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.

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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)

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.

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!