in North America, much of the Seder was familiar.  We had the The Ten Plagues, we had the Four Questions, etc., etc.   Dinner was then served.  Here was the menu:

(Note the risotto.  Like the Sephardim -- but unlike the Ashkenazai -- Italian Jews can eat rice on Passover.)

The after-dinner portion was quite interesting too.  At this point, they did many of the songs with which North American Jews are familiar.  There was "Chagadyah," for example, and that "Who Knows One?" song.  But, while the more formal pre-dinner part of the Seder was in Hebrew, the crowd sang these songs in Italian -- just as we'd do them in English.  This was fun.  The tunes were different too.  But the songs were recognizable enough.

There was also a poignant moment towards the end where everyone stood and recited some prayer.  We could not understand what was being said, but we were told that it was a prayer for Italian Jews lost in the Holocaust.

This was a wonderful experience.  Now I just need to figure out where to attend a Seder next year.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pesach 5773 (Passover 2013) in Roma

Despite my devout atheism and rejection of all Jewish theology (as well as all Christian, Muslim, or any other theology), I do love Passover.  What's not to love?  (Especially after you decide you won't follow the dietary restrictions any more.)

The story is a rousing one, with epic highs and lows.  It has the brutal yoke of slavery, followed by freedom from bondage; it has an all-powerful, destructive, and demanding god, who is also loving; it has the greatest of heroes, who is also a flawed human; and it has the delivery of Law.  On top of that, the story is told and observed in a way that begs for reflection.  It both retells the past and looks to the future.  There is also the movie.  No Jewish American can think of Passover without thinking of the Charlton Heston portrayal.  It may be campy, but it is indelibly etched.  The tradition by which Jews have celebrated Passover imbues the holiday with additional significance.  Literally, over millenia and on every continent -- and even in the darkest of dark times -- Jews have always tried to hold Seders to mark the beginning of Passover.  There is something moving about that.  And, finally, as an American -- given our history -- the themes of slavery and emancipation resonate with special power.      

All of this combines to make this the best Jewish holiday in a landslide, and the only one that I still care about.

I'm especially stoked for this Passover.  For one thing, my fratello Gregg (Oomps) and my sister-in-law Irene just got here a few hours ago.  It is great to have them.  (Just don't ask them about the stop-over in Moscow.)

The other thing is that, with help from a friend here, I found a Roman seder for us to attend tonight.  I think it will be fascinating to see how Italian Jews celebrate Passover.  As I understand it, Roman Jews are not of the Ashkenazi type (who have roots in Eastern Europe), or the Sephardic branch (who have roots in the Middle East).  Italian Jews have their own separate history that is over 2000 years old.  I actually can't wait to see how they do their Seder.  I expect that the songs, foods, etc., will be at least somewhat different.  And make no mistake:  this will be an Italian seder.  I was told expressly that this one is not -- as opposed to other ones here in Rome -- designed for visiting Americans or English-speakers.  

Can't wait.  But gotta get ready.  If there's wireless, I'll FaceTime you during it!

I Tried. I Really Really Tried.

Went to the Titian exhibit on Saturday night at one of the fancy art museums.

I tried my hardest, but I just could not get into it.  What a snooze-fest.  Man, those were bad and boring paintings.

Made me think that there can only be one reason for why Titian is considered a master.  I bet that, if you look back at the art history books up through the mid-70s, the guy was never mentioned.  I'm sure it was only after Dan Aykroyd and the SNL crew immortalized Titian that he was rescued from obscurity and became an "art classic."

[.....insert here of Aykroyd's classic video -- but it's not available on-line -- except maybe from an SNL/NBC site that is only available from the US.......]

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Eataly Revisited

I also went back on Friday night to Eataly Roma.  (I can hear some of you cringing.)  Had a blast.  The place was packed.  There were young people (like me!), old people, couples with kids, couples without kids, big groups, small groups, etc.  And, to my eye, it seemed like these were Romans, not tourists.  There was lots of eating and lots of drinking.  And it truly had a buzz.  The whole scene was quite convivial.

