A Foodie’s Tribute to Barcelona (Break Week, Part 1/3)

Sorry for the long hiatus in posts!  In the ages it’s taken me to write, I’ve done a bit of traveling beyond my home base of Paris.  (And I am so grateful to be able to call Paris “home base” – at least temporarily!)  Last week was Break Week, so my classmates and I had the entire week off.  It was a bit ill-timed, as we had our French final exams today and have final papers due at the end of the week, but hey, any week of vacation is better than no vacation.  Most of us traveled around Europe (with a large percentage of us seeking out warmer temperatures in places like Spain and Italy), while a few chose to stay in town and explore more of Paris.  Luckily for me, my sister is coming to visit this weekend, so I’ll have a bit of extra time in the lovely metropolis of Paris before heading back to the States (we’re actually heading to London as well!).

Anyway, back to Break Week.  I lived out a trip I’ve been dreaming up for a while…  Two friends and I traversed the Spanish/Portuguese peninsula over the course of 8 days, starting in Barcelona and ending in Lisbon, with Madrid in between.  It was exhausting, but for all the right reasons.  We explored, ate, and walked non-stop.  As this is a food/travel blog, here is my tribute to Barcelona – a highlights reel of our best meals in photo-form.

lunch @ tramoia
tramoia

clockwise, from top left – calamari; baked cod; Spanish omelette; mini chorizo; grilled red peppers with poached egg

dinner @ pitarra
pitarra-1.1

hors d’oeuvres – toast rubbed with tomato and olive oil, Spanish omelette, and olives; asparagus

pitarra-2,paella

seafood paella

veal with grilled tomato and mashed potatoes

veal with grilled tomato and mashed potatoes

dessert time - creme catalan and green tea ice cream

dessert time – creme catalan and green tea ice cream

lunch @ cerveceria catalana
arroz negro (squid ink rice); patatas bravas (fried potatoes with special sauce)

arroz negro (squid ink rice); patatas bravas (fried potatoes with special sauce)

clockwise, from top left - toast rubbed with tomato and olive oil; fried sardines; cured sausage; baby calamari

clockwise, from top left – toast rubbed with tomato and olive oil; fried sardines; cured sausage; baby calamari

Needless to say, we ate really, really well.

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Foodie Friday 7 – Crêperie Josselin

The three C’s of France: croissants, champagne, and…crêpes!

Last week, my friend Hanna and I went on a search for great crêpes in Paris.  We decided to try Crêperie Josselin, a small, charming place in the 14th arrondissement that came at the recommendation of her friend who was in Paris last quarter.  We headed there for lunch straight after class and arrived a little before 12:30, just in time to squeeze in without a wait.  And good thing, too, because there was a line out the door by the time we were served.

Crêperie Josselin

Crêperie Josselin

Creperie Josselin

Inside Crêperie Josselin

Hanna in the creperie :)

Lunch buddy/fellow foodie :)

The restaurant itself was cozy and cute with lots of dark wood accents and warm lighting, and the constant chatter of happy diners filled the room.  You could tell that this place has quite the reputation from the good mix of tourists and French locals.

goat cheese & spinach crepe and __?

Savory crepes: goat cheese & spinach (L) and tomato, cheese, & sausage (if I recall correctly)

The crêpes were delicious and unlike any savory crêpe I’ve ever tried.  They were generously filled with hearty ingredients and were grilled to crispy, buttery perfection.  I particularly liked the goat cheese/spinach combo, in part because I’m partial to goat cheese.  The creamy texture of the cheese nicely complemented the crispy, doughy crêpe.

Despite being absolutely stuffed after our meal, we had to stop by Amorino, a gelateria just down the street that Hanna’s friend had also recommended.  Since I hadn’t had gelato since I left Rome, I was excited to see how it would compare to authentic Italian gelato.

Gelato!

