I spent this past Easter week in Rome with my husband and two friends. Before we left I did an huge amount of research here and on a couple of other message boards as I can be a bit OCD when it comes to all things food and travel.
I really want to thank everyone for all the sharing of information and advice. I can say we did not have one bad meal. There were couple which were maybe not "great value", but no where was the food bad.
We spent 8 nights in Rome and rented an apartment so most breakfasts we ate “at home” and a few lunches as well.
Below are all the places we went. I have a website where I put all my travelogues, so if you’d like to see pictures of the food and even more specific details, go to http://www.wired2theworld.com and look at “Rome 03/08”. Yes, I’m one of those people who take pictures in restaurants.
Lunch was from a local grocery store; four different kinds of cured meats, 4 different cheeses, mixed olives, marinated sardines and bread. With a bottle of Chianti, it's a fantastic first meal. After lunch we walk around, check out the Piazza Navona, Pantheon, various churches and Trevi Fountain.
Gelato: We find Frigidarium on the first day and fall in love with the warm and friendly owner and his gelato made right there on the premises. We went almost every day after that. I’m not even sorry to admit we didn’t try anywhere else-it was that good.
Frigidarium, Via del Governo Vecchio, 112, www.frigidarium-gelateria.com
Dinner: Trattoria Da Luigi
This place is in the Piazza Sforza Cesarini where our apartment was located. We're all a bit out of it from the jet lag so figure it's best to stick close to home. For antipasti, we have zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies. They are dipped a batter similar to tempura and then deep fried. They're wonderful, and in my opinion the best of the trip. We also have an order of Abacchio a Scottadito (lamb chops), orecchette with broccoli and pancetta, penne with tomato/vodka sauce, 2 orders of eggplant parmesan and a side of spinach with lots of garlic. Everything is absolutely fine and tasty and with 2 beers and a bottle of house white wine, dinner for four is 80 euro http://www.trattoriadaluigi.com/gally.html
Visit to Campo di Fiori Market in the morning. The market in the campo is in full swing by the time we arrive. It's definitely geared toward tourists, but there's still some beautiful produce, a couple of vendors who sell spices (individual and mixed blends) in plastic bags, and even a few vendors selling kitchen small wares. We also checked out the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary and go on the “Scavi” tour underneath St. Peter’s in the afternoon.
Dinner at Armando al Pantheon
This restaurant is the only one for which I made reservations in advance (via email through their web site). I'm glad I did because they only have 12 tables and all are full when we arrive. For our Antipasti we order 2 artichokes alla Romana, bruschetta a la pomodoro, and scamorza (grilled, melted cheese). The artichokes are fantastic and how is it that something as simple as melted cheese can be so good?
For Primi we order two pastas to share; spaghetti alla verde (with arugula and cheese) and carbonara. Both are great but the "alla verde" gets rave reviews by all at the table. The Secondi are (veal) Scalopini alla Marsala, Abbaccio a Scottadito (lamb chops), and Guniea Hen with olives and mushrooms. The lamb chops are the best of the three. I ask about the Oxtail which is on the menu, but we're told it's only available on Thursdays and if we want to come back, we can "reserve" an order. We make a reservation for Thursday night then and there and reserve two orders of Coda alla Vaccinara.
Even though we are planning a return visit to Frigidarium, we order the semifreddo and the homemade "roman cake", a ricotta cake with strawberries. Both are very good. We still have gelato afterward.
My husband wants an Amaro and we order the waiter's recommendation called "Lucano". We end up with 5 glasses and my friend T is hooked. For those not familiar with Amaro, it is a typical after dinner drink made of herbs and used as a digestive. This starts a trend which will have us drinking Amari after every meal. Dinner for 4 with all of the above plus 2 moderate bottles of wine, a bottle of water, bread and coffee was 151.50 euro. Armando al Pantheon is open daily for Lunch and Dinner, closed Saturday night and all day Sunday. Located at Salita de Crescenzi, 31. http://www.armandoalpantheon.it/
Vatican Museum tour in the morning.
