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When I tell people that I spent the fall in Rome, the question I’m asked most frequently is, inevitably, what I miss most about Rome now that I’m back in the U.S.. And, just as inevitably, my answer is: the food.

But really, how could it not be? If you ask me what type of restaurant I want to go to tonight in the states, I’ll almost always say Italian. So being in the country where my favorite type of cuisine originated from was pretty much a dining fantasy for me.

I did learn, however, that may of the things we take for granted as being “typically Italian” when we’re at an Italian restaurant here in the U.S. are actually “typically American-Italian.” As any Italian will tell you, there’s a big difference.

If you’re taking a trip to Rome anytime soon, here are some things I picked up while eating (a lot) in Italy that I think are helpful to know before you sit down for your first meal:

Bread isn’t a warm up for the first course
Sure, your waiter will most likely bring over a basket of bread after you’ve ordered. But, it’s not free (usually the cost is around 1-2 Euro/person) and it’s not going to come with olive oil, or even butter, for you to dip it in. All those fancy Italian places you’ve been to in the U.S. serving fresh-baked artisinal bread accompanied by fancy olive oil? That won’t happen in Rome. Most likely, the bread will be nothing special taste-wise. It’s actually just a vehicle to mop up extra sauce when you get your entree. As a result, you’ll rarely see Italians nibbling on bread while they’re waiting for their meal; they’ll wait to “fare la scarpetta” (or make a little shoe) to soak up the remnants with when they’re done.

Soup isn’t considered an appetizer
As a soup lover/fantatic, this killed me. Soup is generally considered a primi, which is also the area of the menu where pastas fall. So, ordering say, pasta e ceci soup to start, followed by bucatini alla carbonara and passing on a secondi of meat or fish is kind of a faux pas. Some waiters will let you get away with it (while making it a point to let you know how gross they think it is), but some will just flat-out tell you no.

Meatballs don’t come with spaghetti
One of my favorite Italian words is the word for meatballs, polpette. It makes them sound so delicate and tiny, no? Anyway, if you want to order polpette, by all means do – they are delicious – but be warned: they will come covered in sauce, accompanied by nothing else. Combining them (a secondi) on one plate with pasta (a primi) is just not done. By the way, you’ll never see chicken parmesean either. Another Italian style dish created in America!

Menus don’t read like a “greatest hits” of Italian cuisine
I’ve been to so many Italian places in the U.S. that feature a wide variety of Italian staples: dishes like risotto Milanese, Tuscan white bean soup and spaghetti Bolognese are offered side by side. In Rome, you’d be extremely hard-pressed to find a non-tourist trap restaurant that mixes Italian dishes from different regions. Many menus serve only the Roman classics like cacio e pepe, carbonara, amatriciana, etc. Sure, there are a few Tuscan restaurants in Rome, but they’re serving a menu of only Tuscan dishes, and likewise for any other regional restaurant you might find. There’s no mixing and matching.

These are the kinds of things I think of now when I eat at Italian restaurants in the U.S. (oh, what a curse, I know!) Whenever I’m wondering what is truly “authentic” and what’s not, I smile and think about the cooking class I took in Rome. We were getting ready to bring the amatriciana out to the tables when a student asked the chef if we should top it with some julienned parsley. Our instructor asked him to repeat himself, as if he couldn’t believe what he just heard, stared at him and said, incredulously, “But there’s a bay leaf in that sauce!” Ah, we Americans have so much to learn about Italian food.

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I know a lot of bloggers do weekly round ups, and I’m a huge fan. Typically published on Fridays, they get me excited for the weekend, and it’s always fun to catch up on things I’ve missed online during week. If there’s one person who never wants to miss anything on the old internets, it’s me.

I thought I would jump on board and start doing round ups, but I got to thinking about how Mondays are the day when I actually need the most motivation and distractions. Everyone knows Monday is the worst day of the week (sorry, Monday), so I thought it would be more fun to put together some things to look forward to for the week ahead.

Here we go!

I read Bon Appetit’s Southern issue yesterday, and it includes some seriously awesome looking recipes. I’m trying this one for Chicken & Dumplings tonight. It involves making your own gnocchi, and I can imagine that you could use them as a base for dozens of other dishes in the future. I’m also dying to make their Potlikker Noodles with Mustard Greens, Chickpea Stew and Stir-Fried Lettuces with Crispy Shallots, among many, many others. Bon Appetit is so good lately, do you agree?

This Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday! I am beyond excited that the Giants are playing. With my husband being from Indy, and me being a huge Peyton Manning fan as a result, we’d initially hoped to go to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis and watch the Colts play this year, but it wasn’t meant to be. But, let’s be serious: I’m from New York, so I’m just as pumped about Eli and the Giants being there. On Sunday, I’ll be making this recipe from Smitten Kitchen for Scallion Meatballs with Soy-Ginger Glaze and trying not to freak out, have a heart attack and die during the game.

