TRAVEL

An Art Lover's Guide to 36 Hours in Milan

Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

Fashion, food, finance and all-round fabulousness. Here’s how to spend an inspired 36 hours in Milan, Italy’s “It” city.

10am: Check in at Hotel Indigo Milan – Corso Monforte and you’ll find yourself in the centre of an art-focused crossroads, from Milan’s illustrious Baroque to its contemporary cultural kingpin vibe. Step into modern Milan of the 1930s at the Villa Necchi Campiglio, in park Villa Campiglio directly across the from the hotel.

Named for socialite sisters Gigina and Nedda Necchi and Gigina’s husband, Angelo Campiglio, the Villa Necchi Campiglio was the centre and centrepiece of Milan’s mid-twentieth century social scene. Architect Piero Portaluppi combined his unique rationalist flair of sleek lines and materials with Frank Lloyd Wright’s functional sensibilities (including custom pieces and built-ins). His 1930s design was innovative in details both inside and out. In 2000, Gigina bequeathed the property to FAI, Italy’s national trust, which opened the villa as a museum in 2008.

Photo credit: Villa Necchi Campiglio.

12pm: For lunch, the villa’s solarium doubles as a charming cafeteria and features favourite Milanese dishes including a green risotto and traditional veal cutlets. Wondering why the Villa Necchi Campiglio looks familiar? The iconic home was setting for the 2009 Italian movie I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton.

3pm: Make your way to Fondazione Prada. This 205,000-square-foot complex is home to an intense collection of contemporary art works by 20th and 21st-century Italian and international artists—from Giacomo Balla to Francesco Vezzuoli and Damien Hirst. Its 2015 Rem Koolhaas/OMA design includes a cinema.

 Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

6pm: Stop for aperitivi at Fondazione Prada’s cocktail hub Bar Luce, the Art Deco–inspired bar designed by director Wes Anderson. And then make your way up the newly opened Torre, a nine-story modernist tower, with art galleries that eventually lead to the rooftop terrace bar.

8:30pm: After drinks, stay for dinner at Ristorante Torre, the Fondazione’s tower restaurant. The illuminated cityscape of Milan sprawls away beyond its floor to ceiling windows, and the views inside are equally good with art work including custom wall-hung plates and midcentury design pieces like Tulip tables, and executive chairs by Eero Saarinen. The menu features regular new tasting dishes created by a rotation of Michelin rising star chefs from the CARE’s Chef Under 30 project.

 Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Day 2

8.30 am: Build up an appetite with a stroll through the historic Giardini Pubblici, established 1784 and considered the oldest city park in Milan. Then find a counter spot at Pasticceria Marchesi, the posh cafe on via Montenapoleone in Milan’s Fashion Quadrilateral. A city landmark, Marchesi is the perfect scene for morning coffee, and has a mouthwatering line up of pastries, traditional pralines and savoury treats. Take a look around the Fashion Quadrilateral, an oasis of haute couture. Via Montenapoleone and its side streets are lined with beautiful boutiques representing some of the world’s most admired fashion houses.

11.30 am: Milan’s designers all know that contemporary style comes from centuries of culture. Catch up on Milan’s history at the Galleria Arte Moderna, a late 18th century villa whose Baroque trappings are the backdrop to an enviable collection of Italian and European artwork from the 18th to the 20th century. The rise of modern Milan is shown through key work by Balla, Boccioni, Canova and Segantini, which sit side by side with Van Gogh, Manet, Cezanne and Gaugin.

1pm: For lunch, head to LuBar, the galleria’s on site cafe for creative Sicilian street food in a whimsical fin-de-siècle setting.

 

3pm It’s time to go back to the future by visiting the Pirelli Hangar Biccocaa free-entry contemporary complex on the grounds of a former Pirelli tire factory. This is now one of Europe’s largest exhibition spaces, with three buildings covering 100,000 square feet. It’s dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions featuring works by Italian and international artists. Guides are on hand to help you navigate around the vast complex.

8pm By early evening, you’ll want to grab an outside table at Iuta BistrotHangar Bicohcca’s onsite gourmet restaurant where the city’s cognoscenti congregate for stylish conversation and aptly-mixed cocktail.

10pm Ready to head home to the hotel? Before you do, make a pit stop at Bar Basso, a cult classic popular with the fashion and design crowd, known for introducing the world to “aperitivi” hour and its own take on the negroni.

This article first appeared in Belong Magazine, June 2018.

Styling up Rome's Sushi Scene with Bruno Barbieri {Review}

Chef Bruno Barbieri celebrates Daruma Seasons.

Bruno Barbieri.  If you live in Italy, you know Bruno.  He's been playing foil to chef Carlo Cracco since the very beginning of Masterchef Italia, and is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The seemingly harmless Emilia Romagna-born Barbieri is a culinary force, tallying up 40 years in the kitchen and 7 Michelin stars.  He's been all over the world, including a research sabbaticaI in Brazil.   Of all the places he appears, I never expected to see him at the neighborhood sushi joint in Rome.