Lunch at “Dal Toscano al Girarrosto", near the Vatican Museum
The place is known for it's big hunks of roasted meats, and while we see plenty on other diner's plates, we order lighter fare. When we arrive, the place is about half empty, but quickly fills with a mix of mostly locals (businessmen, groups of friends, and even a few priests) and a small percentage of tourists. We order a bowl of Pasta e Fagioli (excellent) and a Carciofo alla Romana. We also get Picatta di Vitello al Limone (Veal Picatta) and a pasta, Mezzemaniche alla Melanzane e Ricotta. The pasta is very al dente and also includes olives and a tomato sauce. It's very good, but I wish for more eggplant. Lunch for two with a bottle of beer, a bottle of water and the bread/cover and additional "service" was 46 euro. http://www.ristorantedaltoscano.it/
Dinner at Ristorante Pancrazio
Tonight's dinner is at Ristorante Pancrazio where we'd visited the day before to look at the ruins of the Theater of Pompey in their basement. We ate here because my friend J was so taken by the ruins of the ancient theater that she really wanted to eat there. No matter that the reviews I’d read had been less than stellar. When we arrive, the restaurant is practically empty and we are seated on the main floor near a cool caged in "cave" with dusty old bottles of wine. Apparently, they only seat guests in the downstairs area when very busy (something they'd told me when I made the reservation).
For antipasti, we order an Octopus Salad with Pesto and Potatoes, Steamed Clams, and Stewed Fava Beans with Peas and Artichokes. I very much like the octopus as it's perfectly cooked, and both the clams and the fava beans are quite tasty.
For our primi, we order two pastas; Amatriciana Buccatini and Ravioli with artichokes. The waiter brings the pastas to the table and splits each onto 4 plates for us. Both pastas are fine, but the process of splitting them allows them to get cool by the time they reach the table.
For our main courses we have an order of Ossobucco, beef Tournedos w/Madiera and Fois Gras, and and some sort of Veal dish with melted cheese. We also get an order of mixed vegetables which comes to the table fried (suggestion of the waiter). Even though we all know he said "fried" we all envisioned something different. The ossobucco is good, the foie gras on the beef is a tiny quarter sized nugget and the veal is unmemorable. The fried vegetables are good, but we all wanted something a little more "healthy" so they go unfinished. We did not have dessert (way too much food!) but did have a few glasses of Amaro. Dinner for four including 2 cocktails, a beer and a bottle of Sicilian Nero d’Avola was 181.50 euros.
Day 4:Day trip to Orvieto
We make many Autogrill stops (we were driving) for snacks and bathrooms.
An aside: I love Italian AutoGrills. What is an Autogrill? Think big truck stop, but instead of fast food, you've got at least a bar where you can order good coffee and grilled sandwiches (Panini). Some are even bigger with full scale cafeterias inside with decent affordable food. The mini-markets in them have a better cheese and meat selection than your local Whole Foods (only a slight exaggeration). The restrooms are clean and some have showers. I believe if we had these on our highways in the US, we'd have less road rage.
Lunch at Trattoria Dell Orso in Orvieto
We are determined to make this a lighter lunch than normal. We order faro with vegetables (a type of thick barley soup), 2 orders of fresh fettuccine with mushrooms and truffles and 1 order of Beef Filet with a balsamic sauce. We get a half carafe of house red and a half carafe of house white and a bottle of water. The faro is very good, but the pasta is spectacular. It's so good my husband and J order a third plate of it to share. After lunch we order a couple coffees, a lemoncello and an Amaro Montenegro. Both the drinks end up "on the house". We spend a good deal of time talking to Ciro who runs the front of house and his partner Gabriele who is the chef. Both are incredibly friendly and gracious. Lunch for four was 80 euro. Antica Trattoria dell Orso-Via della Misericordia 18-20, Tel: 07 63 341642, closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Dinner at Enoteca il Goccetto
Enoteca il Goccetto is a tiny place with a nice wine by the glass list on a chalkboard behind the counter. I think we had almost everything on it. They also have some light snacks; meats, cheeses, marinated vegetables, etc. There are maybe 10 small tables and the walls are lined floor to ceiling with bottles of wine.
We each start with a different glass of wine (for specific details, see my website).
