Roman Neighborhood Guide: Piazza Navona and The Pantheon

Neighborhood Guide-Piazza Navona, Pantheon

The area around Piazza Navona and the Pantheon is probably one of the most trafficked areas of Rome.  Part of the Centro Storico, or the historical center, this is the heart and soul of Rome bordered by the Tiber on one side and connecting to the Vatican via the Ponte Sant’Angelo, a beautiful pedestrian bridge with angels designed by Bernini and leading to Castel Sant’Angelo.  Piazza Navona and the Pantheon are located in the northern half of the Centro Storico with Campo dei Fiori neighborhood dominating the southern half of the Centro Storico.  There is so much to see, do and EAT in this area that we just had to share our favorite things about this neighborhood.

Archway to the Centro Storico

Eats

Osteria del Pegno

Located on Vicolo di Montevechhio

We have literally written an entire article on this restaurant and I do not have much to add except for the fact that you have to eat here.  If you visit Rome and do not eat here you are crazy! I have had some of the best meals of my life here.  Their ravioli in an orange cream sauce with saffron and zucchini blossoms can seriously change your life (it convinced me I like squash blossoms after all) and even their fennel salad with oranges was heavenly.  I cannot stress how amazing this restaurant is enough.  It may not be “traditional” Italian cuisine but damn it is good and made the Italian way with simple good ingredients.

 

Cul de Sac

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Cul de Sac is another restaurant we have talked about before in our Rome City Guide and it keeps popping up because it is an outstanding enoteca or wine bar.  The wine list is a BOOK and just a few pages but a massive book which covers all regions of Italy.  I wish I knew then what I do about Italian wines now, because I would have definitely taken advantage of the wine list more.  Go out of your comfort zone while you are here and order a wine you have never heard of; I guarantee you have not heard of most of them on the list anyways since Italy has an obscene amount of grape varietals.  This restaurant does not only have stellar wine but they also have amazing food.  This is the restaurant if you want to try the roman specialty tripe, but if you are not feeling that adventurous their lasagna is one of the best in the city.

 

Bar Amore

Located on Via dei Banchi Nuovi – A continuation of Via del Governo Vecchio

I have a soft spot in my heart for Bar Amore.  I used to visit this bar almost daily for my cafe e panino.  This bar makes one of the best panino in the city because you can customize it.  That’s right people, a build your own panino shop in Rome.  I took full advantage of this by always ordering the same thing, a tomato and mozzarella panino…….  And by advantage I mean not at all but it was/is SOOO good.  They do have a wide range of ingredients you can put on your panino including brie, artichokes, prosciutto and more.  If you are looking for a great panino place and you are near Piazza Navona search this place out.  Just beware it fills with UC Rome students around lunchtime 😉

 

Pizzeria Baffeto

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Are you looking for authentic pizza in the heart of Rome and like waiting in line?  Then you need to head to Pizzeria Baffeto.  It might be weird that I am mentioning lines but to this day this is the ONLY restaurant in Rome I ever saw with a line before it opened.  I have had to wait for Cul de Sac but nothing compares to waiting in line for Baffeto.  Things have eased up a bit since they opened up Baffeto Due but I prefer the wait.  Baffeto also has the most perfect location for me; across the street from Abbey and next to Frigidarium.  Baffeto specializes in Roman pizza larger than your face.  They only serve pizza and jugs of wine.  The pizzas range from the traditional Margherita to the Diavola with spicy sausage but perhaps my favorite one is the pizza fagioli, which is a basic margherita pizza with cannellini beans added on top.  It may sound strange and I was certainly skeptical when my sister ordered by my god is it good.  There is just something about the creamy cannellini beans and the cheese and sauce that is so simple but so good.  Even if you are indifferent about pizza (which who is?) at least head to Baffeto for the atmosphere.  The tables here are jammed packed into a two story building which during the summer spills out into the streets.  Service is quick and no frills and you can hear all the waiters and cooks yelling at each other across the restaurant.  It is quintessentially a Roman restaurant.

 

Il Clan

Located on Via Sora

Il Clan is the perfect restaurant when you need to relax from all the chaos of Rome and God forbid eat something other than Italian food.  Il Clan is the only Brazilian restaurant in town, that I know of anyways, although there is an Argentinian restaurant not too far away (never been though).  This is the perfect spot to relax amongst the bright colors that decorate the restaurant and indulge in a caipirinha or two…. They do not have an extensive menu but what they do have is fresh and authentic.

 

Tapa Loca

Located on Via di Tor Millina

Tapa Loca is, as you may have guessed, a Spanish tapas restaurant.  It is just down the street from Piazza Navona and is a great spot to drink sangria on a hot summer night and eat a ridiculous amount of paella.  Alex and I made the mistake of ordering one between the two of us and had leftovers for days!  It didn’t help that we ordered a bunch of appetizers as well.  This restaurant has a fun vibe and is a great place for a large group of people. Think pitchers of sangria 🙂

 

Insalta Ricca

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

We have mentioned Insalata Ricca before in our Trastevere Guide but as there is another location near Piazza Navona it seemed worth noting.  I went here a LOT when I was a student at UC Rome as it is just down the street.  My roommate and I would always split a pesto pizza and a greek salad…. and a liter of wine.  It is Italy after all!

Liter of Wine at Insalata Ricca

 

 

Mimi & Coco Panini Shop

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

I am not a huge fan of Mimi & Coco’s restaurant, I find it a bit overpriced for what it is, but I do love their panini place just down the street.  Their panini are open-faced sandwiches and are more like pizza then panini.  My favorite is, per usual, the caprese.  The bread is a bit like focaccia and they just pile on the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and then grill it up on a panini press.  I love to grab the sandwich and walk to either Piazza Navona or the Pantheon and just sit and enjoy it.  This is perhaps one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon in the heart of Rome.

 

Smoothie Place

Located on Via di Tor Millina

Ok we cannot remember the name of this place but it is part gelato shop and also smoothie shop.  It is the only place that we know of in Rome that serves smoothies and after all those carbs sometimes it is nice to have some fruit that is not ice cream.  They have smoothie combinations and you can also build your own as well.  This store is located just off Piazza Navona and looks slightly touristy but is awesome!