Gelato at Amorino

Pretending I'm in Italy with a combo of caffe, pistacchio, e nocciola

Pretending I’m in Italy with the perfect combination of caffe (coffee), pistacchio, e nocciola (hazelnut)

There wasn’t a huge selection of flavors, but they had the basics – chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, pistachio, lemon, etc.  I paired pistachio and hazelnut (two of my favorite flavors) with coffee, just because the coffee flavor looked good (it was topped with real coffee beans!) and sounded like it would go well with the other two.  As I learned in Italy, the best cups of gelato are those that match flavors well.  Though I’ve had better (and worse) hazelnut and pistachio, it was great gelato overall.  I’d go back if I were in the area on a non-freezing day.

‘Le Marais’ from Jenny the Explorer!

My friend Jenny (a fellow UChicagoan in Paris) recently started an awesome blog of her own. Check out her post below on our weekend adventure to Le Marais! It’s also one of my favorite areas in Paris so far… Who can resist a delicious falafel pita?! And for 5,50 euros, it’s a steal.

Jenny the Explorer

Le Marais is one my favorite neighborhoods so far. It’s a quirky little district with little vintage shops and falafel stands. It’s known as a Jewish and LGBTQ neighborhood, and one of the few places open on Sundays in Paris. Grace and I went to try the “best falafels in Paris” according to many. One of the stands, L’As du Fallafel, is apparently endorsed by Lenny Kravitz as his favorite. Alas, when we went to try, we realized it was closed due to Shabbat. Next time we’ll know not to go on a Saturday… Luckily, Mi-Va-Mi across the street seemed pretty packed so we figured the falafels there had to be just as good if they were to hold their own against L’As du Fallafel. And boy was it good. The sandwiches were stuffed to the brim with vegetables and tahini sauce. An interesting fact is that food is…

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A Little Seoul in Paris [aka Foodie Friday 6!]

This past Sunday, three fellow Korean-American friends and I headed to the Pyramides (pronounced peehr-ah-meed) stop on Lines 7 and 14 of the metro for some comfort food.  And by comfort food, I mean Korean food, of course!

We were a little worried about finding a place that was open since it was Sunday, but we found one within 5 minutes of walking around (good thing, cause we were hungry!).  Pyramides isn’t actually Paris’s “Koreatown” – that’s apparently near the Commerce/Cambronne stops on Line 8 and 6, respectively, but that trip is for another day.  However, K-Mart, a Korean market, is located right by Pyramides.

K-Mart!

K-Mart!

Asian munchies...mmmm

Asian munchies…mmmm

Packs of frozen mandu, aka easy dinners.

Packs of frozen mandu, aka easy dinners.

The restaurant, called 태동관 (Tae Dong Gwan), was actually bigger and more crowded than I expected.  The main dining area was full when we walked in, but they had plenty of open tables downstairs, so we were seated right away.

Downstairs seating area

Downstairs seating area

The entire menu sounded enticing – they had everything from 비빔밥 (bibimbap, ‘mixed rice’) to 짜장면 (jjajangmyeon, noodles in black bean sauce).  We started off by sharing a 파전 (pajun, green onion pancake), and then I had a 불고기 (bulgogi, grilled marinated beef) set as my main course.

Bulgogi set with salad and miso soup!

Bulgogi set with salad and miso soup!

Our server (who was Asian but not Korean) spoke good Korean, so we all used that instead of French.  Honestly, it was a relief not to have to think so hard about how to say things.  And the meal was incredibly satisfying – great food, and great company.

In general, I’ve noticed that foreign/ethnic cuisine is much more widespread in Paris than in Rome.  Though Paris does have a significantly larger immigrant population than Rome, I’ve been kind of surprised at how much I’ve felt the difference in the two weeks I’ve been here – I’ve seen a multitude of ethnic restaurants (and a few speciality markets), and the prices seem pretty reasonable (especially if you go in expecting to pay a bit of a premium).  Next stop, Koreatown and Chinatown!

A Taste of Paris

Last Friday was our first class excursion – to the famous Musée du Louvre, of course.  Our tour, entitled “Black Images in European Art”, led us on a winding path through the maze of galleries over the course of an hour and a half.  The tour guide put it best – “We’ll be passing lots of masterpieces along the way, so I’ll try to stop and point them out, but I won’t have time to say much about them.”  To channel my inner Instagram/Twitter/social media user, I believe the following hashtags are in order: #OnlyAtTheLouvre #Paris #awestruck

The Louvre!

