Europe 2011 v2 aka The Food Life v48 aka My Life Has Changed Forever

Rome. Tagliolini Cacio e Pepe. When I came to this town, just as any ol' tourist I was curious about the architecture and history. Rome, after all, is one grandiose place impossible to only visit once. Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, The Vatican and many more - yes, I went to all those easy to find must see sights. The Vatican square at 2am, when its empty of all the visitors and you're the only one there is magnificent, simply something else, but more on that later.

What I REALLY came to Rome for was the food. And more specifically one dish in particular, Tagliolini Cacio e Pepe.

I remember watching the Rome episode of Anthony Bourdains No Reservations many months back and I knew that when, not if I make it to Rome, I will track this place down. On the show, Bourdain calls this restaurant X , not wanting to disclose its locations because this pasta dish is that good - and he doesn't want it spoiled by droves of tourists. With the power of the world wide web it wasn't hard to find the name and the addy of this spot. (ff to 2:30 in the vid below)

Months later, I find myself in Rome. Slightly hung over after drinking vino all night with my new friends at the hostel I set off on my mission. I must find this place. Unfortunately all I know is a name of the plaza where this restaurant located, and sort of what it looks like visually after seeing the show - and since this restaurant is located in the Trastevere where streets are intertwined and tiny and not even wide enough for a car to pass it might not be easy to find this spot. Even my detailed map of Rome left a few streets blank in this area - they are that small.

Trastevere neighborhood of Rome is less traveled by the crazed groups of I LOVE ROMA tshirt wielding types so the streets are quite. One only sees locals here. Kids playing futball, grandmas drinking cafe, elderly gentleman smoking cigarettes while discussing Occupy Rome riots, teens working on their mopeds. All quite. Except for the loud bells signaling that you've just spent yet another 30 minutes looking for a tiny little plaza in the city of 20,000 plazas. Needle in the haystack. Seriously.

I've attempted to ask a few locals, to little success, and I nearly gave up. I was hungry. Do I just venture back to the land of the tourist and grab whatever whatever?

Exactly then. In the moment of desperation I turn down some tiny alley, walk a minute and BOOM, its the god damn plaza from the Anthony Bourdain episode. I don't even have to check the name of it, I remember well what it looks like. I'm here.

Giddy, I walk up to the restaurant and request to sit outside. I'm THE ONLY tourist here. The same waiter that you saw in the Youtube vid I've embedded asks me if I'm just one, I say yes. He said unfortunately he can not sit just one at this time. The HORROR. I'm not sure what kind of facial expression I made, perhaps a combination of sadness, desperation and "what-a-fuck-i-came-to-this-god-damn-city-just-for-this-dish", that mere moments later he changed his mind and said there IS one table available outside, and I can have it. 

I sit down, more or less in the same spot as my Travel Channel guide. I grab the menu. This will be a feast. I knew exactly what I was having as il primo - Tagliolini Cacio e Pepe, so it was the L'antipasto and il secondo what was in question. I wasted no time and ordered fresh buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto for a starter. And for second I got a shredded steak with porcini mushrooms and gravy of magic - then sat back.  And a bottle of white vino too - Grazie.

My journey in/to Rome has been a weird one. Over the past 2 years I went through some life changing events, I won't bore you with. My mind and heart have been heavy for a long time now. So going to Rome alone was no easy decision. But here I was. As I sat there, at this "restaurant X" waiting for my order my thoughts drifted many a place. I even forgot where I was, nor did it matter where I was - I could have been anywhere. Random brownstone stoop in Brooklyn, fancy restaurant in old Rome, the fuckin Moon. Doesn't matter.

Then zoom, my starter arrives. I dig in. What follows is the freshest and most delicate mozzarella I have ever tasted in my life. This is C2D, you know we love a good exaggeration, and you know we eat ALOT and been places, but this was not a god damn joke. Such subtle and  focused flavor of the soft cheese, when paired with lovingly salty prosciutto created a combination I was not ready for. This was my starter, this was a simple meat and cheese plate - I cautiously started to realize that this will be no ordinary meal.

The wine was sweet, the locals at tables all around me were deep into a refreshingly loud and lively discussions in Italian while smoking oodles of cigarettes. I simply do not care if I sit here, at this restaurant, in this plaza for the next 3 hours. I'm doing this right.

And then, the reason I'm in this country arrives. Tagliolini Cacio e Pepe. Fresh made Tagliolini pasta, cooked to perfection, tossed with some pasta water, salt, fresh pepper, butter and Pecorino cheese. This is served in a bowl made out of some fresh Parmesan cheese. Another dash of Pecorino on top of it all.  Brilliance.

I sat there and stared for a minute - after all, this was the moment I been waiting for. I stick the fork in, give it a twirl. I pull my tentacle back towards my face, lets give this baby a try. I closed my eyes. Time froze. I joke you not, I simply sat there for about 2-3 minutes thinking about life and what brought me here.

Piazza di Santa Cecila. Trastevere. Roma. Italy. Europe. Northern Hemisphere. Planet Earth. Me. Then back down in the reverse order. This bite changed my life.
I have never tasted something so damn divine. So balanced. So basic. Almost as if there is nothing to it, yet its complex to the extremes. Hard to put into words. Its salty pasta, with fresh black pepper, oodles of butter and some Pecorino on top. Pasta perfectly al dente yet it melts in your mouth. Dish heavy on salt and pepper, yet overwhelmingly light. Thank you, world. Why do I feel like I could literally cry then?

I'm pretty sure my very first words that I could mutter were "fuck me" under my breath. I shook my head for awhile. Waited another minute or two before the next bite. Damn it. I love life. I'm blessed. I'm proud. I won and made it. I've been places and I've ate stuff and this elemental Roman peasant dish just outdid everything. Topped it all. Easily. I mean, if you've read C2D for any length of time you know that this has got to the be longest damn write up for a single restaurant ever. EVER. 

I collected myself and dug back in. As I looked around, everyone was eating this, all the locals, and everyone was loving it. As I sat there, I saw a few tourists get turned away and walk off pissed - maybe some unspoken understanding, some metaphysical connection made the waiter realize that he's about to change my life - so he decided to sit me? All I know I was thankful. 

 Next came my steak with mushrooms and gravy - delicious. But right now, just like right then, I spent so much emotional energy on the star of the show that I didn't care anymore. It's like I had a great orgasm and just wanted to take a nap. 

Posso avere un caffè macchiato, per favore!

The feast was finished. I was done. Worn out. In NYC, once I'm done with a meal I want to rush out, go, do stuff, run, race along sidewalks to the next thing, next nothing. Here, I just sat back for another 45 minutes, an hour. I don't smoke, but I lit a cigarette, took a meaningful pull, exhaled. I'm in god damn Rome. Loving life. I'm not sure if I have been speaking outloud to myself through out the meal, but a elderly couple next to me smiled my way, I smiled back making eye contact with them - they knew exactly what I just experienced. That is why, I bet, they come here all the time. 
I'm going back to Rome and when I do, I'm going to this place first thing and share this moment with people I love.

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