 

Frigidarium and San Crispino

Located on Via Governo Vecchio and Piazza della Maddalena respectively

Gelato

These are HANDS DOWN my all time favorite gelaterias!  That is a bold statement, I know, but I am not taking it back.  I talked about both of these places in my 5 Reasons Why I Love Gelato post but they deserve a second mention, mainly because I wrote that article almost 2 years ago.  Frigidarium is my go to for traditional Italian gelato.  You get the basic flavors here but they are sooo good.  I am obsessed with their canella (cinnamon) and their raspberry sorbet.  San Crispino is the place to go to hunt down seasonal gelato.  I love their white peach sorbet and the Sicilian honey gelato.  They switch the flavors up a lot and always have something amazing.

 

 

Drink

Abbey Theater

Abbey

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Abbey will always have a special place in our hearts because we met there of course!  Actually that is not it at all (although we did meet there).  Both of us had been going to Abbey before we met each other and it is our favorite expat bar.  This is place where we always felt welcomed.  If it had been a rough day and we were just sick of Rome this was the place we would go to unwind.  Plus they had awesome chicken curry.

 

Bar del fico

Located on Piazza del Fico

Bar del Fico is a hole in the wall Italian bar.  While I have never eaten here it always gets rave reviews but it is a great spot to pop in for an evening drink.  The atmosphere is lively whether you grab a table outside or inside.  You will always find locals here, playing chess usually and egging each other on, which can be rare in such a heavily touristed area.  This is one of the greatest bars to catch up with friends and spend a relaxing Saturday night.

 

Fluid

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

Fruit Cocktails at Fluid

Clearly Governo Vecchio is one of my favorite streets in all of Rome and Fluid is my favorite aperitivo bar.  The cocktails here are top notch especially in a city that doesn’t have a huge cocktail scene, although I hear that is changing.  Plus I am all for a place that charges 7euros for a cocktail and then you get unlimited food.  They will occasionally serve pineapple with drizzled nutella; I never knew how good that could be until Fluid.

 

Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe

Located on Piazza Sant’Eustachio

Sant’Eustachio is a cafe in the heart of Rome that has been around since 1938.  Today’s incarnation looks almost similar to the original cafe with even the paving and furnishing the same as in 1938.  They are known for the caffe d’elite and the shakerato.  Sitting at one of the 6 tables at Sant’Eustachio is like stepping back into Rome’s past.

 

See

Piazza Navona/Ruins of Diocletian’s circus

Alex Strolling Through Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is probably the most popular square to visit in Rome.  Whenever I imagine the square I am filled with romantic notions of artists selling their wares while couples take romantic strolls and academics debate Bernini’s famous fountain.  And in truth you do get this along with hordes of tourists.  I tend to avoid Piazza Navona during the summer during the day but love to spend hours here in the evening.  Rome is so hot during the summer even at night that it is lovely to spend time near the fountain (personally I think the sound of falling water makes it feel cooler, mental air conditioning…).  I love staring at all the different angles of Bernini’s fountain especially the statue which faces Borromini’s church as the two were bitter rivals and this played out in Bernini’s art.

Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain
I love how the figure is shielding his eyes against the horror of Borromini’s church

 

Another reason I love Piazza Navona is because the history behind the famous piazza is so much more than just the Baroque period of Bernini and Borromini.  If you head around to the north of the piazza on the outside you can see the ruins of the Stadium of Domitian which was built in the first century CE.  Today Piazza Navona still retains the same shape as the original stadium that was used for foot races.

 

Pantheon

The Pantheon

I have stated time and time again but I will say it again, The Pantheon is my favorite building EVER.  The fact that Hadrian rebuilt it in 126 CE and people still do not know how he built the dome amazes me!  I love all the history of the building and except for the fact that it is now a church it was left relatively untouched from the Roman times.  Also if you have a chance to visit during Pentecost a stop in to the Pantheon is a must as they throw rose petals from the ceiling.  This is one of my favorite memories from our time in Rome.

 

Bernini’s Elephant

Bernini's Elephant in Rome

Located on Piazza della Minerva

Bernini’s elephant in front of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is just one of the delights this church holds.  I love that Bernini carved this white elephant.  I am not sure why I love this little statue so much but it seem like such a whimsy addition to a city filled with high art.

 

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Located on Piazza della Minerva

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is a church with an excessively long name which means the Church of St. Mary above the Temple of Minerva.  Throughout the city of Rome churches were built over pagan sites.  This was mainly to encourage pagans to convert to Christianity, the logic being that people do not like to change their routine so they will continue to go to the same site even when the religion changes.  While you can no longer see the remains of the Temple of Minerva, who also goes by the Greek name of Athena, the church is still worth a visit.

 

Before you head into the church and after you have spent time admiring Bernini’s elephant take a look at the plaques that are on the right hand side of the building.  The plaques mark the height of the flooding of the Tiber River.  Before the huge embankments were places along the Tiber, the river used to flood annually and covered much of the Centro Storico.  It is amazing to think that the river used to flood all the way to this church.  It is about a ten minute walk to the river from the church.

Christ the Redeemer by Michelangelo
It looks much better in person than through the grainy lens pf my iphone 3 – Yup you read that right. I took this photo about 2.5years ago…. Clearly was not preparing for a life of blogging

 

The church also has a beautiful statue inside, Christ the Redeemer, which was carved by Michelangelo in 1519.  The statue was carved for a private patron who lived near Santa Maria Sopra Minerva but there were actually two versions of it carved as the first was abandoned when a black vein was discovered in the marble.  The first version was placed by Metello Vari, Michelangelo’s patron, in his garden and the second completed statue was placed inside the church.  The first statue was actually lost from the early 1600s to 2000 when it was discovered in a sacristy in Bassano, just outside of Rome.  This statue was famous during its time and was described by a contemporary as having knees worthy more than the whole of Rome.  Those are some pretty bad ass knees…

 

Ruins at Lago Argentina

The ruins at Lago Argentina are interesting because they have literally built a traffic hub around them.  Several bus lines, tram lines and a major road all surround these ruins which are below the surface.  I think it is always worth it to brave the traffic to cross the street and view the ruins.  The ruins date back to the Republican period of Rome and include four temples and the ruins of Pompey’s theater.  Julius Caesar was assassinated at the Theater of Pompey in the curia and it is thought that this site is part of the ruins of Largo Argentina.  The ruins also act as a cat shelter for the homeless cats of Rome of which there are many.  So you can hang out with some kitties and check out ruins.  Who needs cat cafes?

