end-of-summer langoustine rolls & a birthday recap

My birthday came and went and now I’m left in that post-birthday haze that always plagues me the second week of September. You are no longer special. Back to reality. Go clean the litter box. It’s just so much fun having attention, gifts, food, and surprises lavished on you, and being able to avoid doing life’s mundane tasks by simply stating: “I’m the birthday girl.” (Except now that I am 25, it makes me a “birthday woman,” which is not cute…)

It was  definitely one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had, making the withdrawals that much worse. The boyfriend turned my birthday into a birthday week, surprising me with baked goods, chocolates, a piñata and lots of little gifts every day leading up to my actual birthday. We had our first celebration the week before at my Dad’s, where Dhiren surprised us with a piñata. I can’t remember the last time I’ve hit a piñata, or laughed that hard….There’s something so unsettling about being blindfolded, spun around, feeling disoriented and vulnerable, while your Dad knocks you in the head with a paper-mâché owl. Observe:

On my birthday itself, I woke up to presents & a massive owl balloon.

He  then took me to 26 Beach Restaurant in Venice for brunch, where I gorged myself on lemon ricotta French toast, one of the best croissant sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life and of course, some of Dhiren’s food as well! After we stuffed ourselves, we headed over to the gorgeous Getty Villa in Malibu, saw some cool museum things & worked up an appetite for dinner across town at Osteria Mozza.

This was a big surprise, since Dhiren had me put Angelini Osteria (our normal celebration spot) into the GPS. Waiting for us at the restaurant was my friend Vanessa, who had been texting me as we went to dinner, making me feel incredibly guilty that we didn’t invite her. I had absolutely no idea she was there. Then, to compound the shock, Leah, my best friend since high school, showed up mid-meal after telling me a couple days before that she was stuck in Dubai. We had a fabulous meal which included an array of foods I can’t even remember. We then headed to the Groundlings where my third surprise awaited in the form of my friend Iris, who joined us for the show.

Needless to say, I was kind of in a daze the entire evening.

The day after my birthday we went to celebrate with my grandparents and mom, who made me a Thanksgiving dinner, the most delicious from-scratch chocolate cake with Swiss Buttercream and gave me a KitchenAid with Dhiren! I also received some awesome cutting mats, an emulsifier and a set of French bakeware.

It was a fabulous birthday and totally worth not being able to fit in my pants!

Back to the present. I’ve been craving lobster rolls for a LONG time ever since I stumbled across a recipe online, and decided to utilize my KitchenAid for the first time to mix it all together! I was initially worried that I wouldn’t get much use out of the KitchenAid, but I can easily see how it is going to make my life a lot simpler and neater, especially since I am not talented at swirling around those hand-held mixers.

Now I didn’t actually use lobster in these because langoustine was simply more convenient and I avoided making two grocery store trips.

Ingredients (makes 3-4 small sandwiches like the one pictures)

  • 1 package of frozen langoustine tails (Trader Joe’s sells a 12 oz package)
  • 1/8 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon of dill
  • 1 Tablespoon, fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
  • pepper to taste
  • 3-4 rolls, or French baguette (as pictured)
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter

Recipe:

1. Defrost langoustine tails, and chop. Dump into a bowl. 

I love my new Martha Stewart chopping mats!

2. Add the celery, dill, parsley, salt and pepper and mix for a couple minutes until well blended. 

3. Top roll or baguette with salad mixture and brush butter on the top.

Took about 10 minutes. This makes a nice addition to the usual egg & chicken salad routine!

cheesy egg sandwich & a chat about breakfast

Breakfast has always been my favorite meal of the day. It sets the tone and establishes the comforting  idea that I have eaten today. Even if I can’t eat for the rest of the day– I forget to pack a lunch, I get caught up doing something and can’t find time, I end up stranded in a desert somewhere– it’s okay because I had a nice, hearty breakfast. This is the reason why as much as I love Italy, I seriously don’t understand how Italians forgo breakfast. Cookies, pastries and coffee are delicious, but it just doesn’t cut it for me as a start to my day.

