Cul de Sac was another restaurant culled from the Chowhound/Giada recommendations. It was then only restaurant in Rome where we had to wait a little to sit down. It is one of the more unique places I’ve been to: it may look like your typical European hole in the wall cafe (tables outside, narrow hall lined with booths), but right in front of you – if you happen to be sitting inside – you have the dishwasher running loads on the machine, a short order cook, and the bar all together where any other place would just have had the bar. It’s concept is slightly different from other eateries; it is an enoteca (wine bar) which specializes in small plates, cheeses, cured meats, traditional Roman fare, and other international fare. We had another beer and pizza lunch earlier that day at a touristy cafe right outside the Basilica de San Clemente. The pizza was definitely inferior to the one we had at Campo di Fiori the previous afternoon, but we enjoyed a few leisurely hours with a great view of the Colisseum while waiting for the Basilica to open. Sometimes it cannot be just about the food, but the setting and the company.
Given that this was a wine bar, the wine list was by far the most extensive. Extensive is putting it mildly: we got one mind-boggingly huge binder for Italian wines and a considerably smaller one for other regions. I got to pick the wine and selected Madreselva, a blend from Lazio. I figured our last Roman night deserved a local wine. The wine was delicious and we could tell it was good just from the waiter’s reaction to it. He opened the cork, and then took a huge sniff out of it. “I take it that you like this one”, I had to say. We were not disappointed and it was not too expensive at 22 euros.
We started with a Taleggio cheese to share. I had not had this particular cheese before, but had recalled some recipes I’ve seen that ask for it. Taleggio, quoting ArtisanalCheese.com, “is a semi-soft, washed-rind cheese from the Valtaleggio region in northern Italy, near Lombardy. It is characteristically aromatic yet mild in flavor and features tangy, meaty notes with a fruity finish. The texture of the cheese is moist-to-oozy with a very pleasant melt-in-your-mouth feel. The combination of the soft texture, pungent aroma, and buttery flavors has proven to be addictive especially when spread on fresh crusty bread”. I can’t put it better myself. From there, we moved on to the primi. To date, we had not had any lasagna and Eduardo ordered it. It was very light – lasagna in Italy is another of those dishes that vary significantly from their Americanized counterparts. The layers of pasta were thin, barely schmeared with meat sauce and cheese. I went with spaghetti with pesto sauce. After participating in STV’s CSA for a season, I came to appreciate a good homemade pesto and this one was very fresh.
For the secondi, I forgot what Eduardo originally ordered but they were out of, but he went for a meat and potatoes dish that looked like rolled up churrascos. I don’t remember if I tried it, but it disappeared off the plate. I forgot I was in Italy and ordered the Escargot Bourguignon and a side of scalloped potatoes. The potatoes reminded me very much of my Mama’s – rich, but not overbearingly so. The escargot proved to be a first for me – snails in the shell. I was given a wooden skewer to facilitate the poking/snail extraction process. The garlic parsley butter was good, but nothing that stood out from other escargot dishes I’ve had. It served as a good ‘palate cleanser’ from Italian food – I still had four more days to go of pizzas and pastas. I was stuffed by the end of the meal, so we ordered a chocolate mousse to share.
While we were working on dessert, since it was close to closing time, someone from the pizzeria next door came in and delivered a cheese pizza. Out from the back of the bar, we see cured meats being sliced and thrown on the pie that was to be shared between the staff. That must be part of the perks of the job. We took off just as the guys started to dig into the pizza. We did not walk the meal off this time (took a cab back to the hotel), but I couldn’t care less. I came to appreciate Rome the more I hung out in its crooked streets, talked to the people in my stunted EspaItaliano, and witnessed little moments like those that speak volumes on the food culture, the service industry, and the vibe of the Eternal City. I might have said at a later time in the vacation something akin to “Forget Rome, give me Paris”, but I didn’t really mean it.