Espresso di Roma: Sant’Eustachio

The famous Italian “30-Second Breakfast” of a espresso and a pastry, consumed quickly at the counter, before sprinting off on your Vespa, is one of the charms of Italy. The coffee is so good no matter where you go, from small corner caffès to trattorias and pizzerias, the end of a good meal is always punctuated with a shot of espresso. Each time I sip a tiny, sweetened ristretto (a very small, or “short” espresso), I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes (yes…really, I’m a romantic).

I stand at the counter while the barista lowers the handle on the powerful espresso machine, watching the thin trickle of aromatic liquid. The bartender loudly clanks the espresso saucer on the counter with a tiny spoon and perhaps a packet of sugar, then moments later presents me with a teensy cup of very hot, toasty and deeply flavorful liquid.

Just a sip or two, then it’s gone; the perfect espresso.

And in Rome, one must make the pilgrimage to the most famous espresso in the world… Sant’Eustachio.

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The espresso at Sant’Eustachio in Rome is so well-regarded that William Grimes of the New York Times advised those in the US seeking the perfect espresso, “…When the need for a real espresso becomes overpowering, buy a ticket to Rome, tell the taxi driver to head straight for the Sant’Eustachio cafe. The espresso will be perfect. A little expensive, but surely worth the trouble.”

The perfect espresso requires a few factors: the pressure of the machine, the quality and grind of the coffee beans, how often the machine is cleaned and serviced, the skill of the machine operator and many feel, most critically, the water used.

(And in spite of what many people think, there is much less caffeine in espresso. Unlike drip or plunger-style coffee, the coffee extraction for espresso is so rapid and powerful, there’s too little time for much caffeine to be extracted from the coffee.)

No one at Sant’Eustachio will reveal their secret for the crema that tops their espresso, which is a thick layer of frothy cream that floats on top of the espresso, which experts claim should float the sugar for exactly 3 seconds before it begins to sink in and dissolve.

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I have to admit, no one at my table was very impressed with the espresso or cappuccino at Sant’Eustachio. The famed crema sat on top of the coffee like a thick, cranky layer of froth that refused to budge, rather than the delicate layer of silky bubbles that beautifully frames the rich brown, steaming liquid pressed into the tiny cup. I tend to agree with those that claim the secret of San’Eustachio’s espresso is a tiny bit of bicarbonate of soda added to their water (since acid neutralizes the taste of bicarbonate of soda, the slightly-bitter espresso would indeed eradicate any trace of that ‘soapy’ flavor). That foam was suspiciously rich and stubborn and I had to press down on the sugar, and stir, to get it into the espresso.

And the coffee was pricey.
Most caffès charge perhaps 80 centimes (about $1) for an espresso at the counter, whereas here it almost three times the price.
But admittedly, no one here seems to stand at the counter…most opt for the tables in the lovely, placid Piazza Sant’Eustachio overlooking the church. An unusually quiet little square in the middle of Rome.

Sant’Eustachio
Piazza Sant’Eustachio 82
Rome
Tel: 06-6880-2048

Italian Menu Options

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“Can I get that, um, on the side?”

Molto Gelati: Italian Gelato

The first time I ever had gelato was about 20 years ago when it seemed to be all the rage in the 80′s, that staggeringly over-the-top era of excess, when we all seemed to be fascinated by Studio 54, record-shopping at the Gap (anyone else remember that?), Bianca Jagger, ultra-suede, and Bill Blass-designed Lincoln Continentals.

There was place around the corner from Chez Panisse in Berkeley where I would stop before work. Although it had some fancy Italian name, it was known around town as ‘The Lesbian Gelato Place’.

I don’t know if the women who made the gelato and scooped it up were lesbians, but since it was Berkeley and it was the 1980′s, they may have been a ‘womyn’s-owned collective’, if memory serves me right. It was the time when blending politics (Wendy Yoshimura, the SLA cohort of Patty Hearst, worked at the Juice Bar Collective next door), social change and gastronomy somehow becoming all linked together and made what you were going to have to eat a ‘social statement’, instead of just filling your gut.
Soon there were gelato places all over the place, but that wonderful lesbians gelato bar was a revelation to me.