Sushi in Rome has come a long way, baby. At the turn of the century, pre-made, tiny one room shops stocked with refrigerated California rolls populating the city as an economical answer to Hamasei, Rome's historic Japanese restaurant.  For a self-declared California girl like myself, these sushi nooks quenched some nostalgia cravings but not quite.  Even with the k-rab rolls, I still missed my cheap, strip mall sushi joints where fresh uni, red bean miso encrusted cod collar and cherry blossom moshi were mandatory on almost every white-board menu. 

Over the years, Rome grew into the sushi culture, and it evolved from novelty to locality.   Nippon-syled restaurants like Rokko opened in the center, while trendy mod boat sushi started appearing on the outer center neighborhoods like  Prati neighborhood, and a triangle of Ostiense (Via Ostiense -Via del Gazometro- Via del Porto Fluviale) became a neighborhood of Japanese restaurants.  Somewhere in this timeline was Daruma Sushi.

Daruma Parlamento. Photo credit: Daruma Sushi.

I like to consider myself Daruma's first client.  Alessio Tesciuba opened the original outpost (one of those tiny shops with  of rolls, Japanese soft drinks and bags of wasabe peas) somewhere around the time I moved into my Piazza Navona adjacent apartment in 2005.  From the moment I spied Daruma, I was front and center,  showing up once or twice a month for some rolls and a chitchat with Alessio. We talked about everything sushi, Japan and California.  Eventually, I moved out and Daruma moved on- opening new take out/delivery spots around the city and finally opening a sit-down restaurant (among others) in Rome's the historic center by Piazza del Parlamento.

Alessio and his brothers Daniele and and Dennis are overlords of an empire which includes delivery, take out and sit down restaurants, originally sushi and Japanese cuisine, and now Italian-Japanese fusion, thanks to a little help from Bruno, who coincidentally is a client like me- serendipitous finding the spot a few years back and befriending the owner.  Returning from a visit to Japan, Bruno and the Brothers Tesciuba brainstormed the idea Daruma Seasons,  the culinary mash up of Bruno's expertise with inspirations from Japanese cuisine.

The professional photo of Spaghetti alla chitarra (made with algae) con astice (lobster). Photo by Daruma.

"I like the philosophy behind [Japanese food], and the way they treat food with respect", says Barbieri.  "Food is a kind of deity and eating is a real ritual", with similarities to Italian cuisine in "its profound culture of food .... with deep, probing flavors".   Bruno's take is a seasonal experiment of flavors and techniques from both cultures, featuring two new dishes each season season.  My beloved spaghetti alla chitarra, is a crunchy, flavored spaghetti with dried seaweed powder, with lobster, fresh mixed algae and flavored with typically Mediterranean aromas like capers, bottarga and aromatic herbs, and winter's cartoccio di tonno is simply tuna cooked in paper bag and seasoned with peanuts, toasted sesame, vegetables and Teriyaki sauce.

Lately, I've noticed I am not always willing to suggest non-Roman, non-Italian restaurants, but it's time I've updated my mindset.  Barbieri's Daruma Seasons are well-crafted, delightfully tasty and easy pleasers.  Less Italianization (a style of watering down Asian cuisine to make it similarly "palatable" for an Italian audience) and more of a thoughtful plate evolution where Japanese flavors and techniques overlap with Italian counterparts.

Cartoccio tonno e verdure (tuna and vegetable). Photo by Daruma.

Cartoccio tonno e verdure (tuna and vegetable). Photo by Daruma.

LOCATION:  All over. Daruma has six sit-down restaurants across the city in areas including Daruma Parlamento in the historic center's Campo Marzio neighborhood and Daruma Sushi Kosher in the Ghetto. Other Japanese-inspired spots in my little black book: Sakana, a boat sushi spot suggested by my friend Sachiko as a kid-pleaser. Excellent soups.  Kiko for the cool factor. Doozo for its zen-garden inspired private terrace, and Zuma for the view and the cocktails.

 

Fashion Find: Gucci Garden, Florence

This Store Rejects Labels

Gucci Garden by Florence's Palazzo della Signoria. Courtesy of Gucci.

This article originally appeared in American Way Magazine, April 2018.

Gucci transforms a palazzo into a multifaceted retail fantasy

Gucci has fun blurring the lines between fashion, food, history and art with its latest enterprise, Gucci Garden. The space, which recently opened in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence, explores the Italian brand’s past and future, and rocks a trattoria with a menu by three-Michelin-star chef Massimo Bottura (pictured right).

While an on-site boutique sells items only available at the Gucci Garden, creative director Alessandro Michele insists the project is less about creating a retail environment and more about dreaming up a fantasy world— with the Gucci brand at its center. “The Garden is real,” he says, “but it belongs above all to the mind.”


Read the April issue of American Way magazine here.

Boutique. Courtesy of Gucci.

Massimo Bottura's Gucci Osteria. Courtesy of Gucci.

Artist Jayde Fish's whimsical murals. Courtesy of Gucci.