 

Do

Via dei Coronari

Via-dei-Coronari-1

Via dei Coronari is a quaint little street with hundreds of little local shops.  This street is where I pick up all of my Christmas gifts as I can always find something unique here for family and friends.  It is also a great place to take photos of quaint Roman streets.  There are cute little cafes, spots to grab gelato and sit on the stairs, and a range of boutiques and vintage stores.

 

Glass store

Located on Via dei Coronari

We for the life us cannot remember the name of this store but we absolutely LOVE it.  Alex and I discovered this store while we were wandering Via dei Coronari and it is our favorite store in Rome.  The owners actually makes their own glass for all of the jewelry and home decor in the shop.  While it may not be the famous murano glass, it is locally made and each piece is unique.  The store owners are so amazing that when Alex and I went in there with a picture of what Alex’s mom wanted from the store and they didn’t have it, they made it for us there on the spot.  If anyone visits this glass shop or knows the name of it we would love to know!  We love this place and want to give them proper recognition!

 

Vintage shopping

Located on Via Governo Vecchio

All along Via Governo Vecchio from Abbey to Bar Amore there are adorable vintage shops just filled with treasures.  I loved popping into these stores in between classes to check out what they had.  While it is possible to find some deals at these stores be prepared to shell out a pretty penny if you really want some amazing vintage pieces.  Either way it is always nice to pop in and see some more modern Roman history.

Street Corners of the Centro Storico
This is Rome. Beautiful street corners with bags of trash next to them…. It is a beautiful AND a living city with highs and lows

 

So there you have it, our tips and recommendations for the northern half of the Centro Storico from Piazza Navona to the Pantheon.  This is such a wonderful area to take in the history and the daily life of Rome.  While it can be touristy there are still many authentic roman places to eat, see and shop.

 

 

Do You Like Rabbit?

Cappella
God I love The South!

The station was packed with people moving, passing each other with grace and speed. Mario stood next to me giving me some tips on how to navigate through this crowd without getting my pocket picked.  Mario was my guide to Naples, and this city is notorious for  thieves, a city where the Mafia still thrives. Naples is a city with attitude and this was my first visit; the visit that made me fall in love with this beautiful city.

We got on the bus and bought a couple of tickets. We sat down and he handed me a pen and told me to write the date where the machine would  leave a stamp. It was a trick that the locals used to scam a couple extra rides.. Mario, was taking me to a small town right outside of the city along the coast called Cappella. It is a cute little Italian town with not much to it. It has a local market, a school, and a bit of a downtown area by the water. Cappella though is not built for tourist but local residents.

Cappella, Napoli
Just Beautiful

I was lucky enough to have a friend like Mario to invite me into his family’s home for the weekend. Now I don’t know how many of you have spent time with Italians but if you ever get a chance take them up on their hospitality. Italians know how to take care of their guests and you will leave with a full stomach of amazing homemade food and wine.

We were picked up at the bus stop by Mario’s uncle. I hoped in the back of his tiny car and we were off. Mario and his Uncle  went straight to catching up in Neapolitan which is a dialect of Italian. If you have never heard someone from Naples speak Italian then there is one thing you need to know. I don’t care how much Italian you took in school, you would not understand one thing they say. It is hard to explain on paper but trust me it is a whole different language. Now I was too busy staring out the window to care what they were saying and before I knew it we were in front of the house.

House in Napoli
The Ceiling Was Low

The house was nothing special but had a quaint seaside feel to it. The first room you enter into is  more like a large walk in pantry/garage. The ceiling was low and I, being the tallest had to keep my head bent low just so I would not hit it. I grazed it a few times though despite my efforts. I was then introduced to all of Mario’s family: his uncle, aunt, cousins, and grandparents.

House in Napoli
Where The Magic Happened

His Grandmother was less interested in greetings, choosing instead to make sure that we were fed. She dragged us in to the kitchen and sat us down. She asked me a few questions. I looked at Mario in confusion and he just told me to say yes. So I promptly said Si and she looked pleased with my answer. I was given a plate of pasta, a  cup and two large carafes of white and red wine to choose from. Nobody else was eating and it was a little awkward but Mario explained to me that it was customary that the guest should be fed upon arrival.

Italian Cuisine
Simple but Delicious
Italian Cuisine
Octopus!!!!
Italian Cuisne
Never Say No!

Mario’s grandmother was Southern Italian and I could tell she wore it with a badge of pride. When she asked me a question like, “ Would you like some more?” I knew that it was a rhetorical question; your answer was always yes and never no. She was the boss of this house and she had final say. Now I fell in love with Mario’s Grandmother. She was hilarious and loved to mess with people. She knew when to be stern and when to joke. She is unbelievably giving and kind. Even though I stood above her by a foot I knew that I would do whatever she said. After being fatten up like Hansel and Gretel she put us to work.

Mario's Grandmother
Mario’s Grandmother

We headed up to the second house up the street to gather what we needed for what I thought was dinner on Grandma’s orders. At the back of the house we were greeted with a large wooden shed, the shed was filled with large jugs and barrels of homemade wine. Mario’s cousins siphoned the wine through a plastic tube and into plastic bottles. This was what I had been drinking earlier and we were gathering more for dinner. His Grandmother grabbed me and pulled me off to the side.