When we were in Sicily this last December, Paolo (the husband of my 5th cousin, Francesca) shook his head as I described how we typically eat eggs for breakfast in America. He would frown and say pesante (heavy), cautioning us that eating eggs at the start of the day would make us fat. Cookies however, are totally cool.

The real tragedy is that for the first couple days during our stay they did give us eggs in an effort to make us feel at home, and they were the BEST eggs I’ve ever eaten: fresh from a nearby farm, deep-colored yolks, cooked in butter and served with the most delicious bread.  So good. But after seeing them look on in horror, we finally decided we would do as the Sicilians do and nibble on our biscotti and sip our cafe in the morning, and then proceed to eat our weight in pasta at lunch.

California apricots are so delicious this summer

My daily at-home cappuccino

Although I was sad to leave Sicily, I definitely longed for my California breakfast. Normally in the morning I take a cappuccino and an egg in some form (I love soft boiled and poached eggs) paired with one or two of the following: a piece of toast, a good-quality frozen (or fresh) waffle, juice, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, bacon, a sourdough muffin, a pancake or a smoothie. This combination of fruit + protein + carb will lead to a happy Danielle. The only thing I will NOT eat for breakfast is cereal. I just don’t do cereal. The bottom line is, I won’t waste my time with unfulfilling, processed bits of flakes, whether they are sugar-coated flakes or cardboard flakes. Cereal is a soulless food and a horrible way to begin a day, in my humble opinion.

Today is the boyfriend’s day off, so I offered to make him my “famous” egg sandwich. Now, let me say that the boyfriend and I do not eat these regularly and neither should you if you want to avoid heart attacks and gallstones. Nevertheless, these make a great treat for the occasional brunch.

Ingredients (for one sandwich… double or triple it if you intend to make more than one).

  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 Tablespoons buttermilk OR half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons butter OR butter substitute (I used ghee because we’re out of butter and Earth Balance)
  • 4 Tablespoons cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 slices Italian, French or sourdough bread

Recipe:

  1. Crack eggs into a small bowl and whisk with a fork until well-blended. Add buttermilk, salt & pepper to taste.
  2. Heat up a skillet on medium. Put 1-2 teaspoons of butter in the pan and then add the egg mixture, continuing to scramble with spatula or fork. If the pan is well-heated, they should cook for literally 20 seconds. My secret to great scrambled eggs is to remove them from heat while they are still a little runny because they continue to cook. Nothing is worse that overcooked eggs.
  3. Toss grated cheese into the eggs & allow the heat to melt the cheese.
  4. Meanwhile, take the two slices of bread and spread butter on one piece and mayo on the other. Take the eggs with melted cheese and carefully stack on one slice of bread, and cover with the other. Then spread mayo on the outside of the bread– this is my “secret” for amazing grilled sandwiches.
  5. Let the pan re-heat to medium-low, and place the sandwich on the skillet, heating up and getting perfectly crispy and hot. Flip and repeat.

Want to make this even worse for you (read: more amazing)? Cook a couple pieces of bacon and then cook the scrambled eggs in the bacon drippings instead of butter and add bacon to it.  This is what I did in these photos, which is why the eggs look kind of “off.” I found this version AMAZING, but Dhiren prefers his egg sandwiches straight-up sans bacon flavor (which makes sense since he is a recently converted vegetarian and doesn’t know any better).

You can also add: avocado, tomato and/or make this healthier by choosing a higher-fiber bread, using egg whites and cutting way back on the fat. I actually ended up eating a poached egg with some fruit and bacon in my effort to keep it paleo, but the boyfriend offered me a bite of his sandwich (not like he had a choice!)

the ultimate comfort food: spaghetti with clams

When I need comfort food, there is very little than can compete with a big bowl of perfectly al dente spaghetti, butter, clams, garlic, and yes, a fabulous pecorino.  I don’t care if all of Italy sneers in my face because I enjoy shellfish with cheese. I happen to like it, so THERE.  I totally understand the argument that cheese can mask the natural aroma of great seafood, but I’m tired of this antiquated myth circling about that eating cheese and seafood will give you an upset stomach, and/or make you a trashy human being. It won’t and if you like the taste, I hereby give you permission to grate away.

