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Trip Report: Bologna, Florence, Lucca, Orvieto, Rome

I just returned from two food filled weeks in Italy and wanted to share some experiences with everyone. I typically prefer trattoria type restaurants in Italy over fine dining ristoranti, and used the Slow Food guide and this board for reference. Most restaurants I have noted cost around 100Euro for three courses and a very good wine(My Husband is a wine-nut and we had Brunello or Barolo or a Super Tuscan with every meal at about 35Euro/bottle), so fewer courses or ordering the house wine would be less.

BOLOGNA
Gianni - Was closed for the Holidays! I very much wanted to try this restaurant based on this board's recommendations.

Grassilli - This is a trattoria disguised as a restaurant. They have fine crystal, china, tablecloths and very proper service, but the prices are reasonable and the room is cozy. The chef is actually french trained and the pastas are extra sinfully rich here. The cotoletta bolognese veal cutlet smothered with parma prosciutto and melted cheese was delicious, as were the white truffles, a heaping portion for a pittance shaved onto the pasta.

Meloncello - Slow Food spot. Rustic wooden tables and a homey feel in this welcoming trattoria outside the city gates at the foot of the San Luca climb. No menus, all is recited by the friendly waitstaff, so know your food items in Italian! In lieu of a wine list, they drag you to a back room where the wine is piled up everywhere to choose. Food is good and homey, too. Excellent tagliatelle con ragu, tortellini, meatballs, roast veal.

Trattoria Del Rosso - Slow Food. A casual slightly modern take on a rustic trattoria. Service is somewhat indifferent as college students appear to be the entire staff. Food flys out of the kitchen in no particular order, but there are no complaints as soon as you taste it. Try the HUGE portion of Gnocco Fritto, which they call cresanze? Fried dough puffs with parma proscuitto to stuff inside-delicious! Rustic pastas and roasted & grilled meats are excellent and prices are VERY low here.

Tamburini - The deli of the gods! (And yes, DavidT, we know you can eat there, too) I bought tons of sausages and meats that were lovingly vacuum packed and wrapped in paper and ribbon - that were all CONFISCATED from my checked luggage by the USDA at the airport! They left behind in the suitcase a note that stated that any meat is not allowed into the country, so BEWARE. They mercifully left me the cheese.

Leonida - Arts & crafts decor and lively brasserie vibe with an interesting local clientele of characters at this friendly restaurant. Very large menu with at least 20 pasta choices and perhaps 30 entrees. Many grilled items, if you must take a break from the heavy bolognese cooking. Consistently very good.

FLORENCE
Trattoria Mario - If I could eat here for every meal while in Florence, I would, but they are only open for lunch! Get there early or get in line and be prepared to be well fed. There are communal TIGHT tables and you sit on barrels in a cramped room 1/2 kitchen and 1/2 dining room, split almost down the center with the kitchen on full display, and it is FUN. The food is basic florentine, I especially love the pappardelle with whatever game ragu they have that day, pasta e fagioli, raviolis, and they offer a monster bistecca fiorentina which they will present to you raw for your approval prior to grilling. Do not miss this true chowhound experience.

Antica Mescita Osteria San Niccolo - This was a find far from the tourist clogged center of Florence. In the Oltrano, near Porto San Miniato but only a 20 min walk from center, no tourist throngs and only Italians here at this lively rustic Osteria open until late. Basic rib-sticking tuscan fare with friendly service. You may have to share a table if they are busy.

Osteria del Bricco - Also near Porto San Miniato on Oltrano. Warm and inviting spot with brick walls and arches with a cozy feel. No one speaks english but they are eager to please. Great cheese plate, crostinis, and entrees like tagliata with arugula and bacon. The owner does not know the value of his wines and they are severely underpriced. He will also not let you leave without an apertif toast or giving you a bottle of his family's wine.

LUCCA
Buca di San Antonio - This venerable restaurant lives up to every accolade it has received. A warm reception leads to one of the lovely dimly lit rooms with copper pots hanging from the ceiling and a formally set table and service. The best pasta of the trip was had here, a ravioli filled with meat in a bolognese ragu. We also tried two luccan dishes, the fried lamb chops with artichokes and guinea hen roasted with grapes and bacon, unbelievably delectable. Despite this restaurant's status as best in town and formal settings, prices were very reasonable. We will go out of our way to return here.

ORVIETO
Le Grotto - Slow Food. After being turned away by the very unfriendly proprietor of Asino d'Oro, we found this inviting restaurant. They have a good selection of umbrian meats and cheeses for antipasti, we loved the luccan sausages with beans, game pastas, and especially the excellent famous Orvieto wine made locally.

ROME
To preface my Rome comments, I have been to Rome over 10 times in far less years and do have some experience with dining there. I only offer a couple of mentions here as most places have been well noted already.

Da Sergio - Crowded but fun and lively trattoria near the Campo with basic pastas, good grilled meats and a great antipasto vegetable offering. No gourmet dining by a long shot, but great for a cheap lunch in an authentic roman aptmosphere.

Armando Al Pantheon - This is a fantastic restaurant, a stone's throw from the Pantheon. The small wood paneled room is intimate and welcoming from the tourist throngs outside. Traditional roman food with perfect carbonara, cacio e pepe and roasted meats. I can't believe I thought Matricianella was acceptable before I dined here. Friendly staff speaks english, reasonably priced wines, but very small so reservations essential.

