Arrivederci Sicilia, Buon Giorno Roma

It is almost a given that as we were packing our bags and tiding the house after a week of questionable weather, we would have the prettiest morning of our stay at Casa di Camellia. You could almost see the full outline of Mt Etna as we were driving away.

Just one last Sicilian treat. I had read that the town of Modica produces great chocolate, and as an afterthought I ducked into a gourmet food shop at the airport to see if I could find a sample. It was there, and expensive, nearly €5 for one bar. I chose the peperoncini  (a type of chili pepper), one of my favorites. The chocolate has a grainy sugary consistency and a rich bitter dark chocolate flavor with just a slight aftertaste of chili. Excellent! One of the best chocolate bars I’ve ever tasted. What took me so long to find it and can I find it again Rome?

Sitting at the airport waiting for our flight it crossed my mind that maybe it was a mistake to spend a couple of days in Rome before returning home. I’d been away for over a month now and we were getting a little tired of the chaos. Something familiar would be really nice at this point. The ride into Rome didn’t help matters, when, because of protestors, some of the main streets entering the city were blocked off. Various heated discussions ensued with the local traffic cops and finally the taxi driver found a way around the blockades to our hotel. After a short nap, I took a walk around the Pantheon, bought a small gelato – you have to eat gelato in Rome, everyone does – and continued on through the narrow streets to the Piazza Navona. The streets were full of tourists but somehow it felt familiar and comfortable, just the place to decompress for a few days.

We had dinner at a little place not far from the hotel, Boccondivino, a Frommer’s listing. It’s a more upscale if not hip sort of Italian restaurant with white walls and large contemporary art on the walls. We were dining early at 8:30 and only a few of the tables were occupied when we entered. They would all be full when we left two hours later. The host, possibly the owner, dressed in jeans and a white polo with the shirt collar turned up and “Boccondivino” printed across the back, seated us and told us a few of the daily specials – pasta with clams and a whole turbot for two. This seemed to change depending on who was seating the guests, as others were told about a tuna steak special and our waitress, most likely eastern European, told us there was gnocchi with mussels. We tried to confirm the shellfish in Italian, cozze or vongole, but she kept repeating “mussels”.

We ordered the beef carpaccio, the gnocchi with mussels (which turned out to be gnocchi with clams), turbot for two and a side of cicoria. Everything was excellent. The least interesting was the carpaccio, well done, but nothing more. The gnocchi was firm and soft, just as it should be, in a tasty tomato fish broth with clams. The highlight of the dinner was the turbot, beautifully cooked, moist and tender without being mushy and flavorful without being overly fishy, garnished with just a drizzle of olive oil. It was served with roasted vegetables – potatoes, zucchini, and super flavorful tomatoes. The cicoria (chicory) side dish was a very tasty bitter green with just a touch of peperoncini  (chili pepper), but turned out to be a mistake with the fish as its strong flavor overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the turbot. Our wine was a Tuscan Rosso di Montalcino. Of course very different from the wines we had been drinking in Sicily, a drier wine with more subdued fruit, not too tannic with mild acidity but complex with a long finish. As we were finishing our heavenly fish the restaurant really started to fill up and some locals sat at the table next to us, presumably friends or family of the owner who sat down with them while they ate. The woman ate dish after dish of various antipasto type small plates and never stopped talking. Eating, talking; talking, eating, truly an Italian art.

Giolitti is a city institution serving some of the best gelato in Rome. Fortunately or unfortunately, it is just down the street from our hotel, conveniently located between the Boccondivino restaurant and bed. It was packed – with good reason. I got the cioccolato fondente, the blackest chocolate I’ve ever seen, with nocciola (hazelnuts).  A lovely night for a stroll around the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona.

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