The daily diary of a wandering restaurateur In Italy
July 20 - Rome

They say "When in Rome, do as the Romans do . . ." but as near as I can tell, that means racing around in traffic! It seems strange -- the Italians seem to have no sense of urgency in restaurants or shops, but put them on the roads in Rome and stand back! Traffic lanes are merely approximations of the travel path, stop lights (where they exist) seem to apply to cars but seldom to the hordes of Vespas and other two-wheeled transport. What a trip!

Well, you can't come to Rome and not see the sights, so today we took in the Pantheon and the Colosseum. The Pantheon is generally regarded as the best-preserved bit of Roman interior architecture . . . and it certainly is a spectacular site. In a delightful shift from normal patterns, it is a free admission and, since it is all one room, easy to see without following a crowd!

The Colosseum looks pretty much like we have always seen it. I think we spent more time waiting in line to get in than we did walking around the place, but it would be hard to come to Rome and not have visited. Yesterday, for the first time since the year 523, there was a live performance in the Colosseum -- a Greek acting troupe performing Oedipus Rex in the original form and, of course, in Greek! It was a big deal and the 400 seats sold out immediately. You will see the staging that was erected over the understructure of the place. In case you didn't know, the floor of the Colosseum was originally wood covered with sand (to absorb the blood -- watching someone die violently was the hot ticket in those days). Under the floor was a maze of cells for holding the animals, ready rooms for the Gladiators, machinery to hoist things up to the main floor and so on. Quite a process.

For the next week or so, we are not alone. Eric Favier and Karen Cooley, owners of Chez Pierre in Tallahassee, arrived this afternoon, just in time for dinner. We joined Hildie and Ella, friends of theirs from Tampa, on the roof of the Raphael Hotel for a bottle of wine and a wonderful view of the rooftops of Rome before heading off to dinner at Ristorante del Pallardo. This was one of the places recommended by Rick Steves (Europe Through the Back Door) and it was a trip! There is no menu. Their policy is that you will eat what they want to feed you (and, I found, you will eat it the way they want you to eat it -- I was playfully reprimanded for eating a piece of bread without using it to slop up the remains of the sauce!) The place is presided over by Paola Fazi (who wears a towel wrapped around her head turban-style) and her family.

Giovanni in particular was on my case all night. When everyone else got a small bowl of pasta, he brought me the big bowl that the others were served from! We were passing bowls of food around the table and he scolded me for taking some before all the women had theirs! And so it went, reminiscent in some ways of the old Durgin Park in Boston. The meal was wonderful and the experience will definitely give us months of stories. There is not space here to give you the full flavor of this spot.

It just reminded me again that simply having good food and service is not enough to make you stand out from the crowd. There are thousands of restaurants in Rome, but none that sounded as much fun as this place! What are you doing to cause people to think of you differently from the competition?

The rooftop of the Raphael and Ristorante del Pallardo

The Pantheon and Colosseum

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