(Hmmm. I wonder if I will now start getting lots of hits from lesbians looking for good gelato?…)

Anyway, they eventually they closed, as some diet probably became the rage and it perhaps was time to Stop The Insanity making it forbidden to eat delicious gelato or anything except mountains of potatoes. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that lesbians weren’t the only ones who made good gelato. In fact, gelato is the national obsession in Italy, where you’ll find everyone from sleek businessmen to groups of Vespa-driving teenagers (and lesbians) getting their licks in.

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Not a lesbian…but enjoying gelato anyways

Italians just adore gelato and it’s rarely consumed sitting down. It’s gooey and soft, and meant to be licked and slurped while walking down the street, swirling your tongue around it and catching every little chocolate-y drip that begins its inevitable slide down the side of your cono.

Il Gelato di San Crispino (Via della Paneterria 42), has been dubbed the “laboratory” of gelato, since it’s gleaming and spotless. And amazingly efficient…something that you begin to appreciate the more time you spend in Italy. You take a number and they serve you in order. And this one woman happily served everyone, without flinching, in several different languages, keeping the place spotless..and with a big smile.

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Scooping gelato at Il Gelato di San Crispino

You can’t get an ice cream cone at Il Gelato di San Crispino, according to Maureen Fant, who’s writes about Rome who I met up with. She explained that a cone is considered unhygienic. Instead you order your gelato by the cup (which I don’t mind, since you don’t waste any when it drips.)

I was told by several Romans to be sure to taste the meringa, which baffled me until I tried it. When I ordered cioccolata along with two meringas of hazelnut and chocolate chips, the cheerful scooper told me I had made a great selection.
Whew!

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My gelati

And…oh my God, was that good. The gelato of course was excellent, but the meringa was a frozen meringue studded with crispy bits of dark, bitter chocolate, toasted Piedmontese hazelnuts and crackly, sugary meringue. Each little mouthful revealed something new to me…a whole new world of frozen desserts had expanded right in front of me.

My other favorite gelato was at Giolitti, close to the Pantheon. The place was enormous and pandemonium ensued, as tourists tried to figure out the system (or lack of) then fight their way to the front of the counter through the bustling mob of excited Italians (in Italy, it’s common to pay in advance at the cashier before ordering your gelato or espresso at the counter…and in Italy it’s not common to line up in any particular order!)

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How does one decide?

There were lots of fruit-flavored gelati to choose from; I loved the beautiful colors and there was every flavor you could imagine, from a dark, inky blackberry to a dreamy-pink white peach. Each server, wearing a chic jacket-and-tie, would generously smear your cono with up to three flavors then top each with a blob of panna, or whipped cream.
I saw a few non-Italian women scraping theirs off once outside, into the wastebasket.

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Note the huge bowl of ‘panna’, or whipped cream dwarfing everything

Another counter at Giolitti featured a dizzying array of granitas, flavorful, intensely-flavored ices that are ground up into
little crystals and explode in flavor when you eat them. Usually they’re topped with a flourish of panna as well: the contrast between the sweet richness of the cream and the lively flavor of the granita makes this a Roman favorite.

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Frosty, crystallized granita in many flavors

While they all looked delicious, I was still teetering from my granita di caffè from nearby Tazza d’Oro, which perhaps has the best espresso and was my daily stop in Rome.

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The welcoming sign at Tazza d’Oro


Related Posts

What is gelato?

Pistachio Gelato

Gelato di Polenta

Tasting Rome: Gelato, Pasta, and the Italian Market

Chocolate Gelato

At Giolitti, where I got my daily cono of chocolate gelato in Rome…

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Giolitti
via Uffici del Vicaro, 40
Rome
tel: 06 6991243

Pairing Wine and Chocolate

I confess.
I’m one of those people that don’t like wine and chocolate together.

