Cipasso

I’m not a food writer.  I don’t know a rhubarb from a roux.  What I do know and can recognize is vision, entrepreneurial passion, style and taste.  Oleg Grossu, owner of Cipasso has all that and more.  You step into a clean open space with old brick walls.  American Jazz standards playing–not overbearing–but there.

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Grossu, and his partner, Aurica Danalachi, have realized a two-year old dream.  After years working in the restaurant business, Oleg opened Cipasso this May.  Oleg has been a sommelier for 15 years and former manager of La Buvette and Dilla.  Cipasso has a small staff of two in the kitchen and Oleg–plus mama.

Oleg knows his wines.  One full wall in the beautiful sunny space at Via dell ‘Orso 71 is lined with bottles ranging from assertive primativos to sexy brunellos, spritely prosecco to blushing rosato.

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This is not just a wine bar.  Cipasso offers more than delicious appetizers and snacks.  It offers light dinners also.  The appetizers tonight were bruchetti with a classic tomato topping set off with small amounts of red pepper, a unique panzanella with the inclusion of cucumber hinting at spring, and a creamy potato puree piped onto bruchetta topped by anchovie and a sprig of green. On another visit I sampled a delicious white bean puree seeded with small shrimp.  These antipastos are offered with your wine served in shapely sparkling glasses.

For dinner I had the meatballs served with a deep green mound of rapini–Italian broccoli.  The meatballs were beautifully tender and tasty with a light gravy.  The rapini was perfectly cooked and well flavored.

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Saving the best for last tiramisu served in a short pot filled with a yummy creamy pudding over a thin base of chocolate cake threaded with a liquor and a sprinkling of dark cocoa and for a surprise crunch–rice crispies hidden in the cake.

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To finish: a perfect cappuccino with firm, tasty foam.

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What I like so much about Cipasso is that it offers a relief from heavy dinners served late in the evening.  I prefer eating light: healthy greens, some protein, a good glass of wine, and sometimes a superlative dessert.  Cipasso is just the kind of place I look for.  Happily it’s located down the street from my hotel the Portoghesi and two blocks from Piazza Navona.  Lovely for an after dinner stroll.  Tonight a violinist is playing Ed Sherran’s “Perfect”    Yes, indeed!

Cipasso is a wonderful place to land at the end of a long day wandering and sightseeing–usually on foot.  It’s so nice to be warmly greeted; to sit and stay with a glass of prosecco and a savory bite or two.  It feels like you’re at the home of friends.

It Sprinkled, Rained, Poured, and Thundered

 

I had my umbrella at the ready and continued along remembered streets Via dei Coronari being one of my favorites.

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Of course I spent a lot of time looking into windows and dodging under overhanging lintels and awnings to escape the rain.

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I crossed over to Via Giulia and then found my way to Via dei Banchi Vecchi where I dropped by my friend sculptor Pietro Simonelli’s studio.  Pietro is very talented and as handsome as ever.  Next visit I’ll take a picture of the 40 kilo bronze wing he made recently.

I stopped for a hot pot of tea–having been out in the rain now since 9:30–it was approaching noon.  I was tired and damp.  I headed back but not before the sky opened and dumped a drenching deluge.  Every taxi in Rome was stuffed with clients.  I stood and watched the rain pour down huddled under an overhang.  And made it back to the Hotel Portoghesi not too wet but chilled and tired.  I grabbed a sandwich and ate it in my little room.  Dry and warm.  A nap was in order.

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Piazza Navona with the darkening overhead sky.

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Loving Rome

On our way home we spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of Heathrow.  In the cattle call breakfast room the next morning I looked around and knew for sure that I was not in Rome.  These folks were not Italian and the breakfast certainly was not!  Eggs–hadn’t seen them for two months!  Coffee–undrinkable.  Where was my chocolate cornetti? I missed my baristo at Barnum’s and his delicious cappuccino?  The freshly squeezed orange juice. The brilliant Raphael-blue sky. This was not Rome.

Rome is a mystery. One day you hate it and the next day you love it. It is annoying and then delightful. You are repulsed by the crowds, and then, in the process of avoiding the crowds, you stumble on a new street and an unseen treasure appears. This is exactly how our two weeks in Rome went. Sometimes my feelings about Rome changed from hour to hour, but finally, in the end, I succumbed to the beauty of the place and the charm of the people, and yes, the food!

We spent two warm and sunny weeks visiting one splendid, wrecked site after another. We spent whole days strolling through marvelous, decrepid old palaces full of spectacular treasures.  We walked endlessly on dirty cobble-stoned streets carpeted with cigarette butts and garbage only to arrive at a restaurant with such delicious food I salivate at the memory.

