Travel Journal: Italy – Part 8, Rome Eats

The grub from the final stop on our Italian tour

Rome is a very metropolitan city, which means they can do a little of everything well.  We were not disappointed in the eats here.  Not one bit.  FYI: If you want to know what we did activity-wise on the Rome portion of our trip, check here.

Night of July 12th

We went on a nice long walk when we arrived and since it was super hot, we decided to stop at Piazza Navona to cool off at Tre Scalini.  Albert ordered an iced mocha situation and was mad it came out looking so girly.  It tasted good, but I admit he looked like an extra on Sex and the City.  I ordered gelato that was good but not the best of the trip.  What can I say, you stop at a touristy spot, you get touristy food.  After snack time, we walked around and then got ready for dinner.

Before dinner, we decided to take advantage of our hotel’s rooftop bar.  The views weren’t stellar, but it was still nice to be on a roof, sipping a cocktail.  We wanted to go to a specific restaurant for dinner and they couldn’t take us til close to 10 so we killed time with drinks, first here, and then by picking up cocktails from the drink window for a longer walk to the restaurant.  I love the idea of this window!  It’s like a drive-thru for alcoholics!  5 euros gets you a stiff “takeaway” drink.  I thought to go cups were just a Savannah thing, but apparently I was wrong.  I was right at home!  Let it be known that I had been constantly sipping wine the whole trip and on this night quickly pounded several Jack & Diets.  My body was like “Oh hey old friend long time no see I don’t remember what it’s like to hang with you” and I got nice and tipsyface.

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Roscioli came highly recommended…and everyone was right.  Of all the places in Rome, this is the one I will most emphatically tell you to visit.  It started as a market but has expanded to a full blown restaurant (with a market).  They’re famous for their carbonara, and it honestly was the best I’d ever had.  There was also a tomato soup amuse bouche, fois gras crostini, fried stuffed zucchini blossoms, tartar (not pictured), something else Albert ordered (also not pictured…I got a little drunky), and biscotti with warm chocolate sauce for dessert.  Was I super drunk and needed to go home?  Yes.  Can I still remember that this was a truly fantastic meal.  Also yes.

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Night of July 13th

I started this morning with breakfast on the roof of our hotel.  It was a pretty good spread and I was nice to eat in the open air with a book.  I wanted to make sure to fuel up since this was our big touring day.  Seven straight hours of walking and museums means you need a big breakfast.

Our tour was divided into central Rome and then The Vatican, with a lunch break right before the Vatican.  Our tour guide gave us an hour to eat, only telling us the one restaurant to NOT go to.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember what that restaurant was called so I can’t tell you what to avoid, but I can say that Panino Divino, the place we actually stopped at, was a great sandwich spot.  There are only about two seats, but the sandwiches are legit.  Made with fresh meats and cheeses on crusty bread.

For dinner that night we headed to Antica Pesa in the Trastevere section of town, based on a co-worker’s recommendation.  The first thing I noticed were the many photographs of famous people on the walls.  Then I noticed the very attentive staff. There was also the largest wine list I’ve ever seen.  This looks like some sort of book Robert Langdon would look for in the Da Vinci Code.

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We started with an amuse bouche of anchovi wrapped olives then moved to a nouveau caprese salad with botarga and tuna tartar with fresh figs.  We split a pasta with zucchini and clams, then Albert got fish and I got veal salimbocca (one of my favorite Italian dishes).

I thought everything was done well and liked that they added some modern twists to classic staples.  This place also gets points for a seasonal menu.  I don’t necessarily recommend this quite as highly as Roscioli (that meal was super tough to beat), but it was certainly a nice meal.  If you go, make sure to sit in the garden area.   Apparently they have a location in Brooklyn (?!) so we may have to check that out sometime soon.

When told the manager we were looking to grab a drink in the area and heard Ma Che Siete Venuta a Fa was good.  He agreed that it was the best place for beer, especially if you want more than Peroni.  He also suggested we check out Pimm’s Good for cocktails afterwards since his buddy owns it and they “make the best cocktail in all of Roma.”  We decided to try both and were very happy we did.  The beer bar had a distinct college bar vibe, while the cocktail spot felt more bohemian.

Night of July 14th

I made a quick stop up on the roof for breakfast before heading to our half day tour through the Jewish Ghetto.  On the tour, we stopped at a bakery that must have a real name but was only referred to as “the bakery”.  It doesn’t look like much, but you would be silly to miss it.  It’s almost sad looking with bare gray walls and half-filled glass cases.  But they don’t need to show off.  They’ve been around for 300 years, only passing the recipes down to the women in the family, and they know their stuff is good enough without embellishment.  Shabbat was beginning that night so most of the goods had been snagged up, but I was still able to get a fruit cake unlike anything I’d ever tried.

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We had really enjoyed our time in Trastevere the previous night so we decided to go back for lunch, especially since it was directly across the river from the Jewish ghetto.  The area feels much more dead in the daytime, but we stumbled upon a restaurant called Otello that looked like they cranked out great pizza, and since I had barely had any pizza on this trip, I was starting to feel pretty bad about it.  It’s not Italy without pizza!  But first, some appetizers.  We got fried olives because Albert is an olive fiend and hadn’t found many on the trip.  Never had a fried olive but would love to have them again.  Delish.  We also got the carciofo alla giudia, which means Jewish artichokes and since we’d come straight from the Jewish Quarter, this seemed appropriate.  Also great.

