Posted by: Madeline's Plate | May 14, 2010

Back to Bologna: Dinner at Papagallo

Entrance to Papagallo

If you ask any Bolognese for the best restaurant in town you will receive a list that may include Donatello and Diana but will definitely include Papagallo.

Located between Piazza Santo Stefano and the two towers, Papagallo is about as central as it gets. It’s in a 14th century building with vaulted ceilings, chandeliers, and waiters in white tuxedo jackets. As everywhere in Bologna, Papagallo serves primarily Bolognese cuisine, but it is also the only place in Bologna where you can order chateaubriand.

The walls are lined with photos of famous people who have eaten at Papagallo. I spotted Sofia Loren and Sergio Leone.

I had never been to Papagallo. When I was first living in Bologna, I was on a fellowship and living as a student. Papagallo is the pinnacle of Bologna cuisine and I always imagined it to be exorbitantly, prohibitively expensive. After 6 months in Rome my definition of “expensive” seems to have changed. Papagallo charges between 11 and 17 euros for a primo, in the 20s for a secondo. Though this is still high, it no longer seems prohibitive. Especially when one of my oldest Italian friends invited me there for a birthday/goodbye-to-Bologna dinner.

We had a “torta salata” to start – a sort of quiche made with radicchio which had been sweated and caramelized to an incredible sweetness that was cut with balsamic vinegar and sharp shreds of parmigiano. The English half of the menu charmingly translated this dish as “salt cake,” another example of the difference between a top-class restaurant in Bologna and a top-class restaurant in Rome.

We then split the speciality house lasagna (bechamel, porcini mushrooms, veal, and two kinds of cheese) and plump, homemade tortelloni with asparagus and ham. All of the pasta was tender with the tiny bumps and fissures that show it was made in-house. Rounded off with a Sangiovese superiore it was Bolognese cuisine at its best – rich, smooth, and plate-lickingly scrumptious.

One of the nicest surprises was how reasonable the wine list was – many nice reds under 20€ and a large selection of Emilian-Romagnan wines and whites for under 15€. The desserts are well-executed but, as is typical of Bologna, not where the kitchen shines. Still I enjoyed my berries and mascarpone in a homemade pastry, even if it didn’t merit the 10€ price tag.

Mascarpone and berries on the right, panna cotta with cherries on the left.

But half the fun of dining in Papagallo is the atmosphere. Our waiter (trying to hide his chagrin at my denim skirt and my friend’s leather jacket) was a stately man in his 60s who seemed to have been there since the restaurant’s opening in 1919. Nearby was a Bolognese politician, at another table one of the best known professors at the university.  “Guarda”, said my friend. “Adesso hai visto il ristorante più fighetto di Bologna. Ma hai mangiato bene, si?” Now you’ve seen the trendiest place in Bologna. But the food was good, right? Yes, yes it most definitely was.

Grazie per la bella cena!

Papagallo is Mon-Sat for lunch and dinner. Closed for the month of August. Piazza della Mercanzia, 3. Tel. +39. 051. 232.807.

Posted by: Madeline's Plate | May 13, 2010

Rome Rooftop and an Excellent Sandwich

Through a combination of wiles and cunning (my wiles, their cunning) my roommates and I scored one of the keys to our rooftop. Since you are not technically allowed up there, it is a covetable item. On a recent sunny day, I grabbed a Moretti “Rossa” – an Italian double malt that actually tastes like beer and not like watered-down cider – and a sandwich from the nearby 200Gradi. Located in Piazza del Risorgimento, 200 Gradi makes fantastic subs with interesting combinations of top-quality ingredients. All of their sandwiches are named for places in Rome. I had the Colonna, which comes with prosciutto, spinach leaves, mushrooms, and smoked scamorza. Combined with my Rossa, a bikini and a DylanDog comic book, it was a pretty perfect afternoon.

200 Gradi is located at Piazza del Risorgimento, #3 (2 minutes on foot from St. Peter’s or the Vatican Museums).  Sandwiches run about 4.50-6 Euros and they also sell beer, wine, and desserts. Tables are available both inside and outside, or you can take your sandwich to go.

