La Trattoria Italiana
Piata Lohavari 2
Tel: 0722 383 507
Zerillo's was our first real find. We sort of stumbled over it one day in June, only days after we've arrived in Bucharest. It's situated on Piata Lohavari which is near the end of Calea Dorobantilor. A nice 15 minute walk from our house.
Back in June, it was still hot and sticky and the nicest feature of the restaurant was the open terrace on the second floor. The entire floor is enclosed by glass doors which can be opened in warm weather. Oh, boy - it's heaven on a hot, humid day in Bucharest! On the first floor there is a nice fireplace for those winter days -- an all-season restaurant indeed.
In Your Pocket claims that Zerillo's has the town's largest antipasti selection. While I'm not so sure about that, I can vouch that they are excellent. We had very good crostini there in summer with oh-so-good tomatoes and just a week ago, an antipasti platter with a selection of their best and finest, all finger-licking yummy.
But wait before you fill yourself up on the appetizers and leave room for a main course! The portions are *big*, the salads are salads (if you know what I mean -- it's hard to find good salads in the Balkans) and I've yet to order something that I didn't sigh over with delight. The pasta is always al dente, a very important point in an Italian restaurant.
Finish with a panna cotta... finally a panna cotta that doesn't have the consistency of a brick. I heard the other desserts are also good but I always end up taking the panna cotta anyhow. It's just so good.
What's left? Oh, good wines, good service. The prices are high-ish for Romanian standards but the food is worth it.
Turkey, that's American. Cranberry sauce, that's very American -- I don't know anyone else who eats cranberry sauce. But Claudia made it as a sort of relish with currants, and our guests (Romanians and Germans) seemed to like it just fine.
The wine -- there was a lot of wine -- was mixed, Romanian reds and a sweet Serbian white and good old Montenegrin Vranac. When we lived in Belgrade we drank a lot of Vranac. It's not great wine, it's not even very good wine, but it's extremely okay wine, if you get what I mean. We drank all but our last bottle.
Then we had some Palinka. That's a Romanian plum brandy. Home-made, poured out of a soda bottle into little thick glasses. It doesn't go down easy, at least not for me. But once it hits your stomach it makes itself at home, if you know what I mean.
(Oh, and Miller Genuine Draft. This is a horrible American beer; one American guest brought a few bottles as a joke. But the Romanians drank it and claimed to like it. Afterwards Claudia said they were kidding. Maybe.)
Mashed potatoes, those aren't particularly American or anything else -- everyone eats mashed potatoes. But the next day, Claudia used the leftovers to make a sort of_kartoffelpuffen_, potato pancake thingies, very German. And very tasty.
And gravy, of course. Germans do gravy too, but the Romanians don't seem to much. ("It's like a sauce made from meat. And then you pour it over, um, more meat.") Same thing with stuffing; Germans do it, Romanians not. Which seems a little odd; if you have chickens, surely...? But it was good stuffing, bread-celery-apple-chestnut with sage. Everybody had seconds.
(Have we ever mentioned our spice rack here? No? Well, as a wedding present, our friend James gave us sixty jars of spices. Common ones like cinnamon and parsley, less common ones like sage and turmeric and mace, strange ones like asafoetida. The spice rack got a good workout yesterday.)
Corn. Sauteed mushrooms with onions. Salad. Rolls. Apple pie, chocolate cake.
Guests arrived at five, we started eating around 6:30, the last bit of wine was drunk around midnight.
I didn't marry her for her cooking, by the way. But I could have.
Just wanted to add -- for those who are still interested, our friend Dragan Antulov's Draxblog has some interesting analysis of the elections. Dragan lives in Split, Croatia, and he's a long-time observer of the political scene there.
Here's an excerpt:
"I'm not optimist. This all looks like wishful thinking. After September 11th 2001 USA and the rest of Western world forgot about Balkans. Their governments consider all of the regional problems solved – Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo elected "moderate, pro-Western and democratic" governments in 2000, refugees are returning, borders are being open, market reforms are improving living standards, media is free from hate-speech, war crimes suspects are being handed over to Hague tribunal or tried in domestic courts, former warriors are becoming champions of peaceful cooperation etc. Whenever something happens that doesn't fit this rosy picture, it is ignored and disregarded as something of little or no importance. When guerrilla war continues in Macedonia, it is regarded as "glorified border smuggling". When Serbian prime minister gets gunned down, it is the "desperate act of small band of die-hard ultra-nationalists". When nationalists win in Bosnia (parties that dominate Bosnian national assembly are same ones that led country into the war) they are "reformed".