This quick dish can be filed under 10-minute meals.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound of pasta
  • 4 Tablespoons of butter
  • 1 medium shallot, loosely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cans of clams (I used the 6.5oz cans of Trader Joes’ Maine Whole Cherrystone Clams)
  • Salt to taste
  • Grated Pecorino or Pamesan (optional, to taste)

Recipe:

  • Vigorously salt a large vat of water and bring to a boil.
  • Throw in the pound of pasta once the water is hot and time it according to your preference. I usually cook spaghetti for 8 1/2 minutes, testing it along the way until it has the perfect bite.
  • Meanwhile as the water boils and pasta cooks, heat 2 Tablespoons of butter on a skillet. Be careful not to let it burn (I love ghee, or clarified butter for this very reason).
  • Once the pan is hot, toss in the shallots and cook for one to two minutes. Then add the garlic. After another minute finally add in the clams.
  • Drain the pasta and then throw it back into the pot, along with the clams. Toss 2 more Tablespoons of butter (or however much you need to get the pasta coated).
  • Salt to taste and grate fresh pecorino or parmesan over each serving (optional).

tips for making homemade ding dongs

I’ve been meaning to bake my Mom homemade Ding Dongs for a while now since she loves the wrapped-in-tin-foil version. Since her birthday is fast-approaching, I decided to give A Cozy Kitchen’s recipe a whirl (which is adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe). I’m very grateful I tried this out a couple days before as a test-run, because these cakes were way more temperamental than I ever imagined.  So here are my tips, tricks and observations in the event that you try out this recipe yourself.

1. Get a a high-quality chocolate for both the cake AND the ganache. This does not mean Nestle-brand quality folks. I made the error of using a random baker’s chocolate form Ralph’s, and next time I will totally splurge on the pricier, high-end chocolate because I can taste a difference.

2. Second, if you decide to make these in the shape of smaller cakes (as opposed to Smitten Kitchen’s regular-sized layer cake), then skip the part where you flip out the cooled cake entirely. Instead, use the pastry cutter and cut each mini-cake while still in the pan. Then, carefully pull out the outer bits of cake and set aside ( I fully intend to use these scraps for rum balls by the way). Use a spatula to slide the cake out of the pan and thus, avoid dealing with it sticking or having to use parchment paper. I used this method with half of the cakes with success (except for one little guy on the left that was accidentally diced in the wrong spot). This method will yield pretty little complete cakes.

3. Contrary to both blogs that insist on 10″ pans, this recipe worked great with two 9″ pans AND baked at 300 degrees for 45 minutes.

4. Use a larger-sized, round pastry cutter, especially if you want to stuff these with a decent amount of frosting. I experimented with both and definitely prefer the larger cake (but I’m also a glutton, so don’t necessarily listen to me…)

5. I did not have success with Smitten Kitchen’s directions for 7-minute frosting. I’ve made several 7-minute frostings before throughout my life with great success. Smitten’s failed on me three times and was too “liquidy” (I think the fault could be with a too-hot temperature over the double-boiler). I ended up beating some heavy cream and then adding a tad of runny 7-minute frosting to make a thicker filling because after my third attempt I was about to have a kitchen meltdown.

Even though these turned out good with 1/2 heavy cream and 1/2 marshmallow frosting, I wouldn’t recommend heavy cream as a filler for these.

6. Take time cutting out the holes in the cake in a calm and rationale way, and don’t forget which top pairs to the cake… seems simple enough, but the last thing you want to do is spend an extra ten minutes trying to match cake tops!

7. When you put the tops back on, be sure to cut off part of the bottom of the tops! I ended up pushing a lot of the frosting out from my too-big tops.