From the above, you may be starting to think that I all I think about is food. You’re pretty much right, but in an effort to be a more rounded (and skinnier) person (the months in Italy took a toll, people!), I’m trying to get into a running routine. I set up my Nike+ account this morning, and I have to say: it is so cool! I have the Nike+ iPod sensor, which fits into a slot in the bottom of my shoe, and it makes running outside SO much easier. It syncs with your iPhone and a little voice alerts you to each mile you’ve completed as you listen to music (in my case, all 90’s jams). I was mapping runs using MapMyRun prior to this, and using the Nike+ sensor is just so much easier. After you finish your workout, you can upload the details to Nike’s website, where they save all the info on how far you’ve run, plus you can set goals for yourself and create a tiny avatar of yourself running and saying motivational things (see mine above). I highly recommend it. Disclaimer: you pretty much do need to have Nike shoes with the slot for the sensor in them for this to work. Luckily, there’s a Nike Factory store in NOLA, and they had some really affordable running shoes.

Lastly, here are a few more links to things around the web to spice up your Monday afternoon:

How to defriend people in real life.

Paula Deen has been getting so much flack lately that I kinda feel bad for her even though I am very turned off by her diabetes-announcement-strategy thing. I don’t want to pile on, but this slideshow from Complex showcasing her 10 Deadliest Recipes is worth a gander. They’re pretty gross (cheeseburger with donuts for buns or deep fried butter, anyone?).

There are so many great new restaurants opening in New Orleans it’s getting hard to keep track. Next on my list to try are the French-Vietnamese restaurant Tamarind at the new Hotel Modern and Manning’s, Archie Manning’s new restaurant in Harrah’s.

Speaking of Mannings, if you’ve been following the drama regarding Peyton Manning’s future in Indy, this article from yesterday’s New York Times is worth a read (sob).

I love the Best American Short Stories anthologies. The 2011 one is out and I can’t wait to finish it this week.

And, J. Crew has some awesome colored jeans. It’s important to wear bright colors, so people know you’re alive.

Happy beginning of February! Hope everyone has a good week.

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I was pleasantly surprised about how good the food was in Vienna. As I mentioned here, the street food was excellent, seriously every restaurant we went to was delicious (post on this to come shortly), and to top it off, it’s home to Naschmarkt.

Naschmarkt is Vienna’s most popular food market. It’s a small strip of food vendors quite close to Museumsquartier, and within it, you’ll find food vendors galore: everything from fresh fruits & vegetables to freshly caught fish, butchers, cheese shops, spice shops and wine and beer stands.

Quite simply, it’s heaven for food lovers. You can find anything your little heart desires.

It’s the kind of place that makes you want to buy whatever produce looks the best and rush home and cook up a feast immediately. Plus, mixed in within its stalls are gourmet restaurants and an antiques market on Saturdays.

We had lunch at a posh restaurant spot called Nemi. Given how much Italian food we’ve been downing, is menu of Israeli and Middle Eastern specialties was super refreshing.

My only regret? That we didn’t have more time to explore. I could have spent weeks here.

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Our hotel in Prague offered breakfast each morning, and I was happy to take advantage of it. I get really grumpy when I’m hungry, and that’s no way to spend a day sightseeing. The specialty of the house was the “Toastie” aka grilled cheese with ham, and who was I to say no? I loved them.

My husband, on the other hand, is not a breakfast fan. One morning, I’d filled up on toasties and wasn’t ready for lunch until well into the afternoon. We stopped in a little French bistro in Old Town called Au Gourmand for him to grab a late breakfast so we could get on the same schedule.

This is what he ordered.


Why? In his words, because the best part about being an adult is being able to order chocolate cake for breakfast if you feel like it. And chocolate milk. And a chocolate chip cookie.

Even for a non-sweets lover like me, all were delicious. I thought the chocolate milk was so clever too. You can add the amount of chocolate you prefer by dipping your chocolate stick in the hot milk.


So, bottom line, if you have a sweet tooth and you’re in Prague’s Old Town, stop here. It’s worth it.

Au Gourmand
Dlouha 10
Praha 1

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Pizza al Taglio

When I look back on my time in Rome, there’s a good chance that the first thing that will come to mind is my obsession with pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice). I may as well have a sign that reads “will walk for pizza.” Because that’s what I do most days for lunch: pick a place that serves pizza al taglio, walk there, eat pizza, then get to doing whatever other business is on the docket for the day.

I just love the whole concept of pizza al taglio. You walk up to the counter, survey the available pizzas, then tell the person behind the counter how much of it you want. He then slices it off from the pie, using his giant knife like an axe, weighs your selection, and then one of two things happens: either he’ll fold it over and wrap it up in parchment for you or he’ll heat it in the oven, cut it into strips with scissors and serve it to you on a tray.

It’s hard to say which way I like better. Mainy because both serving methods seem so nice, as silly as that sounds. Service in many restaurants in Rome is gruff, at best. But when you get your pizza al taglio, it’s almost like the person working the counter is making a thoughtful gesture as he serves you your slice. When it’s served in parchment, I feel as if he’s wrapping the pizza up like a little present. A present which makes it much neater for me to eat.

