Alchemilla, an Un-Italian Dinner (and some teething troubles)

picture via alchemilla website

Update: T. read this post and says it is too critical and negative. I definitely do not want this to be the message that comes across – I did love the food and the overall experience we had here! I just think that the little mistakes/shortcomings we observed are rather easily avoidable and would increase the positive feeling by so much more. That is why I was pointing them out, not because they were such a big, negative part of the experience.

Take a young chef with great ideas. Add charming family & friends. Spice up with a lack of money and cluelessness in customer relations, modern electronic communications and wine.

You get Alchemilla, a Roman restaurant where we ate exceptionally good (mostly!) and will definitely return soon.

The young chef Francesco Magiar Lucidi, named one of the baby-chefs of Rome, is 26 years old, has great ideas but maybe not just enough experience in important kitchens. His sister, an actress, is part of the service, the other waitress has piercings in her face. On the day of the reservation they change the advertised 9 courses to 7 without explanation and when asked send one that is worse than the offense – “…in order to not overwhelm the senses & speed up the dinner…”. They send out emails, which is rare enough in Italy, but these are mass emails with many addresses on “to”, no “bcc”. There is an insufficient and not carefully selected wine list, the recommendation is a red whereas white is the much better pairing with the menu on hand. Not one glass matches another in the whole dining room. The AC alternates between burning hot and freezing cold. The menu is also in English – or rather, pigeon English.

You get Alchemilla, a Roman restaurant where we ate exceptionally good (mostly!) and will definitely return soon.

During the dinner I had all contradicting feelings. I sat there eating great food, prepared with very good products; great ideas, some working out, some not; a service that is dear and charming but making unnecessary mistakes. I felt like giving them all a big hug, holding their hands and saying “It is gonna be alright. I understand. I see where you are coming from and where you want to go. I want to help you. Listen to me. Take some advice. You can be so much better.”

Lacking that, I will keep on going to Alchemilla. I will keep on supporting them as they (hopefully) learn. I will keep on eating great food. (I just wish I could organize their cellar; choose better wines, put together a wine-by-the-glass pairing.)

What we ate: (expect 7 to 9 courses for €36, “journey” (not menu!) of the week can be seen online)

* Extra-old parmiggiano cream with a forest-honey veil (a gelatinous sheet!), dried fruit, green apple, 25 year old balsamic vinegar – very subtle and nice play of aromas, very good!

* soft polenta with beurre noisette (brown butter), pecorino di fossa (pit-matured sheep’s cheese) and fleur di sel – delicate and comforting, great idea with the brown butter!

* Calamarata shaped pasta with puntarelle cooked in vanilla, red beets, anchovies and smoked provolone – weakest dish of the stretch, though the idea is actually great: taking the very Roman dish of puntarelle with anchovies sauce and warming it up, temperature and spice-wise, and combining with pasta. I think the pasta format and plating was wrong and the smoked cheese was out-of-place, too; the elements of the dish just didn’t come together – but definitely a great idea to play around with in my kitchen

* Meatballs made with Cinta Senese pork (from Sienna), wild greens and black rice (in sheet form!) – very good, the meatballs had a great seasoning.

* Pickled herring with yogurt, very young spinach and smoked salt – a very good idea gone wrong because the herring was way too salty and together with the extra sold became unedible

* Pork flank in sweet&sour sauce with marinated red cabbage – melt in your mouth meat with a lively and decisive taste – perfect.

* Dessert wine, honey (these two in the form of an ice-cream), orange (jelly) and chocolate (powder) – nice combination of tastes, though the honey taste was too strong for me – but that’s really just me.

Giuda Ballerino! What an Unexpected Dinner in Rome!

Tepid octopus, cold burrata cheese and smoked eggplant puree - heaven!

Tepid octopus, cold burrata cheese and smoked eggplant puree - heaven!

Ever thought about combining octopus, burrata cheese and smoked eggplant puree? Well, think again. Overcome your initial reaction and think about all these elements, all the best of their kind, and imagine the aromas, the textures and the temperatures playing around each other. Once you taste it, it makes you lament the 38 years where you had the possibility of this dish at your fingertips but the idea nowhere in the vicinity.

panzanella con tonno - bread salad with tuna

panzanella con tonno - bread salad with tuna

After 11 months in the Eternal City, we decided it was time to indulge in some serious fine dining. We would like to have something other than the ordinary carbonara or trippa (tripe) or carciofi (artichokes). Sorry folks, yes, I just wrote “ordinary” and “trippa” together. I know any food lover outside of Rome is hating me, but these yummy dishes we have just 5 minutes and 10 Euros away from us – or just a trip to the market and some time in the kitchen. And we do love “our” Roscioli, but there is still so much to try out there.

