Tag Archives: Italy

Dining Out in Rome with Author Roland Merullo #weekendcooking @BethFishReads

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I wrote briefly about Taking the Kids to Italy by Roland Merullo in my list of memoirs about traveling with family members, but I didn’t mention the author’s love of Italian food. He spends most of this family trip (so problematic that it’s funny, at least in retrospect) hoping for either a memorable Italian meal or a decent golf course — or, preferably, both  — but mostly finds only bad luck and disaster.

You feel bad for the family while reading about this ill-fated escape from the New England winter of 2003, but the author assures readers at the start that this trip with his wife, two young daughters, and his (sainted) mother was followed by a later trip to Italy (when the girls were a little older) that turned out great.

They travel to various spots in Italy — all much colder than they expected them to be — but eventually drive into Rome, where they take their youngest daughter, who can’t keep any food down, to be seen by a pediatrician. After a long day at the hospital, they head to a restaurant the author and his wife remember fondly from an earlier trip.

“To comfort ourselves after what might be described as a moderately successful day, we decide we will have a meal in one of our favorite Roman restaurants, a place mentioned in passing here already a couple of times. This place (which no longer exists) is called Il Sardo al Angolo in Trastevere, and specializes in Sardinian food.”

When they get to the restaurant, the waiter recognizes them right away, although it’s been two years since their last visit.

“We step through the door and see Angelo, the diminutive, mustachioed, white-haired waiter at Il Sardo who recognizes us immediately though he’s no doubt served a thousand or ten thousand customers since the last time we saw him. Angelo stands close by the table and chats for a while, moustache drooping, eyes sparkling, short thick fingers gently pinching Alexandra’s cheeks and resting on Amanda’s shoulder. ‘The little one is feeling not so good,’ he says, touching the side of Juliana’s arm. ‘Not so very good.'”

As is his style, Angelo takes our order without writing anything down, then brings us the wonderful unleavened Sardinian bread and clean-tasting white wine we’d had here on more than one occasion during our Rome visit. In a few minutes my mother is served a lasagna she describes as, “soft as silk. Delicious. The best yet.” I have a succulent roast piglet and a salad. Amanda goes with the eggplant parmesan. Alexandra likes the pasta. For the girl who is feeling not so good, the kind people at Il Sardo cook up a dish of plain rice (senza niente ‘without nothing’ is the way you say it in Italian) but Juliana sits in a sorrowful curl in her mother’s lap, refusing all food and drink.”

“Food heals. Nowhere is that true more than in Italy. I keep hoping to see Juliana accept one spoonful of rice, but she is buried in her illness, walled off from us. Still, the meal makes us hopeful — she’s taking medicine now. It’s a stomach flu. Whoever heard of a stomach flu lasting longer than a few days?”

Daughter Juliana gets better, but the author catches the flu, and the trip goes on…

On our own trip to Rome in October, my husband and I had two of our most memorable meals at Sapori Sardi, a small restaurant near our hotel that specialized in Sardinian cuisine, and the bread they served to us was incredibly good. It’s flat, thin, crispy, and seasoned with rosemary and salt and drizzled with olive oil — the first time we had it, we broke off a piece to taste it and quickly devoured the whole basket while it was still hot, even though we had been told that Italians don’t eat bread that’s brought at the beginning of the meal until the end.

I can’t find a photo of the flatbread  — pane carasau or “sheet music bread” in Italian — at Sapori Sardi, but I found one on Trip Advisor here.

We returned to this neighborhood restaurant for our final meal in Italy after a long day of sightseeing. Here are some photos from Sarpori Sardi:

Me with my first course and that "Have you taken the picture yet?" look on my face.
Me with my first course and that “Have you taken the picture yet?” look on my face.


Second course -- "Secondi"
Second course — “Secondi”
Dessert! I think I ordered panna cotta.
Dessert! I think I ordered panna cotta.
Steve had the tiramisu.
Steve had the tiramisu.
Choose your own digestif...
Choose your own digestif…limoncello or amari.

I read Taking the Kids to Italy after we returned from our trip to Rome — which is probably a good thing — but I like to think now that our own friendly waiter at Sapori Sardi, just around the corner from the Hotel Veneto, could have been the Merullo family’s angelic Angelo, or a relative, at a new restaurant in a different Roman neighborhood.

Taking the Kids to Italy: A Memoir
Merullo, Roland
PFP Publishing, 2013
$13.83, US

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First Book of 2016 with Sheila @bookjourney & Karen @BookerTalk #readinto16

First Book of 2016 badge from Sheila at Book JourneyI didn’t get many books for Christmas, but got a nice stack of them for my birthday in October.

Elena Ferrante books

I read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante on the flight back from Rome in October, and loved it, so it was great to know I could go right on and read all of the others in the quartet. Which, of course, I didn’t do – in either November or December.

So Book #2 in the Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante, The Story of a New Name, is my official First Book of 2016.

me "reading" The Story of a New Name and holding an espresso
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante is set in Naples, so an Italian espresso is a suitable accompaniment.

