Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rome (if you want to)

Today's Specials: Roulade of Nostalgia Garnished with an aspic of a Lapse in Reason (momentarily)

So here's a fun little story:

Once upon a lifetime ago, your friend and humble narrator was married.

Right? I know.

So anyway....

We were traipsing around Rome as kids are wont to do, and my good lady wife (To protect her identity we'll henceforth refer to her as 'That Bitch Who Took Half My Stuff' – that's not her real name) and I decided one day that we were gonna visit the Catacombs. You know, where they keep the historical dead people which, for some reason, tourists are just so jazzed about looking at.

Now, we had one of those handy-dandy little tourism guides with very detailed maps of the city (a must if you're visiting, btw—hell, probably a good idea even if you live there). And on said map it was very clear that the Catacombs were a small distance away from the southernmost Metro stop. Then it'd be a short jaunt along the Via Appia and take a right at the dead folks. According to the map it was just an inch and a half! We figured if we got an early enough start (we were up at being our vacation and all), we could make it there and back to have a late lunch. So once we got off the last Metro station, we walked. No problem, right?


It turns out that once you got out of the city limits, the map was no longer drawn to scale...


So 2pm rolls around, and we decide...'Hey...maybe we don't know where the fuck we're going'. So we ask for directions. Let it never be said that your food-blogging friend fell into the man-cliche of not asking for directions. In Italian no less. an Italian accent. It turns out that speaking English really slowly, like you would to a dog, doesn't go over well with those people. They like it if know, try to speak the language that has been around for a millennia. So I did what I could: “Scuse...quando*....Catacombs?” But in a Brooklyn-Italian accent (I even did that thing with my hand like you're supposed to when speaking Italian). We found out that, in fact, we were only about half way there....


Now, I look over at my lovely That Bitch Who Took Half My Stuff and I can tell she's disheartened.....and also pretty hungry. We just knew each other like that...where a simple shift in her shoulders or a twitch in her mouth would tell me everything. Plus, she said “I'm disheartened and pretty hungry” so...
**Ok, gang. I can tell by your expressions that some of you are a little uncomfortable by me referring to my ex as That Bitch Who Took Half of My Stuff. At least those of you who aren't snickering each time. Well, rest assured that it's all in fun. She and I have a very good friendship and we speak (nicely) almost daily. She's a great person. She's probably giggling at the 'nickname' as we speak. least I hope so.**

So That Bitch and I do a little more walking (at this point, we're in the middle of nowhere so it's not like there's a restaurant on the corner) we stumble upon this short gravel road. There's a gate (it's open) and a path leading to a villa-esque restaurant (also open). The sign above the gate read: Hostaria Antica Roma.

Is it any good? Is it expensive? We'd been advised that the places on main tourist thoroughfares should be viewed with skepticism....and we were on one of the oldest and most celebrated roads in Italy (just in the middle-of-nowhere part of it). But at that point we were hungry enough to put anything in our mouths....and yes, you can read that however you want.

So we walk into the little gated courtyard....past the obligatory statuary, past the lush palm and citrus trees, past the Harley parked on the sidewalk, past....wait....

We entered through two glass-paned front doors and were met by a kindly old gentleman who beckoned us into the dining room. 
this is the guy

 The walls are covered in photos of famous people. Actors (I guess DeNiro ate there while he was fattening up for his role in Raging Bull), all sorts of politicians and dignitaries, musicians and John Belushi. 

that's right folks.  the only thing prosthetic in 'after' pic is his nose

 We were sat a lavishly set two-top and handed a menu. Oh, little travel note: the 'classiness' of a menu being written in Italian means less in Italy.
After a short wait a bespectacled, goateed guy bounds up the stairs. He's wearing Harley Davidson suspenders with flames on them and a matching red apron. That's his hog outside...I just know it. It's Paolo and he's maybe one of the most enthusiastic people on the planet. He asks us how were doing and we relate to him the harrowing experience of how we came to be there. He's accommodating...he's fun...he's so very Italian. And not one of those scary ones. He brings us our water and our bread and a GIANT binder FULL of all the press clippings he's collected about the joint. Turns out he's not only our waiter, but the chef as well....and I think part owner(?) so he's very enthusiastic about his place. Frankly, it was difficult to not become enthused just by being around him. According to the binder...a lot of other people are enthusiastic about it, too. There are reviews and clippings from all over the world in every language imaginable (side note: even though there was an Ethiopian review, I'd be reluctant to trust a restaurant review from someone who hails from a place where they don't have food....just sayin).  

That's when we notice the holes....  

What are those, you ask? 

 I'm glad you did. 

 Turns out, that Hostaria Antica Roma is built upon actual Roman ruins. And not just ANY Roman ruins, as Paolo explained to us, but a columbarium (room for housing cremation urns) for the ashes of the liberti (freed slaves) of Caesar Augustus himself.  Each one of those holes once contained an urn filled with the cremated remains of the freed slaves of Augustus and they were everywhere.

Holy shit! We'd inadvertantly stumbled upon not only one of the oldest working restaurants in Rome, but also one built
into a bona fide Roman ruin. And all because I have issues with spatial relation.

Still reeling from the revelation, we looked at each other, dumbfounded. Paolo asked if we were ready to order.

Oh, yeah...we were hungry. That's why we came in here.
I'm afraid I don't remember what That Bitch had, but I ordered Fettucine alla Alstice (Fettucine in a Lobster Tomato Sauce). Wait a second...

Yeah, ok, here we go.  According to the receipt (yeah, I saved it....I knew I'd want to tell this story someday) we ordered two waters (still), two orders of bread, one 'Primi Piatti' (main course – mine) and scrawled in all caps, simply the word 'CAPRESE' so I'm guessing that's what she ordered. And a dessert, which if I remember correctly, was Tiramisu (That Bitch liked it).

So all said and done, a great meal in an historic location with a great waiter in great company makes for a great story. All for the low price of 33 euros including tip.
Buon lavoro, tutti!

Paolo thanked us and sent us on our way. But not before giving us a poster of what appears to be a 17th century drawing of the first excavation of the site. Also, a friendly direct to the bus stop located a block and a half away which would take us directly to the Catacombs with the advisory that they're closed between the hours of 2 and 5 daily. So if we wanted to see some dead shit, we were gonna have to wait. We decided we'd had enough of this particular adventure and took the bus in the opposite direction...back to the city. It took about 20 mins to get there (we'd been walking for hours). After taking the Metro back to our Hotel, we napped and then woke up for some night life. The day had been exhausting but SO worth it.

We never did make it to the Catacombs, though...

I framed that poster and it is hanging on the wall of the very room in which I'm writing this.

Ciao, Braisers.  Coming soon....we make bacon!

*'Quando' means when, jackass


  1. That tiramisu was delicious!!!!

    hey everyone, I'm That Bitch ;)

  2. WOW Rob, what a cool story!!!!!

  3. Nice story and great photos. It's a good thing you keep that bitch around; she's pretty cool.

  4. Great story from a great storyteller!!

  5. I can't wait to see Rome... Thanks for another great post, sir!

  6. Thanks you guys!! Your support means the world to me! I'm glad you guys are diggin it. This is only the beginning!!

  7. It's Jake! Read this out loud to my roommate ben and our friend tom! we laughed our asses off!

  8. I enjoyed it very much and now I know where to go for lunch in Rome in the near future. I will be cruising in Italy in two weeks from now. Sadly, we have just one day in Rome, not even full day. What do you recommend to visit just to feel the magic of Rome and to stay as far as possible from the crowds? Your restaurant is already on the list. And, by the way, I am making that Tiramisu tonight.