Gelato and carciofi. These are the reasons to go to Rome.
On day one, having failed to gain entrance to the Casino dell’Aurore (see a later post) we found ourselves descending from the Quirinale Palace toward the Trevi Fountain. This is familiar territory, the home neighborhood of our 2001 visit. We headed straight for San Crispino on via Paneteria for limone and nocciola: the tang of lemon, the sweetness of hazelnuts.
These flavors are for us the ones by which all gelato is judged and San Crispino is our gold standard. We have found other good gelato. We have never found anything as good as that at San Crispino.
We found recommendations on Fodors and Tripadvisor for Flor de Luna on the Lungaretta in the general environs of our Trastevere neighborhood. Our first encounter was so-so: good nocciola, not good limone. For some impenetrable reason we returned another few times but the experience did not improve. The flavors, the textures, the quality—just not there. The eponymous pasticceria in the Piazza San Cosimato was much better. On Day Two we enjoyed a proper sit-down over immense dishes of our favorites. Note to self: next time order small; the medium in a glass dish is twice the size of a medium in a paper coppette. Oldbridge on the via della Scala, also in Trastevere, was okay. Nothing special. The highly regarded Gelateria Venchi near the Piazza di Spagna turned out to be the gelateria of cioccolato, which may explain the lines. Chocolate, however, simply doesn’t matter much to us; the limone was not good; strike that establishment from the list.
I did learn a new flavor at San Cosimato: flor di latte. “Flower of Milk.” It is the delicate essence of milk, the faint perfume of dairy, something to be savored without competition from more assertive tastes. Lovely.
Rome and artichokes. There is no way to get enough. Our first lunch in Rome was kosher—at Ba’Ghetto Milky on the via di Portico d’Ottavia and we started with carciofo alla Giudia. It resembled some bronzed flower in bawdy full bloom. The fresh artichoke is trimmed of thorns, the tough outer leaves and choke removed and the rest plunked into a sizzling bath of olive oil. It was garnished with a touch of salt and pepper, a sprinkling of fresh parsley. Uncertain how to attack the thing, we opted for fork and knife; sneaky looks to left and right showed me that many diners start by plucking the crisp leaves with fingers. Next time.
All in all we ordered carciofo alla Giudia three times. Ba’Ghetto Milky was the best, but there is no way to do it badly. Two orders of carciofo alla Romana brought a hot succulent artichoke flavored with lemon and olive oil and the faint whiff of herbs. This is a little like the boiled artichokes my Ma served with Hollandaise sauce when I was young—but so, so much better.
Then, of course, there are the artichoke hearts in oil, a sort of instant salad, available in most every general food shop. My favorite came from the salumeria e formaggi on via San Francesco a Ripa. A couple hundred grams of these carciofi lasted a few days; they were never quite the same twice. I think someone’s mother or auntie is sitting somewhere, paring knife in hand, amidst a pile of trimmings from artichokes, cooking them up for the shop. The ones we had on our last night, bought from the forno around the corner where we bought bread and pastries most days, had yet a different flavor. They were somewhat larger and it is hard to explain the difference—but then, viva la differenza!