8. Be sure everything is cool… I was impatient and worked with hot cake, which is a major no-no. Impetuous people don’t make great bakers…

In the end these tasted great and didn’t leave a typical aftertaste in my mouth like normal ding-dongs. Next week I’ll post a follow-up to let you guys know how the REAL batch came out for Mom. In the meantime, my freezer is full of ding dongs. Any takers?

52 Weeks to Wellness

I dream of being the perfect consumer, living an eco-friendly, healthy, environmentally-conscious life. I’d like to rid my own world of dangerous chemicals and food products that contribute to issues within the food industry AND my body, and find a way to do most actions just a little more care and information. I’d love to be one of those people who only eats local, organic, clean, paleo, antibiotic-free foods and buys products that support the local economy and are good for the environment and my body (I totally realize what a yuppie I sound like right now…)

But, as I reflect on my own habits I realize that there is a LOT of change needed, and I simply can’t do it all at once. As I’ve learned with my weight-loss efforts, change takes time and considering the sheer number of issues that a consumer must face, it really isn’t possible to do it all at once. So I’ve decided to compile a list of 52 habits I’d like to adopt each week for the next 52 weeks in order to make my personal universe just a little more healthful. I will tackle one habit a week and once I do I won’t go back to my old ways. Here I go (in no particular order and with corresponding money signs to denote whether the goal will require a financial investment):

  1. Begin going to the farmer’s market and purchasing only grass-fed, local, antibiotic-free and non-factory farmed meat.
  2. Buy only local (no more Mexican or Latin-American produce with the exception of certain tropical fruits).
  3. Build or buy a composting unit and begin composting. $
  4. Spend time researching the chemicals in ALL my makeup products and research eco-friendly, healthier alternatives.
  5. Spend time researching the chemicals in all of our beauty products (hair sprays, lotions, shampoos, etc.), research eco-friendly, healthier alternatives and compile a list for future purchases.
  6. Begin making my own deoderant!
  7. Invest in glass tuperware and recycle all of the plastic ones we have. $$
  8. Buy new, BPA-free water bottles (a few of them) and commit to never buying a plastic bottled water bottle again.
  9. Replace all Teflon pans with stainless steel or copper-coated pans. $$$
  10. Toss every product that has triclosan and replace with healthier alternative.
  11. Buy spray bottles and begin making my own cleaners, ditching the heavy chemical products found in stores.
  12. Spend time learning about seasonal farming, and committing myself to only purchasing food that is in-season.
  13. Clear pantry and stop buying any foods with synthetic preservatives or coloring.
  14. Invest in indoor plants for every room. $$
  15. I love candles BUT I don’t like that many contain dangerous chemicals. Research beeswax or soy-based alternatives.
  16. Research safe, eco-friendly, at-home dry cleaning alternatives.
  17. Switch to a biodegradable, fragrance-free, non-toxic detergent for clothes.
  18. Educate myself on the proper way to dispose of things such as batteries and toxic waste so I do so in the future.
  19. Find a more eco-friendly, healthful option to plastic wrap, ziplocks and foil.
  20. Take time to educate myself more about recycling and the list of items I may or may not be able to recycle.
  21. Switch to organic produce for all “dirty dozen” foods from here on out.
  22. Commit to buying all-organic dairy (right now we do organic milk and eggs, but are “ify” on butter, kefir, yogurt, etc.
  23. Plan out the most cost-effective way to get local, organic produce, dairy and meat.
  24. Become much more careful about wasting electricity. Spend time researching how to lessen my footprint when it comes to electricity use.
  25. Invest in a reusable cat litter-“filler-upper.” Our local petstore has a bin of litter, which you fill up with a bucket, reducing waste. $
  26. Finally ditch the paper towel habit (or at least set up specific rules for using them) and switch to using “bartender rags” for cleaning and dusting.
  27. Invest in paper napkins. $$
  28. Get rid of our microwave (put it outside in the garage and reserve it for rare occasions where I’ll need to reheat for a party).
  29. Educate myself on the fish industry and commit to buying sustainable, healthful fish.
  30. Make vegetarian, no-cook meals once a week.
  31. Invest in eco-friendly organic cotton and/or bamboo towels made with plant-based dyes. $$$
  32. Research accessible, cost-affordable recycled toilet paper.
  33. Get in the habit of turning off the water when brushing my teeth.
  34. Unplug electronics when they aren’t in use.
  35. Buy organic, sustainable sheets & pillow covers $$$
  36. Update our pillows with organic, non-chemical ones. $$$
  37. Make it a habit to carefully monitor towel-use (we tend to toss towels after only one or two uses) and invest in an outdoor towel rack so towels dry faster.
  38. Begin washing out own cars at home (instead of taking it to the car wash).
  39. Start prepping produce more efficiently to avoid unnecessary spoiling.
  40. Plan out my meals every Sunday, so less food and money is waste (and gas from unwanted trips to the store).
  41. Make sure every single bill is paperless and recycle all junk mail.
  42. Cut back to only indulging in added-sugar once a week in a small amount.
  43. Commit to buying less STUFF. For every one thing I buy, I need to get rid, giveaway or recycle something else.
  44. Get down to my healthy weight (long-term goal!) and eat much less food everyday.
  45. Wear a healthy, chemical-free sunblock everyday.
  46. Floss everyday and brush twice a day.
  47. Switch to a healthier, chemical-free toothpaste.
  48. Commit to eating vegetables at every meal (including breakfast).
  49. Purchase bicycles. $$$
  50. Use my hand-held earpiece instead of putting the cell phone directly against my head.
  51. Make the car a phone-free space, and yes, that means no fiddling with the iPhone to find a song, using it for navigation, etc. We survived (better) without these “useful tools” for decades, and we should do that again.
  52. Commit to everyday movement/exercise, at the very least adopting a regime for stretching.

