Gelato in Rome

>>  Thursday, June 28, 2012

San Crispino Gelateria
Gelateria San Crispino

This is the sixth post in the Spontaneous Weekend Trip to Rome Series. Other posts in this series include: Dal Paino Pizzeria in RomeEtabliIl Convivio,Ciuri Ciuri Pasticceria Gelateria Siciliana, and Sant'Eustachio Il Caffe

Gelato.

The word is almost synonymous with Italy. Virtually every person who gave me advice about Italy told me to definitely eat lots of gelato. Seems like it wasn't unusual for my traveling friends to get multiple scoops of gelato a day while in Italy!

Italians are obsessed with their gelato. Italy is the only country in the world where the market share for handmade gelato outnumbers that of industrial gelato. This is why gelato is so good in Italy. Virtually every shop you see is handmaking their own artisanal version of the stuff.

For some reason, many of the best gelato shops seem to be concentrated around the Pantheon, which is great for tourists since the Pantheon itself is definitely a must-visit, and is conveniently located near many other sites.

Alas since I only had a weekend in Rome (and I was already eating so much other stuff), I only managed to fit in three gelato places. Yes, I know, weak right? Most people are eating 2-3 gelatos a day!

So, even though it's nowhere near a comprehensive review of the best gelato places, I did manage to hit at least one supposed "must-try" as well as a couple other fun ones.

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Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Lime & Cilantro

>>  Wednesday, June 27, 2012

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I guess I'm still a grill noob, excited by the prospect of trying to grill anything.

We've had tons of fun grilling all sorts of stuff our year in the new home. We've grilled vegetables, like asparagus, zucchini, and eggplant. We've even tried fruit, such as pineapples (Bryan's favorite) and peaches (served with ice cream on top, yum!).  We've done entire salmon filets many times (one of our favorites!) and various steaks on a semi-regular basis.

For some odd reason, one day I thought it might be fun to try grilling potatoes.

Can you even grill a potato? I'd never heard of anyone grilling potatoes. I don't think I'd ever had it at a restaurant.

Perhaps the closest thing I'd had was tin-foil wrapped potatoes (not unlike Bryan's family's famous tin-foil chicken) thrown into a fire during a camping trip.

Thankfully, the internet is full of answers. I found a great, simple Bobby Flay recipe for grilled sweet potatoes, kicked up with lime, cayenne pepper, and cilantro.

Bryan loves cilantro and basically is a huge fan of anything Bobby Flay makes, so I was pretty confident this would be a winner.

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Sant’Eustachio Il Caffé

>>  Tuesday, June 26, 2012

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This is the fifth post in the Spontaneous Weekend Trip to Rome Series. Other posts in this series include: Dal Paino Pizzeria in RomeEtabli, Il Convivio, and Ciuri Ciuri Pasticceria Gelateria Siciliana

We were desperately running out of time.

Our flight out of Rome was at 1:30 PM in the afternoon. Since it was an international flight, we really needed to get to the airport by around 10:30AM, maybe 11 at the latest if we wanted to risk things.

Yet I really, really wanted to try to visit one last place before leaving this beautiful city.

After some diligent research the night before, I had concluded that Cafe Sant Eustachio near the Pantheon (which, interestingly, is also where many of the best gelato places reside), had the best coffee is Rome.

It was a 25-minute walk away (yes, we walked everywhere), near the Pantheon.

We only had one hour.

"Should we go for it? It's really tight." said Bryan, the organized, always-on-time, gets-stressed-when-we're-late kinda guy.

"Let's go!" I said, the spontaneous, always-running-late, trying-to-squeeze-too-much-out-of-life kind of gal.

And we were off, power-walking like we'd never done before in the quest for incredible coffee.

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Ciuri Ciuri Pasticceria Gelateria Siciliana

>>  Monday, June 25, 2012

Cannoli
This is the fourth post in the Spontaneous Weekend Trip to Rome Series. Other posts in this series include: Dal Paino Pizzeria in RomeEtabli, and Il Convivio.

Before this trip to Rome, I was woefully ignorant when it came to Italian cuisine.

As a kid, my understanding of Italian food was quite simply spaghetti with red sauce, garlic bread, and pizza from Little Caesar's or Pizza Hut. We loved going to the Olive Garden in high school, viewing it as a special treat (as hungry and poor high school students, I'd always get the bottomless salad and breadsticks! - ahh, such memories).  I still remember trying a caprese salad for the first time in college and thinking that the cheese tasted bland, sort of like tofu.

My exposure to Italian cuisine expanded when I moved to Boston. Various trips to the North End over the years exposed me to authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas, scrumptious homemade pastas, fantastic main entrees, and, of course, delicious Italian desserts from the numerous pastry shops. By far my favorite thing to do in the North End was to enjoy a cup of cappuccino and a super fresh cannoli from Mike's or Modern.
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When we arrived in Rome, we soon began to appreciate the various colors of Italian regional cuisine. More specifically, we started to recognize that certain dishes were prevalent all over Rome (e.g., pasta carbonara and grilled artichokes), while other favorites were noticeably difficult to find, including my favorite Italian dessert, the cannoli.

