Monday, April 13, 2009

My Favorite Meal in Rome

My favorite meal in Rome was dinner at Ristorante Maccheroni. My wife found this place off a list of best restaurants in Rome voted on by Romans. This place was one of the eateries at the top of the list. Because we read that this place is usually full for the late meal service, the normal time that Italians have supper, we decided to just walk in as they open their doors. Entering the restaurant, we saw the cooks busy preparing for another evening's service within the glass-enclosed kitchen. The interior dining area was styled like an extension of the kitchen with white tiled walls and shelves full of wine bottles. Though cramped and loud, the place felt very homey. We felt almost as if we had been invited into the home of an Italian family. But by a stroke of luck, we got a table outside, where the tables were more spread out. The weather was perfect, street performers were serenading, and the indistinct conversations drifted through the air.

If you didn't already know, the Italians love their dinners. From what I've read and observed, dinners seem to be a nightly celebration where tables of diners will sit over a meal for hours, going well into the night. This was evident when we approached the host who apologetically told us that though there were tables available, we only had about 2 hours to dine. This was such a stark contrast to in the U.S. where we're expected to eat within about an hour and move on so the restaurant can turn more tables. Also, I was worried the two-hour time limit might indicate slow, unfriendly service. This was far from the case. Our exuberant waiter was very friendly and courteous. He spoke much more English than I would have expected and was patient enough to allow me the opportunity to practice my severely limited Italian. The food came out within a reasonable amount of time for us to eat and enjoy. And the most amazing thing was that we never felt rushed at all. Even after we finished our food and desserts, the check did not come until requested. The waiter periodically stopped by to make sure we had enough to drink. With this type of dining experience, the food could have been mediocre and I would still return. Speaking of which, let's get to the food.

Mozzarella e Bottarga
We got one our favorite appetizers, mozzarella di bufala, i.e., buffalo mozzarella. I fell in love with the creamy, stringy cheese during our first trip to Italy 5 years earlier. However, this place put a little twist on the dish. They topped the already awesome cheese with dried fish roe. Because it was dried, the roe packed the concentrated flavor and saltiness of the sea. This combined with the subtle, creamy cheese and bitter arugula made for an unforgettable combination. This was hands-down my favorite appetizer from our trip. If you're a fan of cheese and fish roe, as I am, this is a must when you're in Rome.

Truffle Fettuccine
For my wife's pasta dish, she ordered their truffle fettuccine. The pasta was tossed in the rich creamy Alfredo-like sauce made with real grated truffles. The flavor was superb. I've had truffle oil before but this dish helped me understand why truffles are so valued. Though the sauce was creamy, the pasta wasn't swimming in it, which made the dish much more enjoyable than what we're used to in the U.S.

For my pasta dish, I ordered maccheroni, their namesake. Again, the pasta was lightly tossed in fresh sauce with the taste of mama's love and topped with freshly grated cheese.

Spicy Meatballs
For our meat dish, we requested an order of their spicy meatballs. These morsels of meat tasted as if they were freshly ground and rolled by hand. They were tender, full of spices and herbs, and fell apart in the mouth. The sauce was light and not overly salted. The fresh arugula and tomatoes balanced out the rich meatiness of the balls.

Vin Santo
For dessert, we both shared a vin santo. This orange-flavored liqueur was served with pieces of sweet, crunchy biscotti. The biscotti are dipped into the liqueur so that it absorbs the orange-flavored alcohol. OMG, after this I'm not sure if I can go back to cookies and milk. This adult version of cookies and milk keep the belly warm and the laughter free-flowing.

Knowing our breaking point, we planned ahead and both shared an antipasto (appetizer), secondo (meat dish), and dolci (dessert) with each having our own primi (pasta). But looking around, there were Italian women half my size that consumed their own 4-course meal, easily putting me to shame. I felt like such a wuss complaining about how I over-ate.

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