Salmon Tacos in a Carmelized Agave Butter Sauce with Mango Salsa

The moment I realized I had all the ingredients I needed to make these tacos happen tonight, I got excited. Probably a little too excited.

Salmon tacos have been on my list of ultimate comfort food since I tried them for the first time a couple years ago at one of my favorite Mexican places called Taco Mesa in Costa Mesa. They serve this incredible salmon taco with a creamy butter sauce along with a mango relish that is to die for. But, at $4/taco I soon realized that I needed to recreate this in my kitchen and save some dough. This recipe is all-the-way-paleo if you just omit the tortilla (replace it with mixed greens!) There’s something so incredibly delicious about salmon with agave and butter as well.

Ingredients (makes 2 servings)

  • 2 pieces Wild Salmon
  • 2 tbsp butter (I use clarified butter, also called “ghee“)
  • 2 tbsp agave syrup
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 3/4 onion
  • handful of cilantro
  • 2 yellow mangos
  • 1 lime or 1/2 lemon (I like using lemon more and more in my salsas these days)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • tortillas (for a treat I use flour tortillas, but tonight I used an Ezekiel flourless tortilla)

Recipe:

1. Chop up the onion, tomato, cilantro and mango and combine in a bowl to make the salsa. Add fresh lime or lemon juice and then salt and pepper to taste.

2. Heat up the grill (I just use a George Foreman) and add the salmon to the grill with the skin still on, face-down. Cook for about 3 minutes on one side, depending on the heat of the grill you’re using. Flip over and continue to cook. You can peel off the skin at this point (Fun fact: salmon skin really grosses me out for some reason… if my hand accidentally touches it I jump, squeal and get really skeeved)

3. Once the salmon has cooked for a few more minutes, I flip it over once more to cook for about a minute on the side that had the skin (so it gets those nice, even grill marks).

4. Meanwhile, I combine the agave syrup and ghee into a small saucepan or frying pan, and melt it together on low heat. I gradually turn up the heat while stirring, allowing the agave to bubble and caramelize.