Italian Wine
Homemade Wine
Italian Cusine
Sorry Thumper!
Italian Cuisine
Good Eats

She motioned me to follow; I quickly obeyed and followed her into another section surrounded by a fence. The area was filled with large cages  with rabbits, a table and a large space in the middle. In the middle suspended in the air was a rabbit attached to a chain hanging from its hind legs. She walks up to it and grabs it by its ears and asked what I assume was the question, “Do you like rabbit?” I shook my head yes and without flinching she sliced the throat of the rabbit and then striped it of its fur in a couple more motions with a knife.  She pointed at me with her knife and asked if I still like rabbit.  I shook my head yes. She something I did not catch but she laughed as she made a motion with knife of crossing her neck. I took what I missed as “You better still like rabbit because if you don’t you will end up like this rabbit”.  I laughed and followed her outside back to the shed. They had finished up with the wine and we headed back down to the other house.

Italian Cuisine
Gnocchi
Italian Cuisine
Finished Product

Back at Mario’s house we played the Italian card game of skopa with his cousins and uncles as we drank beer and talked. Then after a quick nap were went back down to the main house. Mario’s grandmother was in the kitchen making us  home gnocchi; her hands were quick as she formed the little balls of dough. I was told that this was just one of the dishes for tomorrow. Everything that we had done that day was not for dinner but actually for tomorrow’s lunch. I could not wait till the next day as we spent the rest of the night eating pizza and playing skopa while watching calcio(football/soccer).

The next day came soon enough and now it was time for lunch. It was a feast, just one course after another of food: pasta, rabbit, cake, mozzarella. When I say mozzarella I mean giant fresh balls of Buffalo Mozzarella that we bit into like apples. We had giant meatballs that were the best I have ever had. We ate until we were stuffed and then finished the rest of the food so not to offend Mario’s grandmother. The wine flowed just as freely as we went through bottle after bottle of wine.

Italian Cuisine
Baked Pasta!!!
Italian Cuisine
Rabbit Was Fantastic
Italian Cuisine
Meatballs

The table was filled with constant conversation. Now if you are not use to it and you just came into the scene you might think they were in a fight but in reality that is just how they conversed. Italians are loud and have attitude and that is part their charm. I was in heaven and was wishing that I was Italian. I could live like this for the rest of my life. It was this lunch that I fully understood the southern Italian way of life. I was in love.

Italian Cuisine
I Was Stuffed
Italian Cuisine
Don’t Forget The Desert

I was fortunate to go back one more time and it was the same as the first and I just fell in love all over again. It has been a few years since I have seen Mario and his family but I hope that sometime soon in the future I will be back at that table with all his family enjoying each others company. Mario’s family and this experience is the reason why I root for Napoli in Serie A and when I think of Italy, I think of the south. I may have lived in Rome but I will always love Southern Italy.  They know the secret of life and it is to enjoy it all. It has been awhile since I have said it but I want to thank Mario and his family again for being such wonderful hosts.

Napoli
Thanks Mario!

 

48 Hours Eating Our Way Through Portland

Portland is such an amazing city and when we visited back in May during our Pacific Northwest road trip we knew we would only have a short time here. We really did not have plans at all but we knew we wanted to take advantage of the city’s great food and cafe scene and that is basically all we did. It was AMAZING! The diversity of the food available in Portland runs the gamut from fine dining to their awesome food trucks and we tried to sample as much as we could.

Here is what we ate in 48 hours in Portland:

48 Hour Food Guide to Portland

May 6th:

We rolled into Northeast Portland around 7pm and were greeted by our AirBnB hosts. Upon arriving we had absolutely no idea where we were and our hosts were more than happy to direct us towards some local restaurants because per usual we were starving. They mentioned this tapas place and we were sold.

Toro Bravo has been open since 2007 and is basically credited (from the magazine article I read) with revitalizing Portland’s Spanish tapas scene. It is honestly one of the best Spanish tapas restaurants I have been to. It does not specialize in any one regional Spanish cuisine, unlike Bar Barlata in Oakland (my other favorite tapas restaurant which specializes in Catalan tapas), but instead focuses on cuisine throughout Spain. We browsed the menu for a bit before settling on perhaps waaaayyy too much food. We have a tendency to do that.

Scallop Obsession at Toro Bravo

To accompany our insane amount of food we decided to get a bottle of a Spanish rioja and then we tasted our way through Spain. We tried the seared scallops with romesco (I cannot turn down scallops), house cured chorizo with manchego cheese, tortilla espanola and of course the ubiquitous patatas bravas. All the food was absolutely delicious (although Alex and I both agree that we probably do not need to order patatas bravas again as there are so many other things we like more) and the atmosphere was lively and fun. We sat at the low bar right in front of the open kitchen and thoroughly enjoyed watching the movement of the chefs in such a small kitchen. Also the evening was perfectly capped by molten chocolate cake and some sherry.

Molten Chocolate Cake!
*Note: We got insanely lucky by just walking in without a reservation. If you really want to go here make reservations.

May 7th:

The next morning was a slow morning, as most are for me, but we finally got up and moving to explore downtown Portland. My parents had suggested we explore the Pearl District and while I was browsing the internet for breakfast places we stumbled upon Tilt.

Tilt is located in the Pearl and is famous for their Blue Collar Biscuit Sandwiches. This was the perfect place for us to hit up as we got to indulge in a little brunch action, it being around 1pm after all. Tilt is located in a large industrial building and is huge with seating both inside and out. When you enter you order at the counter and then you can head around to find your seating. We found ourselves seats at the bar, shocking I know, and promptly ordered two bloody marys. They were pretty damn delicious, although my favorite bloody marys are still from The Abbey.

Bloody Marys at Tilt

As we waited for our food we partook in some casual people watching. Even though we were indoors they had the huge garage doors open to connect with their outdoor patio and it was a gorgeous day. Then our food arrived and it was HUGE. Alex got one of their famous Blue Collar Biscuits and his had bacon, eggs and cheese on it and I order the BBQ Chicken Ranchers Salad. They were both awesome although I almost wish I had ordered a burger here because they looked so good. Overall Tilt was great and had an awesome vibe. It would have been great to come back for a drink later but we had many more places to visit.

Blue Collar Biscuits

BBQ Chicken Salad at Tilt in Portland
It may be a salad but look at all that BACON!