When it’s snipped into (big) bite sized pieces, I’m always reminded of a mother slicing a meat dish for a child in a restaurant. Thanks, counter guy, for making my pizza-eating experience so much easier!

Here are my favorite places for pizza al taglio (so far).

Pizzarium serves creatively topped slices by Rome food celebrity Gabriele Bonci. He’s known dramatically as the “Michelangelo of pizza,” and he offers a 2 day pizza making course for 170 Euros. A bit rich for my blood, so I’ll stick to buying his pizza for lunch.

Zaza is right near the Pantheon and has tables! Sounds like a ridiculous selling point, but most pizza al taglio spots are standing room only. It’s also right across from the famous coffee bar Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe.

Forno Campo de Fiori is one of the most famous pizza al taglio spots in the Eternal City, and there’s always a line out the door. It moves quickly, and it’s worth the wait. Plus, it’s fun to check out the farmers’ market in Campo de Fiori afterwards.

Antico Forno Roscioli is the bakery arm of the Roscioli family, who also runs a nearby restaurant, Roscioli, which you may remember that I love. It’s a very reliable bet for an excellent slice of pizza.

If you have any favorites for pizza al taglio in Rome, please comment.  I will walk anywhere to try it!

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Although we visited Prague in October, it was still pretty cold. We walked everywhere – all of the neighborhoods near the city center are interesting, so I didn’t mind – but making frequent stops to warm up with food and drink was completely necessary. As was my daily glass of hot wine at 5pm. (Really, really need to learn how to make hot wine.)

We booked an inexpensive hotel (Aparthotel, if you’re interested), so more Czech krona for us to spend on food. If happen to be traveling to Prague soon, here are some of the places I loved.

La Degustation
I have to list La Degustation first, because it was by far the best restaurant we visited in Prague. You have two choices, both of which are a 7 course tasting menu: the international menu or the Czech menu. In addition to the 7 courses, we also got approximately 5 amuse bouches, so needless to say, it was a lot of food. But it was so delicious! And the Czech menu was really the star. I also recommend doing the wine pairing.

Cafe Savoy
This cafe was close to our hotel and worth a trip to check out the interior alone. The ceilings were beautiful as were the chandeliers, and per my guidebook, they were both hidden during the Communist era because they were deemed too ornate. It’s a good spot for breakfast or lunch, and while we didn’t indulge in dessert, the pastries looked amazing. Cafe Savoy is owned by the same group as La Degustastion, which is worth mentioning because it seems like there are two companies that own all of the good restaurants in Prague.

Hergetova Cihelna
This restaurant (sorry, can’t type the name again, too hard) is right on the river and has an unbelievable view of the Charles Bridge. Its menu is made up of international favorites, and I think it’s a perfect spot to visit for a first meal in Prague. You’ll spend 75% of the time gazing out the window and that’s perfectly ok.

Celeste
Located on the top floor of the Dancing House designed by Frank Gehry, this restaurant also has amazing views. On a clear night, you can see Prague Castle. The menu features mostly French inspired dishes, and we had a great meal. I started with a pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin, which was adorable and tasty. They also have a very large cheese cart which they wheel out at dessert time, another huge pro in my book. Ask to go up to the roofdeck after your meal for an even better view of the city.

Klub Architektu
We stopped in this cozy cave-like restaurant for lunch and were glad we did for two reasons. First, the restaurant’s design is really cool and second, I ordered a traditional Czech dish called Smažený sýr. It’s a hunk of fried cheese and, served with a side of fries, it makes no effort to hide the fact that it’s ridiculously unhealthy and naughty to eat. I felt too embarrassed to finish it, but now I can say I’ve eaten a piece of fried cheese, which is important.

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Here’s the deal: I ate cacio e pepe at a restaurant called Roma Sparita on Saturday night and it blew my mind. There’s not too much to say aside from that. The cacio e pepe is served in a bowl made of cheese. You eat the bowl afterwards. It is pure brilliance.

Please excuse the photo above, because it doesn’t even begin to do justice to how delicious this dish was. I had seen approximately 25 orders of cacio e pepe arrive to other diners before it was my turn, and I could barely pause two seconds to take this photo before I had to eat it.

Afterwards, I considered ordering another round. But, I live only 15 minutes from the restaurant, so I kept my dignity intact and just asked for the check, knowing I’ll be back quite frequently. I seriously plan to eat it as many times as possible before I leave.

As an added bonus, the restaurant is right next to this church. It’s gorgeous at night. When we visited before dinner, a choir of nuns was singing in the church. Even though I’m not very religious, it was really a special thing to hear.

PS – if anyone has seen Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” Rome episode, this is the place where he eats cacio e pepe and raves about it. In fact, in the episode, he won’t reveal the name of the restaurant for fear that it’ll become overrun by tourists and ruined. That’s nice of him, but it was in my guide book, so I don’t feel bad telling all 10 of my readers about it too. Everyone must experience it!

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