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.

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

C’est Les Soldes!

It’s Sale Time in Paris!

Yesterday, January 9th, marked the beginning of the semiannual Paris sales (“les soldes”).  The next six weeks (until February 12th) are the winter sales, and the second (and last) round of the year will take place during the summer season.

If you’re reading this in the States, you may be a little confused — I certainly was last week, when people started mentioning the upcoming “sales”.  Eventually, my friendly next-door neighbor in the dorm cleared things up.  As she explained, sales in France are nothing like sales in the U.S.  While stores in America run promotions year-round (constantly, it seems) and almost always have reduced-priced items in designated areas, this is not the case in Paris.  Here, sales are government-regulated, and thus they run at specific times of the year (usually winter and summer).  The sales in Paris last for about six weeks and are meant to clear out seasonal apparel and other items.  I somewhat luckily (somewhat because it’s certainly not lucky for my wallet) happen to be in town for one of them.

They (the internet) say the Paris sales can be pretty crazy…  And it’s no wonder, because items can be marked down by up to 80% by the end of the sale period.  This means you can’t get anywhere without seeing a “SOLDES” or “SOLDISSIMES” sign in a shop window or on a metro billboard.  After all, it’s not just clothing establishments that run promotions – electronics stores, Target-esque retailers, and jewelry shops partake as well.

Sign advertising the sales (from http://www.galerieslafayette.com/)

Sign advertising the sales (from http://www.galerieslafayette.com/)

As I now know, you really should develop some sort of shopping strategy before heading out into the frenzy…  At least make a list of what you are looking for to avoid being seduced by the 50% off tags and fashionable overcoats.  I avoided any impulsive buying yesterday by keeping my wallet shut and browsing the racks for some fashion inspiration amid the masses (of Parisians and tourists alike – and let me just say, the well-dressed Parisians provided just as much inspiration as the clothing on sale).  My visit to Galleries Lafayette, a huge French department store, ended up being quite the cultural experience — I’m sure I’ll head back in the near future for some real shopping!

The amazing color-changing ceiling of Galeries Lafayette

The amazing color-changing ceiling of Galeries Lafayette

Ground floor of Galeries Lafayette

Ground floor of Galeries Lafayette

Looking down from the second floor of Galeries Lafayette

Looking down from the second floor of Galeries Lafayette

On our way out of Galeries Lafayette, my friends and I stopped at a macaron display within the department store.  It happened to be Pierre Hermé, a well-known macaron store/brand.

Pierre Hermé macarons

Pierre Hermé macarons

Of course, I couldn’t resist, so I bought two – Truffe Blanche & Noisette (white truffle and hazelnut) and Noisette (plain hazelnut).

Truffe Blanche & Noisette (L) and Noisette

Truffe Blanche & Noisette (L) and Noisette

White truffle and hazelnut macaron (see the little hazelnut pieces inside?)

White truffle and hazelnut macaron (see the little hazelnut pieces inside?)

They were both incredibly good – nothing like macarons in the U.S. (and much better than even the fancy ones from ‘lette).  The white truffle and hazelnut one was particularly good because it had such an interesting flavor – earthy from the truffle and nutty and rich from the hazelnut.  There was a generous amount of light cream inside, and the cookie portions were melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  Macarons from Ladurée are next on my list!

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)

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

Mie Cose Preferite… (My Favorite Things)

We just learned how to say “favorite” in Italian class the other day, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to my favorite things.  Accordingly, it will be all about food (with photos!).

It’s taken me quite a while to start to blogging again, mainly because I’ve had a ton of reading to do… Sorry!  In happier news, I’m done with my first course of the quarter, which covered the history of Ancient Rome.  I literally turned in the final paper a few hours ago (yay!).  The second course started yesterday, and it will cover Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, aka the Christianization of Rome.  Should be interesting!

I’ll try to blog more often, and will be back-dating posts about the past three weeks once I get around to writing them…  Keep an eye out for the one about my trip to Croatia!