Did I mention there is a cinema? Courtesy of Gucci.

4 Rome Restaurants With Remarkable Views

Hotel Hassler Roma. Credit: Hotel Hassler Roma

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel, March 2018, and is a favorite of mine since there is nothing better than a view of Rome.

Rome is a city whose personality shines through its visible history — an incredible cityscape of monuments, palaces and piazzas, which are all usually experienced at ground level. But to truly know the Italian capital, you have to head to new heights. Here are some of the top terrace restaurants guaranteed to make you fall in love over and over again with the Eternal City.

Imàgo
View: Domes of the historic city center

Situated on the sixth floor of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel Hassler Roma, this excellent restaurant is a favorite spot for locals and visitors thanks to its walls of windows overlooking the historic city center. From your perch at this stylish spot, you’ll be able to see at least a dozen notable palaces and monuments, among them the ornate Altare della Patria (Victor Emmanuel II monument) and the majestic church of Sant’Agnese in Piazza Navona.

The acclaimed restaurant is directed by chef Francesco Apreda, whose tradewind travels led to a playful seasonal menu that combines traditional Italian recipes with subtle Asian influences. Dine on dishes like veal carpaccio with persimmon, nori seaweed and escarole ravioli and sake-glazed black cod as you watch the sun set over the Eternal City skyline.

View from La Pergola. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

La Pergola
View: A sweeping city panorama

Perched on the ninth floor of Four-Star Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in the Monte Mario neighborhood, this stunning establishment occupies a verdant hill about 15 minutes from the city center. In other words, La Pergola offers a sweeping perspective of the entire Eternal City.

Chef Heinz Beck has perfected the art of interpretation in Italian cuisine — he delivers a 10-course menu that left Michelle Obama asking for more. The former first lady was so enamored with Beck’s fagottelli (tiny cheese-filled pasta parcels) carbonara that she asked for the recipe.

Getting a reservation at this scenic spot is about as difficult as getting a private audience with the pope — give yourself at least two and half months in advance and be sure to ask for a terrace table. If privacy is paramount, then be sure to book the private dining room — a gorgeous gilded, glass-enclosed terrace that Gianni Versace would have loved.

Aroma Restaurant
View:  A front row seat to the Colosseum

There is nothing like the Colosseum, the world’s largest amphitheater famously known for its days of bloody sport. Ever wonder what it would have been like to have a ticket — even if it’s for one of the cheap seats? When you book a table at Aroma, the rooftop restaurant of Palazzo Manfredi, it’s almost possible.

The elegant eatery features a full-frontal vista of Rome’s most iconic monument — an unforgettable and unobstructed view that is a scene for proposals. Chef Giuseppe Di Iorio complements the backdrop with his top-notch cuisine. Expect plenty of creative, seafood-centric Mediterranean plates, such as red-cabbage-marinated octopus, roasted scallops with sweet pepper and lime cream and sea bass stewed in tomatoes, garlic and parsley.

Hotel Eden's Vista. Photo credit: Erica Firpo

La Terrazza
View: Downtown Rome

Rome’s panorama is a cascade of domes and bell towers, and there is no better place to take in the sweeping vistas than from this heralded restaurant on the terrace of the Five-Star Hotel Eden. You’ll want to book a front row table at La Terrazza just in time to watch the sun set across the city and St. Peter’s dome illuminate in the night sky. 

Chef Fabio Ciervo considers the terrace his masterpiece and focuses on quality-of-life dishes that have put him at the forefront of the evolution of Italian cuisine. His spin on the traditional cacio e pepe pasta includes Madagascar pepper and rose perfume, and his stracotto di manzo (slow-cooked pot roast) is a delicious bite of beef that will leave you speechless.

On the hunt for OneMoreDish in Rome

A Very Personal Food Tour of Rome

Finding the very best dish in Rome is a Sisyphean task. Seriously.  Roman food is well represented, and rightfully so - old school, new style, street food, Michelin - all over the city, and lately, there is always something new popping up so searching for "the best" is an endless journey.  A great restaurant in Rome is an always-changing sum of mood, weather, ambition, expectations, patience, hankering, quality, location, ambience and a few more inexplicables that are relevant often only in that particular moment.  With that in mind, I don't look for the Best, I'm looking for an experience and a surprise, like the perfect plate of puntarelle, a surprise sanguinella (blood orange) gelato or a satisfying sandwich, exactly why I jumped to the task when Alexandra Romanoff of OneMoreDish asked me to create a food itinerary for day trip to Rome.

Full Disclosure:  Alexandra is an old friend.  We've been eating together since she lived in Rome a few years back where I quickly understood her vibe on food- a dedication to experiencing as much as possible.  She's a flyweight with the voracity of a T-Rex, and the more I hang out with her, the more I come to think of her a gastronomic John Anderton/Minority Report, preemptively envisioning dishes, snacks, restaurants, and that one more dish days before the table is set.  And Alexandra is OneMoreDish, a fabulous and intrepid food-centric Instagram profile that has been featured in ExtraCrispy, TastingTable, MeatPacking District,  Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, Maxim, amnewyork, Refinery29 and more.  For her upcoming visit, I lined up favorite food groups - pizza, pasta, panini and gelato for a day out in Rome.