Fried muscles with sepia crunch and carrot puree

Fried muscles with sepia crunch and carrot puree

I have been eye-ing Guida Ballerino! (literally “jumping Judas”, an exclamation of surprise with origins which I refuse to write in depth here, on a FOOD blog. The relevance to the restaurant is that it is an exclamation used often by the famous Italian comic figure Dylan Dog, of which the owner & chef seems to be very fond of) for over 1,5 years now. Yes, your maths is right, even before coming to Rome I was interested in paying a visit to this place.

Foie gras terrine with whitefish, spicy apple and candied almonds

Foie gras terrine with whitefish, spicy apple and candied almonds

And it really has been worth it. T. and I chose the “classic” menu (6 courses, €65), where we were allowed to substitute one dish with Shrimps because of T.’s allergy. Other than the 6 courses we got 4 amouse courses, 1 pre-dessert and a mignardise plate. We loved (or at least liked) almost everything we ate. Exceptions was the dessert – we found it strangely bland and just too sweet.

Squid ink tagliolini with monkfish cheeks and crispy greenbeans

Squid ink tagliolini with monkfish cheeks and crispy greenbeans

We also had the accompanying wine pairing (4 glasses, €28) to the menu, because we like to test better restaurants in that aspect. Unfortunately, the wines, although good in their own right, were not the best matches to the food. Next time we’ll definitely get a bottle or two of wine that we choose ourselves from the extensive list. A word on the wines: This was the wine list with the highest mark-up we have seen in Italy up to now! Kind of a bummer for us wine lovers.

Vitello tonnato inside out - genius!

Vitello tonnato inside out - genius!

We will definitely go back to Giuda Ballerino!, the food was creative, the products used were very good quality and the results very enjoyable in most cases. This small restaurant (seating only 16 – all taken by Romans on this night) on the outskirts of Rome has great service and a very interesting atmosphere, with the emphasis on the right things (the food!). At the same location there is also a more informal osteria, which is open for lunch as well and has more accessible prices, which we’ll visit soon, too.

desPS: Excuse the pictures, I wasn’t expecting to be able to take pictures and had just my compact camera with me – no proper adjustings!

This Pizza Is Not Conform With My “Rules For a Good Pizza” – But I Love It!

Pizza from Pizzarium in Rome

Rule #1: A good pizza is thin and crisp. This pizza is thick and soft.

Rule #2: A good pizza is baked free form. This pizza is baked in a rectangular black deep pan.

Rule #3: A good pizza is baked in a wood burning stone oven. This pizza is baked in an electrical oven.

Yet, it is one of the best pizze I have ever eaten. I go there at least once a week to get my dose of pizza. In fact, maybe I shouldn’t call it a pizza. The dough is so tasty, it is made with high-quality artisan flour and slowly matured with natural yeast. It is not there just to showcase the ingredients on it (which are always the best quality) but is in itself a dream.

Where to get it? You have to come to Rome and go to Pizzarium. This smallest shop manages to produce the best pizza (and bread! real bread, not the usual Italian airy stuff) in Rome. You will have to eat it standing up (you can have some of the best micro-brew beers of Italy and Europe with it), or take it with you.

Oh, wait, this is the philosophy of the owner (and chef):

Philosophy of Pizzarium

“It cannot be denied that nourishment is of high importance. It is the primary necessity of humans and it shouldn’t be dealt with lightly, given that it represents the biggest coefficient of health, and one of the joys of existence. Science shows that the food prepared in a simple but careful way is the healthiest, since it stimulates the appetite and restores the stomach, which is the most important human organ.”

You gotta love this guy.

