The Federal may now have a rival for first place in our culinary hearts. We met our new love at the end of a couple of hours spent looking at houses yesterday. (We continue to labor under the delusion that we can afford to keep our still-unsold house in Atlanta and buy one here too.) Too tired to cook, we stumbled into Rockwood Filling Station (2512 University Drive), Durham’s new “Neapolitan Pizzeria.”
We were seated outside in the warm night under the full moon. I was happy despite being a sartorial wreck, clad in not terribly clean flip flops, jeans, and a tank top, with my wispy, flyaway hair pulled back in a ponytail. The only consolation was that the jeans were my skinny ones, which are comfortable now for the first time in 8 months.
The menu was promising–an array of pizzas much like those you see in Italy, which you would certainly hope for and expect in a place that bills itself as authentically Italian. And then our waiter came to tell us about the specials.
“First off, we have arancini, which are fried risotto balls . . . .”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “Arancini?” I said. “That’s kind of unusual. Isn’t that a Sicilian dish?”
My waiter seemed pleased and no doubt surprised at this remark from the poorly dressed woman with the bad hair. He smiled. “You win the prize! You’re the first person tonight who knew that.”
I went on, ever the good student eager to show the teacher that I knew the answer but pretending I was talking to Fred. “Yes, ‘arancini’ is Italian for ‘oranges.’ They’re called that because the fried risotto gives them a dimpled appearance like the outside of an orange.”
“That’s right,” the waiter said.
I waited expectantly for the “prize.” A free martini would be ideal, but a gold star would do. None being offered, I made do with the arancini themselves.
They were prize enough. I’ve been eager to sample this dish since my friend Rocco, my expert on all things Italian, told me about them on a trip to Rome a few years back. But I never saw them on the menu then or in a subsequent trip back to Italy, and never in the U.S.
This being my first time with arancini, I can’t say how they would compare to what you’d get in Palermo. But these were wonderful–crispy and tender all at once, like a perfect hush puppy, if hush puppies were lumpy and made with cheese. These had mozzarella and a few other things that neither Fred nor I can remember; we ate them too fast. They were served with a spicy marinara sauce, which nicely offset their creaminess.
My entree was the pizza special–arugula, truffle oil and Parmesan, done perfectly. There was so much arugula it kept falling off and just enough truffle oil to offer its indescribably rich and heady undertone without overwhelming everything else. We also threw caution and weight watching to the winds and ordered fried calamari, which included some whole ones with their tender little tentacles as well as the typical rings. The breading was delicate and crisp, flavorful without being spicy. Poor Fred, who ordered it despite my harrumphing about how fattening it would be, ended up getting very little.
We were also pleased by the mid-range prices. Our meal, including one glass of wine and one beer, was $44 with tip. Of course, if we do end up buying one of these houses, we’ll never be able to eat out again.
P.S. I’m a bit late on the Rockwood review bandwagon. Carpe Durham and Delicious Durham have already posted entries that have generated a lot of comments. But whatever kinks were there in the first few weeks, I think they’ve started to work themselves out.
Try the chicken liver pizza, Jami.
Pop’s occasionally used to have arancini, as did Starlu when they were open. But I haven’t seen arancini anywhere I’ve been lately.>>Rockwood seems to have a better handle nowadays on their oven: The floor was getting a little too hot before, according to one of the chefs there.
A belated thanks for your comment, Joe. I’ve obviously not been visiting the right restaurants!