There’s something about all those diverse flavors going every which way in your mouth…all I want when I enjoy chocolate is to taste rich, dark, unadulterated chocolate without any distractions.

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Gâteau Bastille: A Little Chocolate Cake with Prunes

I’ve been meaning to write more about chocolate, and when Clotilde announced she’s hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday 13, it was the perfect excuse to add some notes here about chocolate.

I asked two friends and chocolate experts (I love having chocolatiers as friends)from two of my favorite chocolate companies how they felt about pairing chocolate with wine. You may not know this, but most chocolate is a blend of various roasted beans, plucked from pods and roasted to achieve a certain flavor and profile that the chocolate-maker is seeking. Like wine, chocolate is often blended from various beans, which of course can vary. Depending on variety, origin, fermentation, and roasting, cacao beans can have amazingly different flavors, so often they’re blended.

And in spite of what you’ll read and hear, there’s often no advantage to single-origin chocolates over blended chocolates, unless it’s really important to you that your chocolate is only made from one particular kind of cocoa bean.
A few chocolate companies make excellent single-bean chocolate, such as Amadei, E. Guittard, and Domori; all are extraordinary and well worth eating, but I find other single-bean chocolates a result of good marketing and no more exceptional than some of the blended chocolates.

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Brilliantly-Colored Cocoa Pods From Africa

As a former winemaker, chocolate-expert John Scharffenberger transitioned from sparkling winemaker to mastering the art of blending fine chocolate. During his explorations and tastings, he was intrigued by discovering similar flavor components in wine and chocolate, finding nuances that both had in common.


“In tasting Chocolate and wine, there’s a definite fruit acidity (cocoa beans in chocolate, grapes in wine) in the beginning. Next is a bit of a respite in the mid-palette (the fatty cocoa butter for chocolate) and finally sweetness (sugar in chocolate, the alcohol or yeast of sparkling wine.)”

He describes a similar finish when tasting wine and chocolate “defined by tannins, sometimes long and soft, sometimes short and harsh.”

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Freshly-Dipped Parisian Chocolates

Chocolate and wine both have tannins, which can makes them remarkably similar, and I agree with John Scharffenberger (although Hershey’s ain’t making any offers to buy my business!)
The problem arises when those tannins compete with each other. That’s why I prefer a sweet, smooth, rounded ruby port wine with chocolate, rather than a bracingly intense wine, like Cabernet or Zinfandel.
Often the two just obliterate each other and cancel out each others fine qualities.

So I admit that for this chocolate and wine pairing, I fudged a but.
(Sorry, bad pun…)
I opted to pair chocolate with something unusual: Spiritueux de Cacao, a clear, distilled liquor made by steeping and heating cocoa beans then capturing the essence by collecting the aroma and bottling the liquid created by the steam.

Sounds difficult?
That’s why good eau-de-vie is rather pricey. Jörg Rupf of St. Georges told me he uses 60 pounds of Bartlett pears to make just one bottle of Pear William (pear eau-de-vie).

I discovered my Spiritueux de Cacao at Lavinia, the 3-story wine emporium here in Paris. At Lavinia, there’s a roomful of eaux-de-vie made from every flavor possible: quince, thyme, sour cherries, honey, lime, and…chocolate. I recommend visiting the 3-story wine emporium if you come to Paris, located near the historic Place Madeleine and visit the collection of open bottles. You’re welcome to take a good sniff and sample from their selection. (Now that’s my kind of wine store…)
Naturally I chose the chocolate one, and left the garlic one behind!

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Superb Slitti Chocolate Bars and Beans

Frederick Schilling, the ‘alchemist’ of Dagoba, one of my favorite organic chocolates (his Dagoba Xocolatl bar with chilis, cacao nibs, maca, and a hint of nutmeg is simply amazing), finds that the nuances of some of his exotically-flavored chocolates pair well with wine. Frederick loves pairing his floral lavender chocolate with a pinot noir and his delicious lime-scented milk chocolate with a crisp pinot gris.

