Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in "Double Indemnity" (1944)
Very Important Announcement!
ROME'S BEST: FROM ABBACCHIO TO ZABAGLIONE
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: LA SILHOUETTE
by John Mariani
MAN ABOUT TOWN: KOMALI
by Christopher Mariani
WINE: MERLOT SHINES UNDER NORTHSTAR
by Brian A. Freedman
GOOD NEWS! Esquire.com now has a new food section called "Eat Like a Man," which will be
featuring restaurant articles by John Mariani and others from around the USA.
THIS WEEK: What's the Real Value of the
“A” IS FOR ABBACCHIO AND
“Z’ IS FOR ZABAGLIONE
By John Mariani
Alberto Sordi in "Un Americano in Roma" (1954)
Rome, like every European capital now, is no bargain, and you can eat plenty high of the porchetta there. But that doesn't mean you'll eat as well as you can if you spend less money. The best food in Italy, with a few stellar exceptions like Dal Pescatore in Cuneto sull'Oglio and La Pergola in Rome, is still at the more moderate ristoranti and trattorias, some very small. Then again, Rome is a vast metropolis where you can find excellent wine bars, pizzerias, gelaterias, and much else without busting open the budget.
Of course, Italians like nothing more than to dismiss the gastronomy of Rome as too excessive, too rich, and too expensive. Of course, Italians in every city say similar things about every other city too, but when it comes to Rome, I think the rest of Italy is just plain jealous. In fact, Rome has a much deeper, broader gastronomy than any other Italian city. Indeed, the old adage that all roads lead to Rome might describe the infusion of meats, seafood, and vegetables that pour into the city night and day. Rome has a wide-ranging indigenous cuisine that includes beloved dishes like abbacchio (baby lamb with mint) coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtail), carciofi alla giudea (fried baby artichokes) trippa alla romana (stewed tripe), spaghetti alla carbonara (with eggs and bacon) and cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino cheese and black pepper), while happily welcoming other regional specialties to its belly, so that you can get first-rate Sicilian, Tuscan, and Abruzzese cooking in the city’s restaurants.
I will admit that the wines of Rome’s region of Latium are only beginning to distinguish themselves, despite 26 D.O.C. appellations—few of which you will ever run across in the city’s enotecas. That failing aside, Rome has the best of everything. Here’s where to find it.
Prices reflect an average three-course dinner for two, without wine, but including tax and service.
La Matricianella (3 Via dell Leone; 06-683-2100; $100), not far from the Spanish Steps, looks pretty typical of a thousand other trattorias--wood beamed ceilings, blue-checked tablecloths--but the clientele here is resolutely Roman and quite fashionable. They've been coming since 1957 for always consistent renditions of fritto misto, a mix of seafood fried to a golden crispiness and served on brown paper), bucatini alla amatriciana (with tomato, bacon, and chile peppers; abbacchio al forno, the local milk-fed baby lamb raised sprinkled with rosemary and mint; and involtini di zucchini, plump, juicy morsels of eggplant in a bath of creamy tomato sauce. If the weather is good, they park their Vespas next to the restaurant door and vie for an outdoor table. The 100-page list includes four on the wines of Latium.
MODERN ROMAN COOKING
You might well book a table at La Terrazza dell’Eden (Hotel Eden, Via Ludovisi 49; 06-478 121; $150) simply for its beautiful view of Rome from the sixth floor of the Hotel Eden near the Spanish Steps and Via Veneto. But in fact this is one of the finest restaurants in Rome and understandably booked just about every lunch and dinner. The room itself is subdued in color and décor, but the excitement is on the plate, with Brescia-born chef Adriano Cavagnigni showing a delicate balance of the old and the new in the same dish. Thus, you might begin with zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta and taleggio cheese, black olives and cherry tomatoes, or a risotto with fresh figs and Falerno red wine and ewe's cheese; gnocchi are packed with carrot and ginger, with king prawns; then for a main course indulge in a red mullet with Mediterranean spice crust and seaweed tartare.
BEST PEOPLE WATCHING
A few blocks from the teeming Spanish Steps, Ciampini is a chic corner café on the beautifully restored triangular Piazza San Lorenzo, with lots of marble and shining brass inside. Sit under its umbrella-shaded tables and watch the Romans sashay—and they do sashay by---without, as yet, too much of an intrusion of the touristi who haven’t yet discovered this charming spot. The natives walk arm in arm, they dress well, they sit down for a pastry and espresso, and let time go by as it always does.
