TRAVEL

The Very Best of Intestines -Thank you, Fabio Picchi

Trippa at Cibreino.

My relationship with tripe has always been tough. As a child, I was overexposed to trippa alla romana by my Roman mom, who loved the recipe like I love chocolate. In my suburban town, it was not easy to find good (i.e. edible) intestines, but we lived on the edge of Philadelphia and my mom was on a first name basis with all the butchers in the Italian Market. Once in a while, she’d disappear for a morning and head to Esposito Meats where she’d chat up the Eposito brothers, talk with young Lou about law school, and peruse the counter until she found the very best tripe. Personally, I have no clue what the criteria was, but apparently Lou cut it well. Once home, my mom would hoist the bag high over all 5 feet and 3 inches as if a Templar showing off the Holy Grail. “Guess what we’re having for dinner….” And then she’d cook. Her trippa all romana smelled amazing - slowly browning in a very garlicky red sauce. My friends were bewitched by the aromas and always tried a little piece. And then no more, once it was explained that what they were eating was the very best of intestines. And thus ended my social life.

I stopped liking tripe. But no one really wanted to come over. Years later and living in Rome, I was secretly happy when the anti-social dish was disappearing from trattoria menus, which would make my mother drag me all over the city to find it only to order back-to-back servings of tripe assolutamente senza pecorino. No, I didn’t want a taste even if I used to like it as a child, I tell her, complaining that I was scarred from a childhood of tripe, boiled pig’s feet, anchovies and mozzarella, and foraged greens in a suburban world where kids were spoonfed Spaghetti-Ohs. Get over it, she’d laugh. But I wouldn’t budge.

Nope, I won’t eat tripe. Nope. Not unless it’s that beautiful trippa in insalata by Fabio in Florence.

Budino alla Curcuma- a tumeric-infused yogurt pudding.

Picchi’s pumpkin soup and Rorschach test

The tiny, no-reservations Cibreio Trattoria (aka Cibreino) is where I find myself liking tripe. For the culinary detective, Cibreino is the trattoria-side of Cibreo, Fabbio Picchis historic establishment. While Cibreo is reservations, lovely table settings, and cloth napkins and table cloths, Cibreino is walk-in only, wood tables and old school paper table mats. The menu is hand-printed, and the prices are deliciously economical. From what I am told, Cibreino’s seasonal menu follows Cibreo, and I’m pretty sure the two establishments are connected by a corridor which leads to Cibreo’s kitchen.

First, I order a budino di curcuma, a soufflé-like yogurt pudding infused with turmeric. It is savory and a forkful embodies the turnover between fall and winter. The trippa in insalata, traditional Florentine tripe, arrives and it is unlike my hateful, friend-losing trippa alla roman. The dish itself looks like a abstract collage. Thin, white strands of tripe dotted with orange, and green bits- Celery, onion, carrot and parsley lightly cooked in olive oil, garlic and vinegar. I take a bite and it is the very opposite of what I grew up with. And it is really good. I realize that I have to call my mom and apologize for years of eye rolling and complaining. I lap up a pumpkin soup whose (Tuscan) olive oil garnish looks like a Rorschach inkblot. And I’m hooked on Cibreino.

Fabio Picchi.

Reign of Terroir

Maybe it’s his eyes, or his food, no matter what, Fabio Picchi is captivating. He’s a standout- from his bombastic personality to his shock of white hair. It' s no surprise that he is Florence’s 21st century emperor, reigning over Piazza Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood with a firm wooden spoon. Via dei Maccio is his gauntlet, a busy residential street lined with boutiques, shops and Fabio’s restaurants. Google" “Where to Eat in Florence”, and the results will include any one of his Cibreo restaurants - the obvious Cibrèo, and Trattoria Cibrèo/Cibreino, the charming Caffe Cibrèo, the unexpected Asian-fusion Ciblèo, and the organic market/deli C’ Bio. Dig deep and you’ll find that Fabio even has a supper club mixing food and entertainment, something he definitely isn’t lacking.

Counting Kilos

“I’m searching for saints”, Fabio tells me as we sip coffee at C’Bio, his chic bio market just around the corner from Cibreo. C’Bio stocks artisan breads, olive oils, pastas and more along with Picchi’s signature sauces, confits and other gourmet delicacies. This is Fabio’s showcase, a line up of food items hand selected by him, along with some other kitchen-adjacent items like bags, aprons, clothing. It’s all about the chilometro italiano, Fabio stresses, the Italian kilometer where products (whether Tuscan olive oil, Mugello beef, Sicilian capers) are from local culinary artisans. And by local, we mean reared, raised, farmed and produced in Italy. As he tells me all about how he chooses producers (which includes a long discussion on repeat visits), an olive oil producer walks in with two 5-kilo barrels. It’s time to try and as we sip, I find myself listening in on a heated discussion about Matteo Renzi, Italy’s former PM and political upstart. For Fabio, the personal relationship is just as important as the quality of the product, and he seems to know every thing from production and farming detaisl to personal lives.

