I'd planned on a fancy Valentine's dinner. I packed a black dress and Cayden's heart locket. I assumed I'd be showered with a fresh face of make up. Hell, I even brought lipstick. I never wore lipstick.
Well, that's what I get for planning.
Our stomachs rumbled as we wandered back down the Spanish steps one at a time. Apparently pastries and gelato do not a full meal make. I fought off three more flower vendors and one man selling multi-colored laser pointers before we made it to the bottom.
The thought of taking the train all the way back to the Marconi stop and walking all the way to the hotel just to shower and get cute for a guy who was already head over heels in love with me started to sound like a stupid idea. My stomach agreed.
"Babe, do you want to eat around here?" he asked, reading my mind.
"Yes, I'm starving. Sorry I won't be cute for our Valentine's dinner," I said.
"You're always cute," he said. "Even when you're throwing up jalapenos."
He got me there. He'd already seen me at my worst, so I really had nothing to worry about.
Phil's girlfriend had told us about a cute little trattoria she used to frequent when she studied abroad in Rome.
"Osteria Margutta. Not too fancy. Great wine list. The waitresses are fabulous at recommending wines off their list, too. My favorite dish/appetizer: Tortelloni fatti a mano con tartufi misti (Hand made tortelloni with mixed truffles). Seriously. I have dreams about this plate. The owner's wife is from Brazil. She's one of the most understatedly beautiful women I've ever met. My niece used to play with her daughter all the time. (My brother also used to live in an apartment not too far away from Piazza del Popolo.)"
My mouth watered when I read it. It was as if the words peeled themselves off the page and curled themselves into thick, yellow, pinched tortelloni noodles filled with truffles and cheese and butter. I could taste them.
"We must find it," I'd told Cayden.
We'd already pinpointed it on the map and did a walk-by after we had gelato while the sun was still up.
The sign on the door said they didn't open until 7:30.
Other signs on the door boasted that the restaurant was voted "most romantic" by various Italian publications. Being that it was Valentines Day, one of the most romantic days of the year, and we were, in fact, in Rome, we knew we were shit out of luck. There was no possible way we were going to get a table.
Of course, we went back at 7:30 just to check.
"All full," a short woman said, shooing us out the door.
We stepped back out onto the cobblestone street and turned right. Cayden squeezed my hand and looked down at me.
"We'll come back," he said.
I smiled up at him. I didn't care if we didn't come back. We were in Rome. Surrounded by thousands of authentic Italian trattorias, ristorantes, and pizzaerias. There was no need to be picky.
Cayden led us down one street, around a corner, and down another. We passed couples holding hands, carrying flowers from the vendors they weren't able to dodge. Some were dressed up. Others weren't. Others, we couldn't tell because they were decked out in long coats and scarves and hats.
We stopped at every menu display we passed. Bruschetta, spaghetti, fettucini, lasagna, rigatoni, pizza, and a long list of items I couldn't pronounce but all sounded delicious at the same time. Menu after menu, the items were the same, with varying prices. Should we eat at this one or that one? Is that one empty because it's awful or because it's one of those yet-to-be-discovered hole-in-the-wall diamonds in the rough?
My heels throbbed and my stomach growled.
"How about this one?" Cayden asked, pointing to our right. The sign said "Re degli Amici." We browsed the display menu.
"Well, they have bruschetta, pasta, and wine. I'm sold," I said.
We grabbed a table outside under a heat lamp. I had a flashback to early in January when Cayden and I were eating near the fireplace at Fireside Pies and I was day dreaming about eating in a foreign country with him. Speaking of Fireside Pies, we were determined to find a restaurant with better bruschetta. Surely, we'd find one in Rome.
Our waiter came by and we ordered bruschetta and a bottle of red wine called Castello di Maggio. I ordered fettucini porcini mushrooms. Cayden ordered lasagne cardinale.
We clinked our wine glasses across the table.
"Happy Valentine's Day, baby," he said. A smile spread across his face.
I was suddenly near tears for the second time that day. I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was drinking wine at a little Italian restaurant in Rome with the most perfect person I'd ever met in my entire life. That we'd just watched the most beautiful sunset over the most beautiful city I'd ever seen. I blinked them away and smiled back at him, hoping my chin wasn't trembling.
"Happy Valentine's Day," I said. I took a sip and held the rich, tangy liquid in my mouth for a while before swallowing. Every one of my tastebuds soaked it up.
The bruschetta was good: crusty and crunchy with sweet tomato chunks and grated cheese. But it didn't measure up to Fireside Pies'. Something was missing.
After we'd washed down our bruschetta and two glasses of wine each, our waiter came back with our meals.
The noodles were thick and chewy and had a flavor that was separate from the sauce, separate from the mushrooms. Chewy sounds like a strange word to use to describe pasta, but it was a good chewy. Each bite required an extra 30 minutes in my mouth before I could swallow.
"It's like I can taste all the ingredients," I said.
"It's amazing," Cayden confirmed.
We took bites off each others plates and when we were too full to move or talk, we ordered dessert.
I'd planned on a fancy Valentines dinner, but instead I got a perfect one.