But when I pressed him for tasting specifics, Frederick replied that he thinks that chocolate tasting comes down to “there are no rights or wrongs. Taste is a subjective art … If it tastes good, you’re having fun, and are surrounded with people you love, it must be the right pairing.”

So here’s my ‘wine’ and chocolate pairing for Wine Blogging Wednesday 13: little rich, individual chocolate cakes.
I make one for each person because I don’t like to share my chocolate! Each is studded with liquor-soaked prunes, adding soft, sweet little bites that meld perfectly with intense dark chocolate. These petits gâteaux can be made in advance and the flavor improves as they sit. (Trust me, I ate all four cakes over the course of the day I made them. They kept getting better and better and better).

If you don’t happen to have a bottle of chocolate eau-de-vie in your liquor cabinet, either come to Paris and pick one up (sorry, I don’t deliver)…or macerate the prunes in port wine or dark rum.

Gâteaux Bastille
(Little Chocolate Cakes)

4 individual cakes

For the prunes
6 medium-sized pitted prunes, cut into little-bitty, bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons Metté cacao eau-de-vie

For the cakes
4 ½ ounces (125 gr) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup (50 ml) heavy or light cream
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt

In a small bowl, mix the prunes in the eau-de-vie.
Cover, and let macerate for a few hours.
Butter four 2 3/4-inch (7 cm) paper cake molds and set them on a baking sheet. (See note.)

To make the cakes:

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F degrees (190° C).

2. In a medium bowl set over simmering water, melt together the chocolate and cream. Remove from heat.
Mix in the prunes and any liquor in the bowl remaining, then let cool to room temperature.

3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, at high speed, beat the eggs and sugar with a pinch of salt until thick, about 5 minutes.

4. Fold one-third of the beaten egg mixture into the chocolate, then fold in the remaining egg foam.

5. Divide batter between each cake mold.
Bake for 30 minutes, until cakes are tender and still soft when you touch the top. Each will rise, then gently sigh down a bit.

Remove from oven and cool a few minutes before removing the paper cake mold (use a scissors to cut it away).

Serve warm or at room temperature with very cold cr&egraveme anglaise and perhaps a scattering of crisp-toasted sliced almonds.

Note: If you can’t get paper cake cups, you can use paper muffin liners in a muffin tin.

Ok, how’s that for a nice, rich little chocolate dessert?
I’m so wiped out from all that chocolate, I need a break.
Let’s see, where should I go this weekend?

How about…..

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…Italy!

Will Write For Food

I took someone into a fromagerie the other day and he was asking me to describe a perfectly ripe, oozing camembert cheese. “Musty gym socks”, “funky undies”, and “barnyard-like” don’t exactly sound appealing, but were the most accurate descriptions that came to mind at the time (looking back now, however, perhaps next time I need to do some pre-editing in my head). The trick to is to make something as special as a perfectly-ripened wedge of cheese sound so good that you can’t believe it will taste better than it smells.
Conveying an exact sensation is the difficulty of food writing. How do you describe something that you think tastes good, and make it sound good enough for someone else to want to taste as well? (and if you think “musty gym socks” or “funky undies” taste good, you’re at the wrong web site).

Dianne Jacob, a seasoned culinary journalist and instructor with a long string of success behind her, shares her secrets and suggestions while explaining what food writing is all about: how to succeed, how to get published, and what you can do to make your food writing more evocative and compelling.

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Will Write For Food is one of the best and most comprehensive workbooks I’ve read on this topic and if you’ve fantasized about writing about food or wanted to know what it was like to write a review restaurant or well-loved cookbook, read the suggestions she culled from experienced food writers like Russ Parsons, Anthony Bourdain, Deborah Madison, and Alice Medrich.
Heck, I’m even in there too!

Childhood Food Memory Meme

I was tapped to do this meme back in July, by Shuna, and I began to write it up.

Then I stopped, and began writing much about my culinary travels. So the file got moved somewhere on my desktop, obliterated amongst the mess of files and folders here at chez Dave. As someone else mentioned when she got tagged for the meme, it’s kinda like getting a homework assignment.
And who wants homework when you live in Paris?

