Lunch at Da Fortunato al Pantheon in Rome
I’ve been coming to Rome for a long time, yet every time I want a great lunch I always end up at the same place: Da Fortunato al Pantheon. It seems as though the waiters have been there as long as I’ve been going there. They remember you, they’re nice. The most important thing is that the food is simply out of this world. I always have the same thing, depending on the season: either untarelle, a chicory dish with anchovies, or radicchioalla grilla, the spaghetti alla vongole veraci and a large bottle of sparkling water. It’s quite simply the greatest lunch experience I’ve ever had in the world.
It’s simple; the restaurant is discreetly tucked away behind the Pantheon Square, the Piazza della Rotonda. I am sort of a chaotic kind of guy and I know Rome really well – I like to experiment, try different restaurants, and discover new things in cities. But there’s never been a time where I’ve been in Rome and not gone to this marvelous institution; because in the end, there is simply nothing better than the food at this restaurant.
The Rialto Fish Market Five Course Dinner
I needed to prepare a five course dinner for New Year’s Eve. As luck would have it, I was in Venice and a friend of mine knew a fish guy. My friend had arranged to meet with me earlier in a bar for a cappuccino and we walked fast-paced across the maze of streets of La Rialto, where he introduced me to another guy who knew the fish guys that sold the good stuff. I felt a little like Jason Bourne. Abutting the Erberia, the vegetable market, is the Pescheria, one of the highlights of any visit to Venice. You will see fish you’ve never seen: eels in the winter time, scallops in their shells, swordfish with their beaks on and razor clams called cape onghe.
I had decided that I would wait to prepare the menu until I saw what I had. I was introduced to the Fish Guy; I looked around. I would start with 10 large scallops. I would grill them in their shell with some oil and garlic. Then I was going to follow this with grilled razor clams. I would follow the razor clams with two pastas, one with small shrimp and zucchini and the other using artichoke that were in season that I planned to grab from the Erberia, and then finish off with a zuppa di pesce, which sounds decidedly better than its name in English – Fish Soup.
He asked me how I would do it. I felt the answer had to be good or he might turn me away. I would start with a fennel and onion base (he nodded slowly), add some tomatoes (ok)…then I told him I needed a good fish head or two for the broth (I’ve piqued his curiosity!), and then I would create a broth that I could empty the raw fish into for the last 10 minutes of preparation! He looked at me and said come back in 15 minutes. I returned and he’d neatly prepared bags for every course. In the fish soup there were scallops and langostina, a little monkfish, and all placed in at the very end, topped with tiny toasted pieces of bread with a dollop of aioli on them. We served the soup at 1am in the morning, having celebrated the fireworks in St. Marks at midnight. It wouldn’t have been possible without “my guy. “
Airline Lounges Getting Lazy?
Clubs and places to hang out at airports are reaching a troubling intersection. Once the harbor of calm and safety, where you might feel like a million bucks, airline clubs are fast becoming overcrowded and unreliable.
Take American Admiral’s Club for example. What Admiral are they referring to? Certainly not Nelson! Please. It’s awful. Or the Delta Sky Club– there’s not much to eat: a few pretzels and some awful nuts that even if you’re not allergic to, you should be! You have to pay for the alcohol and if you were planning on a meal before a long flight…good luck! And what’s worse, Delta won’t even allow you in with stuff you have been forced to grab outside – probably for fear that others will catch on that there’s absolutely no value inside! You’re better off taking your chances in the vastly improving terminal buildings.
New concessions have opened, healthy and actually decent – places you don’t mind hanging out at. The other day at Chicago O’Hare I even noticed that Starbucks, the only bastion in days gone by, of decent coffee and half decent sandwiches, had no line. People had found healthier options and better coffee!
So, McDonald’s and Auntie Anne’s and those awful places that are still hanging around, watch out! Your concession license may cost more than your daily take – at least let’s hope so!
But it’s not all bad. Has anyone been to a Virgin International lounge recently? It’s actually good. There’s food to eat – variety, free drinks ! And if you have an American Express platinum card there’s a great club called Centurion Club. Sadly it’s only in 4 locations: LAS, DFW, SFO, and LGA. But the service is great, food decent and it made my transit and the vastly improved Dallas airport actually pleasant. Did I say Amex did something nice for its customers? Where’s the Visa lounge!?
All this fuss about Emirates and Etihad and how the food just knocks your socks off, I don’t buy it. I was recently lucky enough to be upgraded to first class on British Airways. The food was unacceptably bad – really if I had been paying the price of that ticket, it would have ranked per bite, as the worst meal dollar per dollop I’ve ever had.
Those good old days when they’d fire up the stove, simmer the mushrooms and pan fry the sirloin in front of you, have gone. But still, we clamor for those moments on board. No matter that we may have eaten in the lounge before or grabbed a quick sandwich in the departure lounge, we still get excited when they walk down the aisle, no matter what class of service you’re in. Sometimes it’s just a bag of crisps, an infinitesimally small bag of nuts where the packaging must’ve cost ten times the contents, or that delightful piece of overcooked chicken or the omelet in first class that looks as though it were cooked last year. No matter! We wait with expectation as the trolley rumbles down the aisle – and we go for it!
Just like the glass of wine, we know she shouldn’t, but we go for that too. It’s something to do while you’re awake. Let’s be really honest here, the only difference between the categories is the legroom, the rest is all an illusion, best dealt with by a sandwich in the airport or an Ambien just before you take off.