When we say we want to get some food to go with the guy behind the counter suggests he make us up a meat and cheese platter. What we get is a big wooden platter covered in prosciutto, salami, mortadella, spicy salami, gorgonzola, brie, truffled goat cheese and peccorino. We also order some peppers stuffed with anchovies and some marinated vegetables. All together, wine (8 glasses) and food for 4 was 81.50 euro. Enoteca il Goccetto (Via dei Bianchi Vecchi, 14, Tel:06 6864268
Borghese Gallery in the morning. After there we walk to the Spanish Steps where it begins to hail!
Lunch at Enoteca Buccone
Enoteca Buccone is another small wine bar, about 3 blocks from the Piazza del Popolo. The entire place is lined floor to ceiling with shelves of wine, olive oil and vinegars. There is a tiny room in the back with a few tables and a smaller area in the front room with only four tables, where we sit, surrounded by the wine.
We each order a glass of wine, and breaking our rule of "everyone must order something different", we order two tortellini and two “Buccone” salads (mixed lettuce with prosciutto, buffalo mozz, olives, tomatoes, etc). The salad is just perfect after days of eating heavier foods. We also get a slice of egg "torta" with artichokes and a plate of mixed grilled vegetables which are lovely. After lunch, we ask for some Amaro Lucano and the waiter asks us if he can recommend another. It is Amaro “Nonino” and we like it so much each couple buys a bottle to take back to the US. The wine, food, 3 coffee, 2 glasses of amaro and a lemoncello are 88 euro for four. The bottles of Amaro Nonino are 16 euro each. Enoteca Buccone, Via di Ripetta, 19-20, Tel: 06 3612154, Lunch every day except Sunday. http://www.enotecabuccone.com/Sito_Buccone_eng/homeeng.htm
Dinner #2 at Armando al Pantheon
We have reservations at Armando al Pantheon so we can try the oxtail which is only made on Thursdays. My friend wants to try an antipasti made with Smoked Herring, red beans, olives, red onion and a balsamic vinaigrette. It sounds odd but was really, really good and the fish was not as strong as herring sometimes can be. We also have an order of Stracciatelle (egg drop soup) which has great flavor. We have another order of the excellent spagatini alla verde and an order of gnocci alla gorgonzola (which was a little heavy).
For our main courses we get two orders of Oxtail; it's tender, meaty, and so delicious, very much like Osso Bucco. We also get duck with prunes, grilled beef strips with arugula on top, two orders of artichokes alla romana (excellent!) and I finally get to try “puntarelle” (a vegetable I’d been seeing in the markets), which comes like a salad with an anchovy dressing. It's slightly bitter and with the fishy/salty dressing, I love it. Dinner for 4 is 146.50 euros including coffee, amaro and a bottle and a half of wine.
Day trip to Ostia Antica
We start by going to Testacchio Market and the famous salumeria Volpetti.
I have to say, I love markets. I love the beautiful array of produce, the gleaming fish, the wet floors, the smell of meat and flowers. This is a real local’s market where people come to do their daily shopping. It's not really for tourists except for food geeks (like me). We see no other non-locals but a small film crew shooting what looks to be a food TV show. The market is located in the Piazza Testaccio. We wander about for ½ an hour looking at produce and fish, cheese and salami, and stop in a small stall selling magnets, buttons and comic books. Friends buy things, I am content with taking pictures.
From the market we walk over to Volpetti (Via Marmorata 47, Open mon-Sat, closed Sundays). This is a very small place packed with more delicacies than it's possible to take in at one time. I am overwhelmed with choice. There's no shortage of offers to taste just about anything. They have a case with only goat cheese in it. One of the guys behind the counter offers to make us sandwiches which is exactly what we wanted for our trip out to Ostia Antica. At first he offers sandwiches of buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto on piazza bianca. This sounds great, but I ask if we can have each sandwich with a different meat and he agrees. We end up with the prosciutto and mozzarella, one bresaola, one mortadella, and one with spicy salami. He cuts them into four pieces and and places it on a big paper platter wrapping it all up for us. We also get some marinated eggplant and marinated sardines. Our lunch to go is 17 euros. http://www.volpetti.com/
Ostia Antica is an amazing site and we’d planned to picnic outside. When we arrived the weather turned bitter cold and very windy. About half way through the site we reach the cafeteria and see if we can eat inside out of the cold. It’s crowded but we find a table and it’s nice and warm inside. We purchase enough water, soda, coffee, wine and dessert to justify taking the table for our picnic. Our Volpetti lunch is wonderful .The cafeteria food looks pretty good too however so eating there is also an option.