There was a cocktail station set up, but it was not looking all that appealing.  Not too many people there.  So I opted for a glass of a vino rosso from Sicily, and for a plate of formaggio and salume.  I was famished, and they were great.

Observation on portion size:  I know we Americans get a terrible rap for the portion size at some of our eating establishments.  Well, when I was getting my food and wine, I specifically told them that it was for uno, and asked if I could have the most poco plate they had.  But I received a massive plate.   (And, before you ask, yes, the staff does speak English.)

 Anyway, I did not complain.  You know.....I felt it would be rude.

Rome From On High

Went back on Friday afternoon to the Vittoriano.  I wanted to go to the top.  There is an elevator you can take for what is considered to be one of the best views of Roma.  I can confirm it is fantastic.  The city looks wonderful from up there.

(I can't remember if it's a better view than from St. Peters.  I once climbed to the top there, and it is an amazing view too.  But, certainly, the Vittoriano trek -- which is via elevator -- is a thousand times more comfortable and less cramped.  The St. Peters climb is definitely not for everyone.)

The views in particular of the Colosseum were sublime.

The views in all directions were awesome, although the lighting on the side facing north-ish (??) at late in the day did not lend itself to too many good photos.

A note for movie fans:  If you were unlucky enough to see last year's Woody Allen movie, the green oval down below may look familiar to you.

That is the spot where Woody placed his traffic-directing narrator for the beginning and end of the movie.  (I remember being particularly grateful at the end.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Just Because It'll Make You Smile

Go ahead.  Take the 3 minutes out of your day.

Thursday In Testaccio

Testaccio is a neighborhood in Rome that short-term visitors do not often visit.  (I did go once before, but that was on my third trip to Rome.)  I don't think it'd be considered to have any of the major "must-see" sites.  It does get a lot of foodie traffic, however.  There are several food destinations (old and new) in this traditionally working-class neighborhood.

I spent Thursday doing an excursion to Testaccio with one of my gracious expat friends who loves the area.  We did lots of walking (I think I might have set a record for my daily "Nike fuel points" and steps taken), saw some awesome classical sights, and took in lots of the vibe of this traditional neighborhood.  A full and overall awesome day.

Our walk started at the Vittoriano, aka the Monument to Victor Emanuelle.  This is the massive huge white "wedding cake" or "typewriter" monument in the middle of Rome.  As I understand it, most Romans do not really love this huge building that was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century.  I think they had to knock down some ancient sites to build it.  And it's in an area that is teeming with truly ancient sites.  So, I think it is not generally loved.  To me though, even if it's only 100 years old, it's incredibly impressive.  Seems to me that, even it were built today as a modern Vegas hotel, you'd be simply in awe of it.

I don't have any good daytime shots of it, but this is the building I'm talking about.  It's hard to capture just how massive the structure is -- but when you're standing next to it (or anywhere in the general vicinity), you'll know:

We then were quickly right over at the Roman Forum, which looked spectacular on this splendid spring day:

After passing through the Circus Maximo, we finished the long walk to Testaccio. It was then time for a well-deserved lunch break at one of my friend's favorite spots:  00100, which looks like a hole in the wall, but is I believe a Testaccio institution.  The house specialty is "trapizzino," which are triangular pockets with a meat and/or cheese and/or rice filling.  With a cold Italian beer, it totally hit the spot.

Circus Maximo
Our lunch spot
Now that we were fueled up, we continued our explorations.  Testaccio is filled with street art.  That is not something that Marc 1.0 necessarily appreciated, but this new improved version stops more often to smell the roses.  Here's a sampling from two of Rome's more prominent street artists:

Of course, by then -- especially in the swelter of this crystal-clear picture-perfect 68-degree day -- it was time for another break.  Porto Fluviale ( is a great looking spot for a casual meal, pastries, or just a quick stop for a caffe.  I am really getting into this caffe thing, BTW.  Totally loving it.
Now that I know you can add a whole packet of sugar into a little cup like this, espresso really is pretty darn good.  
I wouldn't mind owning a place like this someday.  
We then made our way to the ultimate Roma food destination:  the newest Eataly!  As I understand it, last summer's opening of this Eataly caused a bit of a stir.  Some people think that there should be no need for an extravagant emporium like this in the heart of Italy.  But count me in the other camp.  Now, yes, it's true -- nobody in their right mind would care what I had to say on food issues even right smack in downtown Palo Alto or Menlo Park.  So, my views on whether Eataly in Rome is a good thing, bad thing, or in between probably don't count for much.

