Cafe Life

  1. I wrote this in January of 2020 before we knew what the year would bring. The visual memories the photos bring feel distant to me. I have to add the colors myself. Like all memories I add color at will.
  2. What I missed most about dining out was the ambiance. The food has to be good, but the people around you create the experience. Donna and I can cook. No one is likely to break into song though. In these memories song, and the addition of color, are always possibilities. 

Campo de’ Fiori, Rome

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Tucked into back alleys and narrow streets you’ll find the places making the food Rome is famous for. Around major tourist sites and plazas you will find high prices, indifferent service, and food that’s seen the inside of a microwave. Some cooks never had an Italian Grandmother to show them how it’s really done.

It is possible to find delicious overpriced surprises, but that’s not why you are seated at a table in one of these establishments. You are there to watch people. You are there for the ambiance, and the experience.

Street musicians play and the woman at the table in front of you starts rubbing her partner’s balding head. The hip oldsters have a front row seat. They were there when you got there. They’ll be there long after you leave. The young girl is having lunch with her grandfather. As he listens to the music he moves his hands like a conductor.  He’s correcting the beat the musicians are hanging on to. “Crisper! More fluid!! Like this!!! 

Gandia, Spain

In Gandia there are two similarly named restaurants within blocks of each other. One is the time tested Casa Sanchis La Tulipa. The other is Restaurante Sancho’s. The first time we wandered into Sancho’s there was no signage, and no printed menu. The passion in the kitchen was evident from the moment we peeked inside. Energy flowed and the dining room hummed. Every time we’ve returned the crowd is bigger. The buzz has been sustained. Couples, work colleagues, and families are all gathered to experience a meal that verges on an event.

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On a return trip we found Sancho’s closed for the day. A short walk away we found a crowded Casa Sanchis La Tulipa winding down its lunch service. We were seated at an outdoor table in the sun. Out came platters filled with traditional versions of traditional dishes.

Out back was where restaurant workers from Casa Sanchis La Tulipa and adjacent restaurants took breathers. I was reminded that serving a crowd is intense work. It’s rewarding, but intense nonetheless. 

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Mercat de Santa Caterina, Barcelona, Spain

If you ask me where I want to eat tomorrow, my answer will be Barestaurant L’Univers in Barcelona’s Santa Caterina Market. Give me a stool where I can watch cooks turn market fresh products into my lunch. I’ll be happy!

The Santa Caterina Market is in the Born District. It’s not the easily found and famous St. Josef Market off the Rambla, but it’s my favorite. If Donna and I are in Barcelona, we head to Santa Caterina Market and eat at Barestaurant L’Univers.

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L’Univers is where my attempts to capture the essence of a restaurant began. Pictures of food don’t really capture a place’s “vibe”. Black and white photos of diners seem to capture something closer to that. At L’Univers there is a lot to capture.

Ask me where I want to have lunch tomorrow. The answer is always the same. “L’Univers!”

Sometimes curiosity kicks in though. A few steps away from L’Univers is the restaurant La Torno. It’s the same basic bar stools and open kitchen affair. La Torno has a small table, and there’s a bakery connected to the restaurant. The action is still in the kitchen, and at the stools. If you ask me to choose between these two neighbors, I’ll say, “Go to the place where Grandma is cooking!”

This is where we left off in 2020. The return trip has been sweeter for the waiting! Live Well!

UPDATE: Campó de Fiori, Rome, Italy, Many restaurants around the square are currently open.

Restaurante Sancho’s, gastroranking 9/10, Calle Rausell, 17, Plaza del Prado, Gandía, Spain. (Open)

Casa Sanchis La Tulipa, #67 of 348 restaurants in Gandía, TripAdvisor 4/5, Carrer del Forno, 9, Gandia, (Open)

Barestaurant L’Univers, Mercat de Santa Caterina, TripAdvisor 4/5, (Open)

La Torna, Mercat de Santa Caterina, four square rating 7.8/19 (Open)

Note: Covid19 has been tough on the restaurant business. Support your local restaurants! Tip the staff generously!

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