After we brunched at Tilt we then proceeded to wander the streets of Portland and compare it to Portlandia until it was time for a coffee break. We were in Portland it was basically a requirement that we stop for coffee. So we headed towards the Ace Hotel, perhaps the most delightfully hipster place I have ever been, and grabbed a coffee at Stumptown. Now I like good coffee; you cannot live in Italy for years without becoming a slight snob about espresso but I have to say while Stumptown makes a good cappuccino I do not like the flavor of their espresso. The blasphemy, I know, but there it is. The cappuccino was good but the espresso flavor completely overpowered the rest of the drink but regardless I was glad we stopped at this iconic coffee shop and of course drank it in the hipster lobby of the hipster Ace Hotel. I almost broke out my flannel 🙂

Stumptown Coffee

The Ace Hotel is delightfully hipster.
The Ace Hotel is delightfully hipster.

Once we were properly caffeinated we set out to meet my friend Matt at his work and he just so happens to work for the Portland Timbers. Being a soccer fan I was disappointed there was not a game while we were in town but Matt was able to show us around the field. Did you know that they saw off a piece of a giant log (the word seems a little inadequate for how large the “log” is) every time they win a game? It was nice being back in a town where people appreciate soccer 🙂

Portland Timbers

We had some time to kill before meeting up with Matt’s girlfriend so we took a walk down to Pioneer Square and then moseyed over to Bailey’s Taproom. I feel like this is a Portland staple but that could be only because multiple people told me to go there; maybe they just know me. Bailey’s Taproom is a great spot where they focus on Oregon beers and are constantly switching them up. They also have this fancy system where they mark how much is in each keg that way if you have a favorite you know how quickly you need to drink it to make sure you get the last of it or at least that is how I took it.

After a brief detour to drop our bags off at Matt’s house we headed back to the Pearl to eat at Andina,a novoperuvian restaurant. If there is one cuisine I love eating and miss that we do not have in Healdsburg it is Peruvian food so naturally I was INCREDIBLY excited to eat at this restaurant. The restaurant is huge and has a great vibe; it almost feels like you have entered Peru (or so I am baselessly assuming) as you can dine on three different levels feeling very much like a peruvian home. Once again we ordered wwwaaayyyy too much food per usual. Perhaps one of my favorite dishes was the Palta Rellena de Cangrejo, which was an avocado stuffed with crab and topped with a prawn; yum!

Scallops in CHEESE at Andina in PortlandWe also ordered the Conchas a la Parmesana, scallops baked with parmesan cheese and lime. It reminded me of the scallop mac and cheese at Willi’s, one of our favorite restaurants in Healdsburg. Also if you have never tried causas before you are missing out. The whipped purple potatoes with shredded chicken make up the Causa Morada and I needed to order that because well its a causa made out of purple potatoes. Accompanying all this food were fantastic cocktails including the traditional Pisco Sour and the spicy Sacsayhuaman with habanero pepper vodka and a passion fruit puree.

Causas

After the delicious Peruvian food was devoured we decided that we needed an after dinner drink and Matt and Carly wanted to take us to one of their favorite bars, The Rookery Bar. The Rookery Bar is somewhat of a hidden gem mainly because there is no sign for it and it is located above the Raven and Rose, a British style gastro pub located in the historic Ladd Carriage House. The bar has all the charm you would expect from a hidden bar in a historic building; dim lighting, the leather chairs, the band playing in the corner and of course the drinks. The drinks were superb at the Rookery. I had two fancy gin cocktails, I believe one was called Bonny Wee Lass, Alex and Matt had Manhattans and Carly had an Irish Coffee. I don’t know how I ended up leaving without an Irish Coffee, they are probably one of my favorite cocktails.

May 8th:
Our final morning in Portland and we just had to keep on eating. I swear we gained a gazillion pounds in this 48 hour period. Before heading to Portland and watching too much Food Network the main thing I knew about the city was it had crazy doughnuts so we had to search out Voodoo Doughnuts. Voodoo Doughnuts are famous for their crazy doughnut concoctions and they certainly lived up to the hype. The doughnut combinations are ridiculous and some would argue ridiculously good.

Just look at the Voodoo doll doughnuts, delicious!
Just look at the Voodoo doll doughnuts, delicious!

I am not really a doughnut person but we decided to had to order the Voodoo Dozen which is a random assortment of their doughnuts. We had the Marshall Mathers, Dirt Doughnut, The Loop and so many more. We also tried their famous maple bacon doughnut. That one was probably my favorite but the others were decidedly too sweet for me but I am glad we had a dozen and were able to bring them to my family. The doughnuts were fun to pose with as we ate them in our car as well. Yay we are normal….

Maple Bacon Doughnut posing
Maple Bacon Doughnut posing
Not totally sold on the whole doughnut thing....
Not totally sold on the whole doughnut thing….
Cereal on a doughnuts!  What is this world coming to?
Cereal on a doughnuts! What is this world coming to?

We knew the last thing we needed to do in Portland before we hit the road again was to explore some of their extensive food trucks food carts. We hit up one of the squares with a wide variety of cuisine on SW 9th Street and Adler and made a decision not to make a decision about what we wanted until we had seen all the carts. Holy mother of all things delicious there were a lot of options! I was absolutely floored by all the different options and types of food they had in just a small radius. We finally narrowed our decision down to three food carts: Kargi Gogo, EuroDish and A Little Bit of Smoke.

Lobani from Kogi Gogo
Lobani from Kargi Gogo

Kargi Gogo is Georgian cuisine and we chose it because we have never had Georgian food. We sampled a few different dishes including the Lobani, a stuffed bean and sauted onion bread, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I normally associate anything stuffed with beans to be Mexican but this was a revelation and now I cannot wait to go to Georgia and EAT! (Granted that is pretty much what we do when we travel). We then moved over to EuroDish for pierogis. I was first introduced to pierogis when Trader Joes started carrying them in the frozen aisle and they became my favorite after school snack so I had to order some. We ordered the sampler of three different types of pierogis; ground beef, cabbage and cheese. They were soft pillowly balls of dough smothered in sour cream and stuffed with deliciousness. Seriously, what is better?

