Rome Journal

Andrew moves to Italy. Hilarity ensues.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

gone fishin'

I haven't written about food for a while, so here's a write-up on a big ol' dinner we enjoyed a couple of weeks ago, at Da Franco Ar Vicoletto. This is a fish restaurant, in the San Lorenzo neighborhood on the east side of town, behind Termini. San Lorenzo gets its name from the church of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, one of the seven pilgrimage churches in the city, but at this point it's dominated by the gigantic University of Rome. The neighborhood is one of the hippest in the city, with lots of energy and lots of young people. It's not one that I've spent a lot of time in, but there's plenty of interesting stuff there to explore.

Da Franco is on the small via dei Falisci (a street named after one of the ancient tribes from Latium. All the nearby streets have names like this: there's the Via dei Marsi, via dei Volsci, and so on). When I say it's on the street, I mean it's on the street: the restaurant occupies two storefronts on either side of the street, which they pretty much fill with tables. The tables, in turn, are completely filled by eight o'clock or so, and as I don't think they take reservations, it's worth it to show up early to avoid a wait.

The food is defiantly old-school and defiantly affordable. There's a menu with various dishes of pasta, et cetera, but it's to be avoided: instead, head directly for the prix fixe. For a measly 25 euros, you get a massive feast of six courses of fish, plus water, plus wine, plus a nice lemon gelato for dessert: enough for a ship of pirates (and their booty). Friends who have been there repeatedly say that the dishes basically don't change: you'll get the same things whenever you're there. Which is fine, because it's terrifically good.

We started off with a salad of marinated octopus, carrots, celery and olives. It's a shame that the picture is blurry (at this point in the evening, I was trying to get away without using the flash: fool!) because it's a really lovely dish, with lots of colors. The octopus was shockingly tender; marinated like this is a good way to go, I think. Oh, and it answers the question I had at Antico Arco: the octocylinders are indeed tentacles, not some sort of weird octoanatomy that had me so octoconfused. (Hooray for research!)

Next, a plate of some of the best mussels I've ever had. Nothing fancy: just steamed with white wine, garlic and parsley, but they were tender and juicy and perfect with a squeeze of lemon. I've had problems with mussels in the past-- after a bout of food poisoning, I couldn't eat them for a few years-- but these definitely got me back on the ol' horse.

This was followed by a dish of deep-fried sardines and shrimp. Basic stuff, but again, very simply and very well prepared. You can debone the sardines, or be like me and count on them to provide some calcium in your diet.


And then, spaghetti with shellfish. Here the mussel makes a triumphant reappearance, flanked by its fearless allies, the clam and the tiny clam. I can't remember the name for the little clams: vongolini? Something like that; anyway, I've never seen them in the US, and only sometimes seen them in Italy, but they're terrific: each one has just a tiny dot of meat, packed with intense flavor. And they're just so cute and widdle, like teeny tiny babies: the veal of the shellfish world, raised in miniature underwater cages...

The next two courses brought us into the world of the secondo. These were a little controversial (well, "controversial" in a very very limited way, as in "our table was in disagreement", not "afterwards we all wrote letters to our senators and Amnesty International.") We started with a sort of bean, pasta and shellfish porridge. (sorry, no photo.) I couldn't exactly figure out what was supposed to be going on with it: it reminded me vaguely of Manhattan clam chowder, only beanier. Not terrible, and certainly worth trying, but not wonderful, either.

After that, a seafood lasagna, again with shellfish. Our table was split on this one. Either you buy into the cheesy oozing seafoody goodness or you think that putting fish into cheesy oozing lasagna is kind of gross. I know which side I take in that epic debate, but I'm not telling. (So there.)

One more course, of pan-fried seafood. There are a couple of fish in there, surrounded by those crawdad-like crustacean-y critters you see in Italy but that I've never seen in the US. Their claws look too fearsome for them to be prawns, and they're too long and skinny for them to be crayfish, so I don't know exactly what they are. But they're awfully tasty once you've scooped the meat out of their tails. The fish, too, hit the spot; another basic, tasty dish.

Some lemon gelato finished dinner up, as we sat and enjoyed the last of the wine (a pretty decent Castelli Romani), and then stumbled off to find a cab home. Good stuff all around.

