I can’t believe this was a little over one year ago. I am barely catching up after several epic trips that I have yet to document. I am so behind that I have to bust out my notebook and old dusty menus to remember all the details. This was such an epic night for many reasons. Despite travels to the north of Italy, it was our first trip to Rome, and the first trip with my cousin and our wives internationally together. We were dressed to the 9’s, had a celebrity sighting and stare-down from Marc Wahlberg of all people, spent the day doing some major high-end shopping, Chanel bags, etc, not to mention that it was the first major meal of the trip, ending in an epic cigar bar in the restaurant that was named best cigar room in Rome by cigar aficionado magazine.
I think the dopamine receptors were decimated after this day and everything else paled in comparison. I do have to thank several people in this post. One of them being Dario Corradi, whom I met at Le Calandre in Padua way back in 2012 when I really starting to ‘pop my cherry’ as a global gastronaut, and Stefan from Stefan’s Gourmet WordPress blog. People like this are truly the best reason for investing the time into such endeavors, to meet like-minded people who are passionate about the same things, food, wine, enjoying life. First of all, there is Dario with his wife at dinner. This guy was like a one-man show. I vividly remember his wife sitting there and watching this man eat like it was a performance. The look on his face, the way he ate the food and discussed it with his wife. I mean, he spoke very little English, but my wife was able to get the waiter to translate how much I enjoyed watching him eat. He also made the same observation with the looks on our faces with certain dishes. It was like 2 extroverts colliding in an atomic particle accelerator, through body language and intermediaries, I got his business card and 4 years later emailed the man with google translate in Italian, and wow did he hook us up with recommendations. Six months of planning went into this Italy trip, and when he gave me some of the names of places to check out, I started googling like mad, and I came across a blog from Stefan Gourmet.
Stefan had been to 80% of the places Dario had suggested, and I instantly connected with him as well, and I know that one day we will also meet in Europe. It is this beauty of being open to other cultures, being bold and adventurous, just having the audacity to walk up to someone in a restaurant and say, “Hey, I like your style. I don’t even know you, I don’t speak your language, but you seem like a passionate and charismatic person. You have an approachable, nice smiling face, I may never see you again, but can I get your contact info?”
This was what Anthony Bourdain taught me, “do not miss the magical dinner for a bad dinner, take the chance of the random invitation of kindness from strangers.” I don’t want to get too into the topic of his death, as I am a Psychiatrist and can go on for days. I’ll just say this, his death took the quote I always say about ‘happiness coming from experiences and not possessions’ and turned that into shit. It was like a kid at the moment of their realization that Santa doesn’t really exist. I thought he had the formula to happiness and I was just in awe of his life and what he stood for, and then the shock of his suicide. But again, he taught the world a lot of what it means to truly enjoy food, travel, and having the hope that the world is full of struggling people just being kind to each other and welcoming you into their culture and expressing this through the common medium of food.
On a brighter, more narcissistic note, this place was not a little trattoria in Rome that we were invited to by a humble family, this was a debaucherous, high-end luxury shit show, with politicians, celebrities, that had to be reserved six months to the date ahead of time, requiring waking up in the middle of the night to call in to guarantee a spot. It was worth every penny.
Look at this stunning sweeping sunset view of Rome.
I rarely post pictures of myself or my wife as we don’t exist on social media other than this blog. I want the focus of the blog to be about food, and I try to keep my life and travels discrete, but this post will be the exception as there was just too much dopeness going on, from Erika’s Pucci Mayan print with her Gianvito Rossi stilettos to my Salvatore Ferragamo tux that Ryan Gosling wore to the Oscars with the Dolce Gabanna tuxedo shirt. Goddamn, I should start getting some royalties for all this name dropping, like the Sartorialist or Glam Dapper blog.
Look at this sterling silver coaster, goddamn! It’s these little things that I love about 3 Michelin-star places. I know it seems gaudy or whatnot, but every now and then a little glamour and elegance is a good thing. Erika really gets off on shit like this. Her uncle was an old-school guy who had an eye for this kind of thing that he would find at flea markets all corroded, and then go home and polish the shit out of it to an eye-popping effect.