Then last month Clotilde, who effortlessly manages to both live in Paris and respond to food memes, and she tagged me again, so I felt guilty and decided I’d better sit down and do this.

The meme asks Food Bloggers what 5 Favorite Childhood Food Memories they remember most. Here are mine. I suppose I should be taking only about things like usual suspects like ‘comfort food’, but frankly, these are the things I remember (and miss) the most…so, ok…there’s one ‘comfort food’ entry tossed in…

Chocolate (or Rainbow) Sprinkles

I love sprinkles, or as we called them, “ants”, since they resembled everyone’s favroite picnic critters swarming all over your ice cream. I remember going to Friendly’s Ice Cream in Connecticut and ordering Chocolate-Marshmallow Swirl Ice Cream and once it was scooped, the server dipped the whole she-bang in the container of sprinkles, covering everything. A few years later, soft-serve ice cream made its was to New England and I discovered Rainbow Sprinkles, which are almost as good as their darker cousins, when smushed into pillow-y soft-serve ice cream once it emerged from the swirling machine at Foster Freeze.
(I wonder what they would say if I asked for sprinkles at Berthillon?)

Chicken and Rice with Apricots

My mother was a great cook.
And I never appreciated it fully until I got to college and other guys told me what lousy cooks their mother’s had been. My mother was an artist who specialized in weaving and spinning. And she was kind of a character and very well put-together . She had a remarkably strong resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore (before Mare’s Joker-From-Batman-like face lifts) and Jacqueline Susann…both were very well put-together, and mom and Jack’s shared a penchant for stiff, high hair, opulent jewellery, and swirly Emilio Pucci outfits.

I remember her stepping into her shiny Mercedes, with her Louis Vuitton handbag and a bag lunch (her Yankee thrift prohibited her from stopping at Howard Johnson’s for lunch), and driving up to Vermont where puffy bags of fresh wool from the hippies and beatniks who sheared it off their sheep for her. Somehow she managed to fit right in.
Another time I came home from school with friends and my mother was sitting in the front yard, wearing her bra, shorts and Frye boots, and spinning wool on one of her spinning wheels.

Anyhow, my mother made the best Chicken and Rice with Apricots. Her father was Arabic (her mom was Danish) and this dish has roots, I think, in his culinary tradition.
You take a whole chicken and simmer it in water with a sliced carrot or two, and a stalk of celery, until it’s falling-off-the-bone soft. Then you make a pot of long-grain rice and use the chicken stock to cook it, replacing the water. In a small saucepan, she poached some tangy California dried apricots in some water with a bit of sugar to serve atop the chicken and rice.
YUM! This is the best dish ever, and really simple too. I make it any time during the winter months when I’m not feeling very healthy: it instant restores me.

Jiffy Pop

This was my first lesson in disappointment (unfortunately, there were many others to follow…), since the television ads showed the popcorn rosing up in a big, bulbous aluminum balloon in about 5 seconds much to the happy delight of the kids clustered around the stove.The bag just rose and rose until it was practically bursting open by itself. Then the steaming bag was ripped open with a fork and everyone squeeled with joy and hapiness.
Well, we bought Jiffy Pop, and it took about 5 or 10 minutes to rise and pop, and was very underwhelming and boring. And the popcorn sucked too…not as much fun to make, as it was to eat.
(Hey, who said this meme supposed to only be about good-tasting food memories?)

Dried Pasta Elbows

I used to eat dried pasta by the box. I don’t know why. I would grab a box of Mueller’s dried elbows and crunch on them all day long. It was very satisfying, even though my father would warn me that all that pasta was going to expand in my stomach.

Red Licorice

I hate black licorice.
It’s gross. There’s nothing worse than having the taste of black licorice stuck in your mouth. It’s like licking gooey tar off of hot pavement. It’s disgusting…and yes, I know that there’s all this supposed great gourmet licorice out there that’s just divine and I just haven’t tried it yet. Well, some people eat dogs and monkey brains and you might think that’s disgusting…so stop trying to convince me to try black licorice. I don’t like it.

