Sunday, February 26, 2012

Can't Stop Won't Stop

I would say that I've eaten a lot of good food in my life. Which may just be because I've eaten a lot of food. But as far as good cuisine goes, I think I'm a pretty decent judge of taste (since I stopped only eating baby food and chicken nuggets at the age of seven, my palate has drastically expanded). I've only met two foods that I don't like (broccoli and lamb chops) and I'm willing to try anything. So when my food writing professor told us that we have to do a restaurant review for class, it was the perfect opportunity to get out there and taste the un-tasted. Originally, I wanted to adventure out of the Monteverde and Trastevere regions of the city, because that's where we always eat and this would give me an excuse to drag my friends somewhere new. But then, yesterday morning when Alex and I were wandering around in search of hangers (they only give you five per closet! I'm sorry Rome, but I just have more than five shirts), we stumbled upon this interesting looking restaurant called Ristorante Al Casaletto on Piazza del Sacro Cuore. I checked it out online and it looked worth trying, so we made a reservation for 9:00 and were on our merry way.

(carpaccio di chianina, or beef carpaccio with burrata mozzarella and arugula)

The restaurant was packed when we walked in. Families, babies, high schoolers, couples, old people, it was a local scene. An older man, who we decided was definitely the owner, beckoned us over to a table set for three. He apologized that he didn't have menus for us, since they were all in italian. We looked at them anyway, but obviously didn't understand anything besides "mozzarella" and "spaghetti," so we asked him for suggestions. Clearly, this guy had been waiting for someone to let him choose their meal all his life. He asked if we wanted appetizers, we said yes, he said pasta, we said yes, and he asked if we had any food restrictions, so we said no pork (wah my friends don't eat it).

(caponatina - a sicilian eggplant dish with pine nuts, tomatoes, celery and raisins)

After placing our food order, he comes back over to offer wine suggestions. Usually we just order a half liter of the house red, but since we didn't know what food we had coming, we asked him to pick the wine he thought paired best. He brought over a bottle of Argento Chardonnay 2010, his favorite white, and had us taste it. It was bright and crisp and surprisingly refreshing (I was comfortable drinking the wine in place of water, which I can never do). 

(appetizer of the day: shredded chicken salad in a garlic aioli with zucchini flowers)

After only 15 minutes (which is quick for Italian restaurants), our appetizers came out (the three above pictures). I honestly can't decide which of the three I liked best. The beef carpaccio reminded us of corned beef, which was oddly comforting to a group of misplaced, tri-state-area jews. The burrata was probably the best I've ever had; the creamy center went perfectly with the chewy texture of the beef. The caponatina was such a blend of interesting flavors - I would never think to put raisins with eggplant and celery, but I'm glad the sicilians did. The last appetizer was, to our surprise, chicken salad! It was solidly the best chicken salad I've ever had, with the addition of garlic and zucchini flowers (which are really popular here, I'd never eaten them back home).

(ravioli ricotta e spinaci alle noci - giant tortellini with a spinach ricotta filling in a gruyere and parmesan cheese sauce with walnuts)

After waiting for a at least 45 minutes and watching the waitresses stream out of the kitchen with dozens of dishes, one finally came over to our table with that raviloi (which was actually tortellini). At first I was disappointed. Raviloi just seems so simple and I was expecting him to surprise us with some crazy Roman dish. But once we tried it... omg. My food writing professor says that we're not supposed to use words like delicious or yummy to describe food, but this was DELICIOUS. It was an inverted raviloi, as Alex put it, because the cheese wasn't on the inside. The dish was cheesy and slightly sweet from the gruyere and walnuts but savory from the ricotta and parmesan and I could eat it every night. 

(cheesecake with strawberries, chocolate lava cake, deconstructed tiramisu)

You'd think that by this point, we would have been full. But no, this is where the "can't stop won't stop" mentality comes in. We had been at the restaurant for at least two hours, which I think is why Italians eat so many courses; dinner is their night activity, so it lasts for hours. Our mystery waiter/owner/best friend came over and asked if we wanted dessert. We said of course (it was purely for research purposes, you know, for the review), and asked for the creme brulee and the tortino al cuore tenero di cioccolato (chocolate lava cake torte). Unfortunately, he said, they were all out of creme brulee, but he would surprise us. A short while later, we see a waitress coming our way with this long black tray. She sets it down in front of us, and the owner comes over to explain. They made a tasting plate, just for us, of their three best desserts. Shockingly, our favorite wasn't the chocolate (even though it was phenomenal). The tiramisu was so light and whipped, not so laden with espresso powder as they usually are, that it was the dessert winner. The cheesecake was great too, with a flan like center and a thick, buttery shortbread encasement. We decided that we need to eat here at least once a month, just so we can try more things on the menu. And, even better news, the owner is moving to New Jersey!!!! I'm crossing my fingers that he opens a restaurant there.

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