Postcard from Rome, Italy: Finally, a food break for you

This blog has been dragging you through museum after museum and church after church in Rome, even through my museum meltdown, without one food break. Time to forget art and culture and be honest about why we really travel to Italy. To eat.

This first food post represents an unusual grouping of what ended up being our favorite spots. Even though we traipsed miles across Rome every day, three of these were within three blocks of our apartment.

Let’s get right to a full confession. Our absolute favorite restaurant in Rome is a vegetarian one, Arancia Blu. That luscious stuffed red onion above, roasted until sweet and tender and resting in a pool of red pepper sauce, is among the offerings that seduced us back for repeat visits. Whether a warm bean salad, a crispy radicchio lasagna, chickpea with walnut ravioli, pumpkin ravioli, creamy risotto topped with fried artichoke or pistachio sorbet with caramelized pear – we loved everything we tried. The inside of Arancia Blu is like sitting in a friend’s personal library; outside tables are perched on a side street with little traffic.

We stumbled almost directly off the plane to set our forks twirling in our first plate of that Roman classic pasta dish, cacio e pepe. The rich sauce is the result of few ingredients – aged Pecorino Romano cheese, water from the pasta and a proper dose of freshly ground black pepper. We lucked out because our neighborhood Caffe Vergnano 1882 on Piazzale Flaminio turned out some of the best we tried.

Yes, you can find Caffe Vergnano affiliated coffee spots numerous places, but this location has a chef hidden inside. There is no printed menu, only a blackboard outside listing a couple of pastas and no prices. Reasonable enough in pricing to attract locals, the contemporary spot generally is bustling, which offers a chance to peer at the regulars’ tables and realize there are more dishes than the server recites. Spying is how we discovered one of the best vegetable platters in Rome for us to share with our pasta dishes. More roasted fennel, please.

And, when we were not too overstuffed from lunch, we would swing by Mondo Arancina Flaminio for Sicilian-style arancini to-go. The freshly made balls of rice were filled with things like spinach, prosciutto and cheese, mozzarella and peas or eggplant ragout before frying. Okay, another confession. We were always overstuffed but would grab some for the approaching wine hour anyway.

The final place in this post was way off the beaten tourist track; TripAdvisor only has seven reviews in English posted. We only made the trek once to La Gallina Capricciosa, but the meal was memorable. We barely snagged two seats in the packed family-run, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The Mister’s Spanish worked fine here, as we were probably the only customers without Peruvian blood running in our veins. We way over-ordered, and the waiter was nice enough to eliminate one of our dishes. We started with fried yucca and an inexpensive, extremely generous serving of fresh ceviche in leche de tigre with the traditional corn and sweet potato on the side. We scarcely made a dent in our shared order of seafood rice.

I promise, more Italian dishes later.

Biannual list of top posts always diverse

You need hold your breath no longer. That much anticipated list revealing most-read blog posts over the past year is here.

While the brutally murdered Helen Madarasz was a real person, at one time I believed I invented her ghost refusing to leave the site of her former home in Brackenridge Park. So many keep reading the post six years later, even I am starting to think she might really be haunting the park.

My readers seem to be as Alamobsessive as I am, fretting over proposed plans for Alamo Plaza. Every time I think the plaza will remain fence-free and historic gems on the west side of the plaza will be spared, renewed threats arise. That barely watercolored-in white rail in the background of the image above is a fence. Just to be safe, please consider signing the San Antonio Conservation’s Society petition at change. org.

venison at Fricska Gastropub in Budapest

Thanks for taking trips with me; you seem particularly drawn to food. We fell hard for Fricska Gastropub in Budapest, and our taste buds feel vindicated with its recent receipt of Bib Gourmand recognition from Michelin. (And, yes, sister Susan, I promise to get to food posts from Italy soon. She has been whining about being sent into so many churches first. But it takes a long time for postcards to arrive from Italy, and the Alamo keeps interrupting.)