The Louvre!

Our great tour guide.

Our great tour guide.

Winged Victory

Winged Victory

Mona Lisa and her admirers.

The Mona Lisa and her admirers

The view out of a window in one of the galleries.

The view out of a window in one of the galleries.

Inverted glass pyramid in the Carrousel du Louvre.

Inverted glass pyramid in the Carrousel du Louvre.

Our tour was in the evening, so upon its conclusion, a couple of friends and I headed to the Marais area for some authentic French food.  Though we had originally planned to dine at a place called A La Biche au Bois (The Deer in the Woods), it was full when we arrived, so rather than wait an hour for a table, we headed next door to Bar Tarmac, a half-bar, half-restaurant.  They had an incredible prix-fixe menu for 26 euro, so we were happy with the alternative.  As a side note, yes, 26 euro is kind of expensive, but just wait until you see all the food we got.  Besides, the three of us were willing to splurge a little on a nice dinner, so it all worked out.

First, we enjoyed apertifs (pre-dinner drinks) – white wine mixed with a little blackberry juice.  We also got a quarter-liter of red wine and a half-liter of rosé — too much wine for the three of us, but oh well.

Wine galore

Wine galore

Next, we had a choice of appetizers: potato croquettes, cured salmon (Gravlax), or 2 tapas of your choosing.  I went with the tapas, and chose manchego cheese with citrus marmalade and eggplant toasts.

Tapa #1: Cheese and marmalade. Simple and delicious.

Tapa #1: Manchego cheese with marmalade. Simple and delicious.

Tapa #2: Aubergines and red peppers on toast.

Tapa #2: Eggplant and red peppers on toast

Our main course options were the “Big Tarmac” burger, lamb with cous cous, beef tartare (aka raw beef), ginger chicken with plantain fries, salmon with potatoes, or ravioli in tomato sauce with rocket and Serrano ham.  I went with the lamb, which came at the suggestion of our waiter and seemed like one of the more ‘French’ dishes.

Main Course: Lamb with cous cous

Main Course: Lamb with cous cous

View #2 of the lamb

View #2 of the lamb

Though the lamb was delicious, the cous cous was the real highlight of the meal.  It wasn’t too dry, which is hard to achieve with cous cous, and it had interesting flavors and well-paired garnishes – Persian spices along with pieces of dried fig and apricot.

Last, but definitely not least, was dessert!  We each ordered different ones so we could try each others – a very useful and delicious strategy.  The crème brûlée was the best I’ve had so far – light, creamy, and perfectly caramelized and crispy on top.  The yogurt ice cream (their house speciality) was unique and pretty good, and the molten chocolate cake was great, as usual (how can it be bad?).  All in all, a great meal for a great value.

Dessert! Yogurt ice cream with a cookie (house specialty), créme brulée (best I've had so far), and molten chocolate cake

Dessert! Yogurt ice cream with a cookie, créme brulée, and molten chocolate cake

Arrivederci, Roma

Yesterday, I parted ways with Rome.  I packed my bags, said my goodbyes, and left the place I’ve called home for the past ten weeks.

It’s been an incredible quarter abroad – from listening to lectures in the Forum, to traveling on the weekends, to learning how to properly taste wine, I’ve loved every minute overseas.  But, more importantly, I’ve learned a lot.  I have retained a surprising amount of Roman history and could probably put together a great historical walking tour of the city, replete with museum stops, church visits, and great photo-ops.  On the flip side, I can also recommend great local eateries (the best pizza you’ve ever had), ex-pat/international student hang-outs (no Italian required), and weekend destinations within Italy (Tuscany, anyone?).

Here are some highlights from my time in the Eternal City (in no particular order, because ranking them is impossible).  I’ll also be adding more (backdated) posts on Rome & my travels from the last few weeks soon.