5. Transfer the salmon to a plate and pour the butter sauce over the salmon.

6. Heat either two small tortillas per person, or one large tortilla. If you have a tortilla skillet, great! If not, you can use the grill or the toaster oven.

7. Add the salmon and salsa on the tortilla and eat!

Rome: Getting your grub on in the Eternal City

Before going to Rome in December I spent a good amount of time practicing my Italian (food) vocabulary (“Il mio ragazzo è un vegetariano … mi dispiace, lui è strano”), studying up on my knowledge of Roman cuisine and scouring forums to figure out the all-important question of “Where the hell should we eat?” I am a somewhat spontaneous person but I don’t mess around with food when traveling, especially in this age of online resources and especially if you, like me, are hinged to a limited budget and don’t want any precious funds to go to waste on mediocre food. The resounding advice on many forums was rather depressing: “Rome doesn’t have a good restaurant culture.” I of course believed the throngs of ex-pats and locals who explain how every trattoria and ristorante is inferior, lacking in authenticy and tarred by tourism.

I tried not to fixate on the naysayers and kept reminding myself that even if we lived off rubbery pizza for a week, we were leaving to Sicily for Christmas where we would most certainly mangiare bene (huge post to come).

But, lucky for us, everyone was wrong about Rome.

Sure, Rome might be flooded with tourists, but there is a vibrant restaurant culture tucked away from the main piazzas and hidden down damp alleyways. I can promise you, that as someone who has eaten her way from Bari, Palermo, Napoli, the Amalfi Coast, Verona, Venezia, Sienna, Firenze and all the small villages in between, I can guarantee you that Rome is wearing its big boy pants. The key is to go off the beaten path, honor tradition and [wait for it] do as the Romans do (I give you permission to cringe…) But the adage is true. The majority of great places to dine at are located away from the main strips, serve locally-inspired fare and are filled with Italians (and I’m not talking about the strange hybrid-kind from Jersey.)

After a day of walking from the Vatican to the Colosseum  we wanted needed some hearty food to get us back up to the historic center. This trattoria pictured below, Taverna dei Quaranta serves simple, hearty, flavorful food and is highly recommended if you want to eat close to the Forum and Colosseum. We went during an “off” time (it was rather empty aside from a lingering party of Italians finishing their wine from lunch) but were treated kindly and left full and tipsy.

Before doing the whole Vatican thing one morning, Dhiren and I spontaneously stumbled upon the Italian version of Zabar’s, Castroni Caffe di Scaglione. This place is way cooler than any Willy Wonka candy shop. Your eyes (and wallet) will go nuts. Since we were in Rome days before Christmas, it was the perfect time to people watch and rummage through the seasonal products for Natale. After figuring out how to pay, we squeezed our way into a small spot on the coffee counter between a sea of morning”commuters” and had a perfect cappuccino and cornetto. We took an extra brioche stuffed with surprisingly-not-too-sweet-whipped cream to-go and received lots of stares from concerned Italians who had the misfortune of seeing us like this:

We were lucky enough to have stayed at a one-room B&B right in the heart of the historic district with ample dining options only steps away. One of our faves was Alfredo e Ada. Always a line out the door, this place boasts a cozy, dark atmosphere with a daily menu that changes according to what’s good at the market that day. Seasonal fare like radish and artichoke lasagnas, bacaloa and a to-kill-for carbonara are offered with no options for customization. In a world with way to many choices, this was happy news to me. Sometimes, all a type-A, over-analytical girl wants is to sit down, get comfortable and be told she doesn’t have options. EAT THIS AND SHUT UP. Yes, please.

I don’t care if it is 20 degrees outside, hailing or if I’m deathly sick: when I’m in Italy, I need gelato and good luck to anyone who tries to get in my way. I definitely ate an obscene amount of gelato on this trip. But out of all the places I dragged the boyfriend to, my favorite was hands-down Giolitti. Only after stumbling upon this place did we later find out its apparent history and popularity. The gelato is light, fluffy and topped with whipped cream. Highly recommended.