"Why should victory of Ivo Sanader be treated any worse? Since his party replaced "pro-Western moderate democratic" forces on fair, free and democratic elections, it should too be regarded as "pro-Western and moderate", because everything else should indicate that West failed in Croatia between 2000 and 2003."
There's a lot more, and it's interesting stuff. Go see.
Sunday morning I took Alan to Kisheleff Park. We got there early, and nobody else was around yet. Except for the women with rakes, the men with shovels, and the bulldozer.
By pure coincidence, that was the morning the Parks Department chose for picking up the leaves. Which is done by means of a lot of people with rakes (all female), a smaller group of people with shovels (all male), a big truck, and a bulldozer.
So there was this bulldozer with a scoop attachment, vrooooming around the playground, swerving to avoid the swings and the seesaws, grunting to a halt by the slide. While the men with shovels scooped up the piles of leaves that the women with rakes had raked together, and dumped them into the bulldozer's scoop, so that it could dump them into the truck.
Alan went into a sort of trance state.
I mean, a bulldozer and a big truck, right there on the playground. It just doesn't get better than that.
This blog is mostly about our lives here in Romania, so I don't post much about political stuff. But the elections in Croatia affect some friends of ours, and they're at least indirectly relevant to what goes on here in Romania. So I think a brief comment is in order.
Croatia just held Parliamentary elections, and the big winner was the Croatian Democratic Union ("HDZ"). HDZ is the party that ran Croatia during the 1990s, and it was closely associated with a variety of bad things -- massive corruption, paranoid xenophobic nationalism, the ethnic cleansing of Croatia's Serbs. HDZ was kicked out of office in 2000, and nobody expected it to come back. But it has.
On the positive, or anyway less negative, side, HDZ has been acting like a good boy for the last couple of years. Most of the egregiously corrupt leaders of the 1990s left the party after 2000 (often because it could no longer protect and enrich them). And the new HDZ leader, a Mr. Sanader -- who will probably be Croatia's next Prime Minister -- has said that HDZ has dissociated itself from "any radicalism, extremism, or xenophobia". Mr. Sanader claims that HDZ is now modelled on German and Austrian moderate-conservative parties like the Christian Democrats.
Should we be worried? Well, my impression is that this was in large part a protest vote. Most Croatian voters were sick of the feeble coalition that was elected in 2000; its half-hearted attempts at reform seem to have alienated both conservatives and progressives, without actually accomplishing much on the ground. So I don't think this shows a sudden lurch back towards paranoid nationalism. And nationalist parties aren't bad per se; a bunch of them got elected in Bosnia last year, and it seems to have had surprisingly little effect on the ground.
On the other hand, it's hard to view it as good news for the region. Just the name "HDZ", for most Serbs (and a few Croatians) is as negative as "Nazi". And while the new HDZ has said that it will respect the rights of minorities, and welcomes the return of Serb refugees, it also says that it won't extradite any Croatians to the Hague. Since Croatian courts have not done a great job of convicting Croats accused of ethnic atrocities and war crimes, this is not language calculated to make minorities comfortable,
(If you're really interested in this topic, BTW, you can find a couple of good articles at Transitions Online, which is a consistent source of good information and analysis on the region. Read 'em now, because they'll be restricted to subscribers only after a week.)
The next elections in the region are in Serbia, by the way -- December 28. Nationalists are expected to win big there too. Watch this space.
Our preparations for Turkey Day are well under way. We'll have a minimum of eight guests, maybe as many as 11. That means a big turkey. I discussed that with my friend Natalie from DC on the phone yesterday. I told her that I wasn't able to find a turkey that was more than 4 kilos (about 9 pounds). She marveled that turkeys even came that small.
I have this silly little joke about the States that I use on Doug all the time. Since everything in the States is bigger, faster, louder than anywhere else, I call the US "The Land of Er".
It's a problem that turkeys are smaller here in Europe. So we are going to have two. That's the European solution, I guess.
... things would be different.
Well, yes. That's because I'm not a zoo person. Most of the times, I just feel very sorry for the animals and that's a gut feeling I can't control. Don't give me the arguments about the conservation of species -- if I see a tiger in a cage, I feel bad for him.
Let's begin at the beginning, though. It was Saturday morning, a glorious sunny day, we had two restless kids on our hands and decided it was the perfect occasion to visit the zoo.
We were prepared for the worst and were pleasantly surprised. The Bucharest Zoo is tucked away in a green, foresty area at the northern end of Bucharest (Baneasa). It's very pleasant out there and has a distinct country feel to it. That is, if you don't venture into the huge construction site that is the residential area of Baneasa and Pipera -- but that's besides the point here.