8 hours, 6 meals and 2 Desserts

Alexandra only has eyes for eating as much as possible, so I focused on efficiency.  Conveniently for us, my backyard at Campo de' Fiori is the perfect place to start any food quest, a central HQ to walk to all corners of Aurelian's Rome.  Our journey took us to stand-up and sit-down spots in Campo, Trevi, Trastevere and Testaccio, and back,  each no more than a 30-minute light strut from my home base.  Grouped by food genre (so you can pick and choose at your fancy), here's where, why and what we ate:

PIZZA

 La Renella A serendipitous blast from the past.  Long ago, when I lived in the neighborhood, I ate a slice of pizza al taglio from Renella everyday, vowing it was the best.  I evenutally moved out of Trastevere and moved on to other forni and panifici, forgetting about my beloved Renella.  Thanks to our spur of the moment food tour,  we short cut through Trastevere's Piazza Trilussa, I found myself walking up via del Moro and enveloped in that mesmerizing freshly baked pizza aroma.  My recall kicked in and Renella became our surprise stop: a slice of pizza rossa (light tomato sauce) with roasted peppers, a smattering of parsley and flakes of fior di latte cheese, which we took to go, enjoying it as we crossed Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Location:  Trastevere

Baffetto 2  Alexandra asked for something light, easy and near by. Easy enough, pizza romana at Baffetto 2.  With so much talk about "the best pizza" in Rome and waxing poetic on flour, I've lost track of where I'm supposed to eat pizza.  Instead, I stick with old faithful Baffetto 2, a no-frills neighborhood pizzeria. We've known the pizzaiolo for a few years and he knows so we like our pizzas extra thin and crispy, so we are never disappointed.  And it constantly stands up to the Bellardini Test, a centuries-old method of assessing dough quality and consistency by holding out a slice out horizontal to see how well and long its holds out [tried and true pefected by Ettore Bellardini of Antiqua Tours ]. Our choice for the quest was an extra crispy pizza bianca (white pizza- cheese with no tomato sauce) and fiori di zucca, zucchini followers with no anchovies (Alexandra's preference, not mine).

Location:  Campo de' Fiori.

Pizza al taglio, by the slice, at La Renella in Trastevere. Photo by Alexandra Romanoff/OneMoreDish

Pizza romana, at Baffetto 2 in Campo de' Fiori. Photo by Alexandra Romanoff/OneMoreDish

PASTA

Roscioli Everybody loves Roscioli.  Over the years, its name  alone has become synonymous with Rome and its food scene as the not-to-miss salumeria.  Roscioli's popularity means advance booking, usually means a week or more ahead of time, or fall in line with the pedestrian-traffic-stopping queue on via dei Giubbonari.   And with good reason: the pastas are to die for.  We snuck in  seat at Roscioli's nextdoor caffe (ask Tommaso for the restaurant menu) and ordered light, choosing caciopepe instead of its award-winning carbonara.  For those who have never tasted caciopepe, it is the ideal comfort food which Roscioli does it to perfection-  freshly cracked black and red pepper, piquant pecorino and fresh pasta.

Location:  Campo de' Fiori

Pipero You knew this was going to be on the list, because I won't let anyone leave Rome without tasting my favorite pasta dish. At this point in life, the only person who I trust to make it is Chef Luciano Monosilio of Pipero. Luciano is a rockstar and magician.  His carbonara is perfectly balanced with pecorino and parmigiano cheese, egg yellows, and guanciale smoked and grilled separately. And Pipero the restaurant is like no other- gorgeous, high ceiling space with Flos lamps and design chairs. What I love best are the tables spaced just enough apart from each other that you can't accidentally eavesdrop, and I feel like the carbonara is all mine.

Location:  Campo de' Fiori/Chiesa Nuova

 Al Moro Okay, I lied.  I also love spaghetti al moro, a piquant twist on carbonara that makes me think of yesteryear dinners with my great aunts, and Jonathan Gold, the LA Times food critic who once dined at Al Moro for 10 days in a row.  I have a routine at Al Moro- carbonara followed by a freshly made zabaglione with melted dark chocolate, but this time happenstance placed a dish of ovoli, those seasonal, crimson-lined mushrooms that Julius Caesar loved, served thinly sliced with shards of grovière, on our table.

Location:  Trevi

Caciopepe from Roscioli Salumeria by Campo de' Fiori. Photo by Alexandra Romanoff/OneMoreDish.

Carbonara at Pipero by Campo de' Fiori. Photo by Alexandra Romanoff/Onemoredish.

Ovuli from Al Moro by Trevi.

