fill your intestines with intestines. er, more on that later. i spent this weekend in rome, mostly in the lovely and nearly tourist-free testaccio neighborhood. we also made it out to the beach on sunday (did you know rome had beaches?), food-shopped, and ate whenever we could.
i’d had serious doubts about rome’s place among the world’s great capital cities (as a place to live and work and party), but no longer. testaccio has converted me. just 20 minutes from the center on foot and adjacent to trastevere, this area still has a real homey, neighborhood-y feel. it reminds me not a little of brooklyn. the locals don’t insist on responding to you in english if you speak to them in italian (they were even encouraging — or amused — at the famed local alimentari, volpetti, when i ordered my guanciale to take back north). this place is happening at night too. we had dinner (sushi!) at 11pm (!) on friday night, and the women staggered and swayed about in their sky-high heels and band-aid-sized minis, while a bon jovi lookalike (complete with frosted, blown-dry coif) hung about in his ‘bon jovi’ t-shirt (seriously).
but the food, of course, is the best part. besides volpetti and countless other food and wine shops, there’s the market, which reminded me of the big market in kaohsiung, taiwan. malcolm took us to his tomato stand, which not only has numerous varieties i’ve not ever seen:
but will also pick through the offerings to give you tomatoes suitable for whatever you desire.
these, for instance, are diminutive guys that have the same wrinkled, misshapen appearance as cuore di bue and are from the southeastern sicilian town of pachino, where my favorite cherry tomatoes are also grown, but are used only to make sauce. i asked for tomatoes that are good for snacking on, and the lady walked around the stand, sticking her hand in this crate and in that crate, pulling out handfuls that she threw all together in my bag. maybe it’s all BS (though the tomatoes are wonderful), but i enjoy this kind of specificity and this show of discernment, this confidence in one’s professional expertise.
on saturday, we had dinner at agustarello, which must be the archetypal roman trattoria, with a take-no-shit chef/owner that tromps (because he is very large and clearly not averse to sampling his own creations) around with your plates in hand and has no problem turning people away (because the place is very small and always, always full). the kitchen here is as big as the dining room (which might seat 40, max), the service, while kind (once you manage to get a table), can get a little spotty once the place fills up, and the menu probably only changes when puntarelle are out of season. even if rome, as an urban center, can boast sushi joints and restaurants that specialize in regional cuisines beyond lazio borders, romans are still darn proud of their own special dishes. and i can understand why.
here, you can order half-portions of the primi and secondi, which is especially good if you want to order everything on the menu (as, indeed, i did). we tried the rigatoni all’amatriciana, cacio e pepe and alla carbonara. the first two were solid (perhaps slightly on the watery side), the last one was a knockout. i maintain, as ever, that guanciale makes everything taste good. could be the ample fat-to-muscle ratio.
contorni: puntarelle con salsa di acciughe, or wild roman chicory in a delectable anchovy- and garlic-heavy sauce, on the right. a rather lackluster carciofo alla romana on the left (we were hoping for the deep fried alla giudea ones). great oven roasted potatoes in the background. squishy and saturated with olive oil, as is the italian way.
ah, my pajata di agnello, or lamb intestines (usually from lamb that’s not yet been weaned), cooked with a little tomato. a very, very traditional roman dish. it didn’t blow my mind as far as offal dishes go, but it was tasty and i would definitely eat it again (though judging from what i saw heading for other tables, i might also pass it up for the abbaccio di agnello, or roast lamb, perhaps a chop cut of some kind). i did, however, get a half portion of the coratella, which is apparently all the insides of a chicken mixed together and stewed to produce a simultaneously sludgy (that would be the liver) and chewy (that would be the heart and kidneys) grey-tinged dish. which is actually delicious but not at all photogenic. so that’s why you don’t see it here.
weekend refrain: i’ve gotta move to rome.