Then there were the annoying aspects of Rome. Arriving at the post office laden with packages, waiting an hour and a half, finally reaching the head of the line, smiling and trying to please a surly mandarin at the desk and at the end, being told all the forms must be completed in Italian and the charges must be paid in cash–lot’s of cash. We definitely felt we were being held hostage but didn’t really know what our crime was. I think it was wanting to mail three boxes out of the country. Lot’s of extra work for the clerk.

Yes, it’s very annoying when the stores all close from 1-4. Very annoying! Yes, it’s a capitol city and it should adopt the efficiencies of modern business practices such as ours. But Italy hasn’t and probably won’t.

Yes, you should be able to eat dinner at 6 p.m. But you can’t. You can have a sandwich or a pizza anytime, but you can’t have dinner until 7:30 or even later.

more lunch in Rome
more lunch in Rome

Yes, I know children need 8 hours of sleep but Italian children eat dinner with their families and stay up late and somehow get to school the next day. They may nap all afternoon–perhaps they even nap at their schools, I don’t know, but no one seems to go to bed at 7 p.m., that’s when they eat dinner.

High flyer at Barnum's
High flyer at Barnum’s

At Barnum’s, our favorite coffee bar, we are greeted warmly by the baristo.  We sit and savor our cornetti and cappucino.  “Bonjour!”  It’s our friend, Alain, the antique store owner we like so much.  He introduces us to his daughter; calling us his  “amichi,” his friends.

Barnum's coffee bar on via Peligrino
Barnum’s coffee bar on via Peligrino

Heart warming.  You cannot imagine how good it feels to be recognized and warmly greeted after being gone from home for three months.  Alain is French. He married a Roman; they are raising two daughters in the center of Roma.   He and Ken developed a friendship of shared interests and sensibilities.  We hope to see Alain again.  A man who speaks English, French and Italian.  (His daughter speaks only Italian!)  He is a talented man and an interesting person who is eager to share his thoughts and feelings. It is unusual when a native shares his observations and concerns with “tourists.”

I realize that the a secret to enjoying a place is to stay there long enough to know your way around and be comfortable moving about without a map in your hand.  The other is to make some friends–even if you never see those friends again. It is important to reach out, warm up, do your best to speak their language, enjoy their way of doing things.

I read a few lines about Romans in one of Rick Steves’ books.  He says there is no word for privacy in Italian. He was commenting on the close, overly emeshed lives Italian families lead. Each morning as we walked to Barnum’s we passed a very elegant antique store and each morning a well groomed, very petite, and neatly dressed woman in her 80’s walked slowly down the street, leaning on a cane and the arm of a handsome man in his 40’s. Her thick gray hair was coifed in a perfect bob. It was so perfect it might have been a wig! Her pants suit was well cut for her tiny frame. She and her escort did not speak. They made their way to the store nearly every morning just as we were on our way to Barnum’s. There she was at the end of the day standing in the doorway waiting for her escort to walk her home!

One morning getting a later start, we glanced into the antique shop and saw the man with his shirt sleeves rolled up. He was busy re-merchandising the store. Hot and hard work. I’ve done it many times! The lady was facing him speaking to him. Suddenly he advanced swiftly toward her with his arm out in front of him, finger pointing at her. His face betrayed frustration if not barely controlled anger. We heard him say in a loud voice “Mama!” The rest was lost to us. We walked on. The stories you’ve heard about Italian men and their mothers and their lives together is real. When will her son leave home? Hard to say.

Now I’m home writing and reflecting on our remarkable journey: from Shakespeare to Hadrian; from cave men to the Etruscans; from mosaics to painted villas. We saw the treasure and history of centuries of human endeavor. For me, the single most important aspect of these three months abroad is the realization that seeing new things and learning about them is what I most enjoy. The visual stimulation, especially in Rome, is what thrills me.

Basilica San Vitale Ravenna Italy
Basilica San Vitale Ravenna Italy

Two gasp-inducing places, Basilica San Vitale a 5th C church emblazoned with mosaics and marble in Ravenna, and Villa Farnesina in the Trastevere in Rome built in the 15th C where every wall and ceiling is hand painted are my touchstones. They are so visually spectacular–each in its own way–that I will never forget the moment I stepped over their thresholds and lost myself in wonder. Seeing the work of artists and crafts people who lived hundreds of years ago whose work can stop you in your tracks–bring you to your knees–will always remain with me.

