Review: Alabaster

4 February 2017

Slept in a bit after that nice evening spent partly at Rafa. Needed to catch up on rest, and I managed that pretty well. I headed out into a drizzly Madrid early afternoon and enjoyed some excellent jamón at the much-beloved jamón shop Joselito’s. Then some nice chorizo and cuttlefish at El Parador del Jamón.

The weather turned more foul so after a bit more wandering this Saturday afternoon I went back for a siesta…why not, eh? I also had to pack for tomorrow’s return back to North America. Then I headed out to dinner to tonight’s dinner destination, Alabaster.

A long walk in the ugly weather, and I was a little early. I really can’t stand this late dining time in Spain…throws me off so badly. Had a glass of sherry as I waited for them to fully open. I chilled out in the meantime, and in a few minutes I was seated.

As I finished my glass, I decided to go for a bottle — especially as the prices were very reasonable. I also ordered and relaxed, enjoying my excellent rioja through the evening. Soon they brought out a snack, and I smiled…

cod-skin-snack

Fried cod skin…mmm, this is pretty good, almost addictive. I was nibbling at it still when the first dish arrived, navajas.

01-navajas

I love razor clams to death, and it really didn’t need all the bells and whistles here. Beautiful plating, but I almost wish they were unadulterated. But these were good, adding salt and acid to the overall flavour. A nice start.

Only minor hiccup…in fact, the only service hiccup all night — they wanted to remove the cod skins and I stopped them. I told you they were addictive!

Enjoyed more wine and the service again was fantastic, they did a great job making sure my water was good — something so many restaurants this trip failed miserably (read: Aroma in Rome). Then the main course arrived, John Dory.

02a-dory

Well, it’s listed both as San Pedro (in Castillian) and Sanmartiño (in Galician) — not sure why the saints are different tho in the 2 related languages. In any case, one of my favourite fish, lovely flavours. The fideuá bed was actually stunningly good — I could have eaten a pot of it! Excellent dish!

After finishing that nice dish I was in a quandry, since I had more wine and had more room in my stomach… BTW as a side note, despite the eating on this trip, I actually lost several kilo over these 2 weeks… But I ended up ordering another main, which was not a surprise for my server. I smiled.

I relaxed with more wine and just chilled, a little sad that this is the last night before crossing back over the Atlantic. And it didn’t take too long before the second main arrived, salmonete

03-salmonette

A really nice red mullet here, lovely flavours. The fried spine was a nice touch, but the risotto was just dreamy, full of flavour and accentuated by shellfish. Again, I could have eaten an entire pot of this! I gotta say this kitchen is lovely at doing these items! In fact, this kitchen is damn impressive!

I was full, and the wine was drained. I enjoyed an aguardiente and they brought out some treats for me to fuel me on my way…

after-dinner

I thanked them, and gave them the table back before the Saturday night crowd arrived, and headed back into the foul evening for the long walk back. My goodness, it’s pouring outside and there are still kids doing botellón and shouting crazily in Retiro (they were already there when I walked over earlier). That provided some entertainment as I walked back.

Well, that was a wonderful way to close this trip… For once, a good stay in Madrid!

Alabaster
Calle de Montalbán 9
Madrid, España

Review #3: Rafa

3 February 2017

Despite what the airline told me the airport was not ready for me 2.5hrs before… In any case, no biggie. Waited and we were off on the rather short flight to Madrid. Chaotic as hell, though nowhere as out of control as my flight from Rome to Rabat. I got my banged-up bag and hopped onto a cab on a rainy Friday night in Madrid and headed to town.

Checked in and dropped my bag and ran across the street to hit some of my “usual” places on the east side of Retiro. I walked by a few and they were all packed — not surprisingly for a Friday night — but eventually I ended up at the most “usual” of places, Rafa. The dining area was still not busy yet so I talked them into a table.

I ordered a bottle of red and placed an order and chilled out…ah, good to be back. I recognised two of the servers from before. Soon a quick amuse of mussels appeared…

ab-mussels

Nothing special, but a nice little start. Then the first item arrived, something I’ve not had in years — ortiguillas.