Posted by: Madeline's Plate | May 7, 2010

Trips from Rome: Monte Argentario

To celebrate the completion of my contract in March, I took a weekend trip to Monte Argentario. About 2 hours from Rome by car, Monte Argentario is an almost island off the coast of Tuscany that is full of Italian tourists in the summer and abandoned the rest of the year. It has two “cities” and long swaths of beautiful beaches.

View from the hotel room

I arrived just before the season began so most of the hotels were closed. Fortunately, the woman at the tourism office was nice enough to pull some strings and secure a room at the Hotel di Torre Calapiccola at a steep discount.

Italians believe in doing everything “in season.” Since it was most definitely not yet beach weather, the peninsula was abandoned except for locals (who obviously wondered why we were there). For a break from Rome’s chaos it was pretty ideal. One of my only complaints about Tuscany is that it feels just a little too manicured and well-managed. Monte Argentario is one of the only places in the region I’ve visited that doesn’t feel airbrushed for tourists.


Posted by: Madeline's Plate | May 6, 2010

Birthday Lunch at Maccheroni


Three days ago was May 3, the birthday of Golda Meir, Machiavelli, and ME. Luckily for me, the 3rd was also a holiday for World Food Programme so my favorite Dutch girl was free for a long, leisurely lunch in the sun. I asked my new flatmates (more on that later) for a recommendation and they suggested Maccheroni.

Located in Piazza delle Coppelle, Maccheroni is a solid choice if you’re searching for good food in a pretty piazza near the Pantheon. Iris and I split the cheese plate and then had salads with parmigiano, walnuts and pear. Washed down with a carafe of Frascati white wine, it made for a nice kick-off to my 24th year.

Posted by: Madeline's Plate | May 3, 2010

Last Month in Rome…

I’ve now entered my final month in Rome. Just in time for my departure, spring has arrived in full force. Wisteria is in bloom on every corner and one sunny day follows another without end. It is breaking my heart.

I finished my contract in late March but decided to stick around for a bit of vacation. Working multiple jobs made it impossible to see much of the city and I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Rome without becoming better acquainted. Now it’s hard to imagine that in June I’ll be back in the U.S.

In the coming weeks I’ll be posting more regularly (I took a hiatus since my last employer discouraged publishing under my name while working for them). In addition to Rome, I’ll be spending time in Paris and Prague, with hopefully at least one night back in Bologna. But mostly I’ll be soaking up the sunshine and trying to savor every last moment in this insane, beautiful mess of a city.

Posted by: Madeline's Plate | February 16, 2010

Snow in Rome!

Last Friday for the first time in 25 years Rome received several inches of snow.

Posted by: Madeline's Plate | January 14, 2010

The Ultra-Official 2010 CWC (Chocolate World Championships)

If you have the good fortune to work in one of the UN organizations based in Europe you find yourself surrounded by Europeans speaking English…creatively. Prepositions pop up in the least expected places and false cognates run rampant. Here is a portion of the recent facebook chat with a Dutch friend who is quite possibly one of the most adorable girls in the world:

              me: I need to eat dinner. I’m hungry.

              Iris: o i bet you will 😉

             me: When are you heading to the movie?

             Iris: totally! great idea grrl!

I am slain by her enthusiastic and brilliant use of my language. If I chatted like Iris, I would definitely have more friends.

Another advantage of working in a large Europe-based UN organization is that you will primarily be working with Europeans. Europeans who come from countries that have amazing food cultures, who you can finagle into participating in the 2010 Chocolate World Championships.

The idea for the 2010 CWC was hatched in October, during lunch on a dull Wednesday. We decided that we would all bring back chocolate from our home countries after the holidays and embark on a quest to discover the world’s best chocolate. Last night, we did it.

The beautiful Italian offering beautiful Italian chocolates

The beautiful Italian offering beautiful Italian chocolates

Samir is very (half) French

Samir looking very French

The full table: Swedish, Austrian, Tunisian, French, American, Italian, Swiss and Dutch chocolates

The contenders: Swedish, French, Italian, Dutch, Swiss, Tunisian, Austrian and American chocolates

So who won? Well… one of the French made homemade truffles. Needless to say he took home the grand prize. #2 was Sweden and #3 was Austria. My favorite part was hearing the theme songs and slogans for the various Swedish chocolate bars. Mmm…Marabou.

