Dar Poeta Pizza and Gelato in Trastevere, Rome

The Trastevere neighborhood of Rome, Italy is jam-packed with cool cafes and restaurants, as well as locals and tourists roaming the street in search of food, drink and reverie.

IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT PIZZA

Back in 2010, I had my first encounter with this Roman neighborhood, as my boyfriend (at the time – now husband) and I had done some research on the best pizza places in Rome. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Rome isn’t known for pizza; that’s Naples. And yes, I know that. But it was his first trip to Italy and I had a hankering for some crispy dough piled with tomato sauce and cheese. So, I did my research and found Dar Poeta. We took our chances and headed over to this popular spot located at Vicolo del Bologna, 45. There are two locations now, apparently, according to Dar Poeta’s website.

After waiting a bit for a table (surprisingly not THAT long, given how famous this place is), we were practically wedged in to the corner of the place next to a French couple. And by wedged I mean they had to get up, move their table, and basically play Tetris (yeah, I went there) in order to have us sit down.

But, the pizza? Continue reading

New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso, Chile

I suck at posting. I was in the US for quite a while, and getting my fill of all things American and Texan distracted me from updating this thing. Mil disculpas. Here’s what to expect if you decide to spend New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso, Chile.

I don’t remember a whole lot from New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso, but what I did remember is below, included in a list of a few pointers, for those who are thinking of spending New Year’s Eve in Valpo in the future.

The scene at Plaza Sotomayor – safe, but crowded.
Toward the pier (between the buildings) it gets much, much worse.

 

 

 

Top TIPS FOR HOW TO SURVIVE NEW YEAR’S EVE IN VALPARAISO, CHILE

1) DO go to Plaza Sotomayor but stay in the areas where they have the stages set up for the bands. They sell all kinds of alcohol (mostly beer) and food (italian sausage, chicken kebabs, etc). Bring cash, but not much. Don’t bring anything with you that you wouldn’t mind having stolen, or that’s not attached to you. Normally I wouldn’t wear a money belt, but I’d consider one for this night.

2) DO NOT stand on the pier just under where they shoot off the fireworks (in Plaza Sotomayor). The crowd is large, dense, and dangerous. Men were grabbing me and my boyfriend was right next to me. People were shoving their hands into his pockets, trying to pickpocket him. It’s not worth it, and it was downright scary. If you insist on being this close, be warned.

Oh, we were ready.

3) BUY the cheap plastic champagne glasses and party favors, noisemakers, crazy sunglasses, masks, lucky yellow undies, and other fun stuff from the street merchants all around the city on the 2 days leading up to NYE. They are all pretty cheap and have some fun stuff that you won’t mind losing/breaking/giving away.

4) MAKE DINNER RESERVATIONS IN ADVANCE. Especially at the popular places on the hills, that are booked up weeks in advance. Figure out where you want to eat and bite the bullet, and pay the ridiculous $$$ to do it. At least you’ll have a plan, and you’ll be out of the danger zone down below near the water (of partygoers, broken glass and mischief). We tried to get into Brighton a day in advance, and it was already fully booked.

Valparaiso – one of the squares all dolled up for the holidays

 

 

5) Make sure you have a hostel or hotel booked far in advance. We stayed at our go-to place El Rincón del Marino, which we love because it’s cheap and clean, and the owners are friendly. It’s not the nicest place, but it’s certainly pretty good for the price and in a location with easy access to transit and going to Viña del Mar/up the coast if you have done and seen most of Valparaiso.

6) Buy champagne and alcohol at the supermarket or liquor stores the day before or early that day. You’ll want to bring your own with you if you do decide to brave the crowds and party in the street, and they begin to sell out of stuff pretty quickly the closer it gets to New Year’s eve early evening.

7) If a random Chilean family offers to let you watch the fireworks from their ridiculously large picture windows on Paseo Gervasconi, for the fee of $40 per person without alcohol (and ask that you bring some to share with them), politely decline. It is tempting, but it ain’t worth it. True story.

We did have a great time in Valparaiso, and the Chileans really know how to party. The fireworks are amazing and definitely the most elaborate displays I’ve ever seen, maybe. I’m not sure if it is the same or better than the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks over NYC which I’ve also seen up close and personal… but they’re pretty damn amazing.

The Takeaway:

Just be careful, watch your stuff, and make sure at least one person in your party is sober enough to get you home and out of trouble!

 

Antares… mmm.

Grab a pint at Antares!

Ah, Antares  It’s a brew-pub here in Mendoza, Argentina (one of the only) that has happy hour from 7-9pm. Two-fers on microbrews? Yes, please. My favorites of theirs are Imperial Stout and the current seasonal beer  “Wee Heavy“. The Cream Stout is pretty great, too. And they have a barley wine with over 10% alcohol. Not too shabby.  Other offerings are Scotch Ale, Kolsch, Honey Beer, and Porter.  My first move when I first went was to get the sampler, which features all of the staple beers plus the seasonal selection.

I went to check out an Irish band here last week, that played traditional Irish music. They were actually really good. But I think I may have enjoyed them the most out of the entire room. Although, I’m pretty sure they were a general hit. The place generally has live music going on, but I’m not quite sure of the schedule.

The music is good and there’s a big screen in the back playing either random music videos to accompany the audio, or a big futbol game if there is one that day.

The other perk of this place is that the food is surprisingly good. The Papas Antares (big pile of fries covered in 4-cheese sauce (like an alfredo), pancetta and scallions, i.e. a heart attack) are good, the pizzetas are very decent – get the Especial, and I hear the cazuelas (stews) made with their in-house beers are pretty great.  I once ordered the kids meal of chicken nuggets & fries (because I’m 5 years old) and it was perfect.

