Eating Fancy – Rome – Part 3


If you are late coming to this blog – check out Eating Fancy – Rome – Parts 1 and 2. The following restaurants were my all time favorites – and without spoiling anything – well worth the price they charged.

Tied for top prize (I prefer one, my husband the other) are All’Oro and Open Colanna.

First All-Oro. We were recommended by the Sommalier at Open Colanna – and in later conversation, it turned out that he had worked there when they were in their smaller previous location. For the past 4 years – they have been located in the First Art Hotel – and the style and decor is strictly high-end Italian modern. Elegant, sophisticated, and supremely simple. Napkins were rolled into long tubes at the table, matching the vertical long tubes that held a single flower. Spot lights gave each table a feeling of privacy, although the space was actually completely open. There were about 12 tables in total, 7 of which were occupied. So like at Il Pagliaccio and at Open Colanna – the staff outnumbered the dinners. I kept wondering how they make money.

At All’Oro – the tasting menu was unique. Instead of a special menu – you got to choose your options off the regular menu – and I suspect they then split the standard fair into 2 dishes – one per person. In any case – the portions, even for a tasting menu, were tiny. That said – they were stunning.

My absolute favorites were the 2 ‘pasta’ offerings – both of which were inverted. Instead of putting the pasta in a sauce – they put the sauce in the pasta! You put the pasta in your mouth, and chewed. The flavors of the sauces, in perfect serving size, burst into your mouth. I have no idea how this was accomplished – but the result awesome. I absolutely loved the result – but the appearance and the flavors. Delicious and Surprising. Highly technical, but well conceived and beautifully executed.

For the main meal we opted for the suckling pig – 2 ways. Again, the portion size was tiny, but the flavors were intense. One portion was pork belly, intensely seasoned and cleverly sliced so that the fat was crisp and the meat/fat was juicy and tender. The other was a piece of pork that had been immersion cooked for over 14 hours. Wonderful.

Unlike many restaurants where the chefs either ignore the customers – or chat up only the ones that they know well – at All’Oro the chef came out several times to chat up several tables – including us! He explained that he and his wife have been running his own restaurant and got his star 5 years ago. 4 years ago, he was invited to move to this space in the Hotel – where he cooks not only from the fine dining room, but for the roof top terrace restaurant – open only when conditions permit. He even offered to take us up there – I’d have loved to see it. So All’Oro definitely rates high in my book – I don’t think I’ll soon forget either the pork dish – or those amazing ravioli’s!

Last – and definitely worth a visit – is Open Colanna. We ate 2 meals there – the first was lunch. at 16 Euro per person for all you can eat – it was probably the best bargain we enjoyed the entire time we were in Europe. There was a huge spread, each dish more delicious than the last. I loved the chicken in Turmeric Sauce – and they served tiny cups of tiramusu that explained why this dessert is featured on so many Italian restaurants. Needless to say – the place was packed. It a huge ‘open’ space – surrounded on 3 sides and the top with glass. The effect is a sun washed terrace – Italian modern design.

We loved lunch so much – the next day we walked back to get a reservation for dinner!

At dinner – the main dining area is closed, and the upper floor (hidden from view during the day) becomes the dinning room. There are only about 12 tables – and of these only 6 were occupied. With a wait staff of 4 – and an unknown number of kitchen staff – it was like having a personal dinner party.

The airy space – sun lit when we arrived, and gradually darkening as the sun set – was magical. You felt like you were floating among the buildings on every side. While not the over-the-top romantic feeling of Mirabelle – you still felt cared for and about. The wait staff had time to chat – to discuss the meal, to be sure your meal was memorable.

No – the chef did not make an appearance – I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there – but his sous-chefs did a wonderful job of following his directions.

As is expected, there was an amuse, a multi-course tasting menu, and this time there was a wine tasting menu as well. But it was free-form – the sommeiler opting for bottles he felt would compliment what we were going to be eating. The tasting menu featured much larger portions than the ones at All’Oro – which might be why my husband rated Open higher. They also served a variation on ravioli filled with sauce – this time the pasta were tiny hand-made Pyramids. Very neat. The main course was also suckling pig – a much larger portion of course. The meat was extremely tender, but in my opinion, not nearly as tasty as the version served at All’Oro. My only complaint – and this was a problem of my own making – on the menu at Open there was a souffle. This is one of my favorite desserts – and we asked that it be served. However, the dessert on the tasting menu was a chocolate fancy that according to the sommelier/Matre d’ was a prize winner. We allowed him to convince us to go with that option and while tasty – I missed having the souffle. Next time – I stand my ground. Souffle it will be!

