Thursday, July 19, 2007

Congrats to CAMPONESCHI (7/19/07)-Rome's perfect pizza at La BRUSCHETTA

Our final night in Rome took us to the elegant CAMPONESCHI situated on the beautiful Piazza Farnese which has special significance to me being an opera fanatic. It was in the Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy) facing our table (as we sat outside) that in Act II of Puccini's opera Tosca that our heroine stabbed to death the evil Baron Scarpia. I completely felt the drama as children played in the piazza and we glanced around at the various historic buildings.

Our meal was indeed an operatic production as we were treated to some of the best olives on earth (marinated with lemon and pepper) and the most amazing Bufala Mozzarella that was bathed in heavy cream as we sat down. After a tasty Campari & Tonic, we tried a tasty VERMENTINO di GALLURA 2006 from Sardegna (Sardinia) that is made from the FUNTANALIRAS grape varietal that was another refreshing white wine we felt was just right to start a meal with. The bread seemed to fare better here than in many other places as well. The tables were covered with thick ivory linens and a silver charger with a doily was at each place with handsome china and crystal as well. I had forgotten to mention that the crystal the previous night was pretty inferior and that even at lunch yesterday my simple glass of white table wine was served in a decent glass at the RISTORANTE di CAMPO di FIORE just a block away. Indeed on a sidebar, yesterday's lunch, while quite pricey, was truly a treat. Samuel wolfed down PENNE alla POMMODORO (that's Italian for Tomato Sauce) and loved the sparkling lemonade. Will had a tender and refreshing CUTTLEFISH SALAD while I reveled in my SPAGHETTI with CLAMS in a spicy garlic sauce. What made this dish special was that the sauce was very buttery, rich and slightly thick as opposed to the runny clam sauces one tends to find.

Meanwhile back at Camponeschi, I started with a beautiful presentation of LOBSTER in RASPBERRY VINEGAR Sauce with Black Truffles. A claw and tail were large and succulent meat in a beautiful presentation with "lobster head" adornment and antennae: the black truffles were actually melded into an aoili for dipping. The MILLE FEUILLE of RED MULLET was marinated and the cute fish perched atop a salad that was like seaweed in an aquarium (it looked like it was swimming!) and served with a WAFFLE of PECORINO CHEESE & Vinaigrette. MIXED STUFFED SHRIMP were Deep Fried in ZUCCHINI BLOSSOMS and stuffed with SEA BASS. A creamy versus crunchy dish with remoulade that could have been an entree it was so huge. Our server ANWAR suggested the TOCAI DEL COLLIO FRIULIANO (from Friuli in the north) 2005 from SCHOPETTO that was a treat--so crisp yet floral and tasty with the seafood. We thought we had done something wrong when the Cypriot Ambassador, a large man with a huge party sitting at the next table, got up and moved inside, but we were told he needed the A/C! His mansion faced the Palazzo Farnese and was impressive as well.

When in Italy one must have the pasta course (or secondi) and we chose some new ones for a change. TROFFIE (coiled & short) with PRAWNS and "FOSSA's" Pecorino Cheese was okay, ROMBETTI (short papardelle) with SCALLOPS and PORCINI Mushrooms fared much better and my most novel NEAPOLITAN STYLE PASTA in BEAN SOUP with SHELLFISH consisted of shreds of pasta in a thicker-than-bouillabaise-like soup with tons of shellfish and fish that was slightly spicy and most tasty. The winner was Juan's simple RIGATONI alla CARBONARA which was a beautifully "ridged" rigatoni served with the traditional egg and bacon, which here was a spicy delicious speck.

Entrees were all excellent with Mel & Juan opting for the French CHATEAUBRIAND with Bearnaise sauce and Will & I heading the fish route. He chose the TURBOT with PORCINI Mushrooms and Potato and I had a superb GILTHEAD SEA BREAM (also Dorado, called Orata in Italian) with Artichokes in a very light ANCHOVY SAUCE. The fishes were superb and so fresh. We switched to a rich CERVARO DEI MARCHESI 2004 from ANTINORI in Umbria that was creamy and rich and brilliant with the fish and between courses, while Mel & Juan opted for glass of house red that was good as well,

Desserts brought what I thought was a mediocre TIRAMISU due to the excess of cocoa and too much cream, a superb VANILLA SOUFFLE (there are many French dishes on the menu) and some yummy mignardises such as a Pastry Cup with Cream & Strawberries and simple MADELEINE Cookies. DRIED RHUBARB Pieces were deemed a digestif as we coiffed our LIMONCELLO and headed back to the Excelsior Hotel for our last night before packing and boarding the ship yesterday.

I must also write about a small pizza place around the corner from our hotel called LA BRUSCHETTA E.... which features pizza, pasta, bruschetta and more for some of the best prices in Rome (and prices ARE HIGH). It is located just of the Via Veneto at Via SARDEGNA 39/41 and may just have the best pizza Rome offers. The five of us had a total of 4 meals there since just kept going back for lunch or dinner. The pizza with ANCHOVY, SQUASH BLOSSOMS and MOZZARELLA was a hit as was the SPECK & SMOKED CHEESE. Samuel, of course, always chose the Margherita(tomato & cheese) but "without the leaves, please" as he seems to now not care for fresh basil leaves. The antipasti of vegetables is huge and superb and the berry tart a treat for dessert!

On board the WESTERDAM now for 20days we find the food to be excellent and won't be communicating with you, save for a lunch here or there off the ship worth reporting! Keep cool and eat well!

Next stop: DUBROVNIK