Monday, December 17, 2007

Ah, Rome: Part 2

Le Mani in Pasta
Via Dei Genovesi, 37
00153 Roma (RM), Italy
+39 06 5816017

You may recall that I traveled to the fair city of Rome last month and did some serious eating and drinking while I was there. The world class art and architecture was inspiring of course, but the food was the organizing force behind our trip.

We had decided to go to Rome in the early summer, so this left four months lead time to plan, obsess, and plan and obsess some more about where we would eat during those eight days. As the time for the trip neared, I became noticeably less crazed—less hell-bent on finding “perfect places” to have meals and just content that we could use the information I already had to discover little gems along the way. And find them we did! The most exciting find was a small restaurant in Trastevere that I had read about a couple months prior in a blog I found by googling “favorite restaurant in Rome”. I am so grateful that I paid attention to the blogger who expounded upon the virtues of Le Mani in Pasta. It is a small, unassuming restaurant half way down an alley, with a tiny kitchen that is visible through a wall of glass.

We were only two days into our Roman meals at this point, but we were both already feeling the full weight of eating pasta twice a day. I am helpless in the face of truly wonderful tagliatelle, and almost weak in the knees at an exceptional stuffed tortelli. We were delighted to find that Le Mani in Pasta actually specializes in seafood as well as pasta and we had a lovely, balanced meal of simply prepared, exquisitely fresh, fish. We started out with a dish that I was hesitant to order at first, but am SO GLAD that I did. The sea bass carpaccio with shaved black truffles, lightly dressed with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, was one of the more refreshing and original dishes I can remember having this year. The fish is very mild, but with a slight briny flavor that is offset beautifully by the paper thin earthy black truffles. It was the height of truffle season so we were fortunate to have them in a few dishes (mostly pasta dishes), but this was far and away the most simple and surprising incarnation. The fresh lemon juice squeezed on top of the dish was a great counterpoint to the truffles as well, as was the creamy butter that we smeared on the thin toast that came with the carpaccio.

We followed this with another great dish, though it did not have the jaw-dropping effect of the first. The fresh spaghetti with prawns and Manila clams in a saffron tomato broth was delicious. It had the right balance of brininess and warm spices and was topped with a cured fish roe called bottarga that added to the depth of flavor.

We followed it with one of the simplest dishes of the week, but certainly one of best—flattened squid, langoustines, and pawns all grilled with olive oil and served with a wedge of lemon and flat-leaf parsley. It was absolutely exactly what I wanted.

In fact, we were so taken with our meal that I decided to make reservations for a few days later to ensure that we would be able to have the seabass carpaccio again. I will try to have a favorite dish as many times as possible if I feel that my chances to experience it are running out. Actually, I think I showed great restraint in only returning once. Our second visit was just as great as the first. We started with the carpaccio, but upon seeing what our Italian neighbors ordered, I wished I had tried the fish antipasti, which looked like a sashimi plate with a radicchio salad in the center—incredibly colorful! We then had simple grilled turbot (a Mediterranean white fish) served with lemon and a radicchio and arugula salad.

This time, we saved room for their apple crepes with a caramel sauce and mascarpone gelato. They were delicious, but somehow they were not as exciting as the main courses—the dessert felt more complicated and fussy somehow. I did manage to finish every bite as I have a weak spot for caramel in any form and this caramel had a deep amber flavor that permeated the light and airy crepes. As the waiter handed us the bill and gave me kisses on both cheeks (we were now “regulars” after coming twice in one week), I realized just how sad I would be to leave Rome. We should all be so lucky to have such a neighborhood restaurant.


Anonymous said...

yum! the descriptions make me hungry and the photos are making me drool!

Christine said...

Wow, Rome has so much more to offer the discerning eater than pasta dishes. I will have to try Le Mani in Pasta someday!

Anonymous said...

I felt like I was there! yummmy. That fish sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing your delicious eats!

Blair said...

Your description of Rome is magical. I felt like I almost got run over by a Vespa! I can't wait to try that restaurant...

Anonymous said...

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Attia said...

This sounds like an amazing trip - I'm so happy that it's a new year and that my vacation days are still unused!

Anonymous said...

Hi Juree,

Sorry this doesn't relate to your blog, but I noticed your comment on David Lebovitz' blog and followed it here. I'm a Korean-American living in Portland, and I wanted to let you know about Paldo World. It's a Korean grocery store in Beaverton that you might enjoy. It's at 3975 SW 114th Ave. I'm also a big fan of the Korean restaurant Hae Rim (also in Beaverton).

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the Korean restaurant recommendations!! I will try one this week! --Juree

Ron said...

Somewhere in the midst a night of near aimless wandering through Rome, traveling as we were over Christmas 2002, my friend Sikwaya and I found ourselves in Campo de' Fiori. We found a little hole in the wall spot just off the piazza, at 88 Largo dei Librari, a place called Dar Filettaro a Santa Barbara which is one of those one-note joints that thrive despite and because of their limited, specialized menu (like Bakesale Betty in Oakland's Temescal district - best chicken breast sandwich in God's azure creation). As the name suggests, Dar Filettaro has perfected filetti di baccala’: battered and fried cod fillets, a classic example of Rome’s famous fried foodstuffs. Nothing else on the menu matters.

Going as we did late at night, we avoided the usual crowds. I was unfortunately stricken at the time with an absurd gum infection which would force me to cut our travels short, but I yet managed to crunch and gum my way through the delicious fritters. Golden fried batter and tender white fish somehow seem to raise one's threshold for mouth-pain, which is one of the most gripping pains one can be subject to.

While we ate, our young Roman waiter began an impassioned, broken-english version of "Happy Birthday" to the tune of the American national anthem, making sure to sing "Mr. President" at the crescendo. We kept eating, straight faced.