Some of my foodie friends have asked “what have you cooked?” Well, the answer is nothing. Honestly, I have turned on a burner twice in five weeks. Once to cook scrambled eggs because we haven’t found anyone serving that kind of breakfast yet. The second time was to heat up some left over pasta that we were too full to eat that Peppe saved for us after Sunday pranza. (It was so cute. Caterina, who has traveled in the U.S., said when she handed it to us that she thought the American practice of “doggie bags” was a good one.) Sometimes I fix cappuccino and cereal or heat up a roll in the microwave for breakfast and make cheese, meat and fruit platters some evenings. The food is so good and the prices are so reasonable that we just go out. I know this can’t last but we haven’t made it to EVERY restaurant yet and we want to be able to give accurate first-hand recommendations to visitors. Plus I’m collecting data on new dishes to cook later. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
So this is also why I have not done a post on the farmer’s market. We are a large enough city that there are fresh food stands at the cloister every morning but more and a larger variety on Wednesday and Saturday market days. Plus you have all the Wal-Mart on wheels stands on those days. I have walked around and looked a the lovely produce but have only purchased tomatoes, fresh eggs (I know because the hen was in a crate next to the eggs), peaches and those luscious big green figs like my Aunt Fannie use to grow. Some of the ladies are quite aggressive and want you to buy from them. I have lied and told them I don’t have a kitchen (non cucina).
Other qualifiers: Pasta – this is a country of pasta (many brands are produced in Marche) and they are all good and all cooked perfectly al dente with a variety of sauces are wonderful and endless. We have to eat one that is truly exceptional for it to stand out enough to warrant blog space. So you can assume we are having great pasta all the time, even though we rarely go on about them. TripAdvisor ratings – I am mentioning them but in trying to figure out why some very good restaurants are rated low I’ve come upon this theory. Locals do not go on TripAdvisor and rate their local restaurants and many of the best restaurants serve mostly locals. So unless they serve a good many tourists, the number of reviews they get may be low, creating a lower rating.
Reservations are recommended if you want to assure you get a seat at the table at a particular restaurant. However, we have only made two reservations in five weeks and they were both at Country House San Giorgio, because it is outside the city. We have been lucky so far and never turned away, but we try to arrive just before the Italians (between 8-8:30 PM) and are always prepared to walk to another restaurant if they can’t take us. This is a great benefit of living in the historic district.
Mentioned earlier as an outdoor cafe on the Piazza del Popolo where we often sit and work on our computers in the fresh air and sunshine. Now we are “regulars” and even on a day when almost every table is full and we are only ordering water and wine, they make a place for us. We’re not on a first name basis, it is just that they recognize us as repeat customers.
Their food is very good considering they could serve anything and get away with it, and they do not close in the afternoon like the others. That and the fact they are a great place from which to people-watch, may be why we end up there a lot. We can get an appetizer or salad (with shrimps, salmon, tuna or prosciutto any time, like on the days we skip our morning pastry. We often have appertivo there, which is any time from 5:00 PM to closing (and I’ve never stayed up late enough to see them closed). For a while our apertivo was Campari with blood orange juice, but we are tiring of that now. A typical plate served, at no extra charge, with your drink has any combination of local stuffed fried olives, small pizza slices with cheese, mushrooms or artichokes, tea sandwiches of smoked salmon, mortadella, or whatever else they have on hand, local cheeses, various crostini, etc. (I LOVE mortadella. I loved boloney sandwiches as a kid and mortadella is like an adult baloney – a warm fuzzy yum!) Now if I could just find an electrical plug out there somewhere I’d be set. My IPad is always running out of battery power!
Update: A funny thing happened the other afternoon while having apertivo there. It was about 6:00 PM so we sat in the open area with no umbrellas. Cafe Lorenz is three stories, the top floor being an open terrace with glass panels between the brick crenellations (I don’t know who you have to be to eat up there). I had not noticed that there were also apartments on that level, as they are set back, until I look up and saw a pleasant elderly woman watering some plants on her terrace. Next thing I know water is spraying down on the business people and tourists at the two tables near us (missed us) and the woman is standing up there holding her finger over the end of the hose to get maximum distance! No CSI needed, this was no accident and we witnessed the crime. One of the managers goes up to the terrace to chastise her for her actions through the glass. Unfortunately for him there is about a 6″ gap between glass panels and she lets him have it as she also waters down the first two formally set tables. Now the owner and others go up there, several of them on their cell phones, and we expect to see the police arrive and haul grandma (Nonna) away any minute. We never saw the police but before anyone could get her totally under control she pointed that hose down on us again, thumb over the end, and let it rip. We spent the next hour laughing with the waiters and the wet patrons, once they confirmed their expensive electronics survived, and imagining what she may have been thinking. We haven’t seen her since but I’m comforted knowing that Italians have a soft spot in their hearts for the very old and very young. You can’t make this stuff up!