Amuse bouche of what looked like a high-molecular take on arancini or suppli. It was actually a gnocchi with parmesan cream and lime.
Simple sardine on old bread. Peasant food for Roman emperor style debauchery. Whenever sardine is served I eat for two as Erika has a childhood memory of being barfed on as a child on a bus by someone who just finished eating a can of sardines.
Erika was on a quest to buy a bottle of olive oil from each of the restaurants we went to, and this was the first one of many to come. This was San Valentino from Umbria. Followed by their fresh made bread.
Followed by their branded butter. I can already tell, this is going to be one fucking long post as I am barely posting pictures of the butter. You know you are fucked when this is how things start. I just can’t resist the eye candy of all the antique bronze and silver everywhere.
The notorious notebook that I write down my instantaneous thoughts in the beginning but then leave on the floor the drunker I get. As you can see, I already forgot to take pictures of the amuse bouche with bottarga.
Final palate tease before the mains begin was a candied seared chicken liver with rosemary and amaranth grains, which is kind of like a couscous or quinoa. I think the liver was coated in strawberry jam, which was in season, and integrated into the dish that is about to follow. Stunning visually as it was texturally and also with regards to the flavor profile. The warm broth was light and reminded you of the chef’s French Michelin background with his training with sauces, etc. It hit all the right notes with the weather that day and the seasonality of the ingredients. Right away we realized that this guy is not fucking around, the dishes were complex.
Now onto the main courses. Heavy seafood focus, which I loved, reminded me of LA’s Providence in that sense. Even the plate looked like a goddamn shell or some sort.
Here is the close up of the amberjack crudo with crushed strawberry ice, almond mouse, basil and finger lime. Let me tell you, the finger lime, up until today has been slowly showing up in gastronomic dinners even on my most recent trip to France in June of 2018. They are like these little pop rocks of caviar-like balls of lime. It looks like you’re eating a frog’s egg sac. You would think they created this in some weird science molecular lab, but it exists in nature in Australia.
Then came the white asparagus with quinoa cereal, avocado and seaweed. Looks like an aquarium scene from The Shape of Water.
Followed by Scampi, with pecorino foam, mashed peas, and broad beans. This was so tender.
I love their focus on multiple levels of granularity in textrue. Already you see his spectrum of grains from amarynth, to quinoa. The scampi surrounded with what looks like ocean foam in an amazing plate that mimics a tidepool, with the sand speckled in the distance.
I know in the US you hear of shrimp scampi on Red Lobster comercials, and it seems like the most old school Americana seafood entree, but scampi here is totally different, it’s very sweet, and almost the size of a langustine, they have these little claws. Shrimp scampi in the US is bullshit. These puppies are like mini-lobsters.
The next dish was one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth, and hands down the best dish of the entire night, and one of the best of the trip. I am not just saying this based on the 5 stars I put in the notebook while taking notes but on the pure memory of the soup dumpling burst of texture and flavor. It was like liquified carbonara inside a handmade dumpling sprinkled with roasted and pan-fried guanciale. The famous La Pergola Fagotelli carbonara.
OMG. I want a Fagotini in my mouth right now! Wow, that sounded very wrong. Just to clarify, I did not meet a gay Italian man with a tini weenie. All jokes aside, it is worth it to come here just for this dish.
I almost wish I could special order a large quantity of this one day after I starve myself and just have a ten times the size of this order. For those of you adventurous enough, here is the recipe on youtube from Heinz himself. The man says it himself, how can you capture the flavor of a carbonara without making it so heavy?
This next dish was a concoction of lightly cured squid, John Dori and red shrimp in citrus fruit steam that is being piped up from the vents underneath. A very light and aromatic plate to cleanse the palate from the mouth coating Fagotelli. I must say the variety of shrimp in the Mediterranean is mind blowing.
You can see and taste the difference in the scampi and red shrimp, which I will talk more about as we head down to Siracusa in Sicily at the end of the trip. Red shrimp is sweeter and has a texture like lobster.
