Romano


Squid stuffed with zucchini, carrots and shrimp.

Squid stuffed with zucchini, carrots and shrimp.

Viareggio, Italy

At 2:00 pm you probably would expect a typical restaurant to either be closed or empty. Not Romano. It was open and it was full.  We moved through a fancy, modern decor into a funky interior. The fancy part was full of white clothed tables and the atmosphere changed from stiff and sharp to relaxed and chilled.  As a welcome we receive Guile Ferrari, a fruity, strong and fragrant champagne. The curtains were closed creating a dim, quiet scene. We allowed the Chef, Franca Checchi, to choose our meal; which we decided later was a mistake.

Fish

Wooden walls and two stained glass panels marked the entrance to our little room. We sat at the end of the restaurant up against a window. On each table there was a vase of fake looking roses. The plates with complex designs and beautiful patterns were from a local factory called Ginero. I was dining with some of the most famous people in Italy or so people in the food Industry all over the world thought. One was Cesare Casella (of Salumera Rosi in New York City).

When we sat down, all the owners and waiters warmly welcomed him and from then on we were treated like kings and queens eating a royal banquet. Looking around there were quite a few people, mostly locals, eating their expensive lunches with pride and a sense of belonging.

The first of many dishes to come was a fried platter with red mullet, shrimp, squid, anchovies, sole and baby octopus. Each fish was skillfully fried so that you could taste the fish as much as the fry. The fish was delicious. Each one cooked so that the fish and taste of the sea would be enhanced as much as possible. Next to be placed in front of me was another fish dish, but this time all raw. This course consisted of jumbo shrimp (sparnokio), whole squid, cod, and a white fish. Dripped with lemon it was light and refreshing and tasted like a crisp spring morning. The shrimp was coated with natural sweetness and the cod was tough, but felt silky on the tongue. Some dishes should be left simple and this was certainly one of them.

Shrimp, octopus, white fish and sole.

Shrimp, octopus, white fish and sole.

As we sat listening to opera music I thought about how these fish were abducted and kept in pristine condition. The next fish dish was put in front of us. This one was a warm seafood salad that sat begging me to devour it. I, of course, obeyed. The baby octopus hit my senses then, shrimp, sweet and delicate. It was a great combination with a bit of olive oil and white beans in the center. The flavors were a oaky olive oil and a mushy earthy taste of the beans. These flavors mixed with the taste of octopus was wonderful.

Whole squids stuffed with zucchini, carrots and shrimp materialized out of thin air. I asked again what the dish was to be sure I had heard right. I had. Chewy sweet squids, zucchini and shrimp painted a beautiful picture of the sea and a raw zucchini right off the plant. Presented with style and artistic skill it was unique on its own level.

After 4-5 different fish dishes we thought we saw pasta dawning on us. We were wrong. A steaming fish stew swooped in on us and we all groaned. The thing about good food is enough is enough. It’s like when someone makes a joke and then tries to prolong that joke too long. Sadly, this Italian restaurant had not grasped that concept yet. We had eaten so many fish dishes it was hard to appreciate the delicious flavors in the stew such as the broth that held so much flavor I was afraid it would evaporate within the minute. The stew was made with squid and shrimp. The way the broth, the squid and the shrimp clicked together was memorable. The flavors ranged from fishy squid to sweet shrimp and peppery broth. Slurping the remains from my dish I hobbled to the bathroom thinking about how I was going to wriggle through the rest of this exceptional meal.

At Romano the service was impeccable. No matter how many times you get up or walk around they interpret getting up as an opportunity to place a new napkin on your seat. We tested this theory and proved it to be correct. We all got up, holding our dirty napkins; this seemed to get the message to our napkin-fairies. Clean napkins miraculously appeared.

Linguini with arselle clams is only found in Viareggio. The pasta was coated in a creamy sauce that was a little too heavy for such light clams. The tiny clams were salty and fishy, but had such a powerful taste that the pasta was only a helper to fill you up. I wondered how these clams were shucked and asked our waiter. I was informed that they were cooked first as regular clams then shucked extremely carefully, because these clams were a rare find and not yet in season. After eating local clams and other fishes I sat back and sighed with joy. I decided that letting our small warm hearted Chef choose our dishes wasn’t so bad except for the fact that we ate over 10 dishes and left feeling like Blow Fish in their puffed out form.

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~ by David Fishman on June 15, 2009.

One Response to “Romano”

  1. I know that is actually boring and you might be skipping for the next comment, but I just wanted to throw you a big many thanks – you cleared up some things for me!

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