So that’s the score. Open Colanna and All’Oro in first place, third place goes to Il Pagliaccio, and last and most forgettable (but a to die for view) – Mirabella.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Eating Fancy – Rome – Part 2


Part One of this blog talked about the Mirabele – 1 Michelin Star, high points for location and Romance – nice music too – and a not so hot score for the food.

Next up on my list was Il Pagliaccio. This was a 2 star restaurant – tiny, tiny, tiny and stuck in a back street of Rome so challenging to find that our taxi driver had to use her GPS. Surprisingly to me – the door was locked when we arrived. But clearly the host was keeping an eye out – before I could recover from my surprise, the door was opened. We confirmed that we had a reservation – and were ushered in. There were at most 8 tables. And I never saw one flip. So quite the difference from the packed and a bit frantic atmosphere of the Mirabelle.

Like the Mirabelle – we opted for the 10 course tasting menu. Unlike the Mirabelle – there was no matching wine tasting. The sommelier helped my husband select a white wine by the glass, and a red that he felt would go with most of the courses. We were quite disappointed by this – going with most isn’t really quite good enough at this price range.

Again there was a napkin service, this time it happened before we were served a delicious green pea soup amuse that was divine. The courses were interesting – but hard to remember because the main server’s english was so heavily accented, we couldn’t understand him. I was impressed by the continuous simultaneous service – a nice touch. My impression in thinking back on the meal was good – interesting – but not stunning. I love it when a chef makes a dish for me that astounds me – that didn’t happen here. No cause for complaint – just nothing so outstanding I’d try to tell you about it.

I felt that the kitchen here was superior to that of the Mirabelle – but the restaurant lost points for location and view. I’m not sorry we tried it – but I wouldn’t rush back.

Signing off for now – The Soup Lady

Eating Fancy – Rome – Part 1


Eating ‘Fancy’ in Rome

Unlike the intrepid traveller, my husband considers high-end dining to be an absolute necessity when we travel. So it should come as no surprise that when in Rome – we dined right.

Don’t have a least one Michelin star? You are not going to be on our list!

So the next 3 blogs will be reviews of 4 – count’m 4 – Michelin starred restaurants, Open Colanna, the Mirabelle, All’Oro, and Il Pagliaccio. They all offered tasting menus of 5 to 10 courses, and elaborate service. But there were clearly highlights – and while not low lights – at least not so great lights.

Let’s start with our final dinner in Rome – at the Mirabelle. The Mirabelle is on the 7th floor of a 5 star hotel in Rome – with footman, greeters, marble floors, elaborate decor, and attitude to match. Our taxi dropped us at the door, and we were greeted 3 times before we even made it to the restaurant. The restaurant itself earns its highest points for decor, location, and romance. It’s open to the air (but can be closed in by floor to ceiling glass panels). To say the view was spectacular would actually be an understatement. The sun was setting as we arrived and were seated, not in the first row of seats, but pressed up against a glass window. Our view was good, but not amazing. To be amazing, you had to get a table on the ‘terrace’ – and when we reserved, they were all taken.

True to its Michelin Star status – there was a napkin service (they use clippers to place the napkin on your lap, and elaborate ‘greeting’ dish of tiny amuses – mini cookies, tiny salty breads, and a delicious fried ball filled with risotto. This last was my favorite. The bread service was in two parts. Bread sticks and a seasoned mini croissants at one time, followed by a selection of various small rolls after the first course. I loved the croissants and ate both mine and my husbands. The rest of the bread was ultimately forgettable.

We choose the tasting menu of 7 courses – and my husband opted for the high-end wine tasting option that matched. Of the courses – none was knock you socks off special. I did like them – just don’t remember them. During dinner, there was live piano music – low-key American songs, sung for the romance of them. I kept thinking that a dance floor option would have been welcome – it would have been nice to have swayed to the music.

Dinner was followed by 3 desserts – a pre-desert of fennel ice cream (which I loved), and a ‘desert’ of Strawberry soup, also served with ice-cream. After that – they served a platter of friandise – always my favorite part of the meal.

Summary – high points for Romance, Location, View. Not so hot for the food. But they were incredibly busy. All the tables were full – and many flipped twice. So say what I will – they are clearly doing something right.
But on to higher points!

Re-enactment 101


Why would anyone dress up like a solider – march around for 3 days – and go back for more.