PANINI

Volpetti  Alexandra is a New Yorker, which means she has at least one top notch alimentari/ salumeria (delicatessen) in her rolodex.... for every city.  For Romans,  the alimentari is usually sottocasa, (just below the house) or within close walking distance.   While she lived in Rome,  her alimentari was Volpetti, a historic salumeria in Testaccio, slightly out of my comfort zone but worth the walk.   Alexandra customized a prosciutto crudo, mozzarella and pickled artichokes on pizza bread sandwich with a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Location: Testaccio

Panino from Volpetti in Testaccio.

GELATO

 Corona  I love Corona, my tiny neighborhoood gelateria that often is overlooked with all of those overly artisanal ice cream shops populating the city.  The shop is simple, no bells and whistles, just a dozen flavors. Each season and micro-season, owner Alesandro creates new and unique flavors like marron glacè, along with the old staples including stracciatella and cioccolato al latte.  Our choice was a triple scoop of lamponi banane (raspberry banana), cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate) and sesamo (sesame), a bizarre and extraordinarily satisfying combination. 

Location:  Largo Argentina

Fatamorgana is one of those gelateria that has about at least twenty artisanal flavors at any given time, but the difference is that MariaAgnese's recipes are all natural.  Recent unforgettable tastes are wasabi cioccolato, black garlic, lavender,  and peanut.  Fatamorgana is the place if you are looking for variety and unique flavors.

Location:  Trastevere with several locations around the Eternal City as well as an outpost in Studio City, Los Angeles.

Three scoops at Corona in Largo Argentina.

A cone from Fatamorgana in Trastevere. Photo by Alexandra Romanoff/Onemoredish.

 

- by Erica Firpo.  Want to know more about who I am and what I do?  Check out my website ericafirpo.com.  And then click over to Twitter and Instagram  for your Rome and Italy fix. . .

4 Places for an Unforgettable Breakfast in Rome

We all know Italians love to do everything to the fullest, especially when it comes to food. Around Rome especially, lunches and dinners are fanciful feasts of antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci, tragically leaving la colazione (breakfast) as gastronomically penurious in comparison.

Caffe e cornetto — espresso coffee and a small Italian croissant — quickly ingested at the local bar is the typical morning routine, but lately languorous sit-downs with sweet and savory menus have been slowly making their way into the Roman colazione scene — almost rivaling the Full English.

Here are our favorite spots for breakfast in Rome.

All’Oro
When chef Riccardo di Giacinto decided to open his own boutique hotel The H’All Tailor Suite earlier this year, one of the first things on his mind was creating a space for his restaurant, All’Oro. And the second? Creating a world-class breakfast menu curated for international travelers and Rome residents, of course.

All’Oro’s à la carte menu celebrates the best of Italy alongside dishes from the U.S. and U.K. The abundant offerings include housemade jams and pastries such as croissants, maritozzi (a Roman bread bun filled with light cream), bombe (deep-fried dough with cream), Italian cheese, sliced-on-the-spot prosciutto and a customizable listing of dishes such as scrambled or poached eggs alongside bacon, toasts, pancakes, French toast and a selection of di Giacinto’s favorite champagnes.

Served in the downstairs dining room or outdoor garden, The H’All’s breakfast is luxurious and relaxed, ideal for a leisurely morning.

Le Panier
For those looking to stay in, you’ll want to click around the website for Le Panier, a gourmet breakfast delivery service that knocks on your front door exactly when you want with your well-curated morning meal.

In the kitchen is Tommaso De Sanctis, a classically trained chef who creates clever (and mouthwatering) dishes like pancos (a savory pancake soft taco) and wellness-focused menus like the Hangover.

De Sanctis and partner Giovanna de Giglio source organic produce, eggs and dairy for all dishes; make juices in house; and work with local artisanal producers for their jams, yogurts, porridge, granola, breads and pastries.

Il Giardino Ristorante
If you want breakfast with a view in Rome, there’s but one proper address for doing so: Il Giardino Ristorante at the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel Eden.

Following a nearly two-year renovation of the property, the open-air establishment rebooted its look and gave adored chef Fabio Ciervo full reign to make over every single menu, from the breakfast sides to dinner entrées.

Ciervo chose to focus his new concept on wellness, and you can thank a master’s degree in nutrition and a love for organic, Italian produce for the delectable detour. The breakfast buffet, for example, is a cornucopia of treats, from housemade breads and pastries to eggs, yogurts, jams and a bevy of vegan options.

Those looking to juice need to look no further than chef Ciervo, who continues to squeeze as much deliciousness as possible into his liquid treats.

Caffe Canova Tadolini
Here’s a tip for those whose only breakfast needs are a super-sized caffeine fix: though the true Italian cappuccino comes in only one size (the standard coffee cup), Caffe Canova Tadolini, a posh café in the Piazza di Spagna neighborhood, serves its pours in oversized cups — perfect for those needing an extra boost before heading out in the morning to explore the city.

In between sips, you’ll notice a dash of culture found in the building housing the eatery, which was once the home and atelier to artists Antonio Canova and the Tadolini brothers. Their work can be admired in the café’s museum.