01-ortiguillas

The tempura-ish prep was nice for the veggies, and I was most happy to not see potatoes of some sort. The anemones were nice, lovely flavours of the sea. Really enjoyed that. It’s been way too long… Great start so far!

A rare night of enjoying Madrid fully here so far! Took in more of the nice wine before the second course arrived, and I smiled…again, it’s been ages…

02-espardenas

Espardeñas, or royal (sea) cucumber, simply done in olive oil. Lovely stuff…it’s been so long it’s so nice to have these… I really prefer my sea cucumber done this way than the Chinese braised method, although different species lend to different cooking techniques. After relishing every one of them my dessert arrived…yes, as usual…

03-jamon

Those of you who know me knows this is my usual dessert, and it was certainly a nice way to round off this dinner. Certainly had my server’s approval! The place was filling up very quickly so I decided to give the table back as soon as I was done with this treat. A quick aguardiente and coffee and I thanked them and took off.

A very nice impromptu dinner, again Rafa is much recommended for excellent seafood in Madrid!

Rafa
Calle de Narváez 68
Madrid, España

PS: For some reason I stopped at La Hoja, another place I visited in the past, an Asturian bar. They had some awesome looking octopus there so I had to have some… A very nice nitecap…

Eating in Rabat Part 2: A Muddy Medina, Couscous, and More Baby Tagines…

2-3 February 2017

After another frustrating early morning not being able to figure out what to do — thanks to the nearly non-functional Wifi — I ended up heading out a little later than planned. I just wandered around the Medina and to the crazier parts of it. It is a madhouse at times, with stray cats clawing at a person cleaning fish and old ladies clawing at hucks of greying tripe that even flies don’t go near. And how many damn shoe stores do you need in one town, not to mention one small block of the Medina?

And because it had been raining, the place was a muddy mess…especially that street with all the live produce and fresh butchering…

After awhile I had about enough and sought out a much-liked restaurant near the south-east corner of the Medina called Dar Zaki. I got there just as it opened and the very friendly proprietor led me to my table. I relaxed and soon ordered. Being in the Medina, this lunch is going to be booze-free, and that’s just fine by me.

a1-kefta-briouat

I relaxed and just sipped on water for a bit before my starter arrived, the briouat stuffed with kefta. It was a little bland to be honest, but cooked well. And was hearty, so that’s fine — knowing the main was going to be tasty and big. I chilled and drank more water before it arrived, and I began drooling…

a2a-couscous

I’m usually not a great fan of couscous, partly because so many people screw up its prep. This place is well known for this dish, and it did not disappoint. The sauce (jus) was just brilliant, I wish there was more as the thirsty couscous drank it up quickly. The veggies were excellent, the veal was totally soft and delicious. An excellent dish, and good size too.

Some other diners had come in and this family-run place was starting to come alive this lunchtime. I asked for some mint tea and orange with cinnamon, and after a bit it arrived.

a3-orange-a-la-cannelle

A nice dessert for me, as it was not too sweet but added just the perfect touch to a good lunch. I thanked the proprietor and headed out. A nice lunch. Now the challenge was to fight through some busy alleys in the Medina to get back to my hotel. Got a few things to do for my departure tomorrow…

I spent part of the afternoon sorting out logistics of getting back to New York and what I need to do there during my short stay before heading home. Also needed to sort out some stuff for the short stop in Madrid coming up. Not easy with a failing wifi, but I got it done.

I wandered out early into the Medina again for dinner. It was more of a rainy mess and a lot of the dirt in the Medina had already turned into mud, which made for a total mess to be honest. But eventually I got to my dinner destination, a place people rave about online called Dar El Medina.