Pierogi heaven
Pierogi heaven

Perhaps our third stop. By this time we couldn’t eat anymore though considering we were still digesting the doughnuts but we couldn’t resist ordering anyways. But we were smart; we got it to go! A Little Bit of Smoke is a Carolina BBQ food truck. I ordered the pulled chicken sandwich and Alex ordered the classic pulled pork. We ended up not eating these sandwiches until we pulled into Seattle hours later but even cold they were awesome.

A Little Bit of Smoke-Carolina BBQ

To be honest all the food we had in Portland was awesome and I would head back in heartbeat! There are so many food carts we did not get to try; FoodCartsPortland.com lists all the options and I am getting hungry just looking at all of them. Portland is the best city for overindulging in fantastic food and drinks and if we could eat all this in just 48 hours just imagine what we could eat in a whole week there!

Brain, Guts, Glory!

Brains, Guts, GloryMarrakesh, a city that is exotic and filled with spice and I was lucky enough to eat my way through this city. Moroccan cuisine has a fabulous way to wet my appetite; the spices, the strong smells and flavors were all soaked up with the fresh made bread. Morocco excited me to no end. I was finally going to North Africa and Marrakesh was my introduction. I had finally made it right before my 19th birthday. I was ecstatic as I settled into my Riad. I did not want to stay inside long; I wanted to be out and exploring the markets. I wanted to dig into a bowl of spiced snails or take a big chunk out of some sheep brain and intestines with a little camel lung on the side. I then wanted to wash it all down with a local apple soda and man what a meal.

IMG_0311I entered the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square and was overwhelmed with the beautiful colors that jumped out at you. The square was busy and noisy and tourist and locals alike skirted from point A to point B.  Local vendors screamed out deals as they watched people pass their shops, giving smiles to vendors as they tried to convince me to go into their shops. I was in no mood for shopping. My stomach was growling and I was looking for good ol’ street food.

Now I love food and I love all kinds of food; I can dine with the finest and I can slum it with the best. I love and crave new and exotic flavors bouncing around my palate. Street food is my favorite because I can always find the bizarre food that needs an acquired taste to enjoy. This kind of food is intimidating but the excitement of conquering the bizarre is what draws me in. I want to understand all the flavors that food can offer.

 Jemaa el-Fnaa square, Marrakesh
Jemaa el-Fnaa square, Marrakesh
Spice stand in Morocco
Have I mentioned the spices!

The food stands were in the middle of the square all tightly packed together. I could smell the baking of fresh round bread and hear the clanking of saucepans and pots as cooks screamed out for my attention. I walked through them with my eyes wide open just absorbing everything I was looking at. I ignored the calls from the food vendors and patiently waded through until I got a whiff of something interesting and I saw a place serving bowls of snails. They call this Ghoulal and it is a staple in Moroccan street food.

I walked up to the stand and pulled up a seat. I pointed to the snails and the man gave me a big scoop of them in a bowl. He poured the spice broth on and handed me the bowl. The steam of the broth hit my face and a bouquet of cumin, tarragon, thyme, peppermint, mint and ginger filled my senses.  I took a little wooden pick and plucked the succulent little buggers out of their shells and plopped them into my mouth. The tender pieces of meat seemed to melt and filled my mouth with a savory spice. I was lost in bliss and could not wait for my next bite. I finished up and slurped down the broth and moved on to the next stand.

Food stall in the  Jemaa el-Fnaa square
I’ll Take One of Everything Please

I saw a stand grilling some mystery meat that smelled decent. I asked the man what he was cooking up and he smiled at me and in broken English told me sheep’s brain, camel lung, and intestines. I was not sure at first if he was telling the truth or just messing with a tourist but he was actually cooking that. He seemed friendly and sincere so I sat down and asked for a little bit of everything.IMG_0401

I told him to keep giving me stuff until I said stop. He gave me a big grin and started to fill up a plate.  He gave me bread to accompany the food and told me what was there. He again said sheep’s brain, camel lung, and intestines. Now I can’t really say that I fell in love with any of it, but my chewy meaty snacks were fascinating. I forced myself to enjoy new textures, and flavors. I love forcing myself to deal with it. The brain was very much like liver just without the flavor. The camel lung was chewy and the intestines  were spongy.  It was strange and I really have no idea if that was what I was eating but hey I felt the man to be honest and I thought it was worth a risk.

Mystery Meat!
Brain, Guts, Glory! Dig in!
Lamb Tajine
Lamb Tajine, enough said!

I had unbelievable food in the markets and at a few restaurants. I had lamb, all sort of tajines and they were all wonderful but the street food and the exotic is what intrigues me. I will always remember the voices of the vendors competing for customers and the fast movement of the crowds as you get bumped along. The noise was on high and it was exciting. Street food can be a gamble at times but we all need a little bit of risk in our life. I love food and will always love food.

The ability to take ingredients and pair them with each other to create such a wonderful and delicious dish is a true art. I am no cook and probably will never be one. I have few things I can put together but for the most part the preparation is not what draws my attention but the finished piece and to celebrate the work of art by ingesting it. Morocco was an experience and we  are already planning a trip back to the North African Country of Morocco for Christmas 2015. I cant wait to go back and explore more.

Moroccan Riad
Family Dinner at the Riad
Moroccan Dessert Dinner
Our Guide Through Morocco!
Sahara Desert!
I Can’t Wait For My Next Adventure in Morocco!

Abbey Theater, Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Maybe I am different or maybe I am the same as everybody else; I want a place where I can go and get away from everyday life, a place where everybody knows your name. While living in a Rome I had a hard time finding a group to fit into. I was 18 years old, had just moved to a new country and was feeling a bit homesick. I needed a place that was familiar, I need a place where I could escape Rome even if it was just for a night. Bennie Mangiardi found me that place. Bennie was a junior at my school when I started out and she told me to come out one night with her to a place she called The Abbey. I did not know at the time but I was about to walk into place that would change my entire future when it came to Rome. I had finally found a place I could call home in the eternal city.