Then came the cod with celery sauce and curry crust. This was a hearty fish, and I appreciated the curry crust that was accomplished by actully searing the fish, not just sous viding the shit until it tastes like rubber. I was starting to get full here, and the pain aspect of a ten-course meal started kicking in with the gastric distention.
Then came the lamb with fennel puree in cereal crust and goat chesse pearls.
Beautiful presentation, but given that I was getting full, the fact that it was slightly on the dry side vs medium rare was pushing me over the edge with mandibular chewing fatigue. At this point, I just needed food that would slide down my throat. Not that this was bad, just one of my least favorite dishes of the night.
Let the pre-desert begin. You can’t have three stars usually without some sort of spectacular cheese cart. I really enjoyed the cheese on this trip, one of the things you cannot get in the US, from the unpasteurized rotten maggot ripened Sardinian and Sicilian stink bombs to the mouth-watering burrata that evaporates in your mouth. I mean nothing compares. I know French cheeses have the prestige, but Italian cheeses are in their own category and parallel in status. Just so sad that we cannot get this stuff in the US.
The Sicilian pecorino was very special. I mean, just look at the color of some of this cheese, you can see the grass particles in it almost. I am so sad I did not capture what this greyish yellow liquified pasty putrefaction hunk of a cheese was, but it was so pungent and dirty like moldy shit-stained underwear that has been left in a trashcan in a hot humid bathroom whose lid has been closed for a month. This was the smell on my finger after I fingered this cheese and smeared a piece on my nose so I can keep smelling it all night.
Back to the Sicilian pecorino. Pecorino is a sheep cheese, and the young mainstream version of this cheese is used as a cheaper alternative to the Parmesano Reggiano cheese from the Emilia Reggiano region in the north of Italy. The Sicilian version of this, however, came from a small farm where it was aged as fuck, and the nuttiness and crystalization of this was unreal. Apparently, this cheese was once used as a precious form of payment in tenancy agreements. Is that where the hip-hop term ‘stacking cheddar’ comes from? It’s the semi-rhomboid shaped cheese in the top of the photo. The other two pieces of cheese look great also, I just don’t remember what they were. Look at the booger green/yellow color of the one shaped like the state of Oklahoma.
Next up is the silver candy box. Where every drawer has a suprise.
What a gorgeous canvas of a plate for this jewelry box of chocolate and confections in all shapes and sizes.
Here comes the sun, little darling….
Molecular magic, like looking at a solar eclipse with those special glasses. Here it is with the lights off. Did I mention we are at the main dessert, but there is still post-dessert coming after the sun sets.
Back to the solar eclipse….oooouuuuu. Simple humans, mesmerized by the sun.
Now for the post-dessert.
Iced sphere of wild berries on tea cream with crystallized raspberries. The astringent bitter and spice notes of the tea perfectly balanced against the sweetness of the berries, wow, so nice. Here is a bigger view of the whole plate. Looks like a faberge egg, so elegant.
Now for post-post desert. How could you come to Rome and not have gelato.
Two per person of course, in case you are not already busting from the seams of your pants.
But the real post-post-post dessert will be the cigars and cognac. Let the shit show continue. Look at this humidor. Talk about a faberge egg.
The entire cigar room of the Cavalieri hotel, a Waldorf Astoria hotel.
My friend and my bespoke tailor Waraire Boswell’s shoe collaboration with Del Torro. Makes suits for most of the NBA, made many of LeBron’s suits for awards ceremonies.
This is the kind of room you smoke cigars in, wearing a tuxedo, with a 2015 Cuban edicion limitado Upman 56, drinking a cognac older than your grandfather at $250 euros a glass. Felt like goddam James Bond.
Look at that glass.
Pure debauchery, like the painting.
My sexy wife. This photo is actually the screen saver to my laptop.
If I am not mistaken, this is my cousin’s screen saver on his laptop.
This last picture pretty much summarizes the way we felt at this point. Priceless.