For the pizzas, Albert got one with sausage and mushrooms; I got one with prosciutto and chicory.  Both were amazing and far larger than we imagined.  It pained me that we couldn’t finish.

On our walks we noticed a bar called The Albert.  How could we not stop for drinks?!  Turns out it’s a pretty authentic British pub.  Now, we had stopped at an Irish pub in Florence that didn’t even deserve five minutes of our time.  This place, however, made a good drink and had a good crowd.  It’s a nice stop if you want to hang with some Brits and enjoy the fact that Italy is part of the larger European picture.

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After drinks it was back to Trastevere because we knew we wanted to be on that side of the river for their summertime riverwalk festival.  I had read that Cacio e Pepe was a good stop for the namesake pasta so we made a beeline there.  Overall, the restaurant wasn’t spectacular – the pasta was good and Albert’s osso bucco was fine – but the service was great (the waiter walked around to other restaurants to find me whiskey since they didn’t carry any) and it was right in the middle of a very lively street.

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After enjoying music and a pineapple juice cocktail at the fair, it was back to our hotel for bed.

Night of July 15th

Our last day began with a walk to the Spanish Steps.  After checking out that whole scene, we did some window shopping and espresso drinking while waiting for  Pastificio Guerra to open.  You won’t miss the lines of this popular spot which serves one of two pasta dishes for only 4 euros.  I can’t tell you what was in it, but loved the process and that it was fresh, eaten on a narrow stoop.

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After lunch we walked around the Monti area, ending with a gelato stop at Fatamorgana.  This was by far the best gelato in Rome and rivaled the gelato of Florence.  The flavors were super inventive.  I got avocado lime with white wine as well as snow white, which was Tahitian vanilla with chunks of apple and raspberry sauce.  So good.  It may be a chain, but it was LEGIT.

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In terms of portion size, this was one of the bigger ones I had on the trip (Carraia size), but I had the least amount of trouble eating all of it.  Definitely not too full to finish this one.

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Pretty much our favorite thing to do here in the States is to have a happy hour of meats and cheeses and Rome felt like meats and cheese headquarters.  Yes, we’d already had an afternoon snack, but our lunch had been light and it was our last day in Italy and we needed to live it up so we  stopped at La Prosciutteria near our hotel for an afternoon snackie.  This Florence-based restaurant is a chainlet, but nothing about it feels chain-y.  Basically, you pick the small, medium, or large platter and they make enough for your group with whatever’s fresh.  It was one of the best charcuterie platters we had on our trip.

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Our final meal was at Pierluigi.  This place had been recommended for lunch by one of Albert’s co-workers and was then strongly recommended by a local at our hotel for dinner.  Two recommendations?  Time to book a meal.

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The amuse bouche was a platter of arancini and fried sardines and squid.  It was quite sizable for an amuse bouche but didn’t feel like something they cranked out, which gave me a good feeling about this meal.  Next we got a lobster pasta and octopus caraccio.  Yum.  Double yum.  This course was where the restaurant really shined.  For entrees, I ordered a tuna steak and albert got beef with truffles.  Both were very good, but it was that appetizer course that I’m really still thinking about.  Pierluigi isn’t trendy, but I would definitely recommend it for a nice, romantic meal.

Our final stop of the night (and the trip) was Jerry Thomas Speakeasy.  Italy as a whole is all about wine with some basic beers thrown in.  Rome, however, is starting to get into the mixology game and this is the premier place.  We didn’t make a reservation (recommended) but made sure to show up right at 10 PM when it opened and managed to get in.  Once inside, you could have told me we were in NYC and I would have agreed.  Great cocktails and a great vibe.

Foodie Field Notes:

  • Local Fare: 
    • Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe: All pasta is good so you really can’t go wrong as long as you’re eating some form of it in some area of Italy.  That said, these seem to be two of the most famous Roman pasta dishes so try to find them if you can.  I particularly recommend the carbonara at Roscioli.
    • Chicory: Veggies in Italy are not huge, but chicory seemed to be all over the menus of Rome.  I liked the bitter greens stewed down with lots of garlic.  It’s good as a side, but I also really enjoyed it as a pizza topping or tossed with pasta.
    • Artichokes: Fried artichokes are Roman specialty so make sure you try some.  When they come hot out the fryer and soak up the salt, they can’t be beat.
    • Mixology: Craft cocktails are a new thing in Italy, but Rome is starting to get into it so look for bars that actually claim to make unique drinks.  In my experience, you won’t be disappointed with their inventions.
  • Tips:
    • Ask Locals for Recommendations: Rome felt very New York to me so I was right at home.  However, just like in NYC there are a million restaurants and you can’t possibly make it to all of them.  Locals in Rome are very proud to be from Rome so talk to them to find the most legit spots.
    • Trastevere is Better at Night: Trastevere is definitely the “cool” part of Rome and definitely an area to check out for restaurants and bars.  It’s fine during the day, but a lot of places are closed so I would make this a nighttime visit, when the area really comes alive.
    • Stop and Snack: Rome seemed to have a lot of little caf├ęs that were all casual enough to stop in for a quick snack or coffee.  There’s a lot to eat here, so I definitely recommend taking a lot of breaks so you can try lots of things.