(Speaking of gone fishin', I'll be leaving in a day or two for Sicily, and then for Croatia, so no blogging for a couple of weeks. Just an explanation, in case you'll, y'know, miss me. (Sniff.)

our animal friends, part 3

I've never before lived anywhere that featured lizards; they've always been sort of alien, unknowable creatures to me, sort of like armadillos or Phil Collins fans. But as it turns out, there are lots of lizards in Italy. You'll see them scuttling up the walls or perched on a sunny spot, keeping warm and, I suppose, on the lookout for flies or whatever it is they eat. I always get absurdly happy to see them. Beth, Savannah girl that she is, doesn't really understand (plenty of lizards down there), but I just like them.


Here's a highlander lizard (you can tell by the li'l kilt and bagpipe) from Palestrina, in the hills of Lazio, not too far from Rome. (He was, of course, not harmed in the making of this blog post.) This particular lizard was from the site of the temple of Fortuna at Praeneste, which has one of the most spectacular settings of any ancient site I know of, built into a hill way above the town. Here's a link to a reconstruction of the temple complex: ramps! arches! a theater or theater-like dealie at the top! It's the best. You can get a sense of what it looked like from the (relatively modern) building at the top, where the museum is now:


Mr. Lizard came from the big open rectangular space near the top, which is now a grassy field. There's also a tremendous view from there:


I believe that those are the Alban hills in the background; at any rate, not a bad spot to build a sanctuary to Fortune, and not a bad spot sit and catch some bugs. (Which I did. and they were dee-licious.)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

herc-u-les! herc-u-les!

We paid a visit to the Capitoline museum (really, museums; there are like two or three) this week, and it got me thinking about bad art. (Maybe I should capitalize that: "Bad Art". Appropriate capitalization makes all the difference between an aesthetic theory and random, incoherent ramblings, no?) The museum is the oldest public museum in the world, and a great place to, among other things, see what a 15th or 18th century idea of a museum looks like.

It's also, of course, a great place to see some Roman and Greek art. In fact, the quantity of quality art gets a little wearisome: I find myself muttering, "oh look, yet ANOTHER masterpiece of ancient art. Whatever, dude." Which is maybe why I found myself thinking, not about good art, but about lousy art.

Because there's plenty of lousy art at the museum, too. There's some stuff that's just bad quality-- sloppy or disappointing-- but not so much of that, and what there is isn't very interesting. What I like is the art that is technically accomplished, that was obviously expensive, and that was designed for a particular market, but that still (to use a technical term) stinks. I think that three examples will suffice to prove that what Tolstoy said about unhappy families is true about unhappy art: every piece is unhappy in its own way.

First off is a statue of the emperor Commodus (reigned late 2nd century, and if you want to know the exact dates, you can Google as well as I can, slacker) as Hercules:

What makes this an example of bad art isn't the technical qualities at all. In the abstract, it's a beautiful piece of sculpture. Whoever made it was clearly a master at knowing how to handle textures: the way that the lion skin is set against Commodus' skin, for instance. This is at a level of excellence that you don't see again until Bernini.

No, this is bad art because of external factors, because I know about what Commodus was all about. The idea of dressing up as a god and expecting to be taken seriously is ridiculous, for starters; and the skill of the sculptor just reinforces that. It just reminds you that this is a guy who fought as a gladiator (you'll be shocked to know that he had a perfect record: who'd have thunk that they might let the emperor win?) and would shoot ostriches with broad-headed arrows and decapitate them. So when I look at the statue- those half-lidded eyes- it's hard not to shudder. Or laugh. Or, um, ludder? shullaugh? Something like that.

Exhibit #2 is a statue of a first-century Roman matron as Venus:

With this statue, I just wonder: what was she thinking? The statue isn't especially good quality (the body is sort of blocky-looking, and doesn't fit together, but it's not awful. What makes it so terrible is the obvious: the inconcinnity between the goddess body and the middle-aged woman head. It's a terrible, terrible car crash of a statue, bringing together the worst of Hellenistic idealized sculpture with the Roman veristic tradition.