I get back home and I’m counting kilos, too.  Not grams but meters. I am watching where I eat-  as in where it comes from, who is bringing it to the table (and how) and what it means to me and Italy.  Fresh produce is practically constitution law in Italy and every social scene is tied to food, whether religious and secular.  Italians love food- where it comes from, how it raised and how it made.  And to Fabio,” it’s not about creating monuments, but mentalities. It’s about respect for the territory, creating a life-lasting gift that will pay it forward to the next generation”.

CIBREINO

via de’ Macci 122, Florence

Lunch from 12.50
Dinner from 18.50

A Florentine Trippaio, tripe stand, in Sant’Ambrogio.

Fancy some tripe?

You don’t need to sit down at the table to enjoy some tripe. Epic Trippaio, tripe kiosks, are in key locations all over Florence, where my new favorite dish is served up sandwich-style. The culinary connoisseur knows that another storied offal is the more tender Lampredotto (the fourth and final cow’s stomach), boiled in a broth of herbs and vegetables, then finely sliced and as served inside a sandwich. Traditional toppings are salt and pepper, green sauce and hot sauce. Tip: Ask for your panino “bagnato”: sandwich bread soaked in the broth.

For the culinary explorers, here’s a great map of all the tripe kiosks in Florence.

Rome's Regola: The Foodie Neighborhood You Need to Visit

This Under-the-Radar Neighborhood in Rome Is the Foodie Destination You Need to Visit

Home to not one, but three Michelin-starred restaurants. 

This article was first published in Travel + Leisure, February 2019.

Rome’s centro storico is the city’s beating heart, home to historic monuments, trendy boutiques, and stately palaces. But the bustling neighborhood is more than just a tourist hotspot — it’s where Romans live, work, and most importantly, eat.

In the very center of the dynamic district is Regola, a micro-neighborhood whose culinary delights have managed to stay miraculously under-the-radar — until now. Here, gourmet restaurants take up residence inside grand townhouses, centuries-old churches, and Renaissance palaces. Stand at the crossroads of Vicolo della Moretta, Via dei Banchi Vecchi, and Via del Pellegrino, and you are walking distance from not one, but three Michelin-starred restaurants.

Regola has always been a go-to neighborhood for Roman cuisine, but its emergence as a gourmet epicenter is somewhat of a recent phenomenon. Il Pagliaccio, Antony Genovese’s two-Michelin-star restaurant, arguably started it all. In 2003, the French-born Italian chef was walking along one of Regola's most scenic streets and fell in love with the area’s tucked-away appeal.

“The neighborhood chose me,” says Genovese. “It's in the very center of the city, but removed from the chaos.”

Once Il Pagliaccio opened its doors, Regola saw a deluge of other hot ticket tables, starting with Supplizio, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that specializes in elevated Roman street food. Sink into one of the deep leather armchairs and order a few of the restaurant’s best-known bites: supplì (fried rice balls filled with mozzarella and chicken giblets), crema fritta (fried cream custard) and crocchette di patate (potato croquettes).

In 2015, chef Giulio Terrinoni debuted Per Me Giulio Terrinoni on Regola’s ivy-covered Vicolo della Moretta. The Michelin-starred restaurant’s innovative “tappi” (tapas-style snacks) quickly won over the hearts (and stomachs) of epicureans around the city. The seasonal menu changes daily, but sample dishes include cappellacci pasta stuffed with guinea fowl and smoked pecorino and prawn carpaccio with foie gras and red onion jelly.

Pipero Roma has been one of the city’s top fine dining addresses for nearly a decade. In 2017, the restaurant's acclaimed chef, Alessandro Pipero, found another home for the Michelin-star restaurant, on the northeastern edge of Regola.

His main reason: “Gluttony — Regola is the most calorific neighborhood in all of Rome and Lazio.”

The restaurant’s new incarnation occupies a sleek open space, with high ceilings, contemporary art, and elegant arched doorways. The food is as tempting as ever: tamarind-glazed cod with white chocolate and artichokes, oyster linguini dusted with paprika, and passion fruit-topped ricotta risolatte.

Wine lovers will want to make a stop at Enoteca Il Goccetto, a rustic wine bar with over 850 different labels on its wooden shelves, while cocktail enthusiasts should grab a tipple at The Jerry Thomas Speakeasy, a retro-styled bar that serves a mean Blue Blazer (essentially a Hot Toddy made with high-proof scotch).

If your visit falls on the last Sunday of the month, you won't want to missBiomercato, an outdoor market that sells fresh fruit, local produce, and cured meats. Take home a souvenir from your foodie detour by stocking up on organic honey and olive oil from Lazio producers. 