Pumpkin & Amaretto Ravioli at Le Fate

Let’s just say it was the best dish I’ve had in Rome.  It was one of their specials the night I went, and I split it with my roommate (we should’ve gotten one for each of us, in retrospect).  My ravioli standards will never be the same again.  For the record, this restaurant is great for reasons beyond just their ravioli – I’ve been twice because it’s just down the street from my apartment, and everything I’ve tried has been delicious.  Other standouts include their eggplant parmesan, bruschette (trying at least a few of their varieties of bruschetta is a must), and tiramisu.  It’s a charming little place, decked out with French-inspired, fairy-themed decor and plenty of twinkling lights.

Viale Trastevere, 130

Galleria Borghese

The Bernini sculptures in Galleria Borghese are some of the most unforgettable works of art I’ve ever seen.  His Apollo and Daphne, the Rape of Proserpina, and Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius are incredible beyond words – and no, I’m not exaggerating.  I don’t mean to sound dramatic (maybe just a little); I was just blown away by the detail and skill exhibited in his work.  The other highlights of Galleria Borghese are its five Caravaggio paintings.  Learning about Caravaggio’s life, style, and significance in the Italian Baroque and then going to see his works in person was a great experience.  A classmate and I also gave a presentation on a biography of Caravaggio in the very room that contains his five paintings, so that made it particularly memorable as well.

Piazzale del Museo Borghese, 5

‘Roma dal Cielo’ – A Visit to the Top of Il Vittoriano

The wedding cake of Rome offers some great views of the city – views that rival even those of the Gianicolo, the lovely hill on which my apartment is located (the second highest hill in modern Rome, but not one of “the seven”).  I would suggest going at sunset, so you can watch the sky change colors as the city lights up.  The top of Il Vittoriano has an incredible view of the Colosseum, which happens to be my favorite monument in Rome…reason enough to pay the 7 euro to get up there.

Piazza Venezia (entrance on the east side of the monument, on the left when facing it)

Breathtaking night view of the Colosseum

Breathtaking night view of the Colosseum

Dar Poeta

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll mention it again – Dar Poeta è la mia pizzeria preferita a Roma (Dar Poeta is my favorite pizzeria in Rome).  Their ‘Dar Poeta’ pizza is one of the best I’ve had.  And it’s even better when followed by a Nutella and ricotta dessert calzone.  Speaking of desserts…

Vicolo del Bologna, 45 (near Piazza Trilussa)

Giolitti

The best gelato in Rome is at Giolitti.  A friend who studied abroad in Rome last year suggested it, and I finally made it there a couple of days before I left (right after I completed my final exam, in fact).  I had a 3-flavor, chocolate-dipped cone, with champagne, rice, and ‘opera italiana’ (candied nut, I think).  Champagne and rice gelato flavors?!  My friends and I were all wowed by the champagne gelato, and I loved the rice (I’m a big fan of rice pudding).  One of my friends also tried a delicious ‘caramel fig’ flavor.  I wish I could go back.  At least I ended my time in Rome on a high note.

Via Uffici del Vicario, 40 (near the Pantheon)

A Wonderful Week in Rome

Last week was both the best and worst week in Rome… (Misleading title, I know.)  ‘Best’ because I did lots of awesome things; ‘worst’ because I had a ton of work due for class, lost a lot of sleep, and was utterly exhausted by the end of it all.  The important thing is that it ended on a high note, and the lack of sleep was worth it (2 classes down, 1 to go!).  So what made it awesome?

Let’s start with Sunday.  My friends and I woke up in Siena, ate lunch and stopped by our favorite gelateria in Florence, and returned to Rome early enough to get a good night of sleep.  If that’s not a great start, I don’t know what is.