It's hard to imagine that it would have looked better to an ancient audience, but there you have it. I'd guess (without any really firm evidence) that it's a semi-mass-produced product, with the body sculpted in advance and the head made to order: the head is a little small, and the neck is a little too long, which makes it seem as if it was done later. But that raises the big questions, which I can't answer: who wanted this thing? Where would it go in the house? Did she think it would fool anybody? What do you say if you're a guest and the proud host shows off her new purchase? I just don't know.

Finally, another example of bad art, which is more like the second than the first. This is a statue of a baby Hercules, found at the baths of Decius, and so probably from the third century:

This is one of the most horrifying pieces of sculpture I've ever seen. First of all, it's a baby, okay? But it's on a strangely elongated body, and it's way bigger than any baby (maybe five feet tall). And the face! The face is bizarre:

It's a mix of stylized elements (the eyebrows, the blank, blank eyes, the mouth with that sort of archaic smile) and veristic ones (the exaggerated chubbiness of the cheeks, the curly hair). It looks alien. But again, this is a quality production. It's made out of Egyptian green basalt: expensive stuff, unusual for Roman sculpture, and, as far as I know, hard to work with.

As with Commodus, it's technically excellent but deeply disturbing. How do you explain it? Again, what's the market for this thing? Is it camp? Did the Romans have a concept of camp? Can you have camp when something is as expensive as this? I truly don't know the answer; all I know is that this is a terrible mix of elements. It's as if you broke into a serial killer's house in the middle of the night, and crept up the creaky stairs, fearing for your life. Then you turn the corner, and in front of you, there's a painting of a crying clown. On black velvet. That's what this statue reminds me of. And I shudder when I see it. (But that's part of the charm, too...)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

rainy night in Roma

Tonight, as I write this, the third annual Notte Bianca is going on in Rome. They borrowed the concept from Paris, I believe: the idea is that everything in the city is open, in the words of Lionel Ritchie, all night long. Museums, shops, restaurants, archaeological sites, theaters: everything. There are all kinds of cultural-type stuff going on, and some less highbrow entertainment, too; most events are open from 9 PM to 7 AM or so. They don't screw around with the late night thing here!

The problem is that Rome seems to have had some bad luck with this sort of thing. On the first notte bianca, there was a blackout that hit all of Italy. People were stuck on the Metro, crowds were left in the dark- exactly the sort of thing for which the Italians invented the word fiasco. Tonight, the power is still on [he writes. on his computer. reinforcing the obvious.] But it's pouring rain, making it more of a notte grigia than anything else.

I'd intended to go check out the Markets of Trajan, which are closed for restoration, but which were supposed to be open tonight as a sort of preview. These are a structure built up on the hill behind Trajan's forum, and while there's some controversy about exactly what they were supposed to be, the leading theory is that they were basically a mall. Spencer Gifts over there, Orange Julius in the food court, and lots of second-century mallrats skipping school and hanging out with their togas hiked up... Anyway, it's a pretty cool site, since it's extensive, well-preserved, in Rome, and not a temple.

But as I was heading over there, the thunderstorm struck. I got completely soaked (and you know what I learned? If you're tall, and surrounded by shorter people with umbrellas, their umbrellas will funnel all the rain right on to your chest. It's... unpleasant.) And to make matters worse, I couldn't figure out where the entrance to the markets was. So it was kind of a bust; but you know, I can just head to Franklin Mills when I get back to Philadelphia, right? Sigh.

What made up for it was walking over to the Pantheon afterwards. The Pantheon is the best place in the city to wait out a rainstorm: you can watch the rain pour through the oculus and splash all over the marble floor, bringing out the colors of the stone and making it all shiny. (I took some pictures; if they turn out well, I'll post them in a day or two.) That made it it worthwhile: the wet clothes, squishy shoes and all. Even if I missed the mall...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

ricotta di bufalicious

There's mozzarella di bufala, of course. Everybody knows about that. Not so easy to get in the US (though not super-difficult, either), but something you see all over the place in Italy. There's a dairy up the street from me that trucks great mozz in from Campania every morning, and I've been picking up a ball or two every so often. Who doesn't like buffalo mozzarella? Nobody, that's who.

As far as I knew, mozzarella was the only cheese you could really make from buffalo milk. That is, until this last week when I had the ricotta as part of a cheese plate at Vinando, a great wine bar in the Ghetto of Rome. I thought it was some sort of mild goat cheese at first: pure white, firm but ever so slightly creamy. Then I tasted it.