The Florence Experiment: Contemporary Art Slides Through The Renaissance Town

Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn! - Better Off Dead, 1985

Merry-go-round, monkey bars, teeter-totter, geodome, tether balls, swings. Of all the places I could play at the pulbic playground, my favorite was always the slide.  Ours was metal, super slick from decades of descent and most likely not up to any 21st century building code.   We fought to stand at the top and lord over all the playground serfs, and we never waited for the kid in front to get safely out of the way.    Our slide iced over in the winter so we banked snow at the base to test out the human snow plow technique.   In the summer,  the metal shoot was scalding hot from hours baking in the sun, and every method to avoid skin contact was attempted, only to find that lifting up your hands and legs caused three glorious seconds of maximum velocity.  Scary?  Stupid? Dangerous? Yeah, plus panic and pure adrenaline rush.

Playgrounds don't have seem that enticing thrill of danger any more.  Structures are well made, perfectly portioned and the ground covering is reinforced plastic flooring so that no one falls and breaks an arm.  Maybe that's a good thing, but when I stand atop today's slides, I miss the fear that something bad could, but probably wouldn't, happen.  And I think Carsten Höller does too. 

Höller makes thrills.   His beautifully designed slides, carousels and more are all about perception and experience, and are exaggeratedly reminiscent of playgrounds past.  And this time he's experimenting with more than just nostalgia, he's playing on emotions in a Renaissance palazzo in Florence.   The Florence Experiment, a double cork screw careening down the internal courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi, is wit plus a bit of biology.   Teaming up with Italian neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, Höller sends sliders on an emotional rush strapped with a seedling.  A ten-second rush of maximum velocity in a metal shoot, you feel like a kid again.  

Here's where it gets brainy. Once you've finished, you're invited to bring your bean seedling to Palazzo Strozzi's underground laboratory where Mancuso's team analyzes the effects of your emotional experience on the growth of the plant.  And if you want, you can stick around and watch film clips based on your slide reaction- terror (clips like The Shining) or joy (Some Like It Hot)  - in a glass-enclosed viewing room where the effects of your emotions are funneled out to plants fastened to Palazzo Strozzi's external facade.  Sounds hokey? It could be, but it's fun and if you take a step back, it's pretty damn clever.  Every knows that emotions have the ability to bring down the house.

And guess what?  It's about time art made us laugh, and better yet, scream.  For Höller,  "the madness of a slide, that “voluptuous panic,” is a kind of joy. It is an experience with value far beyond the confines of a museum, or a playground. It might be time, for all our sakes, to begin to explore exactly how far that might be." I agree. Let's do it.

Photo credit: Palazzo Strozzi.

The Florence Experiment

Palazzo Strozzi, through August 26

For those looking to discover more of Tuscany, Palazzo Strozzi is more than just a museum.  It is keystone to Associazione Partners Palazzo Strozzi APPS a coalition of personalities, institutions and firms that  support the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi , Florence and its "made-in-Florence" treasures through multi-cultural projects.

 

View from room 516, Hotel Savoy.

R & R:   Rooms and Restaurants

Room 516 at the Hotel Savoy.  516 is a deluxe room with the coveted view of Brunelleschi's dome, and you can bet we were hanging out the windows every hour on the hour just to listen to the bells.  We chose Hotel Savoy for its unbeatable Piazza della Repubblica location, one minute walk to Palazzo Strozzi, and an easy walk to everything else - Piazza della Signoria and Stazione Santa Maria Novella, the Giardini Boboli and San Frediano.  Earlier in 2018, the Savoy went through an aggressive renovations which refreshed the rooms to a more airy, organic vibe and increased space.  Best hotel perk? Velorbis bicycles with Brooks saddles.  I am hoping that the next I stay,  Savoy and Velorbis will have added a back seat.

Antica Ristoro Cambi, a yesteryear osteria in Florence's San Frediano niche neighborhood in the Oltrarno.  Cozy, casual, and absolutely no pretensions with an open kitchen counter,  every time I enter Cambi, I feel like I've walked into someone's home.  For my group, the  focus is always singular:  a proper bistecca alla fiorentina, 800 grams of Chianina beef grilled on extremely high temperatures and garnished with salt.  Along with the perfect bistecca, Cambi serves traditional Tuscan dishes- homemade tagliatelle with a wild boar sauce, tripe and even local favorite lampredotto.  Personally, I don't go there.

The laboratory.

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.

 

Weekender: Lisbon

Requisite, shameless Lisbon self-portrait.

Lisbon, it’s about time.  Over the past few years, I’ve heard so much about Portugal’s capital - from its food scene and azulegos to its 2017 title as Ibero-American Capital of Culture, that I finally booked a flight for a long weekend.  I had a pretty good idea I would like the city, but I didn't expect I would fall head-over-heels in love.