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Abbey at its finest!

Now I have tried to write this article about three times now. I got rid all of them because I had been having trouble getting the feel of the Abbey just right. It is not easy to convey why a place is so special.  The Abbey Theater is an Irish pub on the corner down an alleyway in central Rome. It does not stick out, it has nothing flashy to point it out; it is just a pub on the corner. That is what first drew me to place as Bennie took me to this pub. It was off the beaten track and away from the noise and public display of drunkenness of Campo de Fiori. When I stepped inside the Abbey for the first time I felt as I had left Rome. People turned and looked at who was coming in and they all seemed to recognize Bennie and they all greeted her. Names were being yelled and inside jokes are being said as we enter the front of the main bar of the pub. The volume was upbeat in the pub as everybody seem to know everybody in the bar. English was the primary language spoken in the pub. I knew instantly that this was a place I wanted become apart of. I was hooked before I even knew what I got myself in for.

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Abbey is where I met Ashley. Thank God I did!
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Mangiardi, my mentor, and Simba!

A lot of my life in Rome was spent at the Abbey after that night. I slowly became a familiar face in the bar and became friends with some of the other regulars. The place became a home to me and my friends became family. It was a place I could escape to, a place where I knew a good time was going to happen.  A place that had a wake for Bennie when she moved away from Rome. A place where you can sit side by side with a Catholic priest in a Dallas Cowboy Jacket and watch a game of football and enjoy a shot and a beer. A place where Ashley and I met and got caught on camera for the whole bar to see making out in the stairway. The place where if you did not watch your drink carefully a manic bartender would steal your drink right out of your hand and say, “ oh was that yours?” as he drinks it down. A place were bets are taken seriously and if you lose you will pay dearly. I lost of full head of hair, buzzed off in the bathrooms, over a bet once. Or you may find yourself sitting next to a Irish man with red hair comfortably asleep at the bar.

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Mangiardi’s wake! Here is to her!
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Mangiardi and Sleepy Sam! Sam could sleep anywhere.  I miss the Abbey.
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Best Friends enjoying drinks. Abbey at its best.

Jameson flows freely as well as many other shots. Days and nights were spent at the Abbey, closing the place out after hours smoking cigarettes and gulping down a few more beers as the bartenders closes down. Then we would all leave through a side door that spits you out into alleyway as you pull your coat tighter in the winter and light up another cigarette for the late night walk home. We would all say goodbye and the usual see you tomorrow. Leaving Abbey was hard but usually well advised, as I began my walk home, back out in real life to responsibilities until I was back there tomorrow with a beer in my hand.

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Mangiardi and I at our finest! Thanks for bringing me to the Abbey Mangiardi!

I always knew that no matter how bad things got I could always count on the Abbey to pick me back up. I often think of the Abbey since I left Rome and have kept in touch with some of the regulars. It is no longer apart of my everyday life but I know it will always be on that corner inviting new people in with open arms and giving them a bit of an escape from reality. Abbey Theater was a home for people displaced from their homes were we all understood what it was to be an immigrant in a new country. This is where we can go, relax and relate with other folks. The first thing that I will do when we land in Rome is head straight to the Abbey and sit at the bar and have beer and meet the new inhabitants of the pub. Abbey Theater will always be a home away from home.

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Just outside the Abbey with the crew!
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Abbey is home and the regulars are family!
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Abbey in Sweatpants! Mangiardi teaching me how it is done.

 

This post is part of the #WeekendWanderlust and the #SundayTraveler Series.  This week A Southern Gypsy has an awesome post about top things to do before 30, like sail around the world!  We are so in!

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Check out the #SundayTraveler hosts Chasing the Donkey who are all about Croatia!  If you have ever wanted to visit they are the people to go to for advice on this beautiful country.

 

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Baci, the Best Damn Italian Restaurant in Town

 

Baci Cafe and Wine Bar

Ashley and I are coming up on our two year anniversary since we left Rome and moved back to California. We both can’t believe it has been this long already;  it seems just like yesterday that we were enjoying our lives in the eternal city of Rome. So to say the least, we are missing Rome and all our adventures there. One of the things that we miss the most is the cuisine and we have noticed that we have become very picky on the Italian cuisine that we eat. To sum it up we have become snobs about Italian food. We have high standards when it comes to Italian food and that is just a fact that we are going to have to accept. We have spent these last two years looking for that Italian restaurant that would remind us of Rome and I believe that we actually found the restaurant hiding in the small California town of Healdsburg.

Baci is a small town Italian restaurant that does things right. They keep the meal simple and stick to what makes Italian cuisine so fantastic: the simplicity of fresh ingredients and letting the ingredients speak for themselves.

Photo courtesy of the Press Democrat
Photo courtesy of the Press Democrat

 

 

Now one thing to know about Healdsburg, Ca is that there is no shortage of  good restaurants up here. We are in the heart of wine country, so good food is in abundance. Baci though, stands out in our minds because it reminds us of our past life in Italy. As you enter the restaurant you are welcomed with the pleasant sound of dinner conversations coming from other diners; then the smell of cooked tomatoes and and freshly roasting garlic whips through the air and grabs your nose and puts it at attention.

Baci is a medium size restaurant, it is not the size of your local ma and pop place but it is not the size of your local chain restaurant. As you walk into the main room you see their clay wood burning oven in the back and someone is baking their fresh bread or pizza as the dining room is laid out before it. Even when the place is packed you feel like you have space. It does get loud but that fits right in with an Italian restaurant. Locals and tourist alike sit side by side eating and drinking local wines. The first person you will see is probably one of the owners, Lisbeth Holmefjord, who is in charge of the front of the house and the wine selection. She welcomes you with a big smile and greets every customer with the same upbeat attitude.  Coming in out of the kitchen are busy serves and the chef greets locals at the tables, asking them how they are. He is the man making sure the food comes out to you just right from the kitchen. His name is Chef Shari Sarabi and just like his wife Lisbeth he always greets people with a smile. One feels like they are at a family get together and are apart of the family when they dine at Baci. I have been to Baci now ten times and I have received this type of greeting every time.