In general, my feeling is that people who describe food as "a revelation" should be stoned to death with the collected works of Elizabeth David. It's such a stupid cliche. But it's a stupid cliche I'm trying hard to avoid when describing this cheese. Creamy, yes, but with a slight graininess on the tongue. A little bit sweet, not sugary, but with the unctuous sweetness of really good pure milk that hasn't been sissied down by taking out all the fatty goodness. And-- this is the part that just blew me away-- a fruitiness to it (seriously, like apples) that isn't like any other cheese I've tasted before.

My complaint is: why was I not informed of the existence of ricotta di bufala until this week? I demand that the entire nation of Italy be called to account for keeping me in the dark until now, condemning me to decades of pointless buffalo-free existence, and leading me to believe that ricotta had to be a bland, dull, flavorless mush, fit only to live in a tub and only emerge when it's pimped up with sugar and stuffed in a pastry, or slapped between layers of watery lasagna. Damn you, Italy! (But bless you, too.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

oh you silly Etruscans

If I ever get a gig writing a Discovery Channel program about the Etruscans, I'm going to be faced with a serious problem of rhetoric. Either you have to describe the Etruscans as mysterious, cryptic and inscrutable (a riddle wrapped in an enigma, draped in a toga). Or you have to announce that they weren't so odd after all: why, they were just like us, with the eating and the drinking and the dancing and the weird obsession with sheep livers! But on the whole, I'd rather go with inscrutability: after all, that way any precious bits of knowledge that come dripping from my lips will seem all the sweeter.

Still, there are all kinds of reasons why the Etruscans were cool. For starters, their head god (equivalent to Jupiter) was called "Tina". Second, those sheep livers, which were not only a tasty snack but also a reliable way of predicting the future (check out the Piacenza Liver-- a model of a liver used for this sort of haruspicy.) And there's Etruscan tomb painting, which represents a large percentage of all the surviving painting from the classical world.

We went on a field trip recently to Tarquinia, the town in Lazio (an hour or two from Rome) where most of these paintings have been found. It's changed quite a lot since I'd been there last (not the paintings, duh). When I was there last, you needed a guide to show you the sites; now it's a park, so you can go down into the tombs yourself. Here's a shot of what the site looks like above ground:

The vast majority of these tombs haven't been excavated yet. But it should be pretty easy to find them, right? Just look for the huts with the stairways leading into the earth. (I so should have been an archaeologist.)

The tombs themselves are gorgeous. Even though Murphy's Law (with the Italian Bureaucracy corollary) means you'll never get to see the particular tomb that you really want to see most, we were able to get into about a dozen. You CAN take pictures, but the light is lousy, and there's glass in front of them, so most of mine are pretty lousy. Instead, here's a photo from a website about the tombs:

This is the Tomb of the Leopards (which are elsewhere), one of my favorites. The colors are gorgeous, and I love the scenes of partying. Other tombs have different sorts of, um, amusements: there's a scene of a dude tied to a stake, with a bag over his head, fighting a dog. (Poor doggie? Poor dude? Take your pick.) And there's the "Tomba della Fustigazione", which has scenes of kinky sex. Whichever sort of entertainment you prefer, there's a tomb for you, and it probably looks pretty cool.

I was glad to learn, in the town of Tarquinia, that the art of painting hasn't died out. Here's a sign from a salumeria there:

"Here they do me right!" I always thought that kitschy pig iconography was a purely barbecue thing; but it turns out to be a porchetta thing too. Tina bless those Etruscans!

Monday, September 12, 2005

our animal friends, part 2

I have to say that on the whole—with one big exception—I’m pretty impressed by Roman dogs. Let’s get that exception out of the way, first: I’m of course referring to those big steaming piles of exceptions that litter the streets of my neighborhood. Pooper scoopers haven’t caught on, I’m afraid; it’s the rare dog owner you see following his pooch around, plastic bag in hand. They do exist: more common than Bigfoot (if not by much); seeing one is a National Geographic-worthy occurence.