The City of the Seven Hills, Lisbon is an easy like.  Cascading hills with beautiful architecture, an incredible history thanks to the Age of Discovery history, and its sunshine- Portugal’s capital has the most optimal number of daylight hours in Europe.  Lisbon is so easy to like.   And then add its uncanny similarities with twin city, San Francisco- west coast, hills, waterfront, suspension bridge, cable cars and an epic earthquake that transformed the city.  But to love Lisbon?  For me, it was all down to the small details - the expected like the azulejos (color, patterned ceramics) decorating buildings in every neighborhood, the obvious like the vintage trams, and the subtle like the art nouveau leftovers, forgotten 1960s and 70s neon signs and the sweet yellow mustard on the bifana sandwich. 

With only 72 hours to get to know Lisbon, we had to have a plan, and over the years, we perfected our version of a great weekender: Choose Your Own Adventure, i.e. pick a monument, neighborhood, food, and see what happens.  Lisbon is perfect for that mentality.  It's a puzzle of neighborhoods built into the hills- filled with colors, history and great smells.   For the map-curious: we chose the historic Avenida da Liberdade, a long and luscious boulevard spanning 1100 meters across the old city to water, as home base and reference since the Avenida is visible from any high point.

Roterdao  (Cais do Sodré)


Roterdao (Cais do Sodré)

Monument

Castelo de São Jorge, an 11th century castle and fort in Alfama, one of the oldest areas of the city.  The Castelo is prime lookout over the entire city-  the entire city is laid out at Alfama's feet the east, a cascade of red terracotta roofs leading down to the glassy Tager river.  From here, you can snake your way down through Alfama - camera ready, of course, for its gorgeous Gothic churches, azulejo-tiled buildings and vintage trams (yes, they are part of public transportation) - to Baixa. Redesigned after the 1755 earthquake, Baixa is an easy grid, a tic-tac-toe of long boulevards leading to Praca de Comercio, the enormous waterfront plaza with even more monumental arc.   Pay attention as you may your way to the Praca and you'll find art deco and art nouveau signage and storefronts decorating new shops as well as some vintage finds.  There are sardine shops designed as 1920s boutiques and yesteryear caffes selling pastel de nata,a yes-you-must-eat pastry, as well the gambit of shopping- contemporary stores with early 1920s die cute lettering from boutiques past.  In Baixa center is a 45-meter-high and very elaborate wrought iron elevator, Elevador de Santa Justa, a panoramic from the 19th century.  Perfect for people with patience and looking for a Pay-Per-View.  If not, skip past and walk up Rua do Carmo, a shopping street, to the Bellalisa elevator for a great short cut to Carmo Convent, the ghostly remains of a 14th century gothic church destroyed in the earthquake. 

Monuments come in so many forms. Be on the look out for the Ponte de 25 Abril, a Golden Gate lookalike (and ironically built by the same team behind the Bay Bridge), and Ponte Vasco de Gama, a futuristic cable-stay bridge that sneaks up on you.

Ascensor da Glòria (Baixa/Bairro Alto)

Neighborhood

So many neighborhood to explore, so once you've walked Alfama, your next stop should be Bairro Alto and Principe Reale, two pocket neighborhoods on the western overlooking hills that will eventually lead you down to Chaido, Baixa and the rest of Lisbon.   Calm and collected, Principe Real is an easy hike from Avenida, serpentining past small parks and crumbling azulejos-decorated buildings to the park itself, a green square with playground, caffes and weekend street market.  The area is a Pandora's box of local flavor.  Hidden in the park is an underground museum-  Museo del Agua- an octagonal reservoir that was the city’s water source, while facing it is Embaixada, a concept store featuring local designers in a neo-classical Arabian palace.  The Rua Dom Pedro V is lined with boutiques, eateries and bars.  You'll have your choice for whatever your flavor but be on the look out for Solar, a family-run antiques store with catacombs of authentic azulejos, and Pastelaria Padaria Sao Roque, an art nouveau coffee shop.  Bairro Alto is where you'll want to make sure you have your back up battery- this is where you'll find in situ azulejos on decadent, abandoned and recycled buildings and inside churches.  Make three wishes when you stop in Sao Pedro de Alcantara, Sao Roque and Santa Catarina- beautifully decorated churches worth stepping into.   Short cut to Baixa with Ascensor da Gloria, a vintage tram whose single route it's a straight shot up and down a steep incline.  Or keep walking, you'll find yourself in Chaido, where the relaxed pace of Bairro Alto moves into more frenetic rhythm with its shops, cafes and businesses.  Meander and you'll find MAAT, the contemporary art museum and eventually Cais do Sodré, the former red light district close to the water. In the daytime, it's simply another charming distressed neighborhood with street art, great late 60s/70s signage, and everyone's favorite canned fish and aperitivo at Sol e Pesca, and at night, it's a scene- more hot pink, than red light.