A new Roman landmark
But it's awesome.  As those who have gone to Manhattan's Eataly might expect, it has everything.  But it's in Rome, so it's 50 times cooler.  It was late afternoon, so this was not the most hopping time to be here, but I will be back soon -- very soon -- to see Eataly when there is more of a buzz.  We bought a few things, and had some incredible gelatto.  And I loved just looking at the produce, the bread, the pasta, the cheese, the fish, the vino, and the neatly packaged cross-section of a dead duck's head.  You name it, they have it.

A dead duck head in cross-section (see brain on left)

I need to come back to Eataly.  But that was just part of it.  This was overall another absolutely pitch perfect day for this hombre's uomo's anno sabatico.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What To Do On A Rainy Wednesday Night During Your "Anno Sabatico" In Roma

A rainy Wednesday night.  The pavement shines like silver.

Already worked out.  Check.  Already did 30 minutes on Rosetta Stone Italiano.  Check.  (I have a live session with my tutor scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9:00 am.)  Already made progress researching where I can do a real Roman Seder -- with brother Oomps (Gregg) -- next week during Passover.  Check.   The question that lingers is what to do tonight.

Well, this might be tough to do when I had more serious responsibilities, but, during this anno sabatico, why not test out what I've learned to date regarding Roman cocktail culture?

As noted previously, my impression is that Italy -- and Rome in particular -- is pretty much a vino town.  Cocktail aficionados are making inroads.  But it is not like the US or other parts of Europe.  Cocktail culture has lagged.

My research -- augmented by what a summer associate pulled together for me back in August -- is that a bar/cafe called Barnum, which is right here in Campo De'Fiore, is an exception.  (See  The word on the street is that Barnum is one of the best cocktail joints in Rome.  I have already made Barnum a regular haunt for lunch-time and mid-afternoon.  At that time, they have some daily lunch specials that are relatively healthy, they have good prices, they have excellent Wi-Fi, and they have an overall totally cool vibe.  You can linger with your iPad and just browse or catch up on emails without being hassled.  And the clientele is chic and fashionable.  (I do my best to fit in.)

At night-time, the management changes and Barnum supposedly becomes a cocktail haven.  But I had not tried them out during this hour until tonight.  I am pleased to report that they did not disappoint.  They passed with flying colors.

Patrick Pistolesi and Federico were tending bar.  I think they are co-owners.  Patrick is the flamboyant one.  Very flamboyant.  But, sheeeesh, he knows his cocktails.  He is far more than just flash.  He's got the knowledge to back it up.  Federico is all business.  He is the serious one.  He has encyclopedic knowledge of cocktails.  He pretty much has memorized all of the classic texts from the early 20th century that they have displayed on a bookshelf at the bar.

Spring may be commencing now.  But it's a rainy night and it's cool out.  Feels more like fall.  I therefore start with a Martinez.  This is not the most commonly-known cocktail.  But it's one that Danny White turned me onto, and it's one of my faves.  Patrick nails it.  Without my asking, he goes straight for the Old Tom's gin.  A good sign.  Old Tom's is the definitive gin for a Martinez.  I tried to pace myself, but to no avail.  It was gone in just a few minutes.  Here are the remnants:

I then ask Patrick about his view on Manhattans, i.e., what kind of vermouth he prefers, etc.  Jackpot.  Patrick has very firm views about ratios, the kinds of vermouth to use, and on and on.  His passion is coming through.  So I can't resist trying.  Here he is preparing mine:

The Manhattan is excellent.  Patrick blends different kinds of vermouth to get the balance that he believes is just right.  He even adds port, something I had not previously seen.  It is definitely a Manhattan.  But it also has layers and notes that I had not tasted before.  It's real good.