Excellent question. And this time – we are doing 2 re-enactments. First we’ll re-enact the Quatre Victories in Montmirail, France. Then we’ll journey to Elba to celebrate Napoleon’s arrival on the Island – not so good for him – but great for Elba.

But first Montmirail. Instead of doing one battle each day in each or the Quatre Victories locations – we’ll do 2 battles in 2 days – both on just one battle field, the Montmirail-Marchais.

But first – we must arrive, find our friends, set-up a tent, get started. It turns out that Victor is well-known by almost everyone – including the Emperor. We barely walk 20 paces before people recognize Victor and rush over to say hi.

For this re-enactment – Vic is going as Marin de la Guarde and I’m a doctor. Not a very high-ranking doctor – a low-level doctor, who has just graduated. My uniform is perfect for this role – and it gives me the opportunity to march with the troops, provide them with water, tend to the ‘wounded’, and move among both enemy. Which is why I’ve been shot at several times by my own troops. Nice guys, eh? Don’t they know a doctor when they see one?

We’re bivouacked with the other Marin – who are staying with the Grognards de Fontainebleau. And we are on the right flank of the Emperor’s tent. Which means we get to watch him (in civilian dress – actually combat fatigues) – setting up his tent! Naturally – the emperor doesn’t get his feet dirty – once he’s the Emperor. So first thing is to lay down huge carpets to form the ground of the ten and dinning/meeting/combat prep room. In his sleeping area there’s a cot with a leopard skin spread, several of his saddles on display, and various other items, including a wash cabinet. In the ‘Pavilion’ area there is a huge table with chairs bearing the Emperor’s Bee’s – cabinets for holding his silver, candlesticks for light.

The Marin and the Imperial Guard set up guard posts – 15 to 20 minutes on guard when ever the Emperor is in ‘Residence’.

When all is done – the transformation happens – and out from the tent strides the Emperor. Cheers from every corner as he visits each bivouac – troops line up at ‘Gardez Vous’ – and he strolls down the line – commenting here and there on this and that. He remembers Victor from Fountainbleu and singles him out for a comment. He gives the young son of one of our officers a coin with his likeness – and after prompting (this is how it would have happened) – gives a Medal of Honor to one of the troops that displayed great bravery at a previous battle.

More Cheers – and he moves on.

Friday night we eat dinner late, relax around the campfire, visit the tavern (there is always a tavern), and eventually people drift off – some like us to a hotel, others to bed down in tents or even in the open air.

Saturday is the day of the great battle – all day friday and all friday night troops and Calvary and cannon crews have been arriving. The number of re-enactors has grown from one or two, to several hundred, to several thousand. There are well over 100 horses, and I counted over 20 large cannons. But not everything is for us – there are also facilities that have bloomed up overnight for the spectators – and that’s a source of much fun for the re-enactors.

There are several different food vendors – this is France – so the cheese is amazing, there are croissants available to buy – 1/2 price for re-enactors. We spot tents with books on Napoleon, others with antiques (and not so antiques) for sale. Ladies in long gowns, white parasols and long gloves stroll amid soldiers in various uniforms, officers in gold braid, Calvary in all their finery, and the strangely dress tourists!

Bleachers have been built with seats – but standing room only space is the norm, and provides great views of the entire battle field. To the amusement of the growing crowds, the French Line decides to drill in the middle of the space allocated to the viewers. We do our drill in a separate area, and I’m not sure where the allied forces were drilling. Everywhere there is Calvary – and the cannon crews practice their drills.

As a doctor – I’m free to roam – and I watch the cannon crew for a while. Cannons are very very loud – and there’s a ton of smoke released – much to the surprise of a photographer who had gotten up close for a perfect shot. It was perfect ok – until he had to run out of the dense smoke cloud!

Drill complete – we resume camp life – then gather for the muster of the troops prior to the battle.

We don’t really know the plan – we just follow the shoulder pack of the guy in front of us. I spot a collection of Medical men – all French – standing off behind the army. But I greatly prefer to be in the heat of the action, and stand directly behind our troop of around 100 Imperial Guard, made up of Marin, Grenadiers, Moyan Guard and Jeune Guarde. Victor is positioned to the front – and acts as an NCO, repeating orders as the Marshal and Generals and Majors yell them out.

Napoleon canters by with his entourage – to gay cries of Vive L’Emporeur.

For this battle, we are being held in reserve – so while the solders of the line see plenty of action, our involvement is limited. When we finally do charge the enemy – we quickly over-run their lines – and I’m busy helping the wounded – of both sides. I suddenly realize that I’ve become separated from the Imperial Guard. There are soldiers every where – just done of them my ‘team’.