Turns out, cannoli are native to Sicily.

Nevertheless, after some diligent research, I found a cute little bakery that was reported to have fantastic cannoli, possibly among the best in Rome.

Better yet, it was right around the corner from one of the most fascinating sites we saw in Rome.

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I am on Pinterest!

>>  Saturday, June 23, 2012

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Hi all!

Just wanted to let you know that I recently joined Pinterest!

I'm still getting the hang of it, although it's oddly addicting. Initially, I just thought it would be a cool way to try to organize my blog entries visually. I still aim to do that. However, along the way, I started having fun just "pinning" various cool photos of neat stuff I found on the web.

Anyway, feel free to to follow me here if you'd like. :)

Happy pinning!

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Il Convivio

>>  Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Il Convivio
This is the third post in the Spontaneous Weekend Trip to Rome Series. Other posts in this series include: Dal Paino Pizzeria in Rome and Etabli.

There's one good general rule of thumb when traveling in Rome. Try to avoid eating right inside the busiest and most popular squares. More often than not, those restaurants are touristy, packed with foreigners, and serve mediocre food.

Instead, walk a few blocks away from the bustling squares. Some of the best restaurants are hidden in random alleyways just off the beaten path.
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Il Convivio was the only Michelin starred restaurant we visited in Rome (one star). Italian food is Bryan's favorite cuisine, and he wanted to make sure we ate Italian food every single meal. Some of the fancier restaurants in the city seemed to be more French-like, so we shied away from those.

Similar to most of the good restaurants we tried on this trip, Il Convivio is a few blocks away from Piazza Navona. After walking a several blocks away from Piazza Navona, walk along the right side of this narrow, pink building (pictured above), and then turn into a (seemingly) desolate alley. When in foreign countries, a combination of downloaded maps and the free GPS feature on your smartphone is your friend.
Il Convivio
At the end of the lonely street, you stumble upon this lovely little oasis.

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Fresh English Peas with Mint

>>  Monday, June 18, 2012

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Is spring almost over?

We've been really spoiled in Boston this year. We had the mildest winter I've ever experienced (I think it snowed once or twice the entire winter?). Since then, we've had this long, drawn-out period with reasonably mild temperatures.

It's June now, yet it still feels refreshingly spring-like outside.

Nevertheless, there are rumblings that the sweltering heat will come soon enough. Perhaps I better share with your my recent spring vegetable escapades before it becomes too late!
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I'm a huge, huge fan of fresh English peas. I first tried  fresh peas from a pod at a farmers market in Kendall a couple years ago. The farmer just handed me a pod and showed me how to eat them, raw.

They were so, so good. Fresh, sweet, and definitively crunchy.

The other day I picked up a package of freshly shelled peas from the market.

I wanted something light, reasonably unadorned, yet bursting with natural flavor.

I ended up making a simple side dish of peas with fresh mint, which perfectly hit the spot.

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Etabli (Rome)

>>  Thursday, June 14, 2012

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This is the second post in the Spontaneous Weekend Trip to Rome Series. Other posts in this series include: Dal Paino Pizzeria in Rome

When you only have a weekend in Rome, you're pretty strapped on the number of meals available to you, especially dinners. We flew in on a Friday afternoon, and were leaving early Monday morning.

That means we only had three dinners.

So I strategized - big time.

I scoured websites, travel books, and forums. I asked friends and coworkers who had visited Italy for recommendations. I made a spreadsheet of potential restaurants, listing pros, cons, and summarizing reviews.
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Piazza Navona

Then, after all that research, I narrowed down my list to places that

1) Consistently received rave reviews from multiple sources
2) Were "walkable" (walkable meaning within 5 miles) from our hotel on Via Veneto
3) Served Bryan's favorite foods (yes, pasta, pasta, and more pasta!)

It's true - my method most likely won't unearth the best hidden finds or hot new spots. But hey, when you only have a weekend, you don't want to take chances. I knew that the restaurants I chose would be tried-and-true awesome, approved by scores of people before me.

So on Friday night, after a frustratingly long flight (yes, our plane had mechanical problems and we had to sit inside the plane for 2 hours to wait for them to fix it), we settled into the first of our three dinners, at Etabli, a cozy wine bar, cafe, and restaurant tucked behind a bustling, tourist-laden square.

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Pizzeria dal Paino (Rome)

>>  Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Simple Margherita Pizza from Rome
This is the first post in the Spontaneous Weekend Trip to Rome Series

I am seriously in love with Roman pizza.

Yes, yes, I know pizza was originally invented in Naples. And the people in Naples do take their pizza very, very seriously. I'm sure it's delicious as well.