Posted by: Madeline's Plate | December 16, 2009

Day Trip from Rome: Villa D’Este

A few weeks ago I woke up on Saturday and it was sunny, gorgeously sunny, impossibly sunny for the end of November. I grabbed a friend and we decided to escape from Rome for the morning. Only about 25 minutes outside of the city by car (with early Saturday morning traffic) is Tivoli, home to two UNESCO heritage sites – Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa d’Este. I can handle a maximum of one heritage site per day so we decided to visit the 16th century Villa d’Este.

Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, the original owner, descended from ancestors including Bavarian kings, Northern Italian rulers and, supposedly, Hercules.  Of course. Over the years the estate evolved as his descendents maintained the gardens and commissioned additional works of art.

The piazza leading to Villa d’Este is surprisingly shabby with drab buildings and a few half-hearted tourist stands. But behind the villa walls are some of the most beautiful Renaissance gardens to be found in Italy. Sprawling and verdant, it took us about two hours to wander through the entire estate.

Tucked into every nook and cranny are fountains, ranging from the enormous baroque monstrosity of the Water Organ Fountain (arrive at the right time of day and you can hear it play music) to the lovely boat-shaped Fontana della Rometta. These are the fountains that inspired Liszt’s piano piece “Giochi d’acqua a Villa d’Este,” composed while he was a guest at the villa in the 19th century. 

In true Roman fashion, the villa is only partially outfitted for tourists. The fountains and sculptures  have placards explaining the origin of the works in Italian and English – unfortunately most of these placards have rubbed away with time and are illegible. Equally inconveniently, the visitor’s center does not provide or sell maps of the estate to guide your walk.

After exploring the gardens and touring the house, I passed a pleasant half hour on the villa’s terrace with a coffee and a good book (After Dark – I’m on a Murakami kick lately). I can’t wait to return in spring when all of the roses are in bloom, with a picnic and a guide book.

Tivoli is about 30 kilometers from Rome. You can take the Cotral bus from Ponte Mammolo or Stazione Tiburtina. You can also take the train from Stazione Tiburtina. The train takes a little over an hour and costs 2.30 euros. From the Tivoli station you take a shuttle bus to the town center. In a car you can take Autostrada A24 from Rome.

Villa d’Este (tel. 39.0445.230.310.) is off of Piazza Trento and is open from 8:30 am to one hour before sunset. Full price is €6.50 and reduced price is €3.25 (reduced price for EU residents between 18 and 24, free for EU citzens under 18 and over 65). The Organ Fountain plays every 2 hours starting at 10:30 am.

Posted by: Madeline's Plate | November 28, 2009


What do you call a Thanksgiving Dinner that lasts from 8:30 PM to 1:30 AM? Where all 12 people have enough food to eat, both pies are polished off, the music never stops playing and the wine never stops flowing? I would say you call it a success. Thank you to all the lovely people in Rome who made my holiday so much fun!

My shelf of the refrigerator became overloaded with eggs, cream, and butter in the days before the meal.

Pumpkin pie!

Cornbread stuffing and arugula salad

Almost ready for the dinner...


Posted by: Madeline's Plate | November 25, 2009


Tomorrow is a holiday for Americans. And for those of us who love food and love to cook, Thanksgiving is an especially fun holiday. I couldn’t let the fact that I’m on the wrong continent stop me from celebrating. So how do you organize a Thanksgiving dinner if you have no American friends, are in a foreign country, and work a full-time job and two side jobs? It just takes ambition, planning, and enthusiasm.

Luckily I have all three. Plus a lovely Dutch friend who is excited about hosting it in her apartment. Because we are workers, the dinner will be Friday rather than Thursday. And because I am poor, we will eat roast chickens not turkey. Here are the critical stats:

Menu: roast chickens, cornbread stuffing, creamed spinach, glazed carrots, salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, chocolate pie, pumpkin pie

Guests: 10 Europeans + me

Ambiance: Specially prepared playlist to showcase America’s musical talent, home-made construction paper turkeys, a small speech explaining what Thanksgiving actually is (there is some confusion about this among my friends)

I have already made the dough for the biscuit and the crusts for the pie, roasted the pumpkin, and made cornbread for the stuffing.

I am so excited.

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