Leaving that aside, though, dogs you see in Rome mostly seem to be a well-behaved bunch. Lots of them are off-leash, and it’s rarely a problem: they pad along in front of their master, sniffing at the occasional tree, but mostly heading in a straight line to wherever they’re going. They’re pretty much all business: I mean, I’m not in the habit of dangling pork chops in front of dogs’ noses, but as far as I can tell, it’s hard to distract them. For the dogs, it's all about getting the job of doggitude done, and to that I say: kudos!

I took this photo a few weeks back, in front of one of the bakeries near my house. I’d gone in to get a little snack, and when I came out, saw this pack of dachshunds parked outside, leashed to a ring in the wall. Also a couple of boys playing with them; I thought it was cute, and snapped a few photos, as the kids mugged for the camera. It was only after I got home that I realized that they weren’t hugging the dogs; they were sort of, um, strangling them… Still, I’ve seen both the dogs and the boys since them, so everybody seems to have survived okay.

Friday, September 09, 2005

seriously, dude, non e un foodblog

Here in Rome, the two supporting columns of my stately snacking edifice have been pizza bianca and pizza rossa. In the US, I'd always seen pizza bianca as just a white pizza: that is, cheese no sauce. Roman pizza bianca is just flat bread plus oil and salt (usually coarse salt, maybe sea salt if it's a little fancy). Pizza rossa = ditto, with a little tomato sauce topping it.

Now, if there's a more perfect afternoon snack than a hot slice of pizza bianca, please let me know about it, so that I can pack up and move to wherever it's to be found (Do you have space on your couch? Thanks.) In the meantime, here's a shot of Beth enjoying some:

This particular pizza is from the Forno Campo De' Fiori, located at the west end of... well, I'll let you figure that one out, Sherlock. It's thin, light, a little bit crispy, and for my money, is the second best pizza bianca in the city. The third best pizza bianca is not far away, on one of the little streets near the Campo, at Paneficio Roscioli. Roscioli's pizza is thicker and chewier; a slightly different style, and almost as good. (I should point out that Roscioli is probably a better bakery overall; they have a wonderful selection of pastries and cookies, as well as breads. So they're worth a stop if you're in the neighborhood: and as long as you're there, hit their salumeria on the other side of the street.)

But the best pizza bianca I've had is from Fratelli Beti, on Via Dezza in Monteverde. They have a razor-sharp understanding of just how much oil and salt to put on the pizza. It's salty, a tiny bit greasy, and something that slips the surly bonds of mere bread-ness to touch the face of snack heaven.

Now at this point, you're probably saying, "yes, yes. This all sounds very nice. But how great can a snack be if it lacks any sort of cured pork product?" And you'd be right, of course. Fortunately, somebody has boldly stepped up to the plate to resolve this dilemma: yet another bakery in the Campo dei Fiori area. I can't remember the name (it's something like Fornaio Baullari), but it's on the Via dei Baullari, a street that runs between the Campo and the Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle. I promise that you won't miss it; just look for the place that has a mortadella the size of a telephone pole, thrusting proudly into the street:

Here you can see a couple admiring the sausage. (Well, she was admiring it. He was a little nonplussed. I can't think why.) I can't remember whether they went into the bakery, but if not, they missed out. What they do there is take a piece of pizza bianca, cut it into half, and pile on a few slices of mortadella. They do it with prosciutto, too, but I haven't yet tried that: the siren song of that mortadella has just been too hard to resist. That is one heck of a sandwich.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

our animal friends

I've been super-busy with work lately, so haven't had time to commit to blogdom any of the delicacies of Italian cuisine I've been enjoying, the fantastic adventures in Etruscanland that have been occupying my days. (Let alone the hours spent in the library, researching the next lecture. Woo!)

Still, I want to share a picture of one of the turtles that lives in the Centro garden. He (she? it? what do you expect me to do, turn it over and check?) has a fellow-turtle, who mostly stays hidden, and has to share the fountain with a school of ill-tempered goldfish. Sometimes the turtle hides underwater or paddles around, but when it's sunny out, you can see it chillin' on this rock above the pool:

On a hot day, who could ask for better? A nice mossy rock to sit on, sunlight filtering through the trees, a jet of water shooting up your tuchis: this must be something close to turtle paradise.

Friday, September 02, 2005

what this needs is... more elephant!