However, I just have a weakness for that super thin, almost cracker-like crust. Even in the US, I much prefer the paper thin pizzas from places like Emma's or The Upper Crust than thick Chicago-style pizzas from Giordano's or Gino's East. The softer Naples-style crust (from places like Gran Gusto and Antico Forno) is still fantastic, but in the end, what I love most is the ultra-thin crispy crust from Rome.

One popular and famous pizza place in Rome is called Pizzeria Baffetto. It always has a line out the door and has been mentioned in way too many publications. Hardly a hidden find, it still gets fantastic reviews, so we decided to try going for lunch.
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Alas, I should have done my homework. Many many restaurants are closed on Sundays. After walking all way to the neighborhood around Piazza Navona (which, coincidentally, is where a lot of the good food in Rome is), we were just a wee bit disappointed to see the CLOSED sign.

Thankfully, there was this little, handwritten note on the front door that said, "Pizzeria dal Paino is open - Baffetto son." I kid you not, it was written in English.

Bryan and I looked at each other.

"Well, if it's recommended by Baffetto himself, it can't be that bad, right?"

It was just around the corner, so we decided to check it out.

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Yellow chives and 5-spice bean curd

>>  Tuesday, June 12, 2012

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Have you ever heard of the yellow chive?

Or perhaps I should start a bit more basic. Have you heard of Chinese chives in general? You'll often see Chinese chives referred to as "leeks" on Chinese menus (ever heard of the pork and leek dumpling?), when in reality, they are really quite different from those large, super-sized scallions-like things we call leeks in America.
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Chinese chives are a member of the allium family, which also includes garlic, scallions, and onions. These chives have a wonderful fragrance, sort of like garlic, but much sweeter and less pungent. In fact, some people call Chinese chives garlic chives. Chinese chives are hardy perennials that grow quite well in home gardens. When I was a kid, our Taiwanese neighbors would always drop by extra "crop" that they couldn't finish.

Yellow chives are unique because they have been kept away from the sun. As a result, they never develop those characteristic dark green, hardy stems. Instead, yellow chives are more tender, milder, and sweeter in flavor - arguably considered a bit more of a delicacy. They cost about twice as much as normal Chinese chives, and are a bit harder to find.

One of my favorite home-cooked Chinese dishes is traditional Chinese chives with 5-spice tofu. As a twist, I decided to try replacing the traditional green chive with its albino cousin, the delicate yellow chive.

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Three Cup Chicken (三杯雞 or San Bei Ji)

>>  Friday, June 08, 2012

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Do you remember those tiny little dorm fridges everyone used to have in college?

I don't know about you, but every single person in my hall during college had one of those mini-fridges.

They kept food just fine, but they never had a real freezer. At most, the tiny little compartment in the top corner of the fridge would hold a couple pints of ice cream. And it never kept it that cold.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into Bryan's dorm room and found a full size freezer. The freezer itself was bigger than my entire dorm fridge.

Turns out, his mother periodically cooked all his favorite Chinese dishes, pack them up in individual portions over rice, and shipped them all the way from California to MIT, packed in dry ice.

Thus the huge freezer.

It was always a huge treat whenever he was willing to share his mom's precious cooking with me. My favorite dish had 5-spice tofu, peanuts, and stir-fried Chinese vegetables.
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When Glad FreezerWare asked Foodbuzz Tastemakers to design a "freezer-friendly recipe" to try out with these nifty new freezer-friendly containers, I immediately thought back to the scrumptious Chinese meals Bryan and I used to enjoy in his dorm room, compliments of his mom and the wonders of modern technology.

Knowing that simple home-cooked Chinese food freezes exceptionally well, I decided to make Three Cup Chicken, a fragrant and intensely flavorful Taiwanese classic that goes insanely well with rice.

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A Taste of Kinsay

>>  Wednesday, June 06, 2012

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It all started with a cryptic email from a mysterious "Kinsay Wukong" inviting me and Bryan to an evening of "inspired Chinese cuisine."

There was not much more information. Just a date, time, and an address of an apartment in Inman Square.

Intrigued and curious, Bryan and I replied to the email, accepting the invitation.

On a cold, dark night in the middle of February, we drove out to the secret location, a multi-family New England style house on a quiet road near Inman Square.

We rang the doorbell.

Tracy, who I had met at Guchi's Midnight Ramen, answered the door and welcomed us in.

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Saveur Best Food Blog Awards Celebration in New York

>>  Tuesday, June 05, 2012

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What a special, whirlwind weekend.

I went to one of my favorite cities in the world (the city that never sleeps) to attend a special celebration hosted by Saveur Magazine.
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On Thursday evening right when those in the City began heading home from work, the Saveur offices on the 12th floor in Midtown transformed from a busy, productive working area into a lively spot filled with winners and nominees of the Best Food Blog Awards.

I'm still sort of in shock that I was actually coming as a winner. It was surreal to walk into the offices of such a revered publication as someone they were honoring.

Crazy.

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you can contact me at: jen[at]tinyurbankitchen[dot]com
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