Tag Archives: Pizza

A Taste of Rome

19 Jul

In my last post, I mentioned that our silence earlier this summer was the result of our trip to Italy. I also promised some posts detailing some of the culinary delights Jenny and I experienced in our travels. While it’s been a while coming, this is the first in what will be a series of posts focusing on what we ate in the different places we visited.

First up, Rome. For most people, Rome is the natural starting point to a trip to Italy. And why not? It’s full of amazing things to see, and equally amazing things to eat. And while few things ruin an appetite like jet lag, we still managed to pack quite a bit of eating into three days. Okay, we ate a lot in three days. So rather than bore you with every detail, I’m only going to talk about the highlights.

Pizza Napoletana Rome

Rome is the only place in Italy where we ate pizza. Those who’ve spent time in Italy will know that pizza isn’t that common in most cities outside of Naples – the birthplace of pizza. And so it was appropriate that our first Italian pizza experience came at PizzaRè, purveyors of great Neapolitan-style pizza. We split two pizzas: the Napoletana ai fiori di zucca (bufala mozzarella, fresh anchovies, and zucchini flowers) pictured above, as well as the Rucola (mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula and shaved parmigiano).

Pizza Arugula Rome

While the crust, char and cornicione (that’s pizza snob-speak for crust) were outstanding on both pizzas, the flavour combination of the anchovies and zucchini blossoms on the Napoletana was something I’m still craving as I write this. Along with our pizza, we shared a stewed octopus dish that was also fresh and delicious.

Octopus

Like most regions and cities in Italy, Rome is home to several unique culinary delights. The Jewish quarter is a perfect example of this. Home to Rome’s Jewish population for centuries, today the quarter is full of restaurants serving interesting Jewish Roman specialties. We ended up at one of the oldest and best-known restaurants in the area, Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia, for lunch one day, and it definitely ended up being one of the most memorable meals we had during our entire two weeks in Italy.

Carciofi Rome

On the plate of fried goodness in the above photo is carciofo alla guidia (Jewish-style fried artichoke), filetto di baccala (deep-fried salted cod), and fiore di zucchina ripieno (deep-fried zucchini blossom). The blossom was stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy, and the taste was – not surprisingly – reminiscent of the pizza we’d had at PizzaRè. The anchovies we had in Italy were so different from the ones we find here in Canada – far less fishy tasting; just fresh, salty and delicious.

Tripe Rome

We followed our sampling of fried goodies by sharing an order of Roman-style tripe, which is stewed in a tomato sauce flavoured with mint. Growing up Italian, I remember having tripe served to me a few times. And while it’s definitely an acquired taste that I haven’t entirely acquired yet, it was something I was determined to try while in Italy. Verdict: surprisingly good, though I’m probably okay with not eating it again until my next trip to Italy.

Caffe Sant'Eustachio Rome

Next up, Caffe Sant’Eustachio for some espresso. This place, located near the ancient Roman Pantheon and in business since the 1930s, is a legend in Italy. Many regard Sant’Eustachio as the best espresso in Rome. Some say it’s because of the water, from a 19th century aqueduct. Others claim it’s the method used in brewing the coffee, which is kept secret from customers’ eyes by screens around the espresso machine.  Honestly, considering the fact prices at Sant’Eustachio are considerably higher than at most other caffes in Rome, and the fact that just about every espresso in Italy is a good espresso, the experience left me a bit underwhelmed.

Mozzarella Obika Rome

The final stop on this quick taste of Rome is a mozzarella bar called Obika. Since the first location opened in central Rome in 2004, its popularity and the concept of featuring fresh mozzarellas and meats from Italy have taken off. Today, there are more than a dozen Obika locations across Italy, Tokyo, London, Kuwait and New York. I was initially skeptical of this place when we decided to stop in to Obika’s Campo de Fiori location for aperitivo (a relatively new Italian tradition of having a snack and drink in late afternoon or early evening). I mean, I like good mozzarella, but it’s not the most exciting cheese in the world. But the combination of fresh bufala mozzarella with a tasting of prosciutto di Parma, mortadella and a Tuscan finocchiona (a handmade fennel salami) made for the perfect snack. It was especially good paired with an Aperol spritz, a popular Italian drink made with prosecco, Aperol bitters, and soda water. And as Campo di Fiori was drenched in a torrential downpour while we ate, I couldn’t think of a better place to be.

So, that’s a taste of Rome. If you’re hungry for more, watch for future posts on the foods of Florence, Tuscany, and Bologna.

Napoletana Pizza at Queen Margherita

18 May

I’m not going to compare the newly opened Queen Margherita Pizza in Toronto’s Leslievile neighbourhood to Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington, just because they both happen to serve true Napoletana-style pizza from real wood-burning ovens. Nope, not gonna do it. I don’t want to subscribe to the whole east vs. west nonsense that’s been running rampant the last little while. I love Toronto; east, west and everywhere in between, and every new hot spot has its own merits and following.

That said, Neil and I were very excited to hear that Leslieville was getting its very own Napoletana pizza spot. When I heard it was above Red Rocket Coffee I couldn’t imagine what kind of space it would be, which is why I was so blown away walking through the door. It’s gorgeous. Cozy, lofty, perfectly designed to keep a bit of a raw feel (wood beams, exposed brick, concrete floor) while still feeling updated and, dare I say it, hip. I loved our cozy spot by the stunning loft-like, black windows complete with views of the TTC streetcar yard on Queen (how very Toronto).