Service is fast and pretty friendly, and I’ve never had a bad experience here. My only complaint is that I once went with some friends and the place was short on degustación (tasting sampler) glasses, and there was allegedly a waiting list for who could get the next sampler.

You can find Antares on Mendoza’s busy nightlife street, Arístedes, close to Calle Belgrano. Salud!

Kato Cafe, submarinos, shopping and fun

I met up with a friend yesterday at Kato Cafe on Civit and had a lovely afternoon of lounging around on their couches, drinking tea (Patagonia Bee by Inti Zen (Click here for more info)- which is a delicious vanilla, honey, and cacao blend), eating snacks and finishing with my first submarino.  A submarino is an Argentine hot chocolate; it’s made with hot milk and a chocolate bar that slowly melts into the milk and makes this not-too-sweet-but-oh-so-delectable hot cocoa that is perfect for the current onset of winter here in Mendoza.  With reasonable prices and a great ambience, I think Kato will be a new favorite haunt of mine.

We then embarked on a journey to buy clothes/scarves/boots/coats in the boutiques that line Avenida Arístedes Villanueva (or, simply, Arístedes). Found a great little boutique with a French flair called Cosset, which is attached to another really cute cafe called Clementine. The shopgirl was sweet and attentive, and very helpful. I ended up buying a sweater-dress and my friend bought a few other things. From there, we continued down the street hitting other boutiques along the way. I’ll do a post about this experience in a separate entry, for the sake of brevity here.

After working up a thirst buying things we didn’t need, we ended up at Antares, which I’ll post about in a separate post as well.

Last, but not least, I ended up going to see a friend’s band play at the Liverpool Pub in centro. It was great, but there were some problems with logistics and other things, and I ended up going alone and nobody met up with me there. Woe is me. At least they played some Oasis and U2 covers, and I was pleased. 

All in all, a good day.

Fernet & Coke

A brief, uplifting note about an Argentine tradition that I’ve come to enjoy over these past few months: Fernet con Coca Cola.

Fernet Branca is an herbacious digestif made in Italy by Distillerie Fratelli Branca. However, Argentina is the only other place in the world that they make it outside of Italy.  Fernet became popular in Argentina with the Italian immigrants at the turn of the last century (as in 1900) and then just spread like wildfire throughout the country. On its own, it is disgusting. It’s bitter, it’s really hard to describe the taste, and the recipe is a secret.  Its Wikipedia entry describes it asmyrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits, and coloured with caramel colouring. Ingredients rumored to be in fernet include codeine, mushrooms, fermented beets, coca leaf, gentian, rhubarb, wormwood, zedoary, cinchona, bay leaves, absinthe, orange peel, calumba, echinacea, quinine, ginseng, St. John’s wort, sage, and peppermint oil.”

Fernet is an acquired taste. The first time I tried it, I hated it. I asked my friends how they could possible drink something so terrible. They assured me that I’d come to like it. I was a nonbeliever.

There are a couple ways to order Fernet in a bar here. You can either get it normally (fernet con coke), or you can get it “para preparar”, when the bar gives you 1 glass with ice and fernet, another glass with just ice, and a bottle of Coke to mix your own according to how you like it.  This is probably the best way to go and the best value – and you can make it more suave at first (mostly Coke) and then move on to higher potency combinations later in the evening.

Then one day I enjoyed it. It was after a few adult beverages, of course. But for some reason, I began to like it. And now I know I’m going to crave it when I get back to Texas. Hmph.

Buenos Aires Day 1: Passport business & Palermo SoHo

Driving through the city from Retiro to Palermo, we passed a bunch of embassies and beautiful outdoor green areas.  I was staying in Palermo near the US Embassy, close to the Avenida de Libertadores and the zoo.

This was fortunate because my first order of business was to get more pages put into my passport at the American embassy. Apparently, there is a law in every country that says a customs/ border agent can deny you entry into a country if you have less than a certain number of pages in your passport blank for stamps. WTF, right? Read an example here: http://travel.latimes.com/articles/la-tr-spot9mar09

So, being an American can sometimes have its perks. Like strolling up to the embassy and realizing that the line down the street is for people who are NOT citizens, and the window for citizens has nobody waiting for it. So you bypass the line and go right on in. Score.

After paying my US $82 to get pieces of paper sewn into my passport that I had to pick up a few hours later, my #1 errand in BA was accomplished.

My new friends from Mendoza were arriving around 10pm that night and I knew the next day that we’d be going sight-seeing, so I didn’t do much. There was a great little café down the street where I got a quiche lorraine, salad and some mineral water called Voulez-Vous Café.  It’s on a corner with great outdoor dining. I sat against the wall on a pillow-covered banquette between two patrons working on their laptops. In fact, many people in the café had their laptops. This was strange to me, because I heard how dangerous BA can be at times and that you should be careful where you take your computer. But I guess since it’s a nice neighborhood and the clientele are fairly upper middle-class, porteños are comfortable here letting their guard down and Macbooks out.

After my friends arrived, we set out to the trendy neighborhood of Palermo SoHo in search of food. While we didn’t end up finding the restaurant we were trying to go to (damn you, Google maps and your wrong information!) we ended up eating at Romario‘s for pizza. A chain, it had a brick oven and the pizza was surprisingly good.

When we finished our pizza and beer we headed farther into the neighborhood of Palermo Viejo to Congo at Honduras 5329, an African-themed bar that was seriously cool. The back garden seems to go on forever, and the drinks were tasty.  For my first full day in Buenos Aires, it was a great end to a great day.