BEST FETTUCCINE ALL’ALFREDO
Where else but at Alfredo’s on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore (06-687-8734; $120). Although not on the original premises, Alfredo’s is still run by the De Lelio family whose paterfamilias, Alfredo, created the luscious egg noodle-butter-and Parmigiano (no cream!) dish in 1914 to bring back his wife’s post-natal appetite. It will surely stir yours. The restaurant has a fine art deco cast, and the photos of movie stars and other celebrities who have dined here is astonishing, including Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford who in 1927, while on their honeymoon in Rome, gave them inscribed golden fork and spoons—Alfredo’s uses copies to this day. Since it's become a ritual for celebrities, like Jimmy Stewart to the right, to have their photo taken eating fettuccine. (Another restaurant, on the original’s pre-war premises on the Via della Scrofa, of the same name is not related.)
Not far from the Vatican and across from the Parco Adriano, L’Arcangelo (59/61 Via Giuseppe Giocchino Belli; 06-321-0992; $110) is an unpretentious, glowingly lighted ristorante. Local critics have sung the high praises of Stefania and Arcangelo Dandini’s cooking and wine service. The food is described as “updated Roman tradition,” meaning tender traditional gnocchi potato dumplings with dried tomatoes, the ubiquitous mint, and the novel idea of adding salt cod; a lavish platter of cured meats from the master salami artisan Fulvio Pierangelini; fat tortelloni pasta is stuffed with shredded lamb and cheese in a rich, golden chicken broth; and rare breast of duck is glazed with honey and dried figs cut with a red wine sauce. The 300-label wine list is carefully chosen to enhance the kitchen’s lusty cooking.
Baby artichokes fried crisp in olive oil (right) was a dish made famous in Rome’s former Jewish ghetto (enclosed in 1556 and dismantled as of 1870; visit the Jewish museum within the nearby Synogogue) near the Tiber, and the dish thus called carciofi alla giudea. One of the best versions—they crunch in the mouth with one bite--is at Da Giggetto (Via del Portico d'Ottavia, 21a; 06-686-1105; $110), which serves more than 500 a day. Their stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms, oozing ricotta, are also wonderful, and there’s a full menu of course.
Il Gelato di San Crispino (42 Via della Pantelleria; 06-67-93-924; two other locations), Near the Trevi Fountain (and other locations) has a relatively small selection of very rich, satin-textured ice creams, but they come in very unusual flavors like Armagnac cream with lemon sorbetto; chestnut with Rhum Clement; hazelnuts and figs with chocolate and rum, and honey laced with whiskey, along with the more usual vanilla, chocolate, fruit gelati and sorbetti. A small coppa goes a long way.
It doesn’t look like much but Sant’Eustachio (Piazza Sant'Eustachio 82; 06-6880-2048; near the Pantheon, is always packed and noisy withe the sound of its ancient espresso machines. They do a rich, secret “speziale” brew considered the finest caffè in a city obsessed with their espresso and cappuccino. The “Gran Cappuccino" is a masterpiece here, a snowy, creamy, and wholly complex cup of coffee—drunk only at breakfast time by Romans. Do not order it outside at a table: It will cost three times as much as inside at the counter.
Imàgo, the rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Hassler (6 Piazza Trinita del Monti; 06-699-34-726; $160), is set atop the glorious Spanish Steps and overlooks the entire city, from the Borghese Gardens to St. Peter’s and beyond. Everyone from John and Jackie Kennedy to Princess Di have dined at this aerie, and now, just renovated as Imàgo, with white marble floors inlaid with wood and mirrored tables, the food, under Chef Francesco Arpeda, is superbly modern without losing its Roman roots, with dishes like crabmeat ravioli in a parsnip-saffron sauce.
BEST WINE SHOP
You are unlikely to find Latium wines like Atina, Circeo, Genazzano, and Zagarolo in Rome unless you visit a comprehensive wine shop like the city’s oldest, Enoteca Bulzoni, (34/36 Viale Parioli; 06-807-7660) dating to the 1930s and stocking 2,500 regional Italian and other wines.
WHERE CAN I LEARN ABOUT ITALIAN WINE?
La Rosetta (8/9 Via della Rosetta; 06-686-1002. $140) ;is perpetually packed with a sophisticated, well-dressed Roman clientele, yet it is not in the least stuffy. The premises date back to 1763 as a “Grande Ristorante Rosticceria” but in 1965 Carmelo Riccioli and photographer Romana Colella turned it into Rome’s best seafood restaurant. Everybody orders the tempura-crisp fried octopus sprinkled with mint. Then consider spaghetti with true scampi--prawns, not shrimp--or linguine con astice, with sweet Mediterranean lobster. Grilling of whole fish is expertly done here, and desserts are made on premises--always a given in Rome. The bill can mount high for whole fish like turbot and langoustines here!