The dining choices in Rabat is limited, so there’s only so much you can trust research. I didn’t feel like going too far, and I seem to get the grasp of this small Medina pretty well, so this was a good choice. I chilled and ordered, having to change something that wasn’t available… Soon came the opener.

b1-salad

A simple salad. Hmmm… Nothing very special here, then the main…

b2-merguez

Huh? That’s it? No wonder it’s so dirt cheap, there’s almost nothing here. I hate empty filling potato-derived items… I was nowhere near full and the prices were dirt cheap, and they weren’t closing for another half hour, so I ordered another main. I didn’t imagine something of a similar price would be so, so different…

b3-trida-aux-poulet

Wow. Trida au poulet, and the portion was huge. Trida is a type of wheat pasta that’s eaten in the east of the country, and this was nice — although a bit baked to death near the edges. But very tasty, with plenty of chicken and veggies. But the portion nearly killed me…

I didn’t have any dessert, I just saundered back to my hotel with the rest of my water, full beyond comprehension… I was thinking of taking some wine, but nah…I’m done. I just need to get some rest. I’m exhausted from this trip. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Drained…

Another bad sleep but I didn’t care — I was ready to get out of here. I should have gone somewhere out of town yesterday like Meknes or even Casablanca, but oh well. I was ready to get out of this death-trap and managed to get my luggage to the ground floor without killing myself — though I did bang my head…

I headed out into the Medina for a final lunch and lo and behold, where I went, Dinarjat, was shut. Great. Not wanting to waste time exploring as the airline told me not to go to the airport too late, I decided to go back to Dar Rbatia — where I had my first meal in Rabat.

I relaxed in the side room and ordered, but told them I need to finish by a certain time due to my flight, so that’s that. I chilled and again, my table was graced with those cute baby tagines I didn’t manage to find for sale anywhere in the Medina for some reason…

c1a-salad

Another set of good salads, and terribly addictive. I pretty much emptied them with a good helping of bread. All this before my main arrived.

c2-seafood-pastilla

This seafood pastilla was okay, but nowhere as good as the chicken on the first day. Very big and filled with seafood and vermicelli, it was indeed filling — which is what I needed since I won’t be eating until late tonight in Madrid. I chilled a little before they brought out my dessert — and mint tea at the same time, knowing my clock issues.

c3-fruit

A rather boring fruit dessert, but still better than the sweet pastilla the other day. I finished it off and paid my bill, not waiting for the change as the main dining room was lousy with a Chinese tour group, so I got the hell out of there. Got back to my hotel and was off to the airport.

Well, Rabat, it’s been interesting…off to MAD-ness…

Dar Zaki
23 Rue Moulay Brahim

Dar El Medina
3 Rue Benjelloune

Dar Rbatia
6 Rue Farane Khachane
Rabat, Morocco

PS: Well, Royal Air Maroc told me to go 3 hours before my flight due to enhanced security. Huh? I got there 2.5 hours before and no one was ready, not even security… Rushed for no reason…

Eating in Rabat Part 1: Camel, Rosé and Baby Tagines…

31 January – 1 February 2017

I quickly adjusted to being in North Africa and if my room was not so weird and hazardous I would have given myself time to mourn the loss of someone very dear to me earlier in the day. The lunch at Antica Boheme in Rome helped, but the horrible wait and flight really put my head in a tailspin…

I needed some food, and definitely no booze.I don’t want to fall into that spiral here in Rabat this first night, and the way my room is laid out I would fall and die if I drank, so… I headed out into the Medina and really, this is one of the most orderly, brightly-lit medinas I’ve ever seen. I found easily the place I was looking for, a restaurant named Dar Rbatia.

It’s a family-run place but it sure doesn’t look like it with the fancy interior. Cozy, and a very low-flame indoor heating lamp that I happily sat away from. They only have set menus as it is a small, family-run place, so I ordered from it and relaxed with a big ol’ bottle of still water. No booze tonight… I relaxed and tried to not think too much. Then soon my series of starters arrived, and it’s a colourful display certainly.

a1-salads_edited

These baby tagines had various salads in them, from eggplant and pepper to chickpeas, as well as some cauliflower and carrots. With bread, this was a nice way to start to enjoy each of them. I remembered, thank goodness, the thing about left hand eating, so didn’t get stared at… Good stuff! Then they brought out some varied briouat for me too…

a2-fried-morsels

The chicken was nice, the cheese one was just pure joy, and the beef and spinach one was very nice too. Then the main dish arrived, chicken.

a3-chicken

Wonderful aroma, lovely sauce. May not look like much but this was a joy in a tagine. The sauce, still sizzling was graced by endless amounts of giblets that crusted near the bottom, which added to my enjoyment as an offal eater. The chicken was ridiculously tender and juicy, putting almost any chicken place in North America to total shame. Damn this was so juicy… I destroyed this plate and all of the salad and was a full and happy boy at this point.

a4-pastilla

The dessert, the sweet pastilla, was a bit of a disappointment as it was hard to eat and seemed to be overdone. Anyway, otherwise this was a fantastic meal, and not too expensive at about 25 euro.

