The next stop on our culinary tour of Italy was Rome. I was quite excited about Rome and it really was a wonderful place to visit. It was spectacular to see so many ancient sites. Rome is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, however, I’m just not into spending hundreds and hundreds on a meal. Instead, I am always seeking restaurants that are somewhat casual with just damn good food. I was hoping Rome would provide that.
The photos in this post are appearing a bit ahead of my descriptions (since there are so many!), so I hope you won’t mind reading and then looking up to see the corresponding photos.
We arrived in Rome before lunch and checked into our hotel. The hotel clerk was very helpful and friendly, so we decided to ask him for a lunch suggestion. He told us the Spanish Steps were within walking distance of the hotel, so we asked for a place near there. The map of Rome that we had makes everything seem close by. Getting to the Spanish Steps alone was quite a hike. Once there, he had us walking blocks and blocks and blocks. The streets and writing on the map were miniscule, and as always, the GPS on my husband’s
phone was useless. We got to where we thought the restaurant was supposed to be. We asked one person where it was; he pointed straight ahead. We walked and walked and finally asked someone else who pointed us back in the direction we came from. At that point we gave up. We took a cab to the Trevi Fountain area and ate in a bar (a “snack bar”) where we ate pizza at some tables crowded inside it. I gave that pizza a discerning look because they had sheets and sheets of different varieties just
sitting in the case (unrefrigerated) and they quickly heat them up in an oven when you order. It was about 102 degrees there that day and the thought of those pizzas sitting out all day made me wary, but we did survive.
For dinner, we decided to talk to the desk again, assuming we were idiots and just couldn’t find the lunch place. They recommended a place just down the block (perfect since we were exhausted from walking), Ristorante La Pentolaccia. It looked to have the
same kind of vibe as the places we loved in Venice and Florence (old, family-owned, “real” food). The place was crowded and loud, which detracted from our meal. We enjoyed an amuse bouche of spinach and ricotta quiche in puff pastry which was light and tasty. Then two of had fettucine with tomato sauce and meatballs. We had to ask for Parmesan cheese (they don’t normally have cheese on the table in Italy for pasta). The pasta was excellent (it is chewier and more flavorful than our pasta – even though I cook it al dente, I cannot quite replicate it), however we found throughout Italy that their tomato sauce lacked the hint of sweetness we are used to in sauces here at home, and which we prefer. We also had tortellini in beef broth (this was so simple, but so amazingly delicious), cured meats and cheese (the menu described it as “ship’s cheese” which is how Italians pronounce “sheep’s cheese.”
This has now become our standard family pronunciation) with ambrosia honey (amazing). Another item was air-dried beef rolls with bleu cheese and walnuts. This was a nice combo and the beef was aged and had a deep flavor. Also on our table was roast lamb with the ever present potatoes and oxtail with carrot, tomato, and celery (my husband grew up eating oxtail soup, so he had to get this and did enjoy it: basically a roasted piece of meat with a bone through it).
The worst item was the lamb. It was served well-done and was simply awful: dry, chewy, stringy, and flavorless. As always, our waiter was
deeply concerned if we did not finish every last morsel on our plates (they were always very upset and thought we didn’t like the food if we didn’t finish it: we explained over and over we loved it but didn’t have room!), however I had to tell him I thought the lamb was overcooked. He insisted it was perfect. I explained we normally eat lamb that is at least pink or medium rare. So odd, considering you can’t get a piece of beef that is less than bloody anywhere in Italy that I could find! This was the worst item we were served on our entire trip.
Dessert that night (and each night in
Rome!) was at a gelato shop around the corner that had dark and white chocolate “fountains,” really just a stream of chocolate that was running continuously from a little faucet. Our hotel desk clerk told us to go there. He was in awe of the “fountains.” They didn’t excite us much but the gelato was excellent (even if everything was completely in Italian and they did not have it out in mounds so you could see it, so you had to try to ask what the flavors were). You would order your gelato and they would hold a little wafer cookie under the “fountain” then stick that in the gelato. It was puzzling to us because it simply wasn’t that wonderful. If they had made gelato sundaes with it, I would have been more interested.