Istanbul: Meyhane Food (Meze and Rakı)

Sitting in a taxi cab in Istanbul at 3 in the morning, doused with rakı and with a full belly, either going to a club to dance the calories away or to your hotel (depending on your fitness), you will be caught in a traffic jam. Not if, not when, there will be a traffic jam. The cab driver, if he is not from Istanbul (as are many of his 18,500 registered colleagues), will get mad, pound on the steering wheel and go: “I don’t understand it. Why don’t these people go home and sleep? What is it with this city? I just don’t get it! They are crazy!” But you will know better, you had the street food, you had the meyhane food: You don’t have to understand Istanbul, you just go with the flow. You eat what comes to your table, you drink, you have fun, you live.


Whenever I go to Istanbul, the highlight is the night when we go to a meyhane. Literally, this means a “wine house”; although nowadays you would be hard-pressed to find good, or any, wine in a meyhane. (Don’t let me get started on the theme “Turkish wine”. It is a pity that the 4th biggest grape grower country in the world, just after Italy, is not capable of producing decent wines. And the very, very few good wines are often ruined by uneducated restaurant owners and waiters, who don’t know how to store and serve it.) You should rather stick to rakı (the i without the dot is pronounced liked the “e” in “vowel”), the Turkish national drink.


This is a clear, 45% – 50% alcoholic beverage that smells like aniseed (there is some involved in the production process) and turns cloudy when you add water, just like absinth. Despite the high percentage, it is not drunk as a digestive; rather throughout the whole meal as an accompaniment, especially to meze and fish. Although it may not be obvious at first glance, the aim is not getting drunk as fast as possible. The idea behind it, just as the whole idea behind a night out in a meyhane, is enjoying. Enjoying the food, the rakı, the company, the music. You eat slowly, take small sips of rakı, chat with your friends, save the country (- from all its political problems; a favorite pastime for all Turks. As a tourist you should stay clear of such discussions and just tell everyone how much you love everything. Copious amounts of alcohol and criticism don’t go well together!) and go home as a happy soldier after a long night out.

You don’t go to a meyhane to have your own, individual dishes. Meyhane is about sharing. The tray you see in the opening picture is full of 26 different cold meze. Such a tray is brought to each table at the very beginning. Everyone at the table points out the ones they want to eat and these are put on the table. Our waiter saw himself forced to say “stop” after 19 meze the four of us chose:

Meze on the table

And then there were these, which weren’t on the tray:

Beyaz peynir - kavun

Kavun and beyaz peynir, a.k.a. melon and white cheese (feta) are the most traditional sides to rakı. Usually they are brought to the table without being explicitly asked for.

Fresh Almonds

If you are visiting Istanbul in the right season (early summer) and you are very very lucky, you will see a guy entering your meyhane with a huge tray of fresh almonds and/or fresh walnuts. Don’t let him go before you buy a plateful of his goods! The ice on the almonds not only cools them refreshingly down, it also makes the skins damp and plump up, so that it becomes very easy to get rid of them. An ideal snack.

Eggplant puree

This is eggplant salad. The eggplants are first charred on the grill, then peeled and pureed with some garlic and lemon juice. This is a delicious and light meze I make very often, the eggplant has this smoky flavor which T. and I just love.

Fish pastirma

This was a first for me. Pastırma is usually dried and cured beef covered with a paste made of garlic, hot red pepper, cumin and fenugreek, served cold in paper thin slices or as a filling for börek (baked pastry). This was made of fish, sturgeon, to be precise. A great method to make fish durable and delicious, rather pungent and spicy, of course.


A salad of salicornia, which is literally called sea bean in Turkish. When I lived in Turkey, I was not aware of this salty plant, which smells definitely of sea shores (where it grows). I first got to know it in Europe, where it is very expensive and considered a delicacy. My brother, who lives in Istanbul and is a foodie himself, has been talking about it for some time now, this was the first time I ate it in Turkey, I think…


Whiting ceviche, delicious tender fish pieces marinated with lemon juice, garlic and basil.


This was also a first for me: Topik is an Armenian delicacy which has almost completely disappeared from kitchens. In the Ottoman Empire, of which Istanbul was the capital for centuries, lived many nationalities and religions together. The traditions, especially the kitchen traditions, are tightly intermingled and have succeeded in many an understanding and friendship which unfortunately hasn’t been supported through politics. This dish is a perfect showcase how food evolves, incorporating ingredients from other cultures.