I thanked them for the excellent evening and I grabbed my water (there was still a litre left in the bottle!) and walked back to my hotel. Finally, some privacy and a dark room, and I could spend a little time mourning. A terribly sad day had finally come to an end…

It was a rough night, but I also managed to catch up on some sleep and sleep in a little in the morning. I felt drained and empty, and what was intolerable pain seems a little less this morning — unfortunately transforming from internal to external. I headed out for a long walk around Rabat, and of course a long-dormant plantar fasciitis problem returns at the worst time…

I walked it off as best as I could, and went towards the Oudayas and just hung out at the overlook to the beach below. I just relaxed, trying to avoid the hoardes of Chinese tourists that were so annoying I wanted to slap one of them. I ended up just watching some kids play football on an improvised pitch on the beach. Top skills for these youngsters, the dream is still burning in each and every one of them. But really, perhaps a metaphor for the national side, they need to work on their defense as there were so many dodgy plays that ended up gifting goals…

I walked over to the Hassan Tower and Mohamad V’s Mausoleum and kept walking. I went to where I was planning to have lunch — just to see it shuttered. Oh well, no info online about it shutting down… So I walked another 20 minutes in the other direction to where I had planned to go tomorrow, Tajine Wa Tanjia.

This place near the train station seems to have some dishes that are harder to find, so I was happy to check it out. I was the only customer as this was the priciest place on this street next to the train station. The slow-moving elderly server was friendly but whenever I didn’t go with his recommendation he seemed to move even slower. My French is awful, especially when it’s strewn with local terms, so that took ages to figure out what to order. But then I did and also decided to have some wine.

I relaxed and they brought the wine. A cheap but wonderful locally-produced rosé. What a great find, crispy and smooth, easy to drink and tasty. My goodness I can imagine this becoming a huge sorority hit in the US… In any case, I enjoyed this as they also brought out some soup and nice spicy olives.

b1-seafood-pastilla

Enjoyed all this slowly before the starter arrived, the pastilla with seafood. Rather good, stuffed with vermicelli and all sorts of chopped seafood. Nice and tasty, a good start. Worked so well with this rosé as well…

Not soon after I see this terracotta urn, or a tanjia, brought out — it’s my main. The server demonstratively punches a hole in the sealed top and pours out the contents into a dish…and it’s still heavily sizzling…

b2-camel-tanjia

This is a traditional camel stew with a wonderful base that just begs for lots of bread to mop up. The camel was very good, with different types of chunks that featured the meat, a little fatty bits, and even some tendon that worked beautifully stewed. Solid dish, and it was indeed soaked up by a lot of bread.

And for those of you wondering? Yes, it tastes like pork. Nearly everyone I know who have accidentally eaten pork in this part of the world have told me it tasted like camel…

That was nice. I had a bit more wine so I ordered a dessert. They were out of my first choice, so I went with the cheese-filled briouat. I could hear it frying up in the kitchen and it soon arrived…

b3-cheese-briouat

Nice, not too sweet the cheese inside. Though I couldn’t really taste any caramel that the menu promised. Not bad, and I’m totally full. I thanked them and settled up and headed out.