- This article was originally published in Forbes Travel on May 31, 2017.

Pipero and the art of Carbonara

Carbonara.

If there is one plate that I would go to the ends of the earth for, it is carbonara- my kind of comfort food and Rome's emblematic dish of pasta, egg, grated pecorino (and/or parmesan) cheese, and guanciale.  I will go out of my way, leaps and bounds for just a plate so over the years, I've made it my business to eat carbonara in every Roman restaurant I step foot in,  an ongoing culinary quest for that very best until a fateful Saturday, September 21, 2013, when I sat down at Pipero and ate the last forkful of Luciano Monsilio's carbonara.   The only word to describe his carbonara is perfection - aesthetically beautiful- a sunflower-colored knot of pasta in a serving that was neither too much nor too little with the ideal Italian umami thanks to Luciano's preternatural culinary skills for combining grated pecorino and parmesan cheese, pepper-spiced beaten egg yolk, and pan-cooked guanciale in just the perfect amounts, and Alessandro Pipero, owner of his epynymous restaurantknew it.   Heck, he even made a film about it.  

As I walked out of Pipero, I vowed I would never eat carbonara again, unless Luciano was putting a plate of it in front of me or, and there always is an "or", it was vetted as hands-down amazing by a series of carbonara sycophants including Luca Sessa, Katie Parla, my favorite taxi driver Emanuele and my aunt Graziella.   It was easy to hold back from my carbonara fix.  Pipero was getting a lot of press after receiving a much-deserved Michelin star in November of 2012, which meant it was harder to just pop by, and personally I wasn't keen on its location at the Hotel Rex, andthough it is/was somewhat easy to find other great carbonara, my heart belonged to Pipero.   Fast forward to March 2017 when, while casually strolling down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, the thoroughfare linking St. Peter's to Piazza Venezia, I noticed that the old and vacant bank across from Chiesa Nuova had curtains.  I took a closer look.  Pipero's moved in.

IMG_2963 (1).jpg

Real estate is tough negotiation for a Rome restaurant, and even tougher for a Michelin-starred joint.  Choices are either hotel spaces, which is usually a compromise of interior design and multipurpose like a breakfast buffet, or a private space, sacrificing light for independence.   The new Pipero is neither.  Taking over a former bank in the Piazza Navona/Campo de' Fiori neighborhood, Pipero has location.   And thanks to the architectural demands of said bank, Pipero has light- a luminous space of high ceilings, and full-length windows on two sides of the corner restaurant.  A chic interior, the lounge/restaurant is simply accented with Poltrona Frau chairs, Flos lamps, original parquet floors and absolutely no clocks on the table, a detail Alessandro loved in Pipero's original incarnation but thankfully shelved in 2017.  The ground level area has seven tables, with an open mezzanine hosting three tables, while the subterranean is home to Pipero's wine cellar - a cozy, private dining cave lined with labels hand-picked by Alessandro, who also happens to be a sommelier. 

Let's get serious. Style was the first thing on my mind.  Before sitting down at Pipero's table, my most important concern was the food and whether or not Pipero would uphold or even surpass this crazy idolization I created over the years.  Was it still perfect? On a Tuesday afternoon, I found out by treating myself to a six-course tasting menu.  [Note: I asked to include the carbonara, as Alessandro and Luciano had removed it from the menu, making it available to guests by request.] The restaurant was quiet - just me, a couple, and Achille Sardiello, Alessandro's Numero Uno and maitre d', a man whose dedication to Pipero - owner, restaurant and dishes - is all about poise and professionalism.  Achille charmingly commands the floor.  The mythical carbonara appeared after an incredible duck tartar "panino" of crispy, slim bread with homemade mustard, and a rigatoni with broccoli, sausage and pecorino that playfully innovates tradition and changed my entire life view on broccoli.   It would be an understatement to say I was sated when the carbonara arrived, but I needed to make sure Pipero was still Pipero.  Every bite that afternoon was just as perfect as the first, second and third times I had eaten Luciano's magical carbonara.  Mission accomplished,but to follow was a lambcut which blew my mind with its delicious combination of cottura perfetta (perfectly cooked), anchovies and a raspberry cream.  I could've stopped there, gone home and written a love sonnet to Pipero, but why not make sure? One month later, I organized a private dinner for 30 for the very same six-course tasting menu.  Of course, Alessandro, Luciano and Achille did not disappoint- perfect service, perfect ambience, perfect dishes -- and yep, that carbonara was perfect.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 250

(+39) 06 68138022

Above:  Tuna tartar with green apple and mustard.  Here: Rigatoni with broccoli, pecorino and sausage

7 New Rome Restaurants Worth Sampling

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel on March 9, 2017.

7 New Rome Restaurants Worth Sampling - Forbes Travel Guide

One thing is clear: You will never be hungry long in Rome. Almost every street has that typically charming spot with a pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) rotation. Around each corner you’re likely to find pizzerie and trattorie. And eventually you’ll stumble across a produce market. You barely have to lift a finger or move your feet — it is really that easy to eat in the city.