Shoot.

This is awkward.

I search madly for someone – anyone I recognize the uniform of – and eventually spot Rudy marching with the 85th. At least I know for sure they are on ‘our’ side. I march with them off the battle field – relieved to get off the field, and to put down my now depleted supplies of water.

We re-form lines for a final salute – we break ranks to ‘Vive L’Emperour’ – and collapse into our tents, our piles of straw – or head to the tavern. Whew – one battle down, one to go.

Sunday we repeat as above – only this time we start the battle much earlier in the day – around 10:00 am – and thus it is neither so hot – not so ‘touristy’. And this time the guarde is called upon to fight. We rush uphill towards the ‘town’ – firing as we go. We are rushed by Calvary – and form square to defend ourselves. As the doctor, I’m ‘smushed’ into the middle of the square – unable to see much besides the heads of the horsemen as they gallop around our outward facing bayonets.

At the town, we rescue the townsfolk, and defend the town. We even take over several cannon positions  – it’s really hard to move a cannon quickly. I minister to the wounded – narrowly avoiding being shot by my own troops again. I heard the command to load the muskets this time – and fled before they could fire. Whew.

The battle continues, boiling down the hill of long grasses towards the bleachers – until the Marshal’s call for a cease-fire. When I finally catch up to the Guarde – Victor proudly shows me his saber – nicked in battle with a Prussian who was up for a bit of a fight.

Eventually we march off the field, dismantle the camps, and head back to the hotel for a very much-needed bath and shower.

Success was ours today!

Venice – City of Delight


I love Venice

I knew I’d like Venice – I mean it’s all about boats and water and art – what’s not to like. But I didn’t plan to love it.

And I loved it.

Finding a place to stay was quite the challenge. My husband had heard of the Gritti Palace – but $1500 a night off-season – is a tad over any price range I’d feel comfy sleeping in. So internet searching happened – and I discovered ‘The Bert’. The Bert is a Bed and Breakfast on a yacht that is moored in a Yacht club on an island near the main island of Venice. And for me – it was the perfect place.

Breakfast on the stern deck, coffee and tea in the afternoon in the main cabin, and upstairs a bar and relaxing area for drinks in the evening.

We arrived late the first night – in the rain. Not fun, and not the best start. We had followed directions – taking one of the transport boats from the airport to the island dock. What we had not quite understood was that we had to leave the main dock before the shuttle boat for the Yacht could pick us up. And with our multiple pieces of luggage (re-enacting is not for the carry on only traveler) this was a challenge. But once the folks from The Bert had understood our challenges – they were quick to help.

We squared away our cabin – with private en-suite bathroom – tiny but efficient. It even had a bidet – although taking a shower meant getting the entire bathroom wet. Stephano – the captain and host extraordinaire offered to cook us dinner – for 30 euros each. We gladly accepted the offer – and I think had one of the most price effective meals of our stay in Italy. Our 30 Euros included unlimited wine (white and red), bread, an amuse, a pasta course, a main course, and dessert. Yummy – private – and served on the stern deck to the lapping of waves and the sound of crickets. Color me happy.

The Bert also provided an ample breakfast – including fresh eggs – cooked to your specifications. That plus unlimited cappuccino – I’m happy.

After breakfast, we either caught the Bert Shuttle to the island dock – or walked 10 minutes. From the dock to Venice was a short boat ride – we spent more time waiting for the boat than actually travelling. Once you figured out when the boats came (you can set you watch by them) – it was easy to time your travel. We quickly become very efficient at getting to and from the heart of Venice.

Venice. Oh yes – Venice. I had pre-planned our first 2 days to be sure that I got to see the ‘highlights’ – St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge Palace. Then we had 2 days to wander on our own – most of which I spent visiting museums, and Victor spent on the internet.

Best museum adventure ever? I wandered into the First Public Library in Venice – and a lovely young female artist explained the drawings – she had written the story of the library – giving the ‘player’s’ – key among them Napoleon – Animal faces. Wonderfully complete, and extremely creative.

In the evenings, we ate. My favorite meal – Quadri. It’s been on St. Mark’s Square for over 100 years – and it rates 2 Michelin starts. Location is perfect, Service is amazing. Souffle was delicious. And as a parting gift – they gave us the menu to remember the meal. Nice touch. After dinner, we wandered the square, then took the boat home.

Sigh – Venice – perfect – absolutely perfect.