Journal entries from April 2007

Green Almonds

     Green almonds are the most lovable nuts.  Small and fuzzy, they're the sweet, cool celadon shade of apricots before they begin to blush.  Looking at them you suddenly see that they are related to  apricots (and peaches), which makes the fact that amaretti are made out of apricot kernels suddenly leap into focus.
     But the best thing about green almonds - other than the fact that their season is so fleeting you get to anticipate them for most of the year - is their extreme delicacy.  Peel back the fuzzy exterior and you find a teardrop nestled inside.  This kernel has the color of pearls and a texture somewhere between aspic and pears.  The flavor is so subtle you have to concentrate hard, but that is part of the pleasure.  Swallow too fast and you'll miss it altogether.


How to find a great restaurant

There we were, me and Nick, wandering up and down Second Avenue,looking for a place to eat lunch.  We'd just left Michael's hospitalroom, we were in an unfamiliar part of town, and there were dozens ofrestaurants. I'd never heard of any of them.
"This is what you're supposed to be able to do, Mom," said Nick."Everyone thinks that you can just look at these places and instantlyknow which one is the best."
Dream on.  We had a great time wandering up and down the street,looking at menus.  As we did I realized that there were a few I'd meantto try.  There was that Turkish restaurant - been there forever, greatreputation, probably good. But did we really want Turkish food at 4 inthe afternoon?  The Italian place looked terrible, but it had pleasantoutdoor seating, and we contemplated it for about a minute.  But whowants mediocre Italian food?  The Greek fish place! Yes, that would bethe one. "Forget it," said a lachrymose woman coming grumpily out thedoor, "they just stopped serving."
So we ended up in a Thai place.
"It wasn't so bad," said Nick as we left.  "And it was a LOT of food for 6 bucks apiece. And don't worry, I won't tell anyone."



After a week in Rome I'm ready to offer some serious restaurant advice to anyone who loves to eat.  And that is this: Forget about the guide books, don't even think about going to the places that people like me recommend, and wander around until you find a restaurant filled with people speaking Italian instead of English.
The truth is that with the exception of a few really high-end restaurants, most places in Rome are market-driven and they tend to produce stunningly similar menus. This time of year, no matter where you go you will be offered artichokes (fabulous), fava beans (ditto) and lots of lamb.  There will invariably be pasta carbonara, amatriciana, alle vongole and alla gricia. If you go to a fish restaurant there will be 3 or 4 different kinds of fish, grilled or sautéed.  And most of the time, it will be good.
What won't be good is the way you're made to feel in the tourist places.  You'll get thrown into a room filled with other foreigners and you'll be rushed through your meal. You'll probably eat well, but you'll feel.... Cheated, somehow.
And really, one of my favorite meals was just eating on the street.  A piece of pizza from the ancient bakery near the Piazza Navona.  A piece of fruit from the Campo de Fiore. Lemon sorbet from Crispino (so great).




Which hotel you choose can completely alter your impression of a city. After three nights in The Grand Hotel I was in love with Rome.  How could I know that the hotel had turned my head? It was so splendid that I imagined I was staying in a palace. The room was large and gloriously ornate with a vast marble bathroom and an adjacent dressing room. Our butler was constantly showing up with little treats and asking if we wanted anything pressed. She even woke us up with coffee in bed.  A pianist was always playing right beneath the huge chandelier in the lobby, and the breakfast was enough to last you the entire day. I wanted to move in.
Instead we moved on to the chic, modern Hotel De Russie, and my love affair with Rome came screeching to a halt.  The room was modern, but much smaller, and it has seen a lot of wear since the last time I visited. Everything seems slightly shabby, down to the tiny tv (the Grand has big flat-screens). The service verged on surly; at the Grand I felt like a princess, but the De Russie made me feel like a nuisance.  And there's nothing like being waken by the garbage man dragging a cart filled with bottles down the alley outside.
And the odd thing is, everything at the De Russie cost more:
Room , 600 euros at De Russie,  500 at the Grand Hotel
Breakfast 30 euros at De Russie,  free at the Grand Hotel
Internet connection, 20 euros a day at De Russie, 15 euros at the Grand Hotel


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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.