Click here to see Sheila at Book Journey’s photo collage and check out what others are reading for their First Book of 2016.

If you have read My Brilliant Friend or other books by Elena Ferrante, please let me know in the comments so we can gush over them together. I have owned My Brilliant Friend since buying it at the Boston Book Festival in October 2014 on the recommendation of Claire Messud in a panel discussion, but took a year to start it.

And even if it’s not Elena Ferrante, tell me what you’re reading or planning to read in 2016!

This post is also linked up to Karen at BookerTalk’s Reading Into 2016 blog event, another collection of First Book of the Year posts.

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Less Is More: Rome’s Coffee Culture @BethFishReads #weekendcooking

Putting in a full work week after our big anniversary trip to Rome has brought it home to me that I’m not actually an Italian woman with the means to eat out all the time and the leisure to walk off multiple two- and three-course meals every day.

But, while returning home has meant less food at mealtimes, it also means more coffee!

stack of four books by Elena Ferrante and coffee in a mugMy cheap souvenir coffee mug from Rome and my great birthday gift from my husband. He didn’t realize I read My Brilliant Friend on the plane ride back, but now I don’t have to buy the other three!

Since we wanted to have a relaxing vacation, we decided to stay in one spot instead of traveling around. Of course, Rome has such a huge amount of art and historical and religious sites (and the Pope!) as well as numerous romantic spots (not to mention food! and wine!) that it’s already an appealing tourist destination, but something else that attracted me to the idea of Rome was hearing that it had a “coffee culture”.

So Romans are serious about their coffee? I pictured sipping brews from different coffee bean blends in the mornings at the counters of coffee “bars” all over the city, and sampling local wines with dinner (and lunch, as it turned out). What could be better?

Here’s where the importance of doing your research in advance comes in.  I did know that in Rome, caffè means espresso. Strong, black coffee — that’s great, just the way I like it. I even knew that espresso cups are very small compared to American coffee cup sizes, but we two caffeine-dependent travelers discovered to our dismay that you don’t even get those tiny little cups filled when you order “due caffè” (two coffees). Two sips and you’re done!

espresso in cup with a cannolo in backgroundTeensy-tiny espresso with a great big cannolo in the background! This is a tourist concession, too, because espresso is supposed to come after the meal, not with dessert.

Amusingly, we finally realized we needed to learn how to order two “double espressos” so in the second half of our vacation, when we had finished our (large) lunch at a restaurant near the Vatican, my husband valiantly asked for due caffè doppio, and we thought we were all set. But the waiter stumped us by asking in his halting English if we wanted it in a “bigger cup or regular cup”.

Since there was PLENTY of room left in the regular espresso cup for twice the amount of espresso, we said “regular cup”. To our dismay, we received two cups with the same amount of espresso in each as usual, just double-strength! Oh, well, I guess it gave us the extra boost we were looking for for our afternoon at the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s!

Mouse over these photos from the Vatican and Vatican Museums to enlarge them or to read my riveting captions:

Eating Rome by Elizabeth Minchilli (see my last Weekend Cooking post) has a whole chapter on how to drink coffee in Rome and there are also many blog post with better pictures and full explanations and even a Kindle e-book on the subject, so I’m not going to go into detail here, except to say that we didn’t want to cave while we were there and start ordering “caffè Americano” all the time, although we did drink it greedily each morning from the “American-style” buffet breakfast buffet at our hotel each morning. (The big urn labeled “coffee” was espresso with boiling water added to fill up the urn.  Et voila! Caffè Americano!)

The Hotel Veneto Palace streetOur home away from home, the Hotel Veneto Palace on Via Piemonte

I knew from reading Eating Rome that the usual Roman breakfast is at most a croissant with your espresso, but the hotel provided a wide range of tourist-pleasing breakfast foods from granola and yogurt to scrambled eggs. We appreciated the effort to cater to American tourists, but I was usually still full from the previous night’s dinner which would start at the earliest at 8 p.m. and go to 11 p.m., so it wasn’t hard for me to have the Roman-style croissant breakfast, except, of course, for drinking multiple cups of caffè Americano instead of a single espresso. And except for the last day when I had TWO croissants – one plain and one  chocolate chip – very American!! It was also adorable and funny that – just as we Americans got things a little bit off when we tried to understand Romans and their habits – the hotel served up steamed hotdogs in place of breakfast sausage!

My adventurous husband was disappointed in me for shying away from trying to experience actual Roman coffee culture by going into the small, dark coffee bars crammed with locals who would be annoyed by tourists coming in and drinking coffee at their counter and trying to act like we knew what we were doing with our extremely minimal Italian! Each time we passed one, he’d suggest going in and I’d chicken out and say no, it was too crowded, or too seedy-looking, or not authentic, etc.

And so we’d end up at a sidewalk cafe once again, with all the other tourists!

But, hey, we WERE tourists, after all, however much we tried to fit in.


For more on drinking coffee in Italy:

How to Drink Espresso Like an Italian
How to Order an Italian Coffee in Italy
How to Order Coffee in Italy

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking badgeLinked to Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click/tap image for Weekend Cooking posts from other bloggers.