FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I was at Tosoni, the neighborhood trattoria, for lunch the other day and saw something very strange in the trough. It kinda looked like pieces of sponge in a tomato sauce. I was told it was trippa, a delicacy in this region. Put simply, it was a cow's stomach. For some weird reason, Italians seem to love eating spare parts of animals. As Carolyn wistfully put it, "They'll eat anything except pussy," which is a good thing considering the bathing habits of the babes over here.
Butchers are like rock stars in this country. There are more maccellerias in Roma than there are Starbucks on the Upper West Side. Liver, kidney, brains, stomach, unhatched chicken eggs and ovaries, quail, rabbits, horses and even donkeys are fair game over here. Did you know that Italian salami contains mule meat? Special Agent John took us to this fancy restaurant off Via Veneto for lunch last week and they served us fried calf brains and artichokes. "Try it," he said. "This is a typical Roman Jewish dish." Jews are good at many things, but surely, their dominance of the culinary arts stopped at pastrami, bagels, and gefillte fish, right? . . . Not over here. The most famous Roman dish is artichokes, and guess who does it better than the Romans . . . yup, the ebrei. No wonder some of them idiot right wing politicians are so worried about Jews taking over their city.
For a country that's obsessed with 'good' food and la dolce vita, Italians seem to be clueless about many of life's essentials. Ice is a concept that they haven't grasped yet. Ordered a Dewars on the rocks last week and got a glass of warm Scotch. When I asked the moron, I mean the waiter, where the ice was, he looked at me like I was retarded and said, "Oh, in Italy we don't have ice!" God help the poor sod who dares to order a dry Martini 'cos what he'll get is a glass of vermouth. John insists this lack of ice is due to the fact Italians like to savor their drinks and enjoy the nuances and the full complexity of the beverage. I think it's because they don't make freezers with ice trays. And don't even get me started on their drinking prowess. They don't seem to have any laws about drunk driving. Is it because they can't drink more than two glasses of vino without falling flat on their faces?
However, not everything is chicken liver and piss warm Peronis. They do have pretty good food over here. Most of it is served at Mickey Dees! Nah, but in all seriousness, Italians have this uncanny ability to take the simplest ingredient and turn it into the most mouthwateringly delicious dish. I'd be remiss in my duty as a writer if I don't emphatically state that Italian cuisine is the finest in the world. If that weren't enough, Italians also make a mean cup of espresso and serve ice cream that's divine. I just like to take the Mickey out of Italians 'cos what fun is there in praising to high heaven something that's already been praised a million times?
Italians love to drive for hours to eat what they call the 'best in Italy.' One has to drive to Rome to eat the 'best' Gelato or drive another two hours to Caserta to eat the 'best' Mozzarella or fly to Sicily to eat the 'best' Ricotta. Why the hell can't they have a Dean & De Luca where they can buy all the 'best' food products in one place like all other civilized people?
Come to think of it, the land of plenty doesn't have too much of a selection either. The crappy Key Food across the street from my place on the Upper East Side usually offers a better choice of goodies. Speaking of the lack of selection, Ungie, another transplanted New Yorker, has been driven to drink because they don't have any fruit juice except something called ACE, pronounced aachè . . . Gesundheit! It's actually a mixture of oranges, carrots, lemons and a wonderful array of chemicals and preservatives. However, it does taste great with Absolut. But then again what doesn't?
The ragazzi can't live without their pasta. Of course, they all claim that mamma makes the best pasta in the world. I've eaten many a dish in this 'best of' category and the conclusion I've come to is that most Italian women can't cook. Damn! I miss the Olive Garden!
Carolyn and Lu Ann love Italy and are very forgiving about its shortcomings, er, idiosyncrasies. I think they're two well-mannered young ladies who are merely being polite about their host country. Once after a memorable night of stuffing our faces and guzzling vino at the local pizzeria, the girls suggested I write a restaurant review as an addendum to my rantings, just in case it ever gets published. Truth be told, there's a pretty good chance of that happening 'cos a good friend of mine, who owns a trendy publishing house, has promised he'll publish me when he's collected enough of my rantings to make a novel . . . Anyhoo, if somebody's actually dumb enough to buy a copy of the book and read it, here are some of our choices for Roma's finest swill:
Celestina is in Parioli, one of the swankiest neighborhoods in Rome. The entrance is covered with tacky photos of celebrities, showgirls and politicians. Order an antipasto platter of Sicilian ricotta cheese, buffalo mozzarella from Caserta and Parma prosciutto. Then finish off with a plate of spaghetti with fresh porcini mushrooms. Italian food does not get any better than this. Great service and very nice prices. Viale Parioli 184. Tel: 06 807 8242
Giolitti really does deserve the 'best of' title that most people bestow upon it. After you eat the gelato here, you will curse Ben & Jerry for feeding us shite all these years. Giolitti is located north of the Pantheon and west of Piazza Colonna. Via degli Uffici del Viccario, 40. Tel: 06 699 1243
La Locanda Trattoria is a local eatery in the seaside town of Lavinio Stazione. Typical Italian checkered tablecloth kind of place but the food, especially the antipasto combo is to die for. I had one of the finest meals in Italy at this unpretentious little joint. Forget the fancy wine list, order the house red, which keeps coming in two-litre jugs, and keep munching away at the exquisite selection of antipasti. Must order items are grilled eggplant and Porcini mushrooms. For any brave souls, I recommend the spicy pepperoni and the horsemeat sausages. The best 16 Euro I ever spent was here. Via San Vito 62, 00040 Lavino Stazione. Tel: 06 986 2465
La Piazzetta is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the industrial town of Pomezia, which is 20 km south of Rome. They used to have a 20 Euro special every Thursday with Buffalo, Kangaroo, Ostrich and Alligator meats, which was extraordinary. Try the superb grilled cuttlefish cooked in its ink. Exquisite seafood at very reasonable prices.
Porchetta Restaurants of Ariccia - I think the pig is a filthy animal, so I don't eat pork. But the ragazzi can't seem to get enough of the other white meat. So they drive an hour into the mountains of Castelli Romani to eat at one of the myriad porchetta restaurants where they serve swine . . . as well as tourists. Try the ones by the cliffs where you can at least enjoy the view while your friends stuff their faces. About a forty-five minute drive from Rome.
Genzano, a quaint little town in the Castelli Romani region is home to Rockness, a wonderfully sleazy bar. Imagine what a biker bar would look like in a land of scooters. A lot of confederate flags, graffiti, random posters of European cover bands and seventies disco music. Sorta like Easy Rider meets PollyEsthers. Cheap booze, very friendly hotties and a Robert Plant look-alike owner who looks the other way when you light up a fattie. For those of you interested in absorbing the beauty of the nabe, it's right by Lake Nemi, about 25 km from Rome.