We were walking one evening before dinner when our new friend, Cinzia M., was waving to us from the patio of a local bar. We joined her and she introduced us to her five girlfriends, two Aussies that live here, and three Italian friends that did not understand much English. Of course, her friends were very curious about us and we forgot dinner and talked with the Aussies while they translated to the Italian ladies. We drank wine and enjoyed what Cinzia told us were the best appetizers of any bar. We agree that they are wonderful and have returned for apertivo on our own many times since. Last time we were there we met a couple and their grown children from San Mateo County in northern CA. He was born in Ascoli and imports Italian wines. So he spends a couple months a year here. The very bright daughter, starting college at Wellsley in the fall, said she loved Florence but we had picked the right place to live because Ascoli was the real Italy and she liked it very much here. It’s always nice to hear that.
It is amazing the difference the small things make in food. Soremidio’s appetizers are not complicated nor expensive, but memorable, and don’t vary. With two drinks you get a plate with four of the local stuffed fried olives, but hers are the most tender we’ve had so the olive melts in your mouth. Fried zucchini strips in a light batter, and warm freshly made potato chips (BC supper club members, remember KJ’s?) sprinkled with fresh chopped rosemary and a little salt. I’m not a potato chip person, but we can’t get enough of them.
I’m backtracking to the second night we were in town. I wanted to write about this dinner but couldn’t remember all that we ate. As muddled as our brains were, it seems I did have the wherewithal to write it down and I just ran across my notes.
It’s 8 PM on Saturday night and we set out for a place to have dinner in our very new town. Fortunately, on the way to the Piazza del Popolo we pass what looks like a very nice restaurant and we go in. I feel pretty sure if Larry’s Italian were not so good when he said, “Please do you happen to have a table for two for dinner?” that when they asked if we had a reservation and he said in good Italian, “I’m sorry but we do not” that the answer would have been No. I say this because I remember that the waitress seemed quite surprised that we weren’t Italian and by 9:00 the place was packed with Italians. However, she recovered quickly and after a time was able to get through to us that there were no menu choices, just a set meal for a set price. No choices to make – great, bring it on! We ordered water and a bottle of wine.
Antipasto (served one after another):
Fresh ricotta and bread
Thin slices of sopressa (cured beef) with tiny cubes of melon and a few drops of olive oil
Warm asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
Warm small tart filled with a mushroom cream
Warm plate of the local stuffed fried olives and fried polenta cubes
Bowl of flavorful warm lentils
A lovely spaghetti with porchini mushroom sauce
Passed, no way could we do it but I’m sure we missed something good.
Dolce: There’s always room for dessert.
A nice panna cotta (cooked cream) with chocolate sauce
We lucked out again. It was a little pricy @ 75 Euros, but very good. By the way, this is the first restaurant to refuse to take any tip. They are rated #23 on TripAdvisor and we think it should be higher.
Even though it is rated as the #1 restaurant in Ascoli by TripAdvisor and two doors from Leopoldus, we had never tried Il Desco because every time we walked by there was loud Brazilian music coming out the door. We were convinced it was a Brazilian disco and not for us. But the other night we were headed to Leopoldus for a pizza and Il Desco was open but with no music blaring out the door. The photos of the restaurant are lovely and they have a particularly inviting garden area and an enticing menu, and even though we weren’t very hungry we decided to try it. We sat down about 8:45 PM and left at 10:30 PM just as a family with two children (about 7 and 10 years old) were seated for dinner.
Water and a nice vino rosso
Cream of pumpkin soup to die for with pancetta and parmesan chips
Filet of sea bream with orange glaze
When I saw the English translation on the menu “warm chocolate cake with a tender heart,” I knew it was my beloved chocolate lava cake – and it was perfectly done! This is the first time I’ve seen it on a menu here. Larry had an almond parfait with a chocolate top.
Decaf espresso macchiato
I’m so glad we decided to try it as the very high rating is appropriate – Yummmm!
Recommended to us “as a good place for lunch” and, as with many recommendations, it was an understatement. Located in a stone building very similar to our temporary apartment and just two blocks away, there are no windows but a very cozy been-here-forever atmosphere. This is what pizza places in the U.S. spend a lot of money trying to duplicate. The clientele is mostly Italian. There is a lunch buffet that is to-die-for, especially if you are a vegetarian (Zanni, it is calling you!). The buffet, cost is 6 Euro ($8), consisted of the following dishes:
Baskets of breads and wood fired focaccia
A platter of meats – Prosciutto, mortadella, salami
Then rows of identical bowls of;
Frittata w/asparagus, Spinach gratin, Sautéed spinach, Chicora w/potato, Sautéed chicora, Tomato gratin, Tomatoes roasted w/rosemary, Green Beans, Peas w/prosciutto, Eggplant w/tomatoes, Grilled eggplant and zucchini, Sautéed carrots, Boiled potatoes, Rice salad w/corn and carrots, Flat beans w/tuna, Flat beans w/potato, Flat beans w/tomato and red peppers, Chick peas, Stuffed chilies and I may have overlooked one or two dishes.