I was stuffed and it was hot outside, 21c…ugh… By the time I walked back to my hotel in about 20 minutes of my usual fast pace I was soaked in sweat…and once again stared at by everyone (who were all wearing coats)…

A frustrating afternoon trying to sort out some trip logistics and other unexpected surprises that arrived via email, problems compounded by a really crappy wifi at my ryad. Not impressed by this place at all. Friendly is one thing, but when your room is a death trap, with failing wifi and people outside able to watch you in the shower? No. This place, L’Alcazar, I cannot recommend…

I headed out just as the entire city seemed to be out on their evening stroll. My goodness, the amount of people walking slower than snails all arm-linked makes Italy look like a bunch of zipping cats… It was a disaster fighting through the people through the Medina, and throw in a few idiots on motorbikes fighting with elderly ladies pulling full carts and it just turns into human gridlock…

By the time I got near the train station I was drained…not physically, but mentally. I really don’t have the mental patience to deal with places like this for more than 2 days, and I was gonna be here for 3 — to be honest, at least 1 too long… I should have kept my stay here at 2 days…too late now.

I got to Le Petit Beur, my dinner destination. I sat down and chilled out and fought the menu a bit as the French was a bit more challenging here since the dishes were more intricate. And of course the blackboard specials, which ironically was easy to read…

I ordered and needed to unwind, so unwisely I ordered a whole bottle of rosé. Another nice local one, though not as good as the one at lunch. I chilled until the first item arrived, and my heart sank…

c1-cream-soup

This is supposed to be cream of beans and peas, but all I see is an oil slick with something coagulated on the bottom. This was pretty disgusting to be honest… I didn’t get through much of it, since thank goodness my starter also arrived.

c2-briouat

Now these briouat were quite excennet, filled with all sorts of goodies featuring prawns. Very tasty, which gave me a perfect excuse to abandon that awful “soup” to the side. Really nice. After a bit they cleared all of it, realising that I was not touching the soup again.

I kept at the wine and the place was filling up a bit. Seems popular with the French ex-pat community here… But then my main arrived, the lamb tagine with pear.

c3-lamb-tajine

This was one of the chalkboard specials so I had hoped for a lot. It was tasty, good with bread, but there was almost no meat on the lamb itself. That was too bad. I guess the bread is how you fill yourself up. But the sauce was excellent, no doubt about that.

Since I had more wine left I stupidly ordered a dessert — the milk pastilla. I’ve not had good ones since I arrived (any dessert pastillas) and guess what?

c4-pastilla

That didn’t change. Not good. Tasteless, stuff all over the place, filling barely showed up. Oh well. Gave me time to finish my wine and prepare for the trek back. I thanked the staff and headed out.

Walk back was far more manageable now it was a bit later, but still enough roadblocks to make it a living video game. And of course, the wifi was still barely working when I got back. How lovely… I need to just collapse — without dying in this hazardous room…

Dar Rbatia
6 Rue Farane Khachane

Tajine Wa Tanjia
9 Rue Baghdad

Le Petit Beur
8 Rue Damas
Rabat, Morocco

Review: Antica Boheme

31 January 2017

I barely slept for some reason, I was just feeling odd. I got up at about 0430 without an alarm not sure why, because I had planned to get up at about 0600. Oh well. I dressed and packed and headed out at about 0600 towards the Vatican. Got there early to beat the crowd, and to get some pre-sunrise photos.

I got there just before 0630 and there was this eerie feeling as birds started to squawk like mad and circle the place. I looked at the clouds and it looked ominous and foreboding…and I shuddered for a second. Like a bad feeling passed over me… I headed in and watched the other people sprint towards John Paul II’s tomb — before the security yelled at them to leave as it was reserved for private mass. I just wandered around the nearly abandoned place…really, have you ever seen St Peter’s Basilica so empty?

It felt like it was my private tour. My goodness, at times there was not a single soul in sight, not even security. Not even the Pope has this few people around… But the entire time I had a strange feeling. I waited until they opened the grotto, which was closed until 0900 due to a private mass. I headed down and they had cordoned off a good part of it, so I was disappointed and headed out. And I see the massive crowd outside…geez folks, just wake up a little earlier and skip breakfast!

