By Sierra Shear
My friend Elisabeth gently reminded me the other day that, while pork cutlets and lattes were interesting, I needed to write about Melissa and my Italian experience. I’ve been putting it off, watching West Wing and Girls and drinking margaritas with Elisabeth, but I finally decided that it’s time to share. Unfortunately my inspiration came while reading the ever fascinating article “Acquisition Reform and the Evolution of the US Weapons Market” for my Defense Policy class. I justify this transgression like the other bouts of procrastination I’ve suffered from lately – I’m just resting my brain for law school.
During this time of relaxation, I’ve found time to mourn the fact that I will probably not eat pizza quite as good as the pie we found in Naples for a very long time. Naples itself, however, is another story. I must preface my ode to Antica Pizzeria da Michele by saying we risked our lives to find the restaurant. Perhaps an exaggeration, but Naples was not what Melissa or I expected. And I heard it was a dump, strictly speaking.
I arrived with low expectations; I was cautioned away from staying in Naples and after stepping off the train, I immediately understood why. Melissa likes to compare it to Newark, but worse because it’s not in America and we couldn’t even understand what the people were saying.
We started charting territory and making our way to the restaurant, passing dirty buildings, people selling VHS players and knock-off everything, and vendors selling something that looked suspiciously close to a churro. After 20 minutes of wandering, we felt sufficiently uncomfortable and hailed a cab.
Antica Pizzeria da Michele is a hole in the wall. An old man in a white lab coat presides over the small white tiled restaurant with a visible giant oven in the back and some simple tables in the front. He sells three types of pizza – marinara, with tomato sauce, olive oil, garlic, margarita with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil, and double cheese margarita, which is self explanatory. He offers Coke, water, and beer to quench your thirst.
We shared a double mozzarella and a marinara. This was hands-down, 100%, easy decision my favorite meal of the trip and the best pizza I have ever eaten. The marinara was my favorite. The cheese-free pizza shined with the tang of tomatoes and the richness of the olive oil. With high-quality fresh ingredients, the simple flavor stood out in all its perfection.
Together, the pizzas added up to 9 Euros. Never mind, Naples is awesome.
While I am confident in my decision that the pizza in Naples is the best, Melissa insists that the pie at Gusta Pizza in Florence was better. And I can’t say she is wrong. It was amazing too. We tried a classic margarita, our favorite, and one with a thin spicy Italian sausage. We sat at a communal table across from a French couple, who worked through their pizzas with perfect posture and precise use of a fork and knife. Our style of attack was organic by comparison. 15 Euros.
We concluded the trip in Rome. We decided that we wanted to end on a high note, and by that we meant the place with the best food. On our first night in the city we decided to go to a small family run restaurant called Ristochicco.
The dad runs the kitchen and his son runs the front of the house, giving mini lectures on the history of Roman and Italian food, advice on what to order, and general entertainment. As soon as we sat down 12 nuns and a couple of priests walked in sporting North Face jackets embroidered with the name of their church. This tipped us off; these sweatshirts were uniquely American. Soon we heard a distinctive Philadelphia accent and knew we would chat with them by the end of the night.
Alex, who runs the front of the house, ordered for us. We told him we wanted what was good (and fairly cheap wine). He asked if we were hungry, which we were but later we decided that really he should have asked if we’d eaten in the past 2 days considering the amount of food he ordered for us. But, I’m glad he didn’t. Feasting was fun.
Our first course was a combination of classic Roman starters, with three or four kinds ham, fried vegetables, fresh and creamy mozzarella with tapenade, and other cheeses.
Two pasta dishes arrived after the first course – a carbonara, with egg, pancetta, cream sauce and another pasta with cream sauce, rigatoni, carrots, and ground sausage – essentially two amazing versions of the same thing. We totally overdid it, on the wine and the food, but it was worth it for the taste and a great story with a best friend.
During dinner we struck up conversation with the nuns, who concluded the night by offering us tickets to see the Pope during Mass on Sunday. We immediately accepted and two days later found ourselves in St. Peter’s Basilica surrounded by devoted Catholics from around the world and a few fascinated tourists like ourselves.
We hiked the three miles to the church during the wee hours of the morning and arrived just in time (an hour early) to find a seat near the back. We watched and listened to the service, lost but interested. Melissa instagramed a picture of the Pope entering the sanctuary and we called it a day.
Having skipped breakfast to get to the church early, we started on the next two and a half miles of our journey into a residential part of Rome. My friend Dan, who I met two years ago during a summer in Washington D.C., spent a semester in Rome and recommended Da Felice. It’s a well-priced neighborhood restaurant that serves classic Roman dishes, including a famous cacio e pepe. Most patrons didn’t even need menus, and order the usual or something that the waiter told them was part of the menu that day.
(comes with parmesan on top, which they mix into the olive oil and pepper at the table)
The meal was amazing. We split the pasta, the artichokes, and the award-winning tiramisu. The total for each of us was less than 15 Euro, an insanely good deal for a gourmet meal.
(yeah, kind of awkward that I only instagram some of these)
We liked it so much we ended up back in the same place the next day. On our second visit, we were famished after losing track of time and direction, which was a blessing in disguise because we decided to each get our own pasta.
There are not words to speak highly enough of the amatriciana (below), another Roman classic with tomato sauce and pancetta.
Somehow after a week we tired of pasta and pizza. Luckily, by that time we were set to return to the US. As we touched down in Newark, I wanted the pizza again already.