Monday and Tuesday were slightly miserable – full of paper-writing, journal-writing, and general stress.  But Tuesday night I got to participate in a wine class (in my own apartment too)!  I now know how to professionally open a bottle of wine… You know, just in case I ever find myself in a situation where I need to pretend to be a sommelier.  Who knows what new adventures Paris will bring!  Anyways, we tasted two different red wines, the first of which was quite strong and tasted like black pepper (I’m serious!).  It’s amazing what flavors you can discover when tasting wine more consciously.  I noticed strong vanilla undertones in the second, milder wine, but others (including our sommelier-in-training instructor) tasted green bell peppers.  It was a ton of fun, and I’d definitely take another class.  I guess I’d better keep practicing my flavor-discerning skills in the meantime… ;)

Wednesday was the first day of our third and last course, which I was excited for (despite its copious amounts of reading) because it focuses on the history of Renaissance and Baroque Rome through art.  It’s my first art history class, and I’ve always wanted to take one.  It’s going be more work than our previous two classes, but I’m enjoying our class discussions and site visits so far.  We’re heading to the Vatican this week and Villa Borghese next week!

Thursday marked the official end of the paper-writing frenzy, so that afternoon, after visiting a church for class, a few friends and I went to the movies.  We bought tickets for an Italian movie called Io e Te, Bertolucci’s newest film.

I had no idea who Bertolucci was when my friends and I decided to go see this movie (we saw an ad on the back of a bus), but he’s a famous Italian director (as you probably already knew).  The movie was intense, but amazing.  I highly recommend it (with subtitles).  We saw it without subtitles for the true cultural experience, which was fun and only slightly confusing.  Luckily for me, my roommate read a synopsis beforehand and summarized the basic plot for me during the previews.  The best and most rewarding moment was when I recognized a phrase I learned in class – “Ha un mal di testa” (Her head hurts).  I’m putting my limited knowledge of Italian to good use!  After the movie, my friends and I went out to dinner in Trastevere, ending the night on a good note.

The fun continued on Friday.  After class, a few friends and I went out to lunch at my favorite pizza place in Rome, Dar Poeta (get the pizza by the same name and the nutella and ricotta calzone for dessert).

Zucchini cream, speck, and mozzarella pizza – a winter special (not as good as the Dar Poeta, but not bad)

After an incredibly filling lunch, we headed to the Campo de’ Fiori market.  It was actually my first time at that particular open air market, which is kind of surprising given that it’s open every day and is close to where I have class.  We went to just check it out, but ended up finding a couple of elusive but imperative Thanksgiving dinner ingredients (did I mention we’ll be cooking a giant Thanksgiving feast on Tuesday?): sweet potatoes and a pumpkin for pumpkin pie!

The magical Thanksgiving stall at Campo de’ Fiori

We were pretty ecstatic, and for good reason – since Italians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), typical Thanksgiving ingredients are hard to come by, namely, turkeys, sweet potatoes, pumpkin (canned or fresh), cranberries, and pecans.  Now to try to make a pumpkin pie from scratch…

After a nice, long, well-deserved nap, I made dinner and then went to see Balthazar, a Belgian band, perform at Circolo degli Artisti, an intimate music venue/pseudo-club not far from the Termini train station.  I went by myself, partly because my friend couldn’t go at the last minute, and partly because I needed some me time.  It was such a fun experience – the venue is amazing (tons of outdoor seating, a couple of bars, and a cozy concert space) and Balthazar was incredible live.  I had listened to a few of their songs before going, since I hadn’t heard of them before discovering them on the Circolo degli Artisti website, but their live performance was much better than anything I had listened to online.  Like icing on a cake, if you will.

Balthazar live at Circolo degli Artisti

My exciting week finally came to a close on Saturday, at ‘Cinema’, the Rome (International) Film Festival.  A friend and I woke up really early to try to catch a 9:30 am showing of “Tar”, an artsy American film starring James Franco and Mila Kunis, but we didn’t make it in time.  Turns out it wouldn’t have made a difference because they had cancelled that showing anyway.  Instead, we went to see “Jianshi Liu Baiyuan” (“Judge Archer”), a Chinese kung-fu film.  Fortunately, it had subtitles in English and Italian.  Despite having no idea what to expect, I really enjoyed the movie.  It had a creative storyline and held my interest throughout.

It’s experiences like these that make me feel really grateful to have the opportunity to study abroad.  I feel almost like a local – I know my way around, can function in Italian, and do more than just the touristy things in my free time.  Cultural immersion – once just a phrase thrown around in my study abroad application – has become reality.

