(Image, sadly, not related to post. Just an Italian artist looking so Italian.)
After finishing finals, finding and packing my bags, and eating one last great Italian dinner as a study abroad group, it was time to leave Rome… for a bit.
Saturday morning everyone else got up to leave Rome – The parents are I were to fly out Sunday morning to Germany, so we had another day in the Eternal City. We looked out atop Castel Sant Angelo, went to mass at Santa Maria di Trastevere, and wined and dined at Cafe Arancina and Osteria Zi Umberto in Trastevere. Cafe Arancina – blood orange cocktails on the piazza that made my father, a non-cocktail-drinker, a cocktailist for the evening. They’re that good. Also, a tip – Falanghina white wine.
A word about Zi Umberto: Simply my favorite restaurant in all of Rome. The small dinning room spills out on to the piazza for seating fuori (outside). You want to sit outside, and this is the prime real estate. Umberto (namesake) sits at a small desk in the back of the restaurant. If you want a table, the waiters put up their hands and motion you to the back of the room to consult with Umberto. It’s more of begging.
He looks at you. “Hai prenotazione?” (Do you have a reservation?) No. He kind of looks at you like “are you serious?,” then he puts on his glasses and studies his list of reservations. It’s like he’s doing calculus to see if he can squeeze you in. Then, depending on who you are, if you are Italian, a girl, friendly, funny, nicely dressed, etc. he’ll place you where he sees fit.
The more special that you are, the closer to the prime, mid-range outside tables you will sit. It’s like a game. Seriously. Because all the tables have reserved signs on them at the start of the night. You must beg for the privilege of eating there. And believe me, this is part of the experience. It’s kind of fun. Kind of like a right-of-passage.
After going there a couple of times, Katie and I knew most of the entire waitstaff. I believe it was after our second visit that we received kisses from all the waiters upon leaving and Umberto grabbed Katie to slow dance around the dining room as he hummed. I should mention that this was about 11pm. We were the last table. We had been there 3 hours, and they would not let us leave.
They would not bring the check. They just kept bringing alcohol. This is Rome.
Ok, so, Zi Umberto: divine Amatriciana – pasta with a sauce that I can only describe as a hybrid of carbonara and vodka sauce. Amazing and authentically Roman. Also, great Roman artichokes and the best tiramisu I have ever had ever. I call myself well versed on the topic.
I always left Zi Umberto feeling so happy. The waiters laughed with us. I felt special. The food was divine. It’s the little neighborhood spot that the Romans love and frequent. It’s local and fun. To some the waiters might seem gruff (classic Roman style), but once you’re in, once you’re a local, they love you. They couldn’t be kinder. They will talk to you from across the restaurant and sit down at your table with you.
My parents loved it so much that my dad insisted that we make the same evening when we returned to Rome the next Saturday. I happily obliged. We did the same Mass, drink, dinner dance. Just as great. It made me so happy to take my parents to another place where I had friends. To brag about “my place” (realizing that it’s not mine at all).
When we left Saturday night, I told the guys that I was leaving. For good for now. They all grabbed me for big hugs and kisses. They made me promise to come back. They shook hands with my parents. And as we walked away from the place I realized, again, that it was the people that made the experience more.
Sure, I’d do many things for a plate of that Amatriciana. But, I’d do just about anything for Amatriciana, outside on that piazza, served by my friends, accompanied by their teasing and flirting.
You can take the pasta out of Italy, but… you shouldn’t. It’s so much more when it’s there in its context. The plate is the entire city.
(Ps. I began this attempting to write about Germany and got caught up. I think it deserved the time..)