We began our Italian film series last night with Scipio Africanus. This is an epic (though at less than 90 minutes, a short epic) film, financed by the Mussolini regime, about the Roman vs. Carthaginian smackdown at the end of the Second Punic War, culminating with Scipio's invasion of Africa and the battle of Zama.

To the extent that it's a famous (or infamous) movie, it's because of its connection with il Duce: his son was the executive producer, and the film won the Mussolini Cup at the 1937 Venice Film Festival (purely on artistic merit, no doubt.) And no surprise; it's a blatant propaganda piece, designed to justify Italy's invasion of Ethiopia a year or so before. (It's also known for some pretty embarassing goofs-- you can see telephone poles in the background in a couple of battle scenes, and I'm told, but didn't notice myself, that there's a legionary wearing a wristwatch in another scene.)

It's not what you'd call a great movie. Okay, it's not what you'd call a good movie, either (though I've seen worse). But it definitely has its moments. For one thing, it unquestionably marks a high point in elephant-based cinema: the scene of Zama features about twenty elephants (including a baby elephant, which is about the most adorable widdle cutie pie I've ever seen) charging at the Romans, charging down a hill, charging up another hill, and generally being pretty damn cool. Like another shot, with two cavalry detachments plunging at each other, it's an amazing sight. When you watch it, you know you're watching real elephants doing real stuff, not some sissy CGI confection. And there are some moments that look like something out of a Sam Raimi movie: elephants getting spears in their eye, soldiers getting swords in their necks, all kinds of cool gore.

It's also clearly a movie that was made by people who knew their Roman historians: the paired speeches before the battle of Zama, delivered by Scipio and Hannibal, could have been lifted from Caesar (and for all I know, were lifted from Livy: this is why I will probably never make a historical epic movie.) And it's worth a look if you're interested in that sort of thing, or just interested in a movie that's become such a strange historical footnote.

(And this all reminds me: what's the deal with dictator/movie buffs? Kim Jong Il, of course, is a huge film fanatic. And there's that anecdote about Saadi Qaddafi-- Moammar's son-- approaching Harvey Weinstein about making a biopic about his dad. The response from Weinstein was evidently that he'd do it, if Libya would recognize Israel. There seems to be some sort of connection between the desire to be an absolute ruler who holds the lives of others in the palm of his hand, and the desire to make quality film entertainment-- which, if what I know about Hollywood is true, works both ways.)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

ceci n'est pas un foodblog

Since Beth was out here last weekend, we celebrated with a meal at an upscale kinda restaurant: Antico Arco, located on the Gianicolo not too far from home. Antico Arco is usually ranked in the top of the Roman restaurant listings; they do modern versions of Roman cuisine. The decor is similarly non-traditional, as you can see from this photo:

This is the one picture I took at dinner; after taking it, I felt instantly self-conscious and decided to let Mr. Camera hide in his little pouch for the rest of the evening. Instead, I will use the magic of my descriptions paint a picture of the dinner…

We ordered the degustazione; seven courses (54 euros), and titled “Seven Steps Through Gianicolo Hill”. We also ordered a few glasses of wine, but I didn’t write them down, and I didn’t know what they were (there was something white from Puglia that I liked a lot) and so they have completely skipped my mind. Sorry…

The amuse-bouche (hey! the obligatory amuse-bouche has spread to Italy! Now if I could only remember what the Italian term, if any, is…) was a chilled pea soup with tomato cream and teensy-tiny little croutons. Nice for summer.

Course #1 was a pan-seared, slightly crispy red mullet fillet with sauteed diced vegetables (eggplant, asparagus), a thin pesto and balsamic vinegar. This may have been my favorite dish of the night; as with the amuse, it was pretty light and very satisfying.