We arrived early, at about 10 o'clock. The zoo had opened its doors only an hour earlier and there weren't that many cars around. We couldn't spot a parking area, so we just parked our car alongside the road - which turned out to be the parking area because we were charged 30,000 Lei (about 80 European cents) for two hours parking by an authentic looking guy with authentic looking parking stubs.
Another 30,000 Lei brought us into the zoo. Compared to Belgrade, this zoo is, well, rather nice. Much less concrete than the Belgrade zoo, much more metal -- see picture.
(Again, these are thumbnails. Click on the picture to view a larger version.)
If Romania is not getting ready for an imminent war, or preparing for Bush or the Pope to visit, then my next guess is that they are practising for a huge military display on December 1, Romania's national day.
For two days now, soldiers grace the streets everywhere, fighter planes and choppers thunder over our house frequently and I've never seen so much police since we arrived.
Our maid and nanny don't know what this is about. Does anyone else?
Romanians are really nice people -- the ones I met and talked to, anyhow -- and they have the saddest stories to tell. One of those stories I just heard this morning, from the nurse at our family doctor's office (yes, we have one now).
She's a charming woman, looks a bit like a pixie with blonde hair and a sparkle in her eyes. Her English is excellent and fluent. So I asked her how she came to speak so well.
Well. She had a scholarship for a nursing school in Dallas, TX, and got her degree there. She was full of high hopes and daring dreams when she came back to Romania with her newly minted degree as a scrub nurse.
The first setback came when she had to realize that the Romanian Medical Board doesn't recognize the professional title of a "scrub nurse". Her diploma was not accepted.
I visited the Romanian Senate last week. I was there to testify before the Senate Committee on the Budget, which was reviewing the new draft Fiscal Code. (Did anyone actually want to know that? I don't talk about my job much here, in part because I doubt too many of you are interested. Anyhow.)
The Senate is the upper chamber of the Romanian Parliament, and it's not supposed to be where it is. I mean, it's supposed to be in the House of Parliament -- that's the huge building that used to be Ceaucescu's Palace of the People. After Ceausescu fell, the Romanians couldn't think of a better use for it, so they decided to move their Parliament into it. And the Chamber of Deputies -- that's the lower chamber of Parliament, equivalent to our House of Representatives -- moved there in 1996.
But the Senate hasn't. They don't want to. They want to stay where they are.
Where they are is a different big building altogether. It's the former headquarters of Romania's Communist Party, downtown on Piatsa Universitii.
Now, it's easy to lump all large public buildings from the Communist period together (big, ugly, inefficient), but in fact they are not all alike. And while the former CP headquarters is not an attractive building, I can see why the Senators prefer it.
There's a construction site right down the street from us. They just finished knocking down the buildings that used to stand there, and now they're digging a big hole in the ground. Bulldozers, backhoes, trucks filled with dirt.
It's very similar to a construction site in America, except for this: it's wide open. There's no fence, no gate, nothing. You can walk in off the street and wander around, and as long as you don't get in anybody's way, nobody seems to care.
Do I have to tell you how much Alan loves this construction site? I go in there with him on my shoulders, and we watch bulldozers pushing dirt around, and backhoes dumping gravel, and big trucks gunning their engines (Vroom! VROOOM!!) and he is absolutely transfixed. Clings to my hair with one hand, bounces up and down on my shoulders, points with the other: "Vroom vroom! Vroom vroom!!"
Yes, I'm very careful. And yes, I like it too.
Since he was eating solids, Alan hated kiwis. We don't really know why -- and who knows anything when it comes to a toddler's food preferences, anyway? He hated them, didn't want anything to do with them, so we dropped them from his menu. Once in a while, I would buy some and try again, to no avail. Whatever he didn't like about them was hard-wired.
Or so it seemed.
We had another trial yesterday, and lo and behold!, he loved them. Absolutely loved them. Doug instantly evolved a new game which involves a lot of yelling "Chiiiiiineeeeeeessssssse Gooooooooooseberry!". Talk about encouraging a toddler to speak and giving him easy words to pronounce.
(If you don't know what the Chinese gooseberry has to do with kiwis, click here or here.)
If you have a toddler somewhere in your life, you'll understand how enthusiastic we are that he finally succumbed to these little vitamin bombs. His eating habits are erratic at best. His dinner tonight: 0 quesadilla (rejected, firmly), 5 spoons of pasta with veggies, 2 kiwis, 18 olives, 3 cherry tomatoes.