I headed back to my hotel and then I saw the horrific news, that someone truly dear to me had died this morning — within minutes of me taking that photo. It’s like I sensed something horrible, and I was right indeed… This just destroyed me…I sat for an hour like a rock, just not moving…

But I had to check out, so I did at midday. I walked to a nearby restaurant called Antica Boheme, and was the first to arrive as they opened. Again, the server warmed up once he realised I was speaking Italian happily. And the service was just spot on from that point on. I ordered and went with only a half bottle of house red, because I know I could lose control very easily, and I have to head to Ciampino Airport after this for a flight to Morocco…

amatriciana

After a little bit my pasta arrived, and finally I go for the amatriciana. Excellent, they do it with gusto here indeed. And of course, perfect pasta. Lovely stuff. Simple but when done perfectly, it’s worth its weight in gold. Lovely. I drained a bit more of that wine and asked for a second… I still can’t get over the price of these house wines, almost cheaper than water…

I tried not to think about this morning and thank goodness the mobile signal was so poor down below in the dining room I didn’t read stuff online about his passing, which was spreading quickly. Then the second came, a seafood mixed grill.

misto

Lovely stuff, from a beautiful slice of salmonette to juicy, brainy prawns. I always loved this dish since my first trip to Italy in the early 90s, enjoying the different approaches to it they would have in Venezia, Genova, Napoli, Palermo, and stupid me even Aosta! This was excellent.

I went with a typical fruit salad to finish the lunch off and my wine, and took down a grappa to close. Enjoyed this very much, saved me from a breakdown actually. I felt human still… As I left, my server walked me out and shook my hand. Now when was the last time you had this? I do have a weird rapport with Italians, especially restaurant folks…

I re-entered the dark world, back to my hotel, and sat stoically in my cab to Ciampino, the long wait, the 3-hour miserable flight to Rabat, and the ride to my ryad…and kept it as together as I could. I can mourn when I have a private moment…

Antica Boheme
Via Napoli 4
Roma, Italia

Another Michelin Disaster… (Review:Enoteca al Parlamento Achilli)

30 January 2017

It was a frustrating afternoon after that nice lunch at Armando al Pantheon. Several churches I planned to visit were either overrun by tour groups or closed; one was temporarily closed for “extra cleaning” I was told. And of course, my stupid bank screwed up and locked up my ATM card — which took an hour to resolve. UGH. A wasted afternoon for my last full day in Rome…

I headed out to dinner late, and I was apprehensive. Last night’s disaster at Aroma confirmed the problem with Michelin places in Italy, and tonight I was headed to another 1-star venue, Enoteca al Parlamento Achilli. I got there a bit early and noticed the place is actually quite a nice wine shop, with just a small restaurant in the back. I was seated in the wine shop area and enjoyed a glass while I waited for them to open up in back.

Took longer than I thought, but I was finally seated. I looked over the menu and they don’t seem to have a wine pairing for the tasting, and the wines by the glass are crazy pricey, so I just took it easy. I should have gotten a bottle, but last night’s experience put me off bigger commitments when the dinner is uncertain.

I chilled out and it took awhile but the amuse arrived, and it puzzled me a little…

ab

This is actually cod liver wrapped in the leaf, and the taste is…well, I can’t quite describe it. It’s like a food fight between 2 chefs and there’s stuff flying around everyone with no congruence or reason. Strange… In any case, I relaxed and sipped my wine. About half the tables were seated and I was waiting for the first course.

It took awhile, though I have to say the water re-fill was almost too frequent. There seems to be twice the number of FoH staff as customers — but oddly they were all bus/runners, and they could not even take a wine order when I needed a refill. Anyway, after about 20 minutes the first dish arrived.

01-foie-and-tongue

Hmmm…supposed to be foie and veal tongue. I taste the prune and mozzarella, but the others? The foie was really bland and I couldn’t even ascertain the tongue. Maybe it was the visual bit that’s almost taunting me? Beautiful plating, but what happened here? Oh well, let’s see what’s next…

But again, it took over 20 minutes for anything to come out, and the next dish revolved around king crab…

02-king-crab

The smoked crab was very nice but the rest of the items, including the fennel, were rendered rather boring. I didn’t even taste the Guinness drip on the side… Again, beautiful plating, but what’s going on?