But what I loved was red licorice. It’s gummy, like those vibrant, jelled Orange Slices covered with lots of crunchy granulated sugar (…which I loved almost as much, which would be #6) and chewy all at the same time, with a red cherry-like sweetness. I now enjoy Panda bars from Finland, where they’re naturally-flavored and apparently good for you, since they sell them in health food stores in the US. So I don’t feel too bad eating one once in a while even though now I’m a more sensible adult.

Searching Through Paris

The hardest thing about living in France (aside from speaking French) is that most of us Americans here expect things to be like ‘back home’; corn-on-the-cob, Office Max open on sundays, and cheery customer service.

I tried explaining that uniquely American concept of, “The customer is always right” to a French friend, and he just kept giving me this blank look as if I was explaining how aliens were impregnating Republicans in an effort to achieve global domination through procreation.

It seems like everything that I look for, I can’t find. Whatever I’m looking for, will surely elude me.

The good news is that everyday staples like…

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My Beloved Fleur de Sel

and
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Er, Any Takers for Dried Algue?

…are easily available.

But I wanted to make Meg’s Pickled Onions a few weeks back. I couldn’t find white wine vinegar at any grocer. Last night’s risotto almost didn’t happen either…I couldn’t find Arborio rice and, naturally, the local Italian épicerie was (still) closed for vacation.

For the past few months, I’ve been considering an all-out search for a Cake Carrier.
Now, that’s not something that one searches for everyday. Perhaps you’ve never searched for one. Maybe you have.
But I knew it would take a bit of work; I began to gather my strength and prepare myself.
Sometimes takes me hours to prepare myself to do simple daily tasks, like going to the bank here. It’s exhausting. Or having a key made. Or choosing just the right baguette.
And never mind the amount of mental preparation it takes me to enter a French department store…the frenzy!…the jostling!…les resquilleurs who the cut in line!…(although when I try to do it, I always seem to get nailed.)

And just in case you think I’m picking on the French (I’ll leave that for the US government), it’s a chore to find exactly what you’re looking for, no matter where you live.

Don’t believe me?
Quick!
Where can you find a Cake Carrier where you live? You probably wouldn’t know where to look either, whether it’s Portland or Peoria (and searching the internet doesn’t count. No cheating.)
Now imagine me mètro-ing around Paris, frantically searching for something that I didn’t even know the name for in French.
(And for some unknown reason, my otherwise excellent French dictionary doesn’t provide a translation for something so important, so vital to one’s existence, as a ‘Cake Carrier’.)

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So imagine my surprise when snooping around the enormous BHV department store and finding this cloche de gâteau!
And to top it off, it was only 9 euros!
(If Emile Zola referred to Les Halles as; “The Belly of Paris”, I’d dub the BHV; “The Digestive Tract of Paris” since everyone in Paris needs to go through it at one point or another. And no one comes out exactly the same way as they went in.)

But a Cake Carrier is not something one can easily do without, thank you very much.
If you think it’s not an essential item, you try schlepping a carefully-frosted cake on the steamy mètro, dodging the crush of Parisians during rush hour and see how your cake (and you) fare.

And speaking of baking essentials, here’s something I’ve re-discovered that I tucked into my suitcase at the last-minute when I returned last winter from the US…and you should discover them too:

OXO Measuring Spoons

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These are the best!
Oxo tools don’t have a lot of bells-and-whistles: they just work.

These are the best measuring spoons I’ve found. They’re affordable, well-designed, and…if you put liquid ingredients in them, you can rest them on the countertop without them spilling or tipping over.
See above?

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that make a baker happy, and these measuring spoons are one of them.
And sometimes it’s the bigger things, like my new cloche de gâteau .

Now I gotta scour Paris looking for corn syrup and pecans in preparation for “Celebrity Foodblogger Survivor” for Katrina disaster relief.

Coming soon….