Foodie Friday 5 – Osteria Babazuf

A day late, but better late than never!  I spent last weekend in Tuscany, visiting Florence with my class on Thursday and then spending the rest of the weekend in Siena with a few friends (more detailed post coming soon!).  The highlight meal of the entire trip was our dinner on Saturday night at a little restaurant called Osteria Babazuf.

Osteria Babazuf in Siena

My roommate Jess and I got the same dish – a homemade pumpkin tagliatelle with a sausage and chestnut sauce.

Pumpkin tagliatelle with sausage and chestnut sauce

Tagliatelle (typically homemade, long, flat and ribbon-like) is one of my new favorite types of pasta; it comes in at a close second to tortellini.  The key is that it’s usually homemade here, arguably because it’s an easy shape to make by hand.  What makes tagliatelle stand out to me is its texture when cooked perfectly al dente (which is firmer than what is considered ‘al dente’ in the U.S.).  It’s chewy and almost a little stretchy (sounds weird, I know), and is often wonderfully paired with a meat-based bolognese sauce.  I had a homemade tagliatelle at Colline Emiliane for restaurant week too, as you may recall.

Anyway, this tagliatelle was made with pumpkin, which was unique and so delicious!  I hadn’t seen flavored pasta on a restaurant menu before, and I love pumpkin-flavored things, so I had to try it.  I also love chestnuts (roasted chestnuts by the Spanish Steps, anyone?) so this dish perfectly matched my taste buds.  It lived up to all my expectations and is one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had here.

But the meal didn’t end there.  After taking a quick look at the dessert menu, we couldn’t resist ordering the cooked pear.

Cooked pear dessert

Just look at it!  Delicious is an understatement.  It was cooked in red wine and had a soft, melt-in-your-mouth kind of texture.  Yum.  So now you know about one of my favorite meals in Italy…  I’ve only got 3 weeks left!  More on my time here coming soon :)

Italian Hill Towns & the Best Gelato Yet

Last weekend, I took a day trip to Orvieto, Bagnoregio, and Civita with some friends.  All three are beautiful Italian hill towns – perfect for a quick jaunt out of Rome.  Our first destination was Orvieto, which is an affordable hour-long train ride from Rome.  Since we wanted to make it to all three towns in a single day, we left bright and early Saturday morning.

Starting the day off right: a cappuccino from a cafe by Termini (Rome’s main train station)

Cream and chocolate filled cornetti

Upon arriving at Orvieto’s train station, which is located at the bottom of the hill on which the town is perched, we rode the funicular up to the top.

Orvieto’s funicular

We just missed the bus to the town center (which you could also walk to, we were just lazy and short on time), so we explored the old fortress remains right next to the funicular station, whence you can catch great views of the valley below.

Valley view from Orvieto

Valley view from Orvieto

Valley view from Orvieto

Valley view from Orvieto

Panorama

After we had our fill of admiring the view and taking innumerable pictures, we caught the bus to Orvieto’s central square, which is home to its grand cathedral.

Orvieto’s Duomo (cathedral)

The Duomo, as it’s called, boasts an incredibly ornate, gape-worthy façade.  It glitters in the sunlight and is somewhat mesmerizing – the more you stare up at it and its sheer size, the more you notice the intricate details and skilled workmanship.  Mosaics cover nearly every flat surface, and are even embedded in the curved arches and straight columns.

The Duomo

Close-up of Orvieto’s facade

Close-up of Orvieto’s facade

Close-up of Orvieto’s facade, with representations of two of the Evangelists – Matthew (winged man/angel) and Mark (winged lion)

I found the four panels of biblical illustrations carved in marble in the lower portion of the façade most interesting.  They depict Genesis, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Revelation/the Last Judgment, respectively.  The detail is amazing, and it’s cool to be able to spot familiar scenes.  According to Wikipedia, these panels are among the most famous of 14th century sculpture.  I’m not surprised.

Scenes from Genesis

We didn’t go into the cathedral, but explored Orvieto and looked for a place to eat lunch instead.  It was a pretty little town, similar to other Italian towns I’ve visited, but with its own feel and character as well.  Turns out Orvieto was the first non-coastal town I went to – maybe that’s what set it apart.  I’ll be going to another (Siena) this weekend, so we’ll see!

