Testaccio, Rome in Chicago

After looking over my last blog posts, I had not realized that the last review I had published was in May. Ever since we went into pandemic mode, I thought time was passing slowly. That has not been the case. Fortunate that I am able to work from home I have not had much of a need to leave my condo. My trash goes out more than I do. When the work hours are done, I work out in the bedroom I converted into a workout room, slow cook in my crock while working, pressure cook or air fry, eat, get plenty sleep, rinse and repeat.

Since things have eased up enough for people to have a comfort going out in public, as long as they wear masks and keep a mindful distance, I noted one of the many days with no heat, no humidity, and no rain for an outing to break the monotony. I biked to Testaccio at 2456 N. California Avenue in Logan Square. Brought to life by the owners of Osteria Langhe, which is hands-down one of the most outstanding Italian restaurants in America, Testaccio brings Roman dining to Chicago. And I brought to the restaurant my appetite and my mirrorless camera that I have not used in well over a year because my Samsung cellphone takes professional photos that are tops.

Taking advantage of an inside seat while everyone was on the patio enjoying the great weather, I started with a negroni. The bartender scores high points for mixing this cocktail such that Goldilocks would have exclaimed, “It’s just right.” I savored the negroni along with a flight of spreads. The tzatziki, caponata, and hummus were what you would expect to indulge at a Mediterranean restaurant. That is a true statement, however, there is a Mediterranean influence in Roman dining. When in Rome, you do as the Romans do, and I dipped za-atar focaccia in each until it was all gone.

For my second landing, I had a bowl of mixed olives. Served with incense, I was reliving November 2017 all over again, doing my ad hoc walking tour of cafes throughout Morocco, divining olives and olive oil with a variety of tasty eats. While many think of olive oil on a saucer sprinkled with pepper and parmesan along with Italian bread for a side, olives as an intermission bear a Moroccan influence. On the tail end of finishing the olives, I ordered an aperto. The brandy in the cocktail added a nice balance to the olives.

For my third landing, I was going for a couscous tagine and was saving a flight of spiedini for my fourth landing. My server recommended that I have both together, which was a splendid suggestion. This third course was a marriage of Morocco, Algeria, and the Mediterranean. The couscous came with eggplant and pine nuts, the latter that I may need to take care to note in the future. It was satisfying the way I remembered in Casablanca, Fes, Marrakech, Rabat, and Algiers. Having it with the flight of lamb kefta, swordfish, and beef filet resulted in a flavor bonanza. If you want to know how tender meat should be prepared, you definitely need to have a dining experience at Testaccio.

Because I have weaned myself from desserts during the pandemic, I did not order any sweets. I noted that the menu had panna cotta, a savory cheesecake, and gelato. Alas, I have flattened my tummy and have decided to be disciplined because it is harder to get the abs I had when I was in my twenties now that I am in my fifties. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly pleased to have broken my hibernation for the outing.

One thing I must mention is that the visit to Testaccio has made me consider a “spice route” vacation throughout the North African, Mediterranean, and Italian region. I have always viewed North African, Mediterranean, and Italian dining in a disjointed fashion. As I had mentioned earlier, I never spent enough time in Rome to become accustomed to the cultural dining there, so it never occurred to me that it was a hub of multiple cultural influences in the food. Had I not gone to Testaccio, this information would have still been an unknown. I can’t say when I will go on a vacation tour of the spice route, but I will return to Testaccio sooner than later.

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