Our second day in Rome was a very busy one, with our tour of the Vatican. The tour was in the early afternoon, so we headed to Vatican City to shop and eat lunch beforehand. We had a hard time finding a lunch venue. Everything was very touristy, with the dreaded picture menus that scream bad food. We ended up in one place where we had some pizza and a spaghetti pie that was unlike anything I saw anywhere else in Italy. It was pretty good, but it was clearly made ahead and reheated, so it just wasn’t as fresh as I would have liked.
We arrived back at our hotel that night completely wilted (it was incredibly hot inside the Vatican) and worn out, but decided
that we wanted to have some really good pizza for dinner. Again, although I had done months of research, we wanted to hear what the desk clerk recommended. We explained we wanted the best pizza in Rome and what did he recommend? He gave us directions to a place a few blocks away. He gave us his card and said to give it to the restaurant and also promised to call ahead and reserve a table. We were excited – good pizza recommended by a Roman. We arrived at the restaurant and it
was completely empty. It was rather formal looking. We handed the card to the hostess/waitress who didn’t seem to care much. We were seated and the menu had ONE pizza on it. ONE. This was not a pizzeria. We felt terrible, but had to get up and leave. We could not face another meal of pasta and meat. By this time, we were in full hunger meltdown and needed to feed everyone quickly. We recalled passing a place as we walked from the hotel and decided to head there. This was called Al Forno della Soffitta Via Piave. It was exactly
what we were looking for. Tons of amazing pizzas made in a wood oven. A busy, happy restaurant with friendly servers. Jackpot. We started with fried mashed potatoes (kind of fun, but similar to what my grandma used to do with leftover mashed potatoes) and a Pollo salad (with chicken and corn) and a Toto Salad (with parmesan and artichoke). Delicious, fresh, and amazing, and as always so much better than salads at home. I still can’t get over how good all the salads were and how stunningly fresh the ingredients were as well. In Italy, there is no such thing as yellow lettuce, brown edged lettuce, unripe tomatoes, or wilted greens.
Then it was time for pizza. You could order small pizzas or get one
giant one with 4 types on it. We did this and got Margherita, Fume (smoked mozzarella and ham), four cheese (with a cream sauce) and Funghi (mushroom with anchovy). The pizza was fabulous and we got to sample all four kinds. All was right with the world — we finally had some outstanding pizza! I loved the smoked mozzarella and ham and the Margherita was classic. The crust was crispy on the bottom yet soft enough to enjoy chewing it. It had a fab woody flavor from the oven. A true experience.
The third day was another busy walking day: Colosseum and the Forum. And again, hot as hell. We
grabbed a quick lunch this day at a snack bar: this time we had sandwiches. One was a tomato and mozzarella on white bread and one was a salami and cheese. The snack bars serve identical sandwiches all over the city. They’re fast and easy and so much better than fast food you get at home.
For dinner that night, we decided to wander around the Spanish Steps. We poked in some shops and stumbled upon the perfect restaurant. It is called Ginger. It was my ideal restaurant. First of all,
everything was organic. OMG. We have one organic restaurant in Buffalo. I am sure there are many others in Rome. It was also all locally sourced. Everything was creative with a fusion attitude. AND they had wonderful fruit smoothies. We had died and gone to heaven. I had an Alessio smoothie: passion fruit, apple, and strawberry. My daughter had a mojito passion cocktail (and I could have actually drunk this, it was so good): rum, lime, brown sugar, mint and passion fruit. Delish. My son had a Caffe latte shake. The drinks came with a lovely little board of meats and cheeses that was lovely to
One of their specialties are these great sandwiches on super skinny mini-baguettes, so we had to try one of those: Lungarhette (cured ham, figs, and arugula): I really love figs combined with savory elements! The baguette is made on the premises and was the perfect texture. I had the gnocchetti with red prawns, cherry tomatoes and basil (not a sauce: they were fresh) with shaved cheese on top. Husband had spaghetti alla bottarga with dried tunafish, eggs,and clams and really enjoyed the flavors of the fish. Daughter had carpaccio of swordfish, salmon, tuna with avocado, tartar sauce and sprout salad with a side of the ubiquitous potatoes. The fish was fresh and silky and complemented by the avocado, something you don’t see with fish at home. My son had tortellini with meat and pecorino and then entrecote (steak) with potatoes and rosemary. The food was all fun, flirty and delicious.
We left Rome feeling well-fed and happy. Someday, when we are traveling without kids, I would love to go to Rome and seek out more hidden dining gems (and maybe I’ll spring for one of the super-pricey spots!).
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