Sunday, October 31, 2010

Perche no?

Back in NYC I don't ever eat out alone. Except maybe a slice at Joe's now and again as I make my way home. Not that I am so popular, but if I am alone, I stay home since I like to cook for myself and it's cheaper. I save my going out money for socializing.

In Rome, I was solo for most of my meals and I tried not to make them hurried little affairs. I tried to relish them. But I discovered that--in Rome at least--one gets mixed responses. I present case 1, at Da Lucia in Trastevere.

"Buona sera. Uno, per favore."

"Solo uno???"


"Please wait outside." After 10 inexplicable minutes, the fellow came out and said "solo? ma, perche?"

"Perche no?" I asked, full aware of my larger metaphorical question.

"Lavoro? Vacazione?" He is still searching for some plausible reason. He seats me in a half empty restaurant and proceeds to rush me through my meal. Not only am I alone but I am not having 4 courses and I have ordered my water rubinetto (the word they don't want you to know: tap water. It's free! And tasty enough). He keeps coming over pityingly, trying to figure me out. Eventually I am given a bill with several incorrect overages (including aqua minerale). I leave not yet feeling the magic of eating alone.

Another meal is disastrous on many fronts. I headed to a pizzeria recommended by Amy (Pizzeria San Calisto). It was terrible. This made no sense since Amy is entirely trustworthy when it comes to food recs. It took me about 24 hours to sort it out; I went to the wrong place.

At this wrong place, I was pursued relentlessly by the waiter, who asked me out on a date and eventually was removed from my table by the manager. I had a magazine out. A glass of wine for crying out loud. His constant interruptions with questions asked in fast Italian I could not understand, were killing my mojo. I don't remember this scene in "Eat, Pray, Love."

I found the perfect solo meal at lunchtime one day--at another rec from Amy. It was a beautiful day but this place had no outdoor seating. I popped inside and it was quiet and cool. The other diners were all Italian--mostly businessmen, and one priest. The staff took good care of me but basically left me entirely alone to slurp down spaghetti alla vongole, verdure mista, fantastic focaccia and a nice little bottle of red (I asked for a bicchiero, I am sure of it, but....). I was not a pitiable mystery; I was not a woman looking for a man. I was a person, looking for good nourishment and some quality alone time.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Torino, Piemonte

I have spent a fair amount of time in Torino at this point but to suggest I know the city is a laughably incorrect statement. To suggest that I have eaten what it has to offer is also quite off the mark. In my two times there I have mostly been marooned in a southern corridor of the city, mostly behind a desk, on my feet, slowly dehydrating myself into laryngitis.

There were short forays out, both in 2008 and now in 2010--which is a wonderful thing because Piemonte is a wonderful place to eat and an even more wonderful place to drink delicious, affordable red wine (Nebbiolo, Barbera d'Asti, Barbera d'Alba). They are my absolute favorite wines in the world.

We had our staff meal the first night at Tre Galli. The carne crudo, a specialty of the region, was a revelation. Yep, that's raw meat; this rendition had shaved truffles and sea salt on top and it was sitting in an egg-based sauce of some kind. It was terrific, as was the braised tongue. As was the vegetable tart. And basically everything else we had.

Its sister restaurant Tre Galline is also good--especially their pasta. The chestnut gnocchi was so so very good. It's a little fancier and required slightly softer voices (sotto voce).

I could not for the life of me find the neighborhood pizza place (near Corso Sebastopoli and Corso IV Novembre) that I fell in love with in 2008. That is what I get for having a bad sense of direction. But we did get farinate again from the lowkey place on our corner and it always makes me happy. Farinate = chickpea flour pancake. And we were directed to a very good Napolitano pizza place called Cammafa.

On the final morning, voiceless and exhausted, I headed to the rightfully famous Bicherin and alongside Jenny and Suzanne and Taylor (who has just launched Good Food Jobs) we sugar-bombed it with insanely light but rich zabaglione, the local specialty "bicherin" (a coffee and chocolate drink) and several other things but I am embarrassed to continue listing them. Pics of the bicherin and the zabaglione are up above.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Open Up

Last Wednesday on my way out of work I passed a man with a few bags of CSA loot and a giant vegetable tucked under his arm. It was a majestic sight. I blurted out as I passed, "is that a daikon?"

"I guess, yeah," he said, drawing it out and handing it to me. "I don't know what to do with it--you take it." And with that I was the proud new owner of a marvelous daikon radish. He headed to his car and I, chuckling, headed up Jay street to the F train. He pulled up beside me in his car and called out the window, "what will you make?"

"Slaw? Refrigerator pickles?" I shrugged, smiling.

"Well, let me know...somehow..." and then he was off. And I was off, on my daikon adventures that led me to Back Forty where C and I were the recipients of magical treatment including comped pork jowl nuggets and glasses of wine. People on the street stopped to gawk and then ask questions. My cab driver was mesmerized by it.

I tweeted: "Am thinking I should bring a giant daikon radish with me everywhere. It really starts conversations."

Once home I turned it into Asian refrigerator pickles (per a recipe from Sherri Vinton's new book "Put em Up!"), and today brought one of the jars to the CSA pickup with a note for the guy that read "Did you give your daikon to a young woman last week?"

I got a high from the street conversation that led to my funny radish adventure. It made me think about how closed i can be, especially on the streets of NYC, but other places as well. I realized that there are ways in which I have lived my life closed like a fist, protecting something in its palm.