If you want to flip the script on traditional, take the metro to Parque das Naçoes, a modern microcosm that requires only a 30 minute metro ride to Lisbon's northeast.   Designed and constructed for 1998 World Fair, Parque das Nacoes is a Portuguese Gattaca of wide streets, slick architecture and rectilinear design. From the moment you step out of Oriente Station, you get the vibe. An eco-concerned (and friendly) Lisbon Future where organization, intellectual stimulation and perhaps even art are paramount.  Large maps line the boulevards detailing public art and architecture. And accenting the grid of museums (science, Oceanarium, et cetera), parks and playgrounds, are environmentally-forward projects including public bike stands and recycled waterfalls. This is where you bring kids like me.

Oceanario (Parque de Naçoes

Food

It's always good to have goals and mine are double the fun- pastel de natas, that delicious egg tart, that if slightly singed makes my heart sing, and bifana, a braised pork sandwich garnished with a sweet mustard.  Make it easy by starting in Baixa and follow your nose around Praca Rossio, a large square in Baixa where there are several pastry shops and caffes.  Chances are you'll find pastel de natas and more, and it can't hurt to try them all. In fact, my rule of thumb is no matter where you are in Lisbon, if there is a pastel de nata, eat it.  (For the serious foodie, you can take a 3O metro ride from Rossio to Pasteis de Belem, considered the very best pastry in Lisbon and located near national monument Belem tower).  Bifanas require more foot work and on hand cash.  Baixa is also ideal for bifanas since it always has the most concentration of people and these no frills sandwiches are best enjoyed at no frills caffes, aka cheap.  East of Pracas Rossio is Casas das Bifanas, aka the home of the pork sandwich, and around the NW corner of Pracas Rossio is Cafe Beira Gare, a stand up bar with table service and barely any elbow room.  Though I enjoyed several a bifana, I was completely captivated by its beef counterpart-  the prego, marinated beef strips on bread bun.  Bar tab: 4 euro, sandwich and beer.   No, we did not just snack. Cataplana, a traditional seafood dish from the Algarve region, should be Unesco recognized.  If it's not, we recognized it, as with the rest of Lisbon's seafood.

Prego at Cafe Beira Gare (Baixa)

Tips and Tricks

GUIDE: Lisboa Autentica is a grassroots organization of Lisbon academics who organize tours- walking, biking, around the city- themed and bespoke.  They love Lisbon and it shows. We spent a few hours walking from Principe Real to Chaido with Davide.  Tell him we said hello.

GETTING THERE: Easy.  National carrier TAP Air Portugal dominates the skies.  From Rome FCO, it’s an easy 3-hour direct flight. The planes were modern, the staff young and very friendly. TAP flies non-stop from New York JFK ,and London (along with British Airways.  We hired a car but getting from the airport to the city center is as simple as a metro ride, taxi or bus.

SLEEP: We rested our heads at Tivoli Avenida Liberdade- a reboot of what may be an Art Deco palace on the very posh Avenida da Liberdade, a long, tree-lined boulevard with public squares decorated with monuments and caffe chiosks, while shops with the occasional art deco facade flank.  Avenida's lobby set the stage for what we considered the best weekend ever: luminous, lush couches, vintage decor, contemporary art and an incredible floral arrangement.  Our rooms were modern minimalist, in other words, sleek and spacious, perfect meditation after a long day walking around. Avenida's best kept secret is not only the rooftop Skybar and Terrace restaurant (which is pretty amazing with that all encompassing view) but the backyard pool and spa, a seemingly private piscine (totally round!) surrounded by monumental magnolia trees and azulejos tiles.

EAT: You eat well in Lisbon and quality is priced well.  Along with Tivoli's terrace, think about 100 maneiras, Peixaria da Esquina, Tasca da Esquina  .  And peruse Nelson Carvalheiro's Lisbon-centric website.

Massimo Bottura Is On a Mission to Feed the Body and the Soul

Massimo Bottura. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

The most amazing experience you can have in a restaurant is an emotional one, according to superchef Massimo Bottura, explaining a central idea behind Food for Soul, his global socio-culinary project. Fathom contributing editor Erica Firpo learns all about it.

Food. You need it. I need it. We all need it. Preferably in a calm moment, at a clean table. A meal is the world's common denominator, a full-body experience that nourishes body, heart, mind, and community — and that's exactly what superchef Massimo Bottura and his wife and partner Lara Gilmore thought when founding Food for Soul, a non-profit with community kitchens in Milan, Rio, and London.