Topik - inside

The casing is made of potatoes and garbanzo beans, the filling is to die for: slow roasted onions, tahini, black currants, allspice and pine nuts. I would have gobbled up the whole plate if they had let me. The meyhane where we were is one of the very few last places who offer this specialty. Nowadays it is only (and even then rarely, as it is very cumbersome to prepare) found in the private kitchens of the Armenian minority in Istanbul, especially around New Year.

Octopus Salad

This is the original I geared to as I made my own octopus salad. As you can see, here the octopus is “peeled” after it has been cooked, a process I deem unnecessary, but can make the dish more accessible for the faint-hearted.

Red Peppers

Grilled and marinated red peppers. These long red peppers are so much more flavorful than the bell peppers, try to find these next time you are cooking with red peppers, it is worth the search.

Purslane Salad

Purslane salad with yogurt is a typical summer salad in Turkey. The green leaves are very tasty and yogurt (and a little bit of garlic) is always very refreshing. Green leaves like purslane, spinach, swiss chard etc. are in Turkey often mixed with yogurt and used as a bed for meaty dishes. A nice idea to try in the hot days of summer.

Barbunya Plaki

Fasulye plaki is a dish of dried big red beans cooked in a lot of olive oil, along with carrots, green peppers and tomatoes. Olive oil dishes are usually eaten either at the end of a series of cold meze (as we have done here) or after the main dish.


This was the first warm meze: Shrimps sauteed in an earthenware pot. Very fresh and actually with a lot of taste, as opposed to in a lot of restaurants nowadays.


Squid rings, fried and served with a great sauce: tarator. This sauce is made of old bread, yogurt, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice and some spices and can be eaten alone as a bread spread. In Turkey it is often served as a dipping sauce for fried squid or fried mussels. Oh, I am hungry right now!

Bonito meatballs

This was the last warm meze, before we got fried sardines as the main, which I forgot to take a picture of. Remember, by this time the four of us had already drunk just short of two 0,75 bottles of the devilish, 50%, rakı; which also explains the decreasing picture quality. Anyways, this was a bonito meatball (I told you there are over 30 kinds of meatballs), which T. and I found to be wanting more seasoning. But it might have been our tongues numbing…


I always think that a mixed or green salad tastes best in Turkey. I don’t know what the reason is: The nostalgia, the freshness of the produce or the use of lemon juice instead of vinegar. It might be a combination of all, of course, but do try dressing your next salad with olive oil and lemon juice and leave the balsamic on the shelf. You might like it a lot.


The first dessert was very thin yufka dough (similar to the greek filo but thinner) rolls filled with pistachios and soaked in syrup, with a dollop of triple cream to “lighten up”. Please, please stop talking about the “honey-laden” Turkish sweets, there is almost never honey involved in these pastries: It is just a simple and sweet syrup!

Dessert 2

And the last “first” for me this evening: Baked halva. Of course I grew up eating halva (or helva, as we call it; or better yet, “tahin helva” is the very correct term for this), this sweet paste made with tahini, sugar and the powdered roots of the gypsophila plant. But never before had I eaten it baked. My brother recommended it, and I have to say I wasn’t crazy about it, there is such a thing as “too sweet” in my vocabulary. But I hear this is a popular dessert in the Black Sea shore of Turkey.


Of course a night out in a meyhane is perfect only with music. Usually musicians go from one meyhane to the other and play as long as they are asked to by the customers. These two could play an array of instruments and sang a couple of popular old Turkish songs which every Turk feels like singing along to when they are drunk.

Real Close

He is not holding his ear shut, he is cupping it so as to hear it better: Do this only if you are a) a crazy Turk b) have worked as a DJ for the last ten years or c) you are already deaf.

One last word about music and dancing in Turkey: You will notice that a lot of Turks start belly dancing as the hours go by. All tourists are encouraged to dance along. Don’t be fooled. Watch this video. She is not a professional! Next try doing the same in front of a mirror. Only now may you decide if you want to belly dance in front of a Turkish public. I personally know of only one non-Turkish friend (hi, A.!) who could dance like this. Consider carefully if you are an exception as well!

We almost always go to this meyhane:

Nevizade Sokak 19
0212-243 12 19

right behind the “Balıkpazarı”, the fish market. But any meyhane on this street is bound to be good, just avoid the ones in the touristy “Çiçek Pasajı” at the beginning of the market.

Read more: Street food in Istanbul

Harald Wohlfahrt’s “Schwarzwald Stube”: The Perfect Dinner?