Streets of Orvieto

For lunch, we consulted Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook and found a relatively reasonable restaurant with a good sounding menu.  I had the cheese-filled tortellini with tomato sauce.

Tortellini for lunch!

We also tried the Classico white wine, because Orvieto is known for three things: ceramics, its cathedral, and Classico wine.

The Orvieto Classico

Then, it was off to Bagnoregio by bus and from there to Civita by foot.  There’s quite literally nothing to do in Bagnoregio this time of year – we didn’t see anyone in the streets, all the shops were closed, and the town was eerily silent.  Similarly, Civita doesn’t offer much, but because it’s much more of a tourist destination there are a number of restaurants and souvenir shops.  So why go to Civita?

Because this is it:

Civita

As you can see, Civita is a tiny town that’s only accessible by footbridge.  It sits like an island in the middle of a giant valley – it’s been carved out over the centuries by rivers on either side (which may or may not still be in existence).  Architecturally, Civita is stuck in the Middle Ages, unlike it’s Renaissance neighbor Bagnoregio.  There are few native Civitans left, as most abandoned the town after an earthquake in the late 17th century.

“Civita: the dying town”

Civita

On the footbridge to Civita

In Civita

Civita

View from Civita

Civita: stuck in the Middle Ages

“Dining room in Etruscan cave”

After about an hour and a half of exploring, we headed back to Bagnoregio to catch our bus back to Orvieto.

One last look at Civita

We got back to the bus stop with 20 minutes to spare, so we walked around the block to see what was around.  Just down the street we spotted L’Arte di Pane, a bakery recommended by Rick Steves.  The small shop was overflowing with customers, and a little one stood in the beaded curtain doorway while a multitude of families picked out pastries.  Baked goods were just what I was craving, so I promptly began eyeing the cases for the most delicious looking ones.  By the time it was my turn to order, I had decided on a giant cream-filled pastry, two small cookies, and a mini marmalade tart.  The cream puff-like dessert was my favorite.  It was hands down the best cream filling I’ve had yet – a little lemony, not too sweet, and smooth and custardy.  And the outer shell was bready, not flaky, and fresh.  I can see why Rick Steves recommends the bakery.  If you don’t go, you’re really missing out.  Let’s just say I’m really glad we got to the bus stop early and had time to explore the surrounding streets!

Best. Cream filling. Ever.

Back in Orvieto, we had an hour to kill before our train back to Rome.  Orvieto at night is actually quite different than during the day – there were noticeably more people, vendors set up on the streets, and a generally livelier atmosphere.  We browsed a street full of artisan craft stalls, ranging from leather goods to jewelry to cute hand-stitched key chains and animal figurines.  Everything was so enticing – I found myself trying to think of potential gift recipients for the unique pieces.  Sadly, I was relatively unsuccessful; buying for others is harder than it seems.

But, something I was completely successful in: discovering my favorite gelato!  I had actually planned to go to the Cinque Terre with a friend that weekend, but we canceled our trip at the last minute (the trails between the towns are closed, there was a forecast of rain, and we had an exhausting week).  I mention this because I was supposed to look for a special gelateria in Vernazza that has an amazing flavor called the Cinque Terre Special, which was a highlight of my family’s trip there more than a decade ago.  Despite the canceled trip, I still found an incredible gelato place – in Orvieto!  It’s a self-proclaimed artisanal gelateria called La Musa, and it’s located on the main road up from the funicular station.

Gelateria La Musa!

Of course, they have a flavor called “La Musa” – it’s a combination of ricotta (yes, cheese), cinnamon, and chocolate flakes.  I knew I had to try it when I heard the owner say “ricotta” (a staple in my Italian diet and one of my new favorite cheeses).