Dinner at Pizzeria Baffetto
Around early dinner time some of us are hungry but we're not all in the mood for the huge feasts we've been having. Five days of nonstop eating and drinking are beginning to take their toll. So, since we are right there, it's starting to rain, and there's not much of a line, we choose to have dinner at the famous Pizzeria Baffetto. Every time we'd been by there in evenings past, there's always been a huge line. But I was skeptical, because I'd read mixed reviews.
We get lucky, and are ushered in very quickly to a table for four right next to the action, where the pizzas are being made. We sat for 45 minutes before our pizzas came and we must have watched them make 40-50 pizzas within that time.It was really fun to watch the guys making the pizza. One would roll out the dough (no flipping and spinning in the air here) and the other would put on the toppings and put them in the oven. These guys were serious and would do 5 or 6 at a time.
As I said, we weren't that hungry, so we ordered 2 pizzas, one regular, one large, and a small vegetable salad. We also ordered 3 beers and a bottle of water. The waiter seemed visibly disappointed with our "meager" order. For the pizzas, we ordered the "Baffetto" with everything (tomato, mozzarella, mushrooms, sausage, green peppers, onions, artichokes and an egg in the middle) and the "Vegitariana" with eggplant and zucchini flowers. While waiting, we spot the man himself, Sr. Baffetto. He's an elderly man with large glasses, working the room, talking to everyone, helping seat the tables. We know it's him from the charcoal portrait of him on the wall.
The pizzas arrive and are good, with an exceptionally thin crust. My personal preference is for a thicker crust pizza, but these were just fine. We had a couple more beers and two orders of "tiramisu" which came in small glass bowls. It's not very good. My recommendation would be to skip the dessert here and go across the street to Frigidarium for Gelato.
When the server dropped the check, he made sure to tell us no fewer than three times, in as many languages, that "service is not included". As we go to leave, Sr Baffetto is there and has to give each of us girls a big hug and a kiss. I swear if I hadn't turned my head, the man would have kissed me on the lips! In all, the pizza is decent and it was a fun experience sitting where we did watching it made. If we'd had to sit in another room, I don't know how I'd feel. I don't think it's worth a trip across town, but not a bad choice if you're in the area. Dinner for 4 was 46 euro (plus tip). Via del Governo Vecchio, 114.
Private tour of the Colosseum and Forum in the morning during a downpour. Even our guide tells us pickings are slim for places to eat lunch near there and she recommends we go back closer to where we are staying.
Lunch at Boccon Divino
We decide to go to a little trattoria around the corner from the apartment. We'd passed by it yesterday, on a little street between our piazza and the grocery store called Via del Pavone. The street is so small, it's not even on my most detailed map. We'd seen a sign saying "Osteria Romana" and it seemed a little touristy, but it looked ok once we'd walked down to check it out. We get there around 1PM and it's empty save for one other large family. The proprietress gives us the menus and they are handwritten, in Italian only. Maybe not so touristy after all, I think.
We get an order of insalata de calamari which turns out to be a simple calamari salad with arugula, our favorite green of the trip. The calamari is perfectly cooked. The owner also brings us a bread basket and an odd amuse bouche of little plates with peas, beans and some sort of unidentifiable root puree. We each order a pasta; ravioli with ricotta and spinach (2), Tonnarelli with shrimp in a saffron sauce, and Trofe e cicoria e guanciale (chicory and bacon) for me. My pasta is so good I really do not want to share. We have a 1/2 liter of red and 1/2 liter of white wine and a bottle of water. Lunch for four is 46.5 euros. Boccon Divino, Via del Pavone 28-30, Tel:0668135051
Dinner at Osteria ar Galletto
Tonight's dinner is at Osteria ar Galletto on the Piazza Farnese, directly across from the French Embassy. We are eating here for sentimental reasons; we came here on our honeymoon almost 13 years ago and my husband wants to eat here again.