It's a diet of sorts, I guess.
So our lives are getting busier. Alan is having a playgroup date every week now, although his brother had to stand in for him on the first date because Alan still has this green stuff coming out of his nose and I didn't want to introduce myself with a highly contagious mite. Playgroup is on Wednesdays and/or Fridays at the American School in Piperi.
(And that is worth a post in its own right! It's a BIG school and truly a bit of the US brought to Romania. The art work, the design of the school, it all rings true of just another suburban school in, let's say, DC. Speaking of art work -- I really liked the one where the children had drawn monsters and described them with the help of an itemized list: "My name is ...", "I'm a ... monster", "I like to eat...", etc. One monsters description was "My name is Dad. I'm a scary monster. I like to eat pencils." Well.)
I found a gym of sorts nearby Piata Victoriei where I'm going to join Yoga classes and possibly, if I can physically endure it, Tae-Bo classes as well. It's been four months since David's birth and I better start getting (back) into shape again! :-)
We've made some friends and our social life is actually happening, sometimes. That all makes us feel more settled and at home and that is not a bad feeling at all. Oh, and we've started the Christmas decorations. I know, it's early. But Alan simply loves it and how could you resist that?
The worst thing the 20th century has done to parents and kids alike is jet lag. The worst thing you can do to your kids (and yourself) as parents in the 21st century is traveling over several time zones twice in eight days.
In VA, we had kids who woke up around 2:30, then 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, and finally a good 7:30. Needless to say, the 7:30 was on Saturday, a week and a day after our arrival and the day of our return.
Now we have kids who don't have any rhythm at all anymore.
David was up until midnight yesterday. He went to bed at his more usual 8 pm today but woke up twice, screeching. Alan is still awake, after a brief nap from 7:30 to 8:30 pm. It's now 11:00 pm. He's up since 8:30 am and had only a one-hour nap today. He should be tired. He is tired. But he's standing in his crib, and says "Mama, Mama, Mama" like a mantra. It's nerve-tearing. I am dead tired and want to go to bed. But we already had a meltdown toddler episode today so I'm not ready for a second one by just leaving him alone and shutting the door to his room.
Not quite ready. It may come to that, soon.
The next trip to the States -- maybe without the kids? Or in a decade or so? Or both? And what was I thinking that we could go to Bali for a vacation next year?
In Germany, we don't celebrate Armistice or Veteran's Day. November 11 has two quite different meanings there: First, it's the beginning of the carnival season (at precisely 11:11 am) and second, it's St. Martin's Day. (For those who are not familiar with the entire palette of saints, here is a short description of the saint and the traditions surrounding the day.)
Well, it turned out that the German embassy here organizes a St. Martin's Day parade. Via a friend of a friend of the woman who did the organizing (Judith Urban from the Embassy and she did a great job!), I heard of it and volunteered. Hey, it was to be Alan's first St. Martin's parade! I was thrilled!
So we're back.
We flew Air France, and they were pretty good. Their baggage people tore a wheel off of our stroller, and we had to buy a new one, and then the new stroller got lost on the way back, but that's pretty much normal. The flight attendants were friendly and helpful, and that's what really counts. When you travel with a toddler and a baby, you need all the help you can get, and even little things like a smile can make you feel a lot better. We would fly Air France again...
...except, if we do that, we may end up in Charles De Gaulle airport again. And that would be bad. CDG is probably the nastiest large airport I've ever visited, and that is saying something.
It's incredibly user-hostile. To start with, there are five or six separate terminals, and going from one to another involves a long bus ride -- twenty minutes to half an hour in a bus, with luggage, baby and toddler.
Then when you get off the bus, you have to go up an escalator. But you can't use one of the baggage carts, because the escalator has been carefully designed to be half an inch narrower than the baggage cart. You can't take the elevator, because there isn't one. So you load luggage, baby and toddler onto the very narrow escalator...
...and the toddler needs a diaper change, badly. Very badly. Like, overflowing badly.
So you go to the ladies' room. Unfortunately, it has no facilities for changing diapers. (Note that this is not extremely advanced technology. We're talking about a flat surface, waist high; a trash can nearby is nice but optional.) There is literally no place in this airport, not one place, to change a diaper. (Presumably the architects were monks.) So the toddler goes flat on his back on the floor by the escalator.
Well, maybe things are better at the gate? No, they're not. You have to go through security to reach the gate area, and once you're there, you find... the gate, and some couches to sit on. There is no toilet at the gate -- if you need