Rome’s culinary scene is in the midst of a food adolescence, a gastronomic transition of limitless expression that sometimes plays around with tradition — or at least it tries to. And though the scene may still have some growing up to do, here are some not-to-miss newcomers for your little black book.

Secondo Tradizione Banco & CucinaThis tiny gastro-bistro in Rome’s Trionfale neighborhood, an out-of-the-way area that is worth the trip, has the feel of a Roman osteria from yesteryear. Chalkboard menus hang on the walls listing Secondo Tradizione’s fare. The I Classici list reveals the classics — the dishes that no honest Roman trattoria would be without, like carbonara and saltimbocca.

The Dal Banco (“from the counter”) board highlights the specialty cured meats and cheeses, while Dalla Cucina are the daily and seasonal creations from the kitchen and pans of chef Piero Drago. Drago came on board earlier this year, training under the wing of award-winning chef Anthony Genovese, who joined up with Secondo Tradizione to celebrate and innovate traditional cuisine, while keeping it simple.

7 New Rome Restaurants Worth Sampling - Forbes Travel Guide

Ercoli 1928Growing up means experimenting while looking back at tradition, so it’s no surprise that a contemporary crop of alimentari (“gourmet deli”) restaurants are open. Dual delicatessen/dining spot Ercoli 1928 in Parioli is both an over-the-counter food boutique showcasing a cornucopia of Roman and Italian delights — prosciutto, cheese, bread, caviar, wine and more — and a chic trattoria where chef Andrea di Raimo literally has the home-team advantage by masterfully using local and seasonal products in his recipes. Expect variations of Roman favorites, including a carbonara with fried artichokes.

La Tavola, Il Vino e La DispensaLa Tavola, Il Vino e La Dispensa is the new baby of chefs Oliver Glowig and Salvatore de Gennaro. Located in the newly opened Mercato Centrale, a food stall opus in the 164-foot arched corridor of Rome’s Termini Station, La Dispensa turns the mezzanine terrace into a chic food bottega with counter and table service.

Like Secondo Tradizione, La Dispensa focuses on the gems of Italian regional cuisine and artisanal producers. Here you’ll find incredible cheese, delicious rosticini (tiny lamb skewers) or a rigatoni al bacalà (cod). Daytrippers should look out for the lunch menu for lighter fare, while the dinner menu is a little richer.

MadreDown the road in the Monti neighoborhood, chef Riccardo di Giacinto gives you a little bit of motherly love with Madre, his version of fusion cuisine. Madre’s menu is a crazy and tasty mix of Roman fritti (fried foods) and ceviche. It’s hard to spot the traditional Roman influences until you taste the savory maritozzi, fried sweet buns filled with bollito e salsa verde (boiled beef in a parsley-based sauce). The garden restaurant is also a popular hangout for its cocktail scene.

7 New Rome Restaurants Worth Sampling - Forbes Travel Guide

PiperoPipero is the newest contribution from the fabulous carbonara master Luciano Monosilio and sommelier/restaurateur Alessandro Pipero. The duo first worked its magic at Pipero al Rex inside of Rome’s storied Hotel Rex. The newest spot, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, offers such varied courses as red shrimp risotto, T-bone steaks and a chocolate soufflé.

RetrobottegaExperimental kitchens are trending in Rome, and one of the best is Retrobottega, a closet-sized restaurant and self-proclaimed “gastronomic lab.” The overall style is rustic simplicity — in other words, a perfectly curated menu in a no-frills, counter-service setting.

A team of chefs creates daily specials in an open kitchen. The menu changes more than seasonally, so pop in for a quick read of its chalkboard list — you’ll find enticing spice combinations and savory game dishes.

Taverna VolpettiKeep your eyes on Taverna Volpetti in Testaccio, a specialty food shop, wine bar and restaurant in the re-opened space. The menu offers charcuterie and cheese selections and delightful dishes like truffle tonnarelli. Round out your meal with a tipple from the impressive by-the-glass wine list.

Emilia Romagna, a revelation

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Not long ago, I find myself on a journey in search of art in towns with charming names like Ferrara, Parma, Forlì and Ravenna but as soon as I arrive in Bologna’s Stazione Centrale, the train station that is to become my primary radial point, I know that my adventures will be of another kind.

I am in Emilia-Romagna, terra del gusto, the land of taste. A northern region privileged with a broad range of weather conditions thanks to its nearly coast-to-coast span from the Adriatic to the Apennines. The kaleidoscopic location allows the region to produce a veritable cornucopia of PDO (protected designation of origin) and PGI (protected geographical indication) recognized products- a divine 33, the highest count for any Italian region. By those statistics alone, Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s gastronomical holy land.

Emilia-Romagna’s cult of culinaria is led by the incomparable triumvirate of prosciutto, balsamico (balsamic vinegar) and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Individually, its cured meats, cheeses, wines, vegetables and fruits are more than just table talk. In fact, a plate of salumi (cured meats) or a large chunk of parmigiano is the antipasto introduction to any dinner and the coup de grace to the entire meal. It is not a surprise that eating in Emilia-Romagna is gastro-enlightening, a spiritual awakening of mind and belly.