The Perspective Room Villa Farnesina Trastevere Rome
The Perspective Room
Villa Farnesina
Trastevere Rome

Living in Rome

Like all big cities, Rome is hard to learn especially the old central part of the city.  It is a jumbled puzzle box full of odd shaped pieces made up of short, narrow, winding, cobbled streets which change names erratically.

via dei Cappellari
via dei Cappellari

We are presently living on via Cappellari  which is more or less parallel to via Giulia and the Tiber.  Via dei Cappellari–the street of the hat makers–runs for several blocks under that name and then passes through the Campo and becomes Via dei Giubonari crosses Via Arenula and heads into the Ghetto as Via di Portico d’Octavia.  It’s important to know how this works because you might be on the “right” street–the one you are searching for–just haven’t gone far enough–or too far.

Another thing you might not recognize as valuable information are rione numbers.  Just as Paris has its arondissements, Rome has rione.  A street sign might say via Cappellari rione vi.  To a Roman this tells them where you are in the same way zip codes do in the U.S.  That said, Romans refer to landmarks, this piazza or that church, to give directions.  All this has to do with getting lost because you will: all the time, night and day, and you either allow time for being lost or you hire taxis or you exhaust yourself and have no energy for viewing the monument you wanted to see.  Getting lost isn’t bad really, unless you’re tired, need to use a toilet, or are late to a dinner date.

Reservations for dinner are important if you’re going to a good place.  By good, I do not mean expensive.  Last night we ate at Matricianella on via del Leone near San Lorenzo in Lucina.  It’s small and very popular.  The food is delicious.  I had carciofa giudia and tagliatino tartufo.  I love truffles and this dish was topped with shaved black truffle over barely sauced perfect pasta.  A green salad and sorbetto shared with Ken who had a buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto, and lasagna completed our menu.  I had a glass of prosecco and we each ordered a glass of a local red–rich and dark.  This with a litre of sparkling water and bread came to 70E or $87.

Many tourists fall under the spell of sitting at a café just outside a famous monument.  Your decision will cost you more, and probably will be inferior to, the small café off the tourist path. The cost of a café–one shot of espresso–standing at the bar will be 1E.  When you have table service it will be double that or more depending on your location.

We have a favorite little coffee bar we visit every morning for cappucino and cornetto. They also make fresh orange juice in a tall glass. Two cappucino, two cornetti and one OJ cost 8E.

Selecting a place to live–in our case for two weeks–can be very difficult. All the on-line booking sites that show pages and pages of pictures are not always what they seem. We found the pictures deceptive in some cases and the availability calendars frequently inaccurate. I’ve come to the conclusion the requests we sent in were used to get us to take places we hadn’t inquired about but that were available.

We eventually took two places; one for 8 days, the other for 6. The first one was a huge disappointment. The old building was gorgeous from the floor landings and it was quiet, but the apartment had no views and was in need of maintenance and cleaning from top to bottom. Deposits aren’t refundable so you’re stuck if you’re unhappy.
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The second place is lovely. It’s only drawback is street noise; few cars but motos, late night diners, and general street noise would keep us up all night. Luckily the owner wisely installed new sound proof windows and a modern AC unit in the bedroom so we sleep soundly. The rest of the place is lovely. Light is a premium and this apartment has two windows in the bedroom and a big window in the living/dining room.

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We’ve had many interesting discussions with Italians–usually artists whose studios we visit. They often speak good English and are eager to talk about politics and economics. They are universally worried about Italy and what lies ahead for them. I would describe them as depressed and very concerned. One artist who is married (his wife is also an artist) with a five year old pays 1,000E for studio rent and 1,000E for his apartment per month. He said he is having a very hard time making the rents. If Italy goes down, he’ll move to Philadelphia where he has family. His story–in one way or another–was repeated over and over again.

This despair and concern is mixed with anger over the ever increasing taxes the government is applying. Speaking with a FedEx employee about the cost to ship a package, we were told an additional tax of 22% will be applied to the cost of shipping as a result of recent new regulations.

Of course, this inclines us to use the Post Office which we have been doing. There is no tracking system which is alarming. Sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever see our things again. We had real pause for concern at the Rome PO the other day when we paid over 200E to send two boxes–the entire amount had to be paid in cash. They do NOT use credit cards. We were scratching our head over a postal system in the capital city not set up to use credit cards. How could that be!

Despite these differences from our tidy lives at home, Rome remains a beautiful and interesting city.  So many amazing and richly soul-rewarding experiences.  I spent four hours yesterday at the Etruscan museum viewing rooms full of ornaments, furniture, household goods and statuary.  At one point, I stood before a life-sized Etruscan couple lounging together on a couch.  I knew they had lived many hundreds of years ago however I was profoundly moved by their smiles, their outstretched arms and beautifully modeled hands beckoning me to join them at a banquet in their home high on some Tuscan hilltop.  My guess is the evening would have included musicians, dancers and witty conversation.  For a moment I was there.