362 West 53rd Street
Clearly owing to the sheer number of restaurants opening year-round in NYC, my missing some gems is inevitable. In a sense, missing the opening of La Silhouette, Sally Chironis and Tito Rahman's two-level French restaurant in Hell's Kitchen turned out for the best. For while I have no idea what the food tasted like when the restaurant opened in January, what I tasted from the kitchen of new chef Matthew Tropeano makes me regret nothing. I know Tropeano's work from his tenure as chef at La Grenouille, the staunchly classic French restaurant on the east side, where the menu rarely changed at all from year to year, and, while delivered with consistent finesse, gave Tropeano very little leeway or ability to express his own creativity. Now, at La Silhouette, he can and does, while maintaining an admirable link to all that is good and precise about French cuisine.
Chironis and Rahman (left), whom I knew when they were at Le Bernardin, have fashioned a charming series of rooms, carved from a former garage, with the downstairs (above) the principal dining venue, done with vivid red and white stripes, very comfortable banquettes, and pop art-like brown patterned carpets. The place is beautifully lighted and buoyant, with no discernible house music to disturb conversation. Prices are on a par with many fine West Side restaurants but considerably below so many French restaurants where you begin at $100 per person. La Silhouette has a $48 pre-theater menu ($65 with wine) and a $19 brunch. Otherwise appetizers run $12-$28 (that last for fresh foie gras) and main courses $29-$39--significantly below what you'd pay for an unadorned steak at nearby beef emporiums.
They take cocktails very seriously, and the wine list, culled by Mr. Rahman--who will insist you call him Tito--is a very good balance of unusual selections and familiar bottlings in every price range. Most of the whites are under $50, and plenty of good reds under $60.
There are predictable menus, outlandish menus, and then wholly sensible menus of a kind where you really do want to try everything on them. La Silhouette's is of this last kind, nicely balanced so that the kitchen can deliver on every dish every time, and Tropeano (left) weaves his ideas into dishes that read as irresistible. One of the specialties here sounds simple but it is a small masterpiece of flavors and textures--poached farm egg (where else would eggs come from?) with asparagus, oyster mushrooms and a truffle vinaigrette. Foie gras is seared on the griddle quickly to keep its interior soft but not runny, served with caramelized peaches that are the best of the season, and the crunch of toasted almonds.
A hefty lamb chop comes with gnocchi Provençal and ragù, while snowy white halibut (right) is poached gently in olive oil, with a crispy shallot crust, succotash and piquillo peppers. Lentils du puy accompany sweet sea scallops with a julienne of vegetables and lovely saffron-mussel broth. Spiced cherries are happily added to a dish of pink duck breast with Swiss chard and quinoa.
For dessert you might go with the artisinal cheeses, but at this time of year it's tough not to order a warm apricot tart with crème fraîche-basil; ice cream, or a flourless chocolate cake with strawberry sorbet and berries.
Little on Tropeano's menu would scare off even the most conservative interloper from La Grenouille, but for everyone who visits everything here is fresh, bright, vivid and delicious. And both Tito and Sally Chironis could not be happier than to have you as guest.
Silhouette is open nightly, with brunch on Sat. &
MAN ABOUT TOWN
by Christopher Mariani
a recent trip to Texas I had the opportunity to stop
by and dine at chef Abraham Salum’s Komali restaurant
in Uptown Dallas. I was a bit blasé about it
when I heard Komali was a Mexican restaurant because
although the city is known for its excellent Mexican
cuisine, it is also known for plenty of dull Tex-Mex
eateries. However, Salum stated, when opening
Komali, “I want the antithesis of Tex-Mex. Look for
regional cuisine from Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Veracruz.”
I wasn’t too worried.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Merlot Shines under Northstar
By Brian A. Freedman
For consumers who still
inexplicably adhere to the "Sideways" school of
thought--Merlot is universally bad, Pinot is
universally good, and the wine world is easily divvied
up into clean-lined categorical imperatives--the Walla
Walla Valley and neighboring AVAs of Washington State
offer a delicious refutation. They are, I’ve grown
convinced, home to some of the best Merlots this
country produces, and with its passionate, dedicated
supply of winemakers and vineyard owners, they only
promise to get better.
erupts in a riot of barnyard noises with every
scraggly gaggle of chickens we pass. The boys,
innocents of 5 and 3, are so excited to see actual
real live chickens here on the quiet side of Grand Cayman
you’d think they were watching leopards attack baboons
in Zambia. It’s a symptom of the suburban captivity in
which they are being raised and, therefore, nobody’s
fault but my own, but the incessant bwok-bwok-bwoking
is driving me nuts."--Dave Herndon, "Creature
Comforts: The Ultimate Cayman Island Family Vacation," Caribbean
Travel and Life .
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