I draw the line at two drinks.  I do, after all, have a 9:00 am Italian lesson.  But it's a slow rainy night at Barnum, and Patrick and Federico are wanting to talk trade.  I accordingly can't leave.  What is an anno sabatico for if not for 2.5-hour conversations with expert bartenders about their craft?

I turn the discussion to Aviations.  Not the best drink for tonight, given the chill wind in the air.  But still an all-time fave, on which I have strong views.  It's a tough drink to nail because -- even back home -- few bars carry creme d'violette.  But Barnum has it.  Man, these guys are good.  The version I've learned from Spruce in SF remains my standard version, and so we discuss different views on what an Aviation should contain.  Federico, ever the purist, points to some canonical texts that do not use creme d'violette.  He therefore believes in using just gin, maraschino, and lemon juice.  But he mixes one up that uses the creme d'violette, and all three of us agree that it is exquisite.

I do finally stump them.  The Last Word -- another favorite of mine and some very close friends -- has not hit Italy.  But we look it up and, sure enough, Patrick and Federico see that it is a classic from the pre-Prohibition era.  Federico immediately goes to work, and we share one.  They are impressed.  I think I will be allowed back to Barnum.  And that is the good news.  Out of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, I can't think of one place I'd rather be.

Whether I'll be hung-over for tomorrow morning's Italian lesson is another question.  But that's what anno sabaticos are for, si?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Seriously, How Does This Work?

I often brag to other bloggers that I have the sharpest readership on the web.  Let's put that to the test.

Check out these guys.  I saw them on Ponte Sant'Angelo (the bridge over the Tiber that leads to Castel Sant'Angelo) the other day, and everyone who passed by was mesmerized.  I even threw them a euro.  I certainly don't know how they do it.  And I don't think anyone else I saw gawking knew either.

Here's a pic.  There's no need for a live-action video here.  The guys stay perfectly still just in the way they are depicted here:

Does anybody out there know?  How is this done?

Historical Aside:  The Castel Sant'Angelo is on the Vatican side of Rome.  The castle was completed in 139 A.D., and is a 10-minute walk from St. Peters.  (It is also featured prominently in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons.)  The Ponte Sant'Angelo leading to it has to be the best of the little bridges over the Tiber.  With all of the little statues on the sides -- and with the castle as a backdrop -- it's really kind of spooky.  It is reminiscent of the Charles Bridge in Prague, albeit on a smaller scale.

I promise a better picture at some point on a day when it's not so crowded.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

White Women, Sleepless Nights, Big Nudes

A summary of my trip so far?  No, Carnac.  That's the name of the Helmut Newton exhibition I went to on Saturday night that just opened at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni.  (See

An iconic Newton photo.

The museum.
The exhibition was good.  I mean, a good proportion of it consisted of his iconic photos of very attractive nude women.  So, all in all, not too bad.  But my head wasn’t in it.  I was thrown for a loop at the outset when I learned that Helmut Newton was not the same person as Helmut Kohl; never really mentally recovered from that.  (I tried to pass it off on a linguistic misunderstanding due to my poor Italian.  None of the English-speaking expats I was with bought it.) 

Even better was the post-museum plans.  I went with a totally fun group of expats -- many of them work for a UN agency here -- for my first sushi in Rome (giaponesse food is trendy here) and then back to one of their apartments for cocktails.  This is the coolest couple ever!  The woman is an incredibly talented artist who is working on a huge new multi-media project that relates to the Italian legal system, and the man -- besides working for the UN -- is a cocktail aficionado who had a huge collection of spirits and liqueurs.  He made some rum-based cocktails with lemon juice and green chartreuse that were out of this world.  It was a late night.    

Trivia Question:  Can you think of a third famous Helmut?  This would make for an epic game of "Who Gets the Cot!"