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:
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
PFP Publishing, 2013
Happy Weekend Cooking!