One of my favorite Italian dishes is risotto. I first enjoyed it in Italy years ago I visited Italian friends in Parma (in the Po River valley, home of risotto’s ingredients, rice and Parmesan cheese). I enjoyed this specialty of Parma at a small country restaurant some distance from town. It was classic, with fresh spring peas. The congenial chef came to the table to greet us and renew his friendship with my wonderful hosts. (I think perhaps I could still find the menu he dedicated to me somewhere in my memorabilia.)
Since then, if I may say so, I’ve learned to make several decent versions of this creamy dish myself. And in a town like San Francisco it is difficult to get a bad meal. The competition in restaurants is fierce indeed and we still do have the remants of an Italian neighborhood in North Beach where Italian food can often still be found that is not too distantly removed from Italian roots.
So imagine my utter shock to find that food in Rome is now a very chancy proposition. Those throngs mentioned earlier have clearly affected the quality and opportunity for the food people come to Italy to enjoy. Those generations-old family restaurants may indeed no longer have Italians in the kitchen, I suspect. Imagine my shock again when upon ordering that most Italian of dishes, risotto, I was served a dish that perhaps bore a closer resemblance to instant rice with prepared pesto sauce. Hunger ruled however; it was late and necessity prevailed. I didn’t have the heart to complain to our charming young hosts. They had done their best to entice us into the around-the-corner restaurant where they attentively looked after us. In my heart I felt they had only a passing familiarity with risotto of any kind and would not realize how far from Italy their dish had departed.
The exigencies of serving thousands in a day perhaps-especially if the restaurant is located near some major sight, street, or plaza-has clearly been a challenge. I would never have believed that I would encounter canned peas in any dish to be found in Rome. Alas, it was so, but softened by the charm of our host who suggested we assist in his child’s college fund when taking care of the bill. (Nevertheless, we returned once more. Better the known….)
We gave up on having a gelato. The interminable lines were trumped by the unbelievable prices. Did I mention that the cost of two cups of coffee after visiting The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel was eleven euros? Not that we were counting every euro by any means, but being a tourist in Europe isn’t what it used to be so it’s a matter of perceived as well as actual value.
All was not gloom and canned peas however. Very near our wonderful hotel, Albergo Santa Chiara, minutes in fact, we found a fabulous restaurant that I since have discovered has deservedly received rave reviews, the Santa Lucia. Charming, with an outdoor garden that made us wish it was summer. We were shown to cozy indoor seating where we were very lucky to get a table without a reservation. The restaurant was serving couples and single diners. Beautiful decor and service. A memorable meal with excellent wine. Remembering that meal almost makes me think I might go back to Rome in spite of my recent statement that I’ve seen Italy for the last time.
I didn’t have a camera along that evening so cannot share that charming place, but there are other visual delights to remind the visitor that food is still a Roman passion. ~ Buon appetito~
A quick update~ Who knew that Santa Lucia restaurant has had such illustrious diners! A peek inside can be found at this link.