This was followed by a little panzanella (bread salad) topped with fresh octopus: cylinders, each a half-inch or so in diameter, and about the same height, that I guess were cut from the tentacles. (I think. Actually, I have absolutely no idea where they come from, never having had the chance to dissect an octopus. For all I know, they could have been cylindrical octopus testicles, or sections from the eyestalks of an Mediterranean red-footed octopus. But the next time I take off on one of my Captain Nemo-esque undersea adventures, I’ll be sure to save the bodies of the octopuses I fight in a desperate battle to the death, and not just dump them off the side of my submarine for the sharks to devour.) Anyway, whatever part of the octopus it was, it was tender, if a little bland. It occurs to me just how rarely I’ve eaten octopus; it’s usually been smoked, or in sushi, and has always- including at ‘Gusto- been at least a little bit rubbery. This wasn’t at all; an interesting experience. The pesto from the fish course made a reappearance here, which was a little surprising. But in a good way: pesto isn’t Tuscan like panzanella is, but it was a nice match with the mild octopus.

More fish in the third course, a “gnocchi” with tiger prawns bisque, sea bass and sauteed chicory. I’m not sure why “gnocchi” “was” in “scare quotes”; as far as I could tell, they were pretty standard gnocchi shaped, nice and light and quite good. I hope that this doesn’t signal the creeping invasion of unnecessary quotation marks (OK, scare arrowy thingies that Europeans use instead of quotation marks) that has given grammarian such fits and made Lynne Truss such a wealthy woman. The fish was cut into small chunks, about the same size as the gnocchi, so the whole dish had an even appearance.

I’m not really sure what the chicory was doing in the dish. Chicory is funny stuff. I don’t think I’d ever had it before arriving in Italy this time around, but it’s all over the place, and I’ve been eating it a lot. You’ll see it at the rosticceria or tavola calda in a big plate, sauteed with garlic and just crying out for a little squeeze of lemon. (Heck, one night I made just chicory for dinner, sauteed until just soft, with some shavings of pecorino to give it some body. It was shockingly good.) I don’t know if it’s just that it’s in season now, but man: it’s all over the place. This version of chicory was fine, good, great, but again, what’s the idea of putting it in the gnocchi? Inquiring minds want to know.

Course numero quattro was another, more substantial pasta dish: manichette alla gricia with broccoli. This dish was not only tasty, but also a gastrolexical eductation on a plate. I didn’t know what manichette would be—as it turns out, the word is the diminutive of manica, “sleeve”. And sure enough, manichette are little sleeves; tiny pasta tubes. I don’t know if there’s a pasta that’s named after the regular form of manica, but of course there’s the, um, embiggenative form manicotti, “big sleeves”. (Unless the –cotto part is from “cooked”. But I don’t think so, because then it would mean “cooked hands” and that’s just gross.)

I’d never had gricia sauce before. It turns out to be the cousin (or more likely, ancestor) of amatriciana: a pancetta-based sauce with white wine and pecorino, native to Lazio. In some ways it’s like carbonara: no eggs, but very rich. This was quite good, and I managed to keep my membership in the Clean Plate Club in spite of starting to fill up.

(The broccoli, you’ll be glad to know, was plain ol’ regular broccoli, cut up into tiny florets that absorbed the sauce oh so very well. And I knew what it was, you bet. Didn’t have to look that one up in a dictionary or google it or nothin’. Go me!)

The final non-dessert part of the meal was a rabbit fillet- or maybe a saddle? again, I’m betraying my lack of anatomical knowledge- cut into a sort of a round and served with a olive sauce (taggiasche olives, which I guess are from Liguria- yeah, I did have to google that one) and potatoes. I enjoyed this, and amazingly, so did Beth. She claims never to have eaten rabbit before, and that sounds about right: when we were in Italy back in the day, they’d sometimes serve it, but nary a slice of Thumper would cross her plate. So that’s a good thing.

After that pummeling of richness, Antico Arco lightened things up a little bit with a white peach grattachecca. Subtle, refreshing, wonderful. And finally, another dessert course: a sort of crepe stuffed with creme Chantilly and sliced strawberries. (This is one course I really wish I’d photographed: it was arranged like a horn spilling berries and cream; very pretty).

All in all, I was impressed by Antico Arco. It’s not cheap, but it’s also not outrageous for how good it is (you don’t have to get the tasting menu, and the a la carte selections are less expensive). And there aren’t that many Roman restaurants that serve modern food of this kind; it’s definitely interesting to see something like panzanella or gnocchi tweaked in this way. Also a good contrast with ‘Gusto, which has the same sort of idea, but is somewhat less successful; the cooking at AA has a level of confidence that lets them really pull it off.