Another place that was relatively close to our B&B was Osteria de Memmo. We bumped into the place on accident while looking for another restaurant and now I know: this was an act of God. The food here is LEGIT. So legit, that I begged the boyfriend to bring us back a couple days later. It does have a radically different atmosphere compared to the working-class trattorias and pizza houses we typically find ourselves at. You will be surrounded by portly Milanese politicians eating piles of food, Italian desperate housewives with their Pucci clad, model husbands and sophisticated children eating swordfish. The clientele were too classy to stare at my boyfriend and I, who were poorly dressed, sweaty and brutish, lugging around a 5lb camera. The owner, Memmo, was really friendly, albeit intimidating in a “larger than life,” Godfather sort of way. We left with an extremely awkward photo with the man himself, although it won’t be seen here on account of our troll-like appearance.

The food at Memmo’s is fabulous. Flavorful pasta dishes and some of the best veal I’ve ever (or will ever) eat in my life. Though I didn’t try any of the seafood, from the looks of the place, it’s what you order here.

I’m a major pizza addict and snob and as such I knew that I had to try whatever great pizza Rome had to offer. (And to all those people who complain about how “You don’t eat pizza in Rome… it’s all about Napoli”: F You. Naples doesn’t have a copyright on good pizza.)

We were lucky to find Dar Poeta in Trastevere. First of all, this place is off the beaten path, down a dark alley in a hip part of town. Cool kids in leather jackets puff their cigarette smoke into the air while saying extremely witty and sarcastic things in Italian. Secondly, we were the only non-Italian speaking people in this place. Third, there was a long, long, awkward wait. All good signs. We sucked in our guts in order to shuffle into a tightly-packed room, sat down, chugged back a liter of wine  and enjoyed our mushroom and fresh mozzarella bufala pizzas.

Nearing the end of our week in Rome, we wanted to spend less money and eat some down-home, no-frills food. Our B&B owner recommended a place around the corner from Piazza Navona called Navona Notte. We were seriously skeptical, mainly because of the name and its proximity to the Piazza. We also made the mistake of trying to come here for lunch only to find it closed. Our B&B owner Luciano pointed out rather sarcastically that this restaurant has the word “Notte” in it for a reason. This is duly noted. When they were open, we were surprised to find a humble restaurant full of working-class Italians looking to get their grub on. The food is simple, cheap and delicious. They also serve pizza from a wood fire oven. I warn you that this place is located in a highly touristy area and so you will have several restaurant owners misguide you if you ask for directions. Many people will laugh at your face when they hear “Navona Notte” and try to distract and lure you by screaming “SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS!!!!” in your face. Do not falter my friend.

If you’re heading to Rome anytime soon, I recommend:

Taverna dei Quaranta
Via Claudia, 24  00184 Rome, Italy
+39 06-700-0550
(For great lunch and dinner fare close to the Colosseum)

Alfredo & Ada
Via dei Banchi Nuovi, 14  00186 Rome, Italy
+39 06-687-8842
(For their daily-changing menu. Fabulous spot for lunch or dinner. In the antique district.)

Castroni di Scaglione
Via Cola di Rienzo, 196, 00196 Rome, Italy
+39 06-687-4383
(For grocery products, sweets, souvenirs and fabulous pastries and coffee. Close to the Vatican.)

Giolitti 
Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40  00186 Rome, Italy
+39 06-699-1243
(Great for gelato & coffee; historic and quaint)

Osteria de Memmo
Via dei Soldati, 22/23, 00186 Rome, Italy
Phone:+39 06-6813-5277
(Great for a special lunch or dinner; fantastic seafood, meat and pasta in an elegant atmosphere)

Dar Poeta
Vicolo del Bologna, 45  00153 Rome, Italy
+39 06-588-0516
(Located in a hip, youthful neighborhood, fantastic pizza)

Navona Notte
Via del Teatro Pace, 44  186 Rome, Italy
+39 06-686 9278
(Great for a dinner on a budget)