We are seated in the second, smaller dining room. For antipasti, we get an Antipasto Romanesco (a plate of mixed, marinated vegetables) and four Fiore Fritto (fried, stuffed zucchini flowers). The vegetables are tasty, and they bring a plate of cured black olives along with them. The zucchini flowers are not as good as the ones we had on the first night; these are much heavier. We order two pastas to share, Fettuccine con Fungi Porcini and Rigatoni con Pajata. When I order the dish, the waiter looks at me like "really?" and in Italian, asks if I am sure while touching his stomach. I say yes. He seems surprised.
A note about "pajata": Rome is known for it's "fifth quarter" food, whatever was left after the butchers took the prime cuts to sell, the poor would cook up. Of course, some of the best dishes evolved this way, oxtail, osso bucco, sweetbreads, tripe, etc. I'd read about pajata before we came and knew I wanted to try it.
Warning; this is not for the squeamish, but it is really tasty. Rigatoni con Pajata is short tubes of pasta cooked in a tomato sauce with (traditionally veal, but tonight lamb) tripe. The intestines are cut in short sections to mimic the shape of the pasta. In addition, the lamb (or veal) has suckled, and the milk is left in the intestines to cook into a sort of "cheese". Ok, I can feel you cringing now, but let me tell you, it was really, really good. I'd meant to try this dish at the famous Testaccio restaurant, Checchino dal 1887, but we never made it there. So tonight was my last chance. J (my fearless friend when it comes to all things food) and I ate most of it, but both my husband and T were brave and tasted it too. Everyone agreed it was good.
For our main course, we order Abbacchio al Forno (roast veal), Eggplant Parmesan, Straccetti con Ruchetta (beef strips with arugula), and Abbacchio Scottadito (lamb chops). This is not a "foodie" restaurant, but everything is very good. The lamb chops are much meatier than others we'd had. The beef with arugula is good. The sentimental value for dining here is high (for us). And of course, I am thrilled to have had the chance to try the pajata. Dinner with all of the above, 1 bottle of wine (Tre Vigne Gattinara, 1999- 35 euro), plus water, 3 coffees, and 3 amaro is 154 euro. Osteria ar Galletto, Vicolo del Gallo, 1, Piazza Farnese. Tel:06 686 0714 Closed Sundays.
Easter Sunday-A long walk around town including the Turtle fountain, Mouth of Truth, and Trastevere
Late lunch at Enoteca Trastevere
It's the middle of the afternoon, and we are the only people inside, but they welcome us in. The wine list is filled with lots of interesting choices by the glass, with a lengthy description of each wine (in Italian). We all order something different and get a typical assorted meat and cheese platter to share (10 euro).
Later, when my husband wants to order an Amaro, the guy behind the counter lets him try a couple of different ones. There's a large outdoor deck with umbrellas and I'll bet this place is hopping on warm summer nights. The tab, with another glass of Pinot Grigio and a couple Amari is 36 euro.
Dinner at Trattoria Polese
Piazza Sforza Cesarini, 40
For dinner, we decide easy is best and go downstairs in our building to Trattoria Polese. For the wine, we get a bottle of Sicilian Nero d'Avola Rapitala. I really appreciate it when the waiter brings better wine glasses than what is already set on the table.
For our antipasti we order a mixed vegetable plate and a fried artichoke since we have not tried one yet this trip. It's good, but I think we all prefer the "Romana" version better. I order a pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale (wild boar) and the rest order pizzas. My pasta is excellent. The pizzas are large and we could have made due with only two. One had smoked mozzarella and arugula, and while it was good, the smoked mozzarella was overwhelming for the whole pizza. All of the above, with a 1/2 bottle house white, a beer and bread was around 100 euro. http://www.trattoriapolese.it/index.html
Well, that’s it! There are plenty of other places we would have like to have tried, but it will just have to wait for the next time.