My days become revelations as I theorize a beatific “circle of life” between the prosciutto and parmigiano as the pigs are raised on the cheese’s whey, without one there could not be the other. In Modena, I am intoxicated by aged balsamic vinegar, a luscious nectar home-grown just a few kilometres down the street from the futuristic Enzo Ferrari museum and the Lamborghini factory. I conclude that Ferrari and Lamborghini’s meticulous handcrafted details are logically birthed from a town of patience since the very best balsamic vinegar is aged over years and decades. And my postulations, theories and declarations course as much ground as the regional trains: prosciutto, mortadella, felino, piadine, tigelle, lambrusco, pasta...

Everything good comes from Emilia-Romagna. This is my mantra. If pasta is considered the iconic comfort food, then it is Emilia-Romagna we must thank for placating our palates with tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagne and cappelletti. (And I personally thank Parma for adding just a bit of butter.) It is not surprising that the region, whose total population is less than that of city of Rome, has twenty-six Michelin starred restaurants (and 25 bib gourmands), including the world’s fifth best restaurant in the world in Modena, Osteria Francescana.

At Osteria Francescana, I come full circle. Art is what motivates Chef Massimo Bottura’s avant-garde creations such as bollito misto, non misto (a clockwork of varying cooked meats) and Cinque età del Parmigiano Reggiano in diverse consistenze e temperature (the ever clever five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese). His heart belongs to Emilia-Romagna ~his dishes tell tales of the region’s (and Italy’s) history and relationship to its food specialties ~ and Bottura is also constantly inspired by contemporary art. A quick look around the restaurant and I spy pieces by Francesco Vezzoli, Maurizio Cattelan, Jonathan Borowksy and Gain Turk. I am having a mini-Venice Biennale moment when my final revelation hits me: art and food, of any genre, are gemelle cosmiche, soul filling cosmic twins whose only requirement is thoughtful digestion.

Emilia-Romagna, I can’t quit you.

How to get there: Getting to Emilia-Romagna is quite easy. Region capital Bologna has its own airport that accommodates national and international flights. Bologna also has direct connectivity via rail to and from Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice. With train station Bologna Centrale as home base, most of Emilia Romagna’s towns are reachable by inexpensive regional trains via Ferrovie Emilia Romagna and Treni Italia.

Trippa, Milan's Other Last Supper

Photo: Paolo Zuf

There are restaurants and then there are Restaurants, a food sanctuary that says Home, and from that very first bite convinces you to drop everything in your life just for an opportunity to bus tables so that you can hang out in the kitchen.  This is the kind of place that you keep secret for as long possible, making friends vow to never reveal any details and praying to yourself that you never mention the name in your sleep.  But I think it's time I let you in on my little secret since Italian food writers have been scribbling up a storm about it - -  Trippa, Milan's other Last Supper

Photo: Paolo Zuf

Familiar, nostalgic and beckoning, Trippa is designed like an old school trattoria, a single and clamorous room of vintage-inspired wooden tables and chairs, with authentic vintage lamps, fans, and posters.  The room is enveloped in a gorgeous mustard color that I later find out is "Milan tram yellow", as in the city's beautiful (and refurbished )1930s trams.  The vibe is chatterbox hang out.  Everyone knows everyone else, and are constantly playing table hopscotch, while owner and chef Diego Rossi holds the floor both conceptually and gastronomically.

Photo: Paolo Zuff

I stumbled across Trippa thanks to my friend Sara*, an intrepid food and travel writer.  Sara knows where to eat, so the table's always up to her which is probably why she is co-founder and bosslady ofSauce Milan, the site for Milan's food and restaurant scene.  Of course, Sara was spot on.  Trippa was perfect - for me and for the evening, which initially began with a viewing of the Last Supper.   Next thing I know, a kerchiefed Diego is bombarding me, Sara, Laura and Darius with vegetables-  crunchy white turnips (were they slightly breaded?), grilled raddichio with roe, a leek panella, fried artichoke and a trio platter where all I remember is the broccolo. And that was just the beginning.  We had a fabulous fassona tartar, a valorous vitello tonnato (perhaps the very best I have ever had), and a perfect grilled polpo.  It was almost as if I needed nothing more until the bone was brought out.

Marrow on the half bone.  I could write sonnets to this salty masterpiece that we spread over warm bread.

Beatific. Gastro-terrific.  Mind-blowing, belly showing.  A half-bone beat with a salty treat. Bone marrow, I'm yours.

Life Imitates Art.  That's the only thing I was thinking about it as I looked across the table at Sara (left), Diego and Laura, my culinary trinity, who brought me and Darius from enamoured to enlightened.  Trippa was a masterpiece, and then I noticed that they were too.  Just like Da Vinci's fresco.  Nothing is a coincidence.

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