Food for Soul is the umbrella for the ongoing sustainability project that began with Refettorio Ambrosiano, the now-permanent community kitchen that Bottura launched as a pop-up during Expo Milan 2015. The idea was simple but profound: Take surplus food that would otherwise have been considered waste (leftovers, stale bread, overripe produce) donated by restaurants and markets; use creative and sustainable cooking techniques to prepare it in clever, unexpected, and, above all, delicious ways; and invite celebrity and chef friends to participate and collaborate — and, in the end, feed people in need who are in some way disadvantaged, bringing dignity and a sense of welcome to the table. The success of Refettorio Ambrosiano inspired Bottura to launch Reffettorio Gastromotiva in Rio during the 2016 Olympics and Refettorio Felix in London during London Food Month in June 2017. Each refettorio (Italian for "refectory" or "dining hall") is targeted to its community and what it needs, which can be as simple as a good meal or as intrinsic as a safe place where people can relax and feel human. Menus change daily, depending on the surplus food available. The celebrity chefs not only brought attention to the project but also helped the community center staff cooks learn to create inspiring menus from that surplus food. The refetterios are not open to the general public, but people can volunteer to help with the project.

"It is not a pop-up but a spark — a way to make visible the invisible," Gilmore told me. More specifically, Refettorio Felix brings "light and attention to a center that has been working for 25 years and make it better, with better cooking, better dining facilities, and our know-how about hospitality."

Refettorio Felix under construction. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

Refettorio Felix done and ready to be open. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

Refettorio Felix done and ready to be open. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

In fact, every Bottura project begins with a spark, an incendiary hankering for a taste — whether for an actual flavor or for a sense of nostalgia — that ignites a way of being, an all-encompassing combination of honed excellence, spontaneous creativity, and practicality, both in the kitchen and tableside. He infuses everything he does with a subtle Italianità, an Italian spirit instinctively inherited from generations of nonne who fervently adhere to two commandments: No food is wasted and everyone gets fed. And he relies on armies of artigiani, farmers, producers, makers, cooks, and artists who painstakingly practice perfection with every stitch. Food for Soul embodies 21st century, universal Italianità — inclusion, nutrition, and waste-not practices.

In the way that Bottura pushes the boundaries in food, Food for Soul intends to do so with a cultural focus aimed at enhancing the proverbial wheel, not re-inventing it. Doing more than serving food, it educates and puts into practice food efficiency with simple, tasty recipes, using surplus food and overripe produce that would otherwise have been discarded, while fostering a loving, welcoming atmosphere.

As in Rio, London is a team effort. Food for Soul partnered with The Felix Project, a local surplus food collection and delivery service, and St. Cuthbert's Centre, a drop-in home whose kitchen and dining area were refurbished by Studioisle with donations from Vitra, Artemide, Larusi, Lasco, and Angelo Po. Food provider giants Tesco, Whole Foods, Sainsbury, and Mash joined in to bring in food. And as in Rio and Milan, Refettorio Felix opened its doors with a stellar line-up of visiting chefs, including Brett Graham, Daniel Boulud, Jason Atherton, Michel Roux Jr., Sat Bains, and Giorgio Locatelli, who worked with the Centre's full-time chefs and volunteers, cooking with salvaged ingredients.

Massimo Bottura. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

I sat down with Lara and Massimo to talk about Food for Soul, Refettorio Felix, and the social importance of food efficiency.

Food for Soul sounds less like a kitchen and more like a philosophy.

Massimo: Our project is a cultural project, not a charity project. We are trying to fight what people think is waste. We try to make visible the invisible. We find ways to show the world that an overripe banana, an overripe tomato, a bruised zucchini, and two-day-old bread are totally fine ingredients. The brown banana is much better than the green supermarket banana. Mexicans and Brazilians wait until the bananas are ripe to eat them. This is about culture and vision.

Being more efficient with food is very easy. You have to dedicate a little bit more time, maybe a half an hour every few days. You have to buy seasonally, the right amount — not too much, not too little — and cook for two or three days. Enjoy fresh foods, enjoy cooking, enjoy spending time in the kitchen, enjoy spending time in your home. You eat better, you save money, and you help the planet.

Lara: Guest chefs were invited from a list of friends and family. We wanted to share an idea, communicate a message, and help teach others how to work with salvaged ingredients to make healthy meals.

That sounds Italian.

Massimo: It is very Italian. Totally Italian. It is how my grandmother was raised; it's our approach to food. But you have to rebuild this kind of relationship with the butcher, the fruit seller, with everyone. When I travel, I eat where my friends are cooking for me, where they treat me like one of the family, because I know they want me there with them, to share with them. The last time I was with Daniel (Boulud), he asked me "what can I cook?" and once served me a classic duck caneton and another time fried chicken. It's about creating this kind of family experience that reminds you of your youth with simple food that touches your heart.

If you think about it, if you close your eyes into that kind of reflection, you arrive at your childhood and you start reminiscing about when your mom cooked, or even made a simple sandwich. I remember a time Lara cooked vegetables for our son Charlie. At the end of the meal, he got a piece of paper and wrote, "1+ to Mommy." It wasn't the perfect vegetable, but it was cooked by Lara. That is why the most amazing experience you can have in a restaurant is an emotional one.