Margarita Cabrera

Like many of you, cannot wait to see Margarita Cabrera’s ‘Tree of Life’ take root on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River near Mission Espada.

So here’s your top 12, with the numbers in parentheses representing the rankings six months ago:

  1. The Madarasz Murder Mystery: Might Helen Haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (2)
  2. Forging consensus for the Alamo Comprehensive Plan: Don’t fence us out, 2018
  3. Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Currently suffering from case of miss-you-Fricska blues, 2017 (3)
  4. ‘Tree of Life’ bears bountiful crop of tales from the past, 2018
  5. Please put this song on Tony’s pony and make it ride away, 2010 (4)
  6. ‘Just the Facts:’ A fence by any other name still smells the same, 2018
  7. Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Wishing these dining spots were not 600 miles away, 2016 (8)
  8. Morning walk turns into thematic parade through San Antonio’s heritage, 2018

    San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo’s Western Heritage Parade

  9. How would you feel about the Alamo with a crewcut?, 2011 (10)
  10. The Curse of Madarasz Park: Another Ghost Wandering in Brackenridge Park, 2014
  11. Postcard from Mexico City: Pausing for a playful food break at Mercado Roma, 2017

    fried charl taquito amuse bouche at Seneri in Mercado Roma in Mexico City

  12. Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Where fiestas erupt all the time, 2017

Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to chat back. We’ll wind up this round-up with a fiesta in Oaxaca.

Postcard from Mexico City: ‘For Main Course We’ll Have That’

Am slinging out these final food shots from our fall visit to Mexico City like a short-order cook in a bad diner, but I am off taking new photos of meals in an entirely different spot on the map.

Most of these are from the Roma Norte neighborhood where we stayed. Am keeping my comments at a minimum, so the pictures will have to serve in helping you decide about restaurants when journeying there yourself.

Particularly enjoyed the abundance of vegetable dishes, including a no-pasta spaghetti, at Bowie Cocina de Humo, but the restaurant does take its name seriously. Every course is tinged with smoke-infused flavor. By the end of the meal, my mouth almost felt as though I’d been smoking. We found the much-heralded Nudo Negro with its show-off parade up to the kitchen to receive your amuse-bouche from the hands of a chef a tad bit pretentious, but the long-roasted eggplant, split open and topped with humus tableside, melts in your mouth.

There must be thousands of less expensive places to eat a Mexican-style breakfast in Mexico City, but the park-facing patio of Café Toscano on Orizaba is so pleasant the higher price tag was absorbed without question. Both the red and green chilaquiles are wonderful, and the fresh juice combinations round out the meals.

We loved the neighborhood comfort feeling of having pizza on the patio at Cancino Roma or shrimp arancini and a bowl of robust roasted tomato soup at Macelleria, where, as you can see from the featured photo, the restaurant correctly profiled us with the name of the house wine. Few tables at the popular Huset fail to order avocado pizza.

The variety and freshness of ingredients and recipes never disappointed us at Delirio. Fresh salads and sandwiches, moussaka and falafel and fresh meringues are among the celebrated bakery’s fare.

Veering even farther away from stereotypical Mexican food, the curries and toms at Galanga Thai Kitchen are worth seeking. The green papaya salad in particular drew us out for a return visit. With its flavorful chicken, roasted eggplant and falafel moistened with spinach, Paprika enticed us back for multiple meals as well.

From there, jump into downtown for the old-school formality of service in the high-ceilinged Casino Espanol, worthy of entering for viewing the stained-glass in its Porfirio-era home alone. The croquetas, boquerrones and seafood soup transported us to Spain.

We almost avoided Casino Espanol after reading a review describing it as the type of restaurant attracting old suits entertaining young mistresses, but there were only a pair or two seeming to fit in that category. The poor Mister and Vic, unsuited and in the company of old wives.

Whether squiring old spouses or young paramours, diving into a throwback to the past is a recommended ingredient balancing out all the trendy contemporary kitchens so abundant in this bustling culinary capital.