Tasting Menu Harald Wohlfahrt

I have never eaten this good in my whole life!” How lucky am I that this sentence came over my lips not once, but twice during the last month. As the latest exclamation was only last night, it makes Harald Wohlfahrt’s Schwarzwald Stube, the “french” one among the four restaurants in Hotel Traube Tonbach in Baiersbronn, the best restaurant I have ever been to. And remember, I am the food vagabond!

Chef Wohlfahrt is most hyped-about (3 Michelin stars continuously since 1993, 19,5 points in Gault Millau, one of the 10 Best French Restaurants in the World Outside of France 2007). When you look at the pictures below and read the descriptions, you might think “ok, fine, but this is nothing new, I can have it in almost any good restaurant”. Yes, that is right, but you won’t be eating the dishes the way Chef Wohlfahrt puts them together. Foie gras, scallops, lamb; yes, there is no “molecular gastronomy” going on here, no big experiments, and just the slightest whiff of crossover/modern. But the tastes just explode in your mouth. The dishes are just right, nothing is amiss and nothing can be added.

Eel Variations Foie Gras John Dory Scallop ravioli Thornback ray confit Rack of lamb Cheese cart Cheese selection Souffleed Manjari-chocolate tart Cappuccino of cacaobean icecream Exotic panna cotta Petit-fours Chocolate petit four

It is not just the food what makes this experience so unique. It is the atmosphere, the perfect service, the wines, the owner Mr. Finkbeiner who comes by at the beginning of the meal, the Chef who comes at the end of the meal. Did I mention the service? Perfect explanations, just on time appearances, the pace (the dinner took around 4 hours), the perfect balance of being professional but friendly…

About the wines and the sommelier: We started with a rosé Billecart-Salmon Champagne, for the first three courses we had white wines by the glass (a 2002 Josmeyer Gewürztraminer from the Alsace with the foie; a 2005 Pinot Gris from Baden, Germany with the scallop; a 2004 St. Joseph blanc (the Rhone region) “St. Pierre” from Yves Cuilleron with the thornback ray) which were all great. For the lamb and the cheese we had chosen a bottle of red at the beginning of the meal with the sommelier Stephane Gass. This turned out to be a study in misunderstanding. His first suggestion was “a Portuguese red, if you are not afraid of trying out something new”. As we had not yet looked into the massive wine list at that point (which has over 700 positions and the cellar is stocked with 35- to 40,000 bottles), I wanted to give him some hints as to what our preferences are etc. So I told him we don’t like Tinta Barocca, a common Portuguese varietal, just in case the wine might contain this varietal. Although it turned out the wine he was suggesting didn’t have it, he took it as we didn’t want the wine and went directly on to another suggestion: A Rhone Valley wine. I was sceptical about the combination with lamb and cheese so I queried if it wouldn’t be too fruity (again trying to give him direction, because we like strong bodied wines with some tannins). He then came up with a classical Rosso di Montepulciano, which we accepted. Later, when the time came to taste the decanted wine, we were not that happy with it, we felt it was too young and lacking in body. But ok, I guess you could say we were to blame. But what really bothered me was that, after this process, he never came back to our table, although he was visiting all the other tables multiple times and talking about the wines. Had I offended him? This incident was the only (albeit very slight) shadow over our dinner.

So was it the perfect dinner? Calling something “perfect” is so difficult. And food, it is such a matter of moods. Sometimes a slice of bread with butter is perfect, sometimes a bowl of hearthy soup. This dinner was perfect for me, it was an experience every foodie should go through (at least) once in his lifetime. Only 5 years ago T was discussing with me that no dinner is worth 100 DM (roughly 50 Euros!) although we had the means; and yesterday, after paying around 500 Euros for our dinner, he said: “It was definitely worth it!” But he also thinks he doesn’t need to go there again, calculating for me that, for the same amount, we could: fly to Paris, have dinner in our newly found favorite restaurant (also starred – will be blogging about it after Easter), stay the night in a nice hotel and fly back the next day. Maybe even with a stopover at Pierre Herme! Me, I loved the story of the elderly couple at the next table: They come to the hotel twice every year, check in for two weeks and eat at the Schwarzwald Stube every night, trying something different each time, sometimes off the menu. That I could imagine doing!