“La Musa” flavor

It was unlike any gelato I’ve ever tried.  It reminded me very much of horchata, a cinnamony Mexican rice drink, but that might’ve just been because of the cinnamon.  The point is that it had a great flavor.  Creamy like non-fruit gelato typically is, but with the unexpected addition of a spice.  And paired perfectly with a little chocolatey crunch in every bite.  Mmm.  I’ll probably never find a flavor like that anywhere else.  I also tried their nocciola (hazelnut), which was up there with the nocciola gelato I had in Sorrento.  It’s hard to capture a real nutty flavor in gelato, but La Musa managed to do it and do it well.  Or maybe the deliciousness of their namesake flavor gave me a rosier impression of the nocciola… Who knows.  All I know is that that piccolo cono was the best I’ve had yet.

So delicious!

Soon, it was time to head down to the train station via the funicular (our third ride of the day!).  And that marked the end of our day trip to Orvieto, Bagnoregio, and Civita.

Rome Restaurant Week 2012

Iiiiiiiiiiit’s Restaurant Week in Rome!!

More than 80 restaurants in Rome (and its surrounding area) are offering lunch and dinner set menus all week (Nov. 5-11). Most are 25 euro, with a few at 35, and Michelin-starred restaurants at 40 and up.  Of course, I started researching the restaurants and browsing menus as soon as I found out about it.  Our time in Rome this week is limited, so I knew we had to make a reservation ASAP (we’re all heading to Florence on Thursday for a class trip, and most of us will stay in Tuscany for the weekend).  Five friends and I made a reservation at Colline Emiliane, a small, family-run restaurant that specializes in ‘classic Emilian cuisine’, for a late lunch on Tuesday, as they were fully booked for dinner.

Our set menu included three courses:

Starter/first course: Composto da un misto di tortelli di zucca e tagliatelle alla bolognese (A combination plate of pumpkin tortellini and tagliatelle alla bolognese)
Main course: Choice between (1) Giambonetto di vitella con purea (slow-cooked veal with mashed potatoes) or (2) Il brasato di manzo con purea (red wine braised beef with mashed potatoes)
Dessert: Mousse di zabaione servito con lingue di gatto (eggnog mousse with ‘cat tongue’ cookies)

It’s the same menu for lunch and dinner, so we definitely got our 25 euro’s worth.  We had heard that some of the participating restaurants aren’t actually very good or worth your money, so we made sure to look around for specific recommendations from food bloggers and the like before making a final decision.  The menu sounded delicious, so I had some high expectations…and Colline Emiliane exceeded them!

The homemade pasta was amazing, though I should note that I’m partial to tortellini and pumpkin/squash fillings in particular.  I could really taste that the tagliatelle was homemade – you just can’t achieve that consistency or texture with dried pasta.  The best way I can describe it is chewy with a hint of firmness and a little stretch.  The leaf of basil with the tortellini was the perfect touch – it added a nice flavor (almost a little sweet, too) and a slightly different texture.  Simply delicious.

Tagliatelle alla bolognese and pumpkin tortellini

Pumpkin tortellini close-up

I chose the veal as my main course (veal in general is really popular in Italy).  The waiter said it’s their unique speciality – apparently you can’t find this dish anywhere else in Rome.  It’s slow-cooked in milk for hours (I can’t remember how many but it was impressive), rendering incredibly tender meat.  I don’t think any of us actually needed our knives.

Slow-cooked veal with mashed potatoes – Colline Emiliane’s specialty

It was by far the best veal dish I’ve had so far.  The only thing that would’ve made it better is if I was less full from the first course.  Alas.

Last (and unfortunately least) was dessert – an eggnog mousse with cat tongue cookies. I’ve tried eggnog maybe once, and I don’t remember my impression of it.  This dessert just didn’t suit my palate, though it did grow on me.  It had a wonderfully light and creamy texture, which I loved, but the combination of the egg, lemon, and strong alcoholic (maybe white wine?) flavors ruined it for me.  I really wanted to like it.  On the other hand, the cookies were great!  Crispy and buttery goodness.

Eggnog mousse and ‘cat tongue’ cookies

That wraps up my Rome Restaurant Week adventure!  I guess I need to take part in Chicago’s next year…

Colline Emiliane: Via degli Avignonesi 22, 00187 Rome