My Mom and I were standing at a bus stop in Rome. It was our last afternoon in the eternal city, and we were hoping to squeeze in one final amazing Italian lunch before leaving for the airport. My sister was in a nearby shop.
The bus stop was entertaining as we casually waited against the wall. There was a group of school children waiting, the Italian mothers in their three-inch heeled black boots and Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses, supervising the chaos. The nuns, in their traditional black habits, were more successful with one stern look.
We were caught off guard by the nicely dressed gentleman walking up the sidewalk towards us. He navigated around the kids, smiled at us, and said in English, "Two beautiful women out for the beautiful day! Do you have lunch plans?" Only in Rome! We were quite surprised. I think we actually giggled at each other, like the school girls waiting for the bus.
"Well, actually, we are looking for a restaurant for lunch, but we only have about an hour," which in Rome terms is about enough time to take your coat off and order.
"My name is Federico. Come to my restaurant. It’s around the corner, number 133, via Barberini. We will make you fresh pasta, pronto. Bring your mamma."
How do I refuse a command like that! After convincing my sister Theresa, who was not so sure this was a legitimate lunch invitation, we walked to the restaurant to take a peek. There was no peeking, Federico was waiting for us and after some hesitation on Theresa’s part, she does not like being forced into things by strange men, we were ushered into the restaurant. The wine was practically poured and appetizers ordered before we sat down. Theresa put the brakes on. I politely told Federico we wanted to look at the menu. Theresa wanted to choose her own food. I didn’t want a $200 lunch, even if it was fresh and pronto!
We broke with tradition and ordered one appetizer for the three of us, the mozzarella and prosciutto, and pastas for our main course. I apologetically reminded the aghast Federico we really only did have an hour so it would not be a traditional two hour, four-course, Italian lunch. He poured me more wine and went off to the kitchen.
It was the mozzarella and prosciutto that calmed us down, won us over. Well, perhaps Federico’s smile and hospitality too. The most perfect dish of mozzarella arrived, like a scoop of vanilla ice cream, with slivers of prosciutto draped around and olive oil drizzled on top. We all sat quiet and savored every flavor of our first taste. It was magnifico! Forget about arriving on time for our flight, we all wanted to relish lunch.
Federico was the stereotypical Italian man. Flattering, bold, gracious, outright flirting with my mom. We learned he had been in the restaurant business for 30 years and before that in the Italian stone business.
Our pasta was wonderful. The meal turned out to be the best we had in Rome. Of course we could not refuse the dessert and coffee when offered. If you know my Mom, you know she loves tiramisu. All tiramisu, even the ones you find in Spain in the local Mercadona’s refrigerated section. So when Federico brought out the dish of homemade tiramisu, Mom was completely smitten!
After dessert, I dug out my $200 and Federico offered to show mom the Italian marble in the bathroom. Priceless. I was worried for her for about two seconds. I figured when again would she have an Italian man showering her with attention. When in Rome…