Emotional elements open your heart and make you feel like a kid again. We do the same thing in London, Rio, and Milan. Even without all the "right" ingredients, we find the right combination and try to evolve tradition into something amazing. Much lighter, less expensive, and you stimulate your creativity. You eat better, even with an egg and a rind of parmesan, because it is you.

Food for Soul's mission is to fight food waste and encourage social inclusion. Has the current political climate impacted the direction of the project?

Lara: In Rio during the Olympics, the government was closing soup kitchens to keep the poor out of the city center. So we opened a soup kitchen to shed light on the problem and also provide a potential solution. In London, we think that it is very important and essential to break walls when walls are being built. Inclusion is part of the Food for Soul mission. And yes, with the political climate in USA, it is a perfect time to begin working there.

Massimo: At the moment, everyone is building walls to separate themselves from others. They believe they are much safer that way. I think we are breaking walls and including people. This project is inclusive. It's about the chefs, the community — the word is share. We are sharing ideas, sharing decisions, sharing dreams, sharing the future.

The project is heading to the United States. How can people get involved?

Lara: We received a Rockefeller Foundation grant specifically to expand Food for Soul into the United States with the goal of opening Refettorio projects in the next two years. We are in the planning stages, finding the right partners, for the Bronx and scoping out other potential cities like Baltimore, Detroit, Denver, New Orleans, Oakland, and Seattle.

Massimo: You have a sense of responsibility once you achieve everything in life to give back. We should do it, everybody should. If you want to do it, you can. If you don't, don't. We need more people involved. We don't need another soup kitchen, but we need people and places to build a better community. We need more places that break walls and help rebuild dignity.

London was the right moment, and now that we have done that, we want to do the unexpected in the United States. In my dream, Detroit, New Orleans, even the Bronx. It could be very interesting in Los Angeles. At a university. A campus could be incredible because the volunteers would be students. If we did in Rio, we can do it everywhere.

This article first appeared in Fathom in July 2017.

Buongiorno, Principessa! Le Panier and breakfast in bed

Breakfast in bedAnd a kiss or threeYou don't have to say you love me- Dusty in Memphis, 1969

I love you, Breakfast.

Breakfast is my morning muse.   Depending on what (and sometimes how) I eat, my day will be completely inspired by what is on my plate and subsequently in my stomach.  Life after breakfast is beautiful, especially when that includes oatmeal, eggs and fresh fruit. If left to the dynamic duo of cappuccino and cornetto, I'm apt to plunge into a sugar low of nefarious depths and become meaner than mean, so mean I don’t even know my own name.  .  . or something like that I said to the super athletes in my functional  work out class.

We had just finished a reign of burpee terror.  I was sprawled out on the floor with that bad mix of exhaustion and hunger. On one side of me was Aldo, a lawyer slash boxer slash know-it-all who was listing everything he binge ate an hour earlier to keep the scale tipped to the heavy end of Lightweight.  “Due tramezzini, cicoria ripassata, un frullato, un protein bar, un cappuccino col latte intero .. .”

On the other side of me was the new girl.  "My boyfriend makes an incredible and healthy breakfast", she effortlessly said in between push ups.  I was not impressed and tried to focus on limb coordination.  Aldo continued his food roll-out with Romanesco charm. "Un cornetto semplice e una banana.  Tutto ciòe così. Ma vorr dirmi che non mangio healthy?!"

Everyone nodded yes.

"Pssst", she called between sit ups. "Sul serio, my boyfriend makes a great gourmet breakfast."  I tried to high five her but my arms wouldn't budge, so I just smiled and groaned, "Anche' io, me too."

She looked me in the eye and deadpanned, "He's a professional chef." And that is how I was met Giovanna de Giglio, Tommaso de Sanctis and their baby Le Panier,  Rome's very first gourmet breakfast delivery service.

My philosophy is that if breakfast in bed is just standard pampering , then gourmet breakfast delivery better be Kardashian-meets-Bottura.  In other words- indulgent, craft and quality.  I mean it's just breakfast, right?

To paraphrase an old friend, you can't fake skills.  And Tommaso doesn't.  His background is Michelin, training in the kitchens of great chefs including Gianfranco Vissani and HeinzBeck.    He knows cooking timing, and makes that top priority in a business where delivery must be precise - both for delivery and temperature.   Our orders were delivered within five minutes of chosen time - the order itself was planned a day prior, though according to the website I could have ordered up until 4am of delivery date.  Both Tommaso and Giovanna grew up in Rome so their outlook is entirely, well, Roman, and so are their choices.   Bread is Roscioli, croissants are Cristalli di Zucchero, jams and yogurts are made by a local artisan, and shakes are homemade with fruit and veggies lovingly handpicked by Claudio at the Campo de' Fiori market.  I loved the Made-in-Rome vibe, as well as their choice to use primarily paper products

What did we eat?The Hangover with Pancos- savory tacos/pancakes hybrid with scrambled egg and smoked speck,  Dosha - avocado toast with pink pepper and lime, and American Style, thin Millefoglia pancakes with egg.  Each menu had fresh fruit, fresh shake and tea.