So, back to food…

My roommate and I have been cooking a lot since we arrived because it’s a pain (and expensive) to go out to eat all the time, and more importantly because we love to cook.  We’ve made some really great dinners so far, and we’re making an effort to learn how to make some authentic Italian dishes.  We live with our program’s Italian Student Companion (ISC), who is awesome and has taught us some of her tricks and favorite recipes!  She made the entire apartment an authentic carbonara a couple of weeks ago and prepared a tomato sauce from scratch the other night…both were delicious!  I’m starting to catch on, and I think I’ve mastered pasta al dente.  (According to our ISC, the trick is to make the pasta at the same time as the sauce/veggies, rather than cooking the pasta first and letting it sit in the strainer, where it cooks more, hardens, and gets cold.  Using the pasta right after it’s done cooking is the best way to preserve the al dente consistency!)

Pasta with sautéed peppers, onions, and zucchini

Farfalle with sausage, peppers, and onions and a side of sweet lemon carrots

Broccoflower! saw it at the supermarket, had to try it

An Italian version of ratatouille, which our ISC taught us how to make (potatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, and eggplant topped with a few pine nuts)

Braised lemon chicken, made by my roommate! (And served with a side of rosemary potatoes)

My favorite of our cooked meals so far is the braised chicken – I think my roommate was a chef in her past life (no recipe, just instinct!).  Anyway, moving on… out of the kitchen, that is.

We obviously eat lots of pizza here, and it’s SO GOOD.  I’m not even going to try to put it into words…

My first pizza in Rome (and my favorite so far!) – an amazing white pizza in Trastevere (just off of Piazza Trilussa), topped with pesto, potatoes, and sausage.

Me and my roommate in Naples with our Neopolitan pizzas! Mine had mushrooms, artichokes, basil, and mozzarella, and hers was folded over, filled with ricotta, and topped with mozzarella. Cheesy goodness.

My roommate’s rosemary and olive oil “pizza” in Ancona, Italy – sauceless and kind of like a really crunchy flatbread. Not exactly filling, but delicious nonetheless!

Ancona’s version of the “Hawaiian” pizza (no meat, just pineapple) – another one of my favorites

Which brings us to gelato.  The only thing I can say is that it’s so much better than ice cream!  There are some good gelaterias in LA, but it’s nothing like getting gelato in Italy.  They’re on every corner, which is all too tempting.  I’m on a search to find the best pistachio…

Pistachio and bacio (chocolate and hazelnut combined)

A gelateria in Cumae with flavors I’d never seen before! Apparently the rule is, if there’s a gelato flavor you’ve never seen before, it has no calories the first time you try it ;) It’s a dangerous concept, I know.

Limoncello gelato – “no calories”

Italian McDonalds has gelato McFlurries… (awfully tempting, but I don’t eat McDonalds)

More desserts…

A chocolate bar in Trastevere..!

“Mozart cake” – a pistachio flavored cake that’s common across Europe. This was came from a little dessert shop in Split, Croatia (more on that trip coming soon!)

Indulging in a cannoli before hopping on a train to Ancona

Ciobar. Italy does hot chocolate best. (Although it’s really more like pudding)

And coffee!  A morning cappuccino is my new best friend.

A cappuccino from the cafe just down the street from IES, where I have class.

Stay tuned for more about my adventures in Italy and beyond!

Street Food, Seoul Style

1 am in Sinchon.

Hungry at 2 in the morning?  No problem.

Whether you’re craving something fried, spicy, or neither, Korean street vendors have something delicious to offer you.  These movable food stations, known as 포장마차 (pojangmacha), are a night-owl’s best friend.  They offer a variety of street foods — ranging from ddukbokki to mandu to teriyaki skewers to waffle desserts.  Most are open through the afternoon and evening and often into the wee hours of the morning (on the weekend, which starts on Thursday), though of course it depends on the vendor.

My personal favorite in Sinchon is “the waffle man,” as a few of us at Yonsei refer to him.  Though he left us hanging during a few weeks of July/August (he claims it was too hot to be out), he’s now back for good until the winter.  His stand’s specialty is the waffle cream/ice cream sandwich, and it’s right up there with patbingsoo in my book.  (His waffle desserts, specifically.  Other stands just aren’t the same…)  My favorite flavor so far is the sweet potato (goguma) cream, though the walnut and chocolate ice cream flavors are also good.

Waffle ice cream sandwich – walnut, chocolate, blueberry (bottom to top)

I’ll certainly miss seeing these around when I’m back in the States.