At the table I felt like I was truly a part of the party. Baci has a great wine list highlighting some of the local Sonoma County wines and great Italian wines and if you decide to bring your own wine also buy a bottle of their’s as well because you will get free corkage. Take your time looking through the menu because they are many excellent options. When Ashley and I eat out we like to go big especially when it is an Italian style restaurant. I’m talking a couple of bottles of wine, a few appetizers, a couple of main courses, and desserts with a couple of after dinner drinks. Last but not least, to keep it real Italian, some espresso to wash it all down.

We will start with one of the most basic starters done in almost all Italian restaurants,  Bruschetta all’aglio, pomodoro e basilico: Grilled rustic bread, tomato, onion, garlic, basil, parsley & extra virgin olive oil. The crunch and the softness of the bread with the sweet tomato, the bite of the garlic and how all the ingredients work together show what Italian food is all about; balance and fresh ingredients. It might be eight dollars but the portion is a decent size and worth it. If you are looking for Italian style prices just remember you’re not in Italy.

Bruschetta al Pomodoro
Bruschetta al Pomodoro

The next appetizers on the menu for us always is, Burrata: Fresh mozzarella stuffed with cream on grilled bread, sauteed leeks, pancetta, topped with roasted tomato, pesto, and extra virgin olive oil. This is comes in at fourteen dollars but well worth the price. Three great sized pieces of creamy burrata that just melts in your mouth. Now if you do not know what burrata is then this is the only thing you need to worry about getting it because it is cheese sent down from the heavens. Once you have a bite you will never be satisfied with any cheese again. Baci has extremely fresh burrata which is important. Another very traditional appetizer is Prosciutto e Melone: Thinly sliced Parma Prosciutto with local summer melon. This is a must mention since it is still summer. It is a very simple dish with fresh juicy cantaloupe and salty prosciutto which work really well together and eating this dish is pure joy. It will cost you fourteen dollars for the dish but hey you are eating out so splurge a little.

proscuitoo e melone

It is time for the main dishes and this is what Baci does so well. We are going to start with our favorite. I think Ashley would go to the end of the world for this dish, luckily it is a five minute walk from our house; Gnocchi alla bolognese: Traditional slow-cooked meat sauce made from American kobe beef, veal, and pork ribs , tossed with house made gnocchi. I think the the description says enough but I do not believe words can describe it except that it is like eating soft sweet little pillows of homemade pasta with sauce that just makes your mouth salivate. Ashley and I both agree that this might be the best dish in the restaurant.  This dish however, is more on the expensive side going for twenty dollars but lets  blame it on the homemade gnocchi and the Kobe Beef!

 

Gnocchi al Bolognese
Gnocchi al Bolognese, so good!

When we can agree that only one of should order the gnocchi the other often orders the Rigatoni Con Salsiccia: Short tubes, Italian pork fennel sausage, fresh tomato, garlic, tomato sauce, and basil chiffonade. Again Baci shows how simple well sourced ingredients work together. The pasta cooked in the traditional method of al dente. The plate is not drowned in sauce but perfectly proportioned to the pasta. The sauce has a sweetness of the tomatoes but the a nice balance of savory and salty from the sausage and other ingredients. The sausage is amazing and mixes well with the sauce. This dish comes in at eighteen on their menu.

Rigatoni al Salsiccia, so amazing!
Rigatoni al Salsiccia, so amazing!

If you are looking for traditional Italian try the Tagliatelle alla Carbonara: Flat long pasta, pancetta, chicken broth, black pepper, egg yolk, and parmesan. This is a dish that I know very well from living in Rome which is where this dish started.  I tend to be very picky about it because so many people mess it up but of course not Baci. The sauce was done right and not over eggy and the pasta is again done in the al dente style. The presentation is done nicely as it comes on a plate in a little ball. During the winter this is the perfect dish to keep one warm and full. This dish comes in on the cheaper side going for sixteen dollars.

I judge Italian places a lot by the quality of their pasta.They are the most simplistic dishes and if they can’t do the simple things right how else are they supposed to do the complex things right? Baci knows how to make a good bowl of pasta, it is that simple.

The good food does not stop there, it is time for desert and of course an espresso. I like to go with the tiramisu or occasionally even simpler with the freshly made biscotti with coffee, or even the affogato which is a wonderful blend of gelato and coffee.

The best 3 chocolate mousse
The best 3 chocolate mousse

Now there is a lot on the menu I did not hit. The have an eclectic menu with a mixture of dishes; I did not go into the carne e polo. I tend to stick to the pasta which is so good. If you you are a little more hungry they have pasta and meat combinations for the big appetites. Baci is one of the better Italian restaurants that I have been  to since I have been back home. I believe it is because they focus on making Italian cuisine the right way with fresh ingredients and keeping it simple. Baci overall gets an 9/10 out of ten from me. The only negative thing I have to say is that it can be a  little expensive. The food itself gets a 10/10 and I highly recommend this place for a good night out in Healdsburg Ca.

Tiramisu, I love you
Tiramisu, I love you

Craving a Beer at Archi

Being a Hipster at Archi
Being a Hipster at Archi

Ash and I have both been missing Rome quite a lot lately and one of the many things that I have been wanting to do is to sit down at the Archi Bar which sits across from the American University of Rome. It is the local hangout for the students at the school. At the end class we would go and sit outside the Archi and drink beers, smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and just hang out.  At any time of day one could go out and find somebody at the Archi to hang out with. I have to say that I miss having a place like that. It was fun sitting outside not caring how many cigarettes you were smoking or how many beers you were drinking because you were enjoying the sun and enjoying the company of close friends. I think one of the first places I will be going back to when we touch down in Rome again is the Archi. There was a lot good times spent at this local hangout. We could relax and just forget about school for a bit. So if you are ever in Rome and you stumble upon the American University of Rome look out for the Archi bar because I am sure you will see students hanging out and drinking a cold one.

After a few too many cold ones at Archi
After a few too many cold ones at Archi