Then I had a flashback to Dublis in Vilnius — goodness, are they waiting so they can do each table at the same time? As a lone diner I end up suffering. And as I thought, everyone’s third dish appeared about the same time, the sole.

03-sole_edited

Not bad, but the flavours clashed. The delicate sole was dominated by the strongly-flavoured artichoke. And frankly a small nibble again for such a long wait, which is what is annoying me. I asked them if they could accelerate things a little, they said yes, but…

And yet, it took another nearly half hour for the next dish to come out, the rabbit…

rab

Okay, I know they didn’t rush it per se because everyone else got their’s at the same time. There’s uncooked basmati floating in this thing; one almost cut my gums up. The rabbit wasn’t bad, tinged with flavours of oyster, but the stray basmati made this quite a hard dish to eat.

At this point after the 4th small-ish course, we are into our THIRD HOUR of dining. Plus there is almost no mobile signal deep in the restaurant, so it is absolutely boring me to death. Even the elderly German couple sitting adjacent to me looked like the lengthy pauses were getting to them, as they were consuming the small portions as fast as I was (especially the husband). Plus I was hungry. Compare this to the tasting menu at Osteria Fernanda 2 nights ago and you wonder what’s going on…and this dinner will no doubt cost several times that, with several times less food and many times less in quality…

Then the next course arrived, and this I smelled from far away and shuddered…I smell tobacco…

05-scallops

When I saw this on the menu I didn’t anticipate it to be so in-your-face. A little tobacco oil usage is one thing, but this smelled full-on. Of course I didn’t touch the potatoes, the thing that was smoked in tobacco. I left the scallops on the top of the bowl to rid it of the acrid smoky residues. On my notes I wrote one word: “YUCK”… And yet again tiny nibblets.

I just wanted to get out of here by this point. The fact after 10pm there’s only 1 bus every half hour perhaps added to my angst as each dish takes 20-30 minutes to come out. I wouldn’t begrudge them if that’s how long things take, but you can see — like that terrible Vilnius night at Dublis when I abandoned my tasting menu — that they are doing all the tables at the same time. It didn’t matter that people came in at different times and ate at a different pace. If you really want to run a restaurant like this, then have set table times.

I was contemplating abandoning this dinner as I asked them to possibly speed things up again. We are reaching the 3 hour mark and we’re not done with the savouries yet. I’ve had 20-course menus run faster than this… Now I don’t like to rush, but I don’t particularly like 20-30 minutes between small nibbles! Finally, the next course!

06-raviolini

Raviolini. Tasted okay, but in the broth there were hard, solid, sharp dry bits that again threatened to shred my gums. Again? Okay, that’s it. I’m done…

I told them I needed the bill and I’m finished with my dinner. Lo and behold, it took about 20 minutes for me to be able to pay for this dinner, and yes, I missed my bus because of that. So had to stand around for half an hour as I didn’t want to walk back — because it would probably prompt me to go into a bar somewhere and drink too much due to sheer frustration. So I just tried to cool off standing there at the bus stop…

Oh, never again will I step foot into a Michelin place in Italy. In fact, I may just avoid Michelin places in general anywhere I go at this point. Or at least try. This was 2 nights of pricey, sub-standard experiences that could have been topped at even a tourist trap. That’s how bad it was.

Tonight was not as bad as last night overall, but there are so many issues. You can’t really have the ethos of a family trattoria and a heavy-handed FoH, combined with a very experimental menu that takes a ridiculous amount of time. Sure, the place is a showcase for wines and you’re meant to be drinking plenty during the gaps, but for a single diner it’s not always the easiest thing. I could have gone and bought a bottle of wine as they recommend people do, but when I don’t really know the menu and so forth it’s hard to pair it correctly. I probably should have done that to let the time pass better, but I just wanted good cooking, you know? Good wine and dodgy cooking does not make a good night anywhere, no matter how good the wine is.

And before I get criticised for being too hard on them, just look at my review of Osteria Fernanda. There is no reason for this pace unless the only reason is for people to drink, drink, and drink — all from their wine shop, of course. It’s their business model, fine. For me, it failed to elicit anything but frustration.