We noticed they also were serving really good looking wood-fired pizzas so we returned a couple nights later and split a salad and margarita pizza which was so good we wished we had more. It has now become our favorite pizza place and we have tried several other varieties with equal success. Larry said the beer there makes U.S. beers seem like donkey p__s, which is also why I don’t let him write the food blog. They are rated #22 on TripAdvisor, but we think they should be higher on the list.
One Sunday evening about 8:00 PM we walked to several of the known restaurants for dinner, but they were closed (as many are). We happened by a restaurant that we had not tried yet and the door was open. We poked our heads in and didn’t see anyone – not even a proprietor. Hungry and getting desperate, we ventured into the restaurant, through the first eating area, and the second and followed the sounds. Eventually we came to the pizza guy working the wood-fired oven and beyond him a lovely garden FULL of people, where the owner and an adorable waitress are running around taking good care of the patrons. You had to know about this garden to find it so, as you can guess, most of the clientele are Italian. We ordered a pasta, which was very good. We have been back many times for both pasta (last time we had a great ravioli in a Pecorino cheese sauce) and pizza as the prices are very reasonable. They are rated #18 on TripAdvisor. We even ran into our unofficial food guru, Mario, and his family there so you know it good. They were arriving (it was 10:00) as we were almost finished and Mario’s brother (who speaks some English) wished us buon appetito (good appetite) as they walked away. Then he returned and asked what did Americans say prior to the start of a meal? We were stumped and never did give him an answer. Other than “have a nice meal” all we could come up with was “don’t change the TV channel” so we remained mute. What would you have answered?
Early one evening (about 7 PM) we are participating in the nightly passeggiata on Piazza del Popolo talking about where we would eat dinner. An attractive older gentleman on a bicycle hears us speaking English and comes over to talk with us and hands us a flyer for a local restaurant. He hands us the English version of the menu which is fairly limited to pasta dishes and veal dishes. He says he is originally from Sorrento and has spent much time in the U.S. and around the world as he worked on cruise lines.
As we had no better idea for dinner, we decide to go there. The restaurant is off the beaten path to begin with but current road repairs have made it almost impossible to “happen upon.” As we approach, I ask Larry to be sure and not let me forget to tell the owner that we are here because of the nice man he is paying to give out flyers in the piazza, just in case he’s paying him by customer. It is too early for dinner for Italians (7:30 PM) and, not unexpectedly, the restaurant is empty. It is a very pleasant restaurant, very old Italy, rich woods and lots of art. A pleasant woman from the Philippines seats us at a “special table,” makes a phone call and brings us water and wine and their special garlic toasts.
To our surprise, in comes the nice man on the bike and tells us he will cook a wonderful meal for us. Gennaro, who has owned the restaurant for 14 years, puts on his apron and goes to work. Opps, my bad. Larry ordered veal picatta (in lemon sauce) and I ordered spaghetti a la Ascoli (yep, with olives). They are both very good but I liked Larry’s veal the best as it was incredibly tender. When I told him so, Gennaro said to come back sometime and he’d show me how he prepared it. Their specialty dessert is profiteroles with chocolate sauce – yum.
I’m sorry to say no one else ever showed up for dinner, but we had a grand time as Gennaro sat and regaled us with stories about his restaurant in Sorrento, his time as matre’d at an upscale restaurants in Georgetown in D.C., New York and Miami. Then back to his younger years working his way up from waiter to chef on a cruise line. He has had a very interesting life! On our way out the pleasant waitress from the Philippines said to come back and she’d fix us a traditional meal from her country and, by the way, she cleans houses on the side. So we try to go there at least once a week for a veal fix and when we see Gennaro in the piazza he always stops and talks to us. We hope he can hang on through the construction and this recession.
We haven’t mentioned gelato much so far but that does not mean we haven’t eaten a good bit of it. Since we are in the tourist area, every corner has a cafe and a gelateria. Mind you all of it is good – when’s the last time you had bad ice- cream? As with all things, some are very good. We found a good one right off the bat, and was surprised to find them on TripAdvisor at #8. They make their gelato fresh from an “antique family recipe exported in Germany in 1919.” Germany? They are right off Piazza del Popolo so we often get a small cup on the way to the apartment on the nights we don’t have a large dinner.
Then our landlord/Italian angel, Caterina, asked if we had tried Yoghi on Piazza Arringo. She said they have a small selection but it is the best. And as always, she was right. Yoghi has only eight gelato flavors available, but they are unique and change every few days. They also have a vanilla frozen yoghurt with an array of toppings to put on it like I have never seen. At night this time of year you have to take a number and get in line to get a cup. They are rated on TripAdvisor at #11, but they are not just a gelato shop like most. They have homemade chocolates, colorful macaroons, incredible cupcakes, expresso and I think alcoholic drinks. They also have a nice outdoor seating area on the piazza where you can enjoy it.
This is where we usually get two cappuccinos and two pastries in the mornings. They have beautiful hand-made pastries, cakes, cookies and great expresso which you can enjoy at a table on the sidewalk. For that our tab is 4 Euros ($5.20).
Gosh, no wonder we’re not loosing weight!