What did we think?  We loved it-  and in fact, we are still talking about those incredible pancos with that subtle touch of smoked speck.  Le Panier were prompt (Tommaso delivered himself, running up all four levels of our staircase), our menus arrived properly heated, and every dish was delicious.   The website is easy to navigate and order, and prices fit perfectly with the top quality product, service and delivery.  It won't be a choice for every weekend, but I think it is a great option if you are renting an apartment in Rome for a spell and need an incredible, local breakfast.

Would we do it again? We already have- but this last time, we went healthy and had a small repast of Quinoa salad with chick peas, avocado,lime and cherry tomatoes, porridge with banana ,berries and cinnamon, papaya, blackberries and pistacchios yogurt, a few juices and of course, Tommaso's incredible avocado toast.

Yep, I've headed back to the gym. Gotta keep up that appetite, as Aldo says.

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.

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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Ercoli, Ercoli! Prati's new gastro hub

One of the reasons I love living in Rome is because life is all about the neighborhood.  The mentality of Rome is that everything needed should be within a 500 meter radius.  Here's my mental neighborhood checklist anytime I move - outdoor produce market? Around the corner.  Good butcher? Three within a four-minute walk.  Alimentari?  Maximum 5 minutes by foot.  And the more one gets involved in the neighborhood, more amazing necessities can be found.  My local black book book puts me on a first name basis with  a magical cheese guy, an incredible tailor, a funny plumber, the entire Roscioli trifecta, my flower guy, gym and contact lens gal. And since this is Rome, I also get to enjoy a 2200-year-old archaeological site at my bus stop and a bizarre crypt on my bike path.   Essentially, I have no need to ever get out but when the time calls, I love a good adventure.  This time it's  Parioli and new neighborhood hub Ercoli al 28.

A hybrid delicatessen-restaurant, Ercoli is an intensely curated food specialties boutique that first and foremost offers counter service much like the local alimentari where my zio Romano gets due etti di prosciutto e un po' di pane every single day.  Note to the wise:  a good alimentari is fundamental to any neighborhood-  it becomes not just your food shop, but part of your daily social routine.  You can be having an incredible crap day, and Luca, the guy behind the counter, will ask how you are and remember to slice your prosciutto incredibly thin, turning a bad day into better.

Counter service.  Check.  Ercoli's huge wrap-around banco is an overstuffed cornucopia of Roman and Italian expectations and delights- prosciutto, cheese, bread, caviar, and more, that can be packed up up for porta via (to-go service) by the white-cloaked staff.  I counted at least six white cloaks and chatted up two of them who will happily talk about lunch and dinner plans.  For them, porta via also includes advice.

Turn away from the banco and you've walked into a restaurant - a Roman version of  a gastro-bistrot-  clean design with a "home" feel.  Wall are lined with regionally organized bottles of wines (instead of books, but that's better) and an each table is unique, creating an overall charmingly mismatched ensemble that is less hipster and more nonna chic.   Chef Andrea di Raimo plays around with Roman recipes and literally has the home team advantage with all of the banco at his disposal along with seasonality.  In other words, thanks to seasonality and di Raimo's flare, expect variations of Roman favorites.   So far, my favorite dish has been the carbonara (as above) with fried artichokes.

Did I mention the vermouth bar?

Head to the far back, and say hi to Federico Tomaselli, one of Rome's original mixology revivalists. Standing over a huge wooden plinth, Federico has set up a delicious vermouth bar.  As Fede says,  vermouth is Italy's signature drink, so it's about time Rome celebrates it.  His bar menu lists at least nine different Vermouth labels from the expected Martini e Rossi to Cocchi, Carpano and Mainardi, and each vermouth has at least two variants.  25 different vermouth cocktails make the menu, with several created specifically by Fede for Ercoli.  And if you don't like vermouth, it's okay, the bar tome has classic cocktails, artisanal beers and bubbles, lots of bubbles.

Je sais, je sais, je sais what you are thinking.  Ercoli isn't anything new.  Nope, the gastro-bistrot concept has been present in Rome for ages, but one is never enough.  I personally love to see a great gastro-hub in every neighborhood.  And technically, Ercoli is old news.  The uber-gastro group helmed by Gino Cuminale and Dany Di Giuseppe acquired the original Ercoli, a Prati food institution (which was immortalized by artist Giacomo Balla in his 1942 La Fila per l'Agnello, a painting that is coincidentally found down the road in Parioli at La Galleria Nazionale) and decided not just to renovate the original Ercoli but to bring its little sister, or better yet, granddaughter to the Parioli scene.  Great job, Ercoli.

Pro tip:  take a walk around the newly-opened Balla exhibit at La Galleria Borghese, and then head to Ercoli for aperitivi and dinner.

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