Enoteca al Parlamento Achilli
Via Prefetti 15
Roma, Italia

Review: Armando al Pantheon

30 January 2017

After that awful dining experience at Aroma I had a tough time getting sleep. My windows were wide open to cool things down. Thank goodness, as Rome has been warmer than planned… I had another long morning, hitting many of the churches throughout the city. I’ve done enough research on all of them to know what I wanted to see, what I missed before, and what I wanted to get clear photos of. If you plan things out, it is much simpler.

For instance, I was trying to take a picture of the tomb of the master of Rome, Bernini, inside Santa Maria Maggiore. People kept walking right over it. In a rather ironic moment, these American tourists were saying how they loved Bernini’s stuff — the moment they unknowingly walked over his tomb. FFS…

In any case, doing things early in the morning helped; and this being Monday, everyone hit the Vatican and other Sunday-shut places in droves, which is why I’m planning for the Vatican tomorrow. Research and planning, folks. Anyway, I was just done and I walked towards my lunch location, almost smacking a guy aggressively selling selfie sticks. I yelled at him in rough Italian about selling weapons on the streets to moronic Chinese tourists and 2 carabinieri walking by burst out into hysterical laughter…

Anyway, my location for lunch today is another tourist trap of sorts, but one that has a solid reputation with locals too — Armando al Pantheon. It’s been a staple of this part of central Rome for over 50 years, and is constantly busy. I was there as it opened and since I was first they let me pick my table and I chose the odd, centre one. My server smiled.

I chilled, placed my order and my server nodded in approval. Again, do it in Italian, even if it’s not perfect, they respect you for it. I relaxed and soon my bottle of red arrived. Full bottle this time, and that added to their approval. Nice, I love Italy for all the wonderful house wines you can get. House wines here are better than most of the stuff you get elsewhere.

I relaxed as I waited for my feast. I try to not come to Italy too often because I feel *TOO* comfortable here. And restaurant people love me. I would spend every winter in Italy if I could… In any case, with wine in hand, my antipasto arrived, and it’s as Rome as it gets. Something that is illegal in the US…

coratella-dabbacchio

Coratella d’abbacchio — which is a classic dish of lamb offal (with pluck, which is the “illegal” aspect of it for the US), this with a healthy amount of olive oil and artichoke. A really nice start, I love the variety here and how it really is nice with some good red wine like I have.

Great start, and I chilled a bit knowing the pasta takes time. I see most tables going through the usual stuff and a few of Italians from elsewhere going a bit more full gusto like me. I think the server was grouping me in with the locals, from the bread crumbs on my table to order. Then the pasta arrived, and I smiled.

spaghetti-alla-griscia

Spaghetti alla griscia — the cousin of the “amatriciana” without the red stuff. It was like the poor cousin of both amatriciana and carbonara, as plain as it gets but as wonderful as it gets if done right, like yesterday’s cacio e pepe. This was indeed done right, and again, amazingly good pasta. Nearly tear-invoking to be honest, very few places I get pasta this good outside of Italy. I would say recently only 2 places reach that mark in North American — NYC’s Lincoln and LA’s Marino. Lovely.

Enjoyed more wine before my main arrived…what can I say, I love this stuff!

trippa

Yes, again, trippa alla romana. A bit different here, they made the sauce a bit more zippy, and the slicing was a little different. If you are a tripe connoseur like me, you know how different ways of slicing tripe, and different parts even of the same stomach is different in taste balance and how it holds the sauce. So it may look similar to yesterday’s excellent version, but to me it’s different — and as good.

I really loved this meal, and I see there’s a bit of a back-up of people waiting despite all of the foreigners that had come in had already finished, and all of the Italians were just finishing their seconds like me. I had just finished the bottle of red also, and decided to skip dessert.

I took a grappa and espresso again and once again they took the grappa off. And this was a large serving. I thanked them and again, found the service remarkably good that warmed up as the meal continued. I headed out into the warm afternoon and hit a few more churches en route back to my hotel.

Ah, Rome, if it wasn’t for the tourists and touts I could so get used to being here more than every 20 years…

Armando al Pantheon
Salita dei Crescenzi 31
Roma, Italia