The menu is simple. You order the $25 prix fixe that includes an antipasto, a pizza and a salad after your meal (something Neil’s Italian relatives would be proud of); or you can just get a pizza ($15 to $17 each). We both chose to do prix fixe. We found the wine to be a bit of a pathetic pour for the price, which was a bit annoying, I will admit.

The antipasti were pretty good, nothing to go crazy over, but again, I think fresh and simple is the point. I had the chickpea and roasted red pepper Caprese salad, which was really just a pile of well-seasoned chickpeas, a few slices of roasted red peppers on the side and a little pile of extremely thin-sliced roasted eggplant.

It was good, but not as inspired as Neil’s appetizer: a delicious combo of prosciutto with soft, sweet squash and shavings of Parmigiano cheese and a sprinkle of arugula. A really great taste combination (though there could have been a bit more squash).

Then came the pizza.

The doughy, chewy and extremely satisfying Napoletana pizza. Mine had pulled pieces of delicious porchetta, while Neil’s had hot Italian sausage and hot peppers. I thought both were tasty, though I found the sauce to be a bit dull. I guess you can’t win ‘em all where pizza is concerned. (as a side note, I think Lil’ Baci’s pizza, just down the street, has amazing sauce and so-so crust, whereas Neil is not a fan of their pizza in general). Crust is always a big debate with Neil and I; he likes it doughy and not too thin, and I like a good balance of thickness to doughy-ness. But we both seemed very satisfied with Queen Margherita’s crust, so much so that we finished both pizzas.

I almost forgot about our ‘salad-dessert’, which was a thinly sliced fennel and spinach salad with an orange segment. Also quite good but plain and simple, which is kind of what you want after eating an entire pizza!

We were feeling way too full to eat dessert, but the waitress must have guessed that Neil’s not that hard to convince and she talked him into trying the homemade tiramisu. So many places boast of having the best, homemade tiramisu, and we always want to believe them but usually end up disappointed. Queen Margherita’s followed suit. It was bland and boring and forced Neil to make the very bold statement “I’ll never order tiramisu in a restaurant again.” We’ll see about that.

All in all, it was a good experience. With a changing menu I’m intrigued to try different antipasti and pizzas, but next time I’d stick to one glass of house wine and skip dessert (as one probably should after consuming three courses including a whole pizza).

Our he-said-she-said quick guide to the Queen Margherita experience:

The atmosphere

She said: Perfection. Exactly the kind of space I want to hang out in, great ambiance, not too loud (like some places in the, ahem, west end), good mix of people, no pretention.

He said: Definitely funky and cool. I said to Jenny at one point that if I owned a loft, it would probably look a lot like this space.

The service

She said: Really good. Hostess who sat us was super sweet and accommodating, and the waitress was friendly and attentive.

He said: Yep. Nothing to add here… great service (which can be rare in Toronto.)

The portions

She said: Generous enough overall, but the antipasti could have used a bit more squash and peppers/eggplant and the pizzas could have had a bit more toppings throughout.

He said: Pizzas were more than large enough (I really shouldn’t have finished mine!). For the price, I thought the size of the apps and salads was sufficient.

The pizza

She said: Pretty good. The sauce was a bit boring but there was just the right amount of fior di latte cheese and the crust really was great. I thought the toppings were a bit scarce.

He said: Awesome. Better than Pizzeria Libretto? I’m not even going to go there, but I’m happy Toronto is finally getting some good pizza places. But it had everything a vera Napoletana pizza should: flavourful, pliable crust, great char, fresh ingredients in good proportions. The sauce could have used a touch more salt, but that’s about it.

The spicy olive oil (for dipping crust!)

She said: a great accompaniment to the pizza, though not as spicy as Seven Numbers’ amazing hot oil.

He said: Yeah, that.

The dessert:

She said: I’ll stick to the salad course as dessert next time.

He said: The waitress convinced me the tiramisu was great. It wasn’t. Most restaurant tiramisu in Toronto isn’t up to snuff. This was missing that great taste of booze and espresso that makes a good tiramisu. And the mascarpone tasted suspiciously of whipped cream.

The price:

She said: Fair, but the wine was not worth the money. The prix fixe option works well if you’re really hungry, but they should probably have individual prices for salads and appetizers as well. I enjoy the freedom of choice!

He said: $25 isn’t a bad price for an app, pizza and salad. But next time I’ll stick with just ordering the pizza on its own ($15 to $17 each) and get a glass of wine or a Peroni.

Will we go back?

She said: Absolutely!

He said: She said yes!!

**** UPDATE – Aug/2011 ****
Since this post gets so many views on a regular basis, I thought a little update would be in order since QM has become one of our favorite places to eat in the city. Neil and I crave it a little too often. This post was written when they first opened and since then they’ve obviously evolved. The prix fixe now comes with an antipasti, pizza and dessert and it’s a great value. You can also order any of their antipiasti on their own and you get a slightly larger portion than what comes with the prix fixe. Neil and I usually share an antipasti – I love all of their salads, but they have been getting adventurous lately (just tonight Neil ordered the Roman tripe and it was fantastic!) – and we usually get a pizza each and vow to save at least one piece to take home (we often fail). They make a mean Negroni so we sometimes indulge since it goes so well with the pizza. The pizza really is fantastic, everything about it. My fave is the classic Margherita or the spicy Diavola and Neil likes the Romolo and LOVES the porchetta, though we’ve been told that it won’t be making an appearance on the menu too often so if you see it, get it.

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