Rome: Saturday – Part V: Italy – No.

Am I the only one who remembers an “Italy – Si!” tourism campaign a while (possibly a long while) back? I would like to humbly submit an updated version: “Italy – No.” We got told “no” a lot – not rudely, and not even dismissively. Just matter-of-factly. “No.” The nice part was that the “no”s were rarely final – usually, we found our way around them, or at least got close to realizing our initial desire. But dayum if we didn’t hear a lot of ’em. It became the great byword of the vacation, the surefire in-joke between marrieds, one of us turning to the other: “You want (fill in the blank)? No.”

Saturday night provided maybe the best of the bunch. We crossed Via Corso with its massed crowds of Friends with Boots (The Wife’s term for the endless parade of thin women tromping around in generally fabulous boots, often topped with even more fabulous patterned hose, mostly likely purchased at the one-on-every-streetcorner lingerie shops that dot Rome like so many 7-11s. Me: “It’s what they do here – lounge around in lingerie all day, then put on boots and go out for fabulous dinners. No one know just how they manage it.”), jamming the sidewalks and forcing the Lessers onto the street. And unlike those cobblestoned alleyways where pedestrian and driver enjoy a certain understanding, the Corso was very much an ordinary two-way street, only without enough room in any way for the buses, cars, taxis, and people that crowded it.

As we headed down Via dei Pastini to Er Faciolaro, I began to wonder. A pleasant enough street, but one tinged with tourism. For the first time, we were being hailed by smiling men in waiters’ uniforms, gesturing at the display featuring the evening menu. Sad that such an inviiting gesture should strike me as deeply suspicious, an indicator of sub-par performance from the kitchen. “If they were really good, they wouldn’t need to be friendly,” seems to have been my underlying thought – though I had never actually formulated such a notion, and certainly had no experience upon which to base such a conclusion. What I had from Zadok the Roman: “Only eaten here once with Fr. Z, but he recommends it as being a reasonably-priced place for lunch or dinner near the Pantheon. I certainly enjoyed my meal there.”

Nobody, welcoming or otherwise, stood out in front of Er Faciolaro – a good sign. Inside, we were seated quickly and attended to by a brusque, graying waiter sporting an excellent moustache. He softened up considerably when I ordered the Brunello di Montalcino – at 48 Euros, it was certainly not the most expensive wine on the list, but perhaps it gave him hope that I was not a complete and total barbar. (I had actually intended to order the less-expensive Rosso di Montalcino, but got flustered during a relatively difficult exchange – he had less English than most, it seemed, and we had woefully little Italian – and pointed to the wrong bottle. After that, there was little that could be done; I had to live with my delicious mistake.)

The menu devoted an entire section to game, which made me happy. Mmmm, quail. But oh – over here: another entire section devoted to beans! And here – beans with quailet! Perfect – if “quailet” was some sort of diminutive for quail. The Italian words were different in each case. So I tried to ask my waiter.

“Is this quail the same as this ‘quailet’?”

“No.” And with that, he reached down with his pen and ran a line through “Beans with quail.”

“Ah. Are you out of that? Or is it just that ‘quailet’ isn’t the same as ‘quail’?”

“No.” And with that, he reached down with his pan and ran a grand, emphatic X through the entire game section.

“Ah. I’ll have the beans with sausage.”

Looking back, I think the most likely explanation – certainly the one that fits best with the idea that he was happy about someone ordering the Brunello – is that the game had all been flash-frozen, and was not quite up to par. That also fit well with The WIfe’s experience.

“I’ll have the pork cutlet.”

“No. Spring pork.” At least he didn’t take a pen to her menu.

The Wife’s verdict: “Best Pork Ever. Sometimes when things are really tender, they don’t have as much flavor. Think filet mignon or veal. This was like a veal of pork, but it was super-flavorful. And it wasn’t even that it had that much sauce – it was just its own flavor, but it was tender enough that you could just pull it off the bone.” Which is not to imply that the sauce wasn’t awesome – a concentrated, caramelized reduction. Add to that a primi of cannelloni in a tomato-bechamel sauce – a favorite of The Wife’s from the legendary Garozzo’s in Kansas City (where we had our rehearsal dinner) – and you had one of her two favorite dinners of the visit. I was hardly less pleased – my plump, white beans arrived robed in olive oil of surpassing delicacy, and accompanied of rounds of dense, sweet sausage. Something like the kielbasa my neighbors used to smoke back in the hometown. And the Brunello just got better as the night wore on. A long, slow, happy end to the day. Zadok had served us well.

As I said: “Italy – No.” But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.


  1. I got “no” the first time I ordered something in Italy. Don’t remember what it was, but I remember saying, “I’ll have the fill-in-the-blank.” The waiter said, “No.” I don’t know why. The nicer waiter said, “I bring you better.”

    Are you EVER going to make it to Passetto? I want to hear about what you ate there! (Especially since truffles were not in season.)

  2. Maybe the “No” is just the Italians chance to tell Americans that they aren’t in charge-a little “place-putting,” as it were.

    By the way, the hubby would have lost it with the pen incident…bad temper when hungry, the hubby.

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