Matricianella - An overrated tourist trap. I have been here many, many times, and it is always passable, but never exceptional, and never consistent. If you have a dry cacio e pepe one visit, it will be a soupy version the next. Fritte light and airy one visit, cold, soggy with grease and dredged in salt the next. I have been served saltimbocca with veal that was spoiled and the smell nearly made me swoon when it arrived but they argued about taking it back, and then I have had saltimbocca there that was the best ever in Rome before that. They do not present the wine from their extremely overpriced wine list (nor store it at proper temperature) and have, on two occasions, tried to bring bottles that were twice the cost of the bottle we ordered, opened it away from the table and came over, flashed it quickly and started pouring. This is "great roman food" for tourists who are afraid to venture outside the Veneto and Tridente areas. For all of you that love it, keep going, I hope you enjoy it, but you may eventually be disappointed.

Fiaschetteria Beltramme - Same opinion as Matricianella. Do not bother waiting in that line.

Taverna Romana - A rustic, crowded, frenetic little spot near the Collosium with slapdash service but great pastas. The NYT raved about the cacio e pepe and we agree, ditto the carbonara. Entrees run out early, so we settled on lamb and veal involtini, both very good. No wine list, only house white or red plonk. Very reasonably priced.

Acchiappiafantasmi - I do not go to Rome for pizza, and don't care for Baffetto or Monteleone, but this Calabrian restaurant near the Campo is a bit different. They have a menu of pizzas, not paper thin roman, but also not thick. They also have an interesting Calabrian list of appetizers such as spicy sausages, n'duja, bruschettas and seafood, all very good. Desserts are special, too, they import a special Sicillian gelato and offer true sicillian cannolis. Wine list is good and cheap, as is the final bill.

Colline Emilliane - This Emillian Romagnan restaurant is excellent. The kind owners make all the items, including pastas and desserts, fresh every day. The tortellini and tagliatelle dishes are possibly better than in Bologna, and the grilled, roasted, and bollito entrees are all delicious as well. Attentive service from the owners themselves, reasonable prices and consistently wonderful food make this one of our all time favorites in Rome.

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  1. I love trip reports and this is a great one, thanks!
    Where is the Taverna Romana vis a vis the Colisseum?

    2 Replies
    1. re: jen kalb

      Taverna Romana is on Via Monte dei Madonna, one street off of Via Cavour. If you know where Cavour 313 wine bar is, it is basically right behind it. Also, if the wait is too long to get into Taverna Romana, there is Taverna dei Fori Imperiali a block away that is also quite good, I did not eat there this visit, but Frank Bruni did this year and he loved it.

      Thanks for your advocating so strongly that Armando al Pantheon is a great restaurant, were it not for you we would not have tried it and found one of our favorite new places there.

      1. re: CiaoCane

        Just to chime in on Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, I had a very good meal with excellent service there last year.

    2. Too bad you had a bad experience at L'Asino d'Oro. I ate there a couple of years ago and the chef was friendly and the food good! Oddly enough, we went to Le Grotto but it was empty and we deserted it for a taverna near the cathedral that was crowded and more pleasant. Luck of the draw, I guess. There was another excellent taverna (the truffles and boar were outstanding) on the via signorelli, can't remember the name now. Ended up eating almost every day while we were in the vicinity of Orvieto.

      Did you get to go to Chiusi? Dinner at La Solita Zuppa was one of the best meals I had in the Tuscany.

      2 Replies
      1. re: gumnaam

        I am very disappointed about L'Asino d'Oro, too. We arrived on New Year's Day for the Jazz Festival, and we had not made any reservations. When we finally found L'Asino, it was 1:30 and there was not one person in the entire restaurant, we asked for a table and a gentleman who seemed to be the proprietor said No and that they were full for lunch and sent us packing. (My Husband speaks fluent Italian, so there was no mistake) The wandering Jazz band came by in the Piazza outside L'Asino and we stayed to listen for over 30 minutes, and still saw not one person go into the alley for L'Asino. It was strange. L'Asino's food is supposed to be artisinal and solely local Orvietan and I really was excited to try it...Maybe next time. Was your meal special at L'Asino, or should I not bother?

        There were three "Le Grottas" with various names in Orvieto, we had the excellent meal in a very nice room on Via Luca Signorelli. I will try to get to Chiusi to try your recommendation of La Solita Zuppa on my next visit, thanks.

        1. re: CiaoCane

          The food was well worth the visit at L'Asino d'Oro. We went in mid-summer, and the tables were all arrayed outside, so that was good too. The chef came out and chatted with us (our mixed group spoke English, French, Italian, and Spanish and the chef seemed to know a bit of all four languages). They might have had a private party the day you went.

          Do try La Solita Zuppa. It is excellent, even considering the high standard of restaurants in the Southern Tuscany.

      2. I am looking for a great restaurant for a family dinner & Armando al Pantheon sounds wonderful. There will be 8 of us - from a teen & a 25 year old who eat chicken, but not beef to 82 year old grandpa (who'll eat anything!). 3 have never been to Italy before & this will be their first night in Rome. Wanted something around the Pantheon, preferable al fresco with a view of it, or a rooftop restaurant, if possible, but not a deal breaker. Not super expensive, as some are on a more restricted budget, but excellent food, atmosphere and a great welcome to Rome to get them excited about the rest of our Italy trip - any suggestions?

        3 Replies
        1. re: torta basilica

          Armando al Pantheon might not be the right place for you if you want something lively with a view. It is a small, somewhat brightly lit paneled quiet room with no views but very good food. You can see the menu and more at www.armandoalpantheon.it to make a decision. There are several restaurants that are al fresco with views of the Pantheon on Piazza della Rotunda, but I do not know any by name nor have I tried any. They all post menus outside and take reservations or walk-ins on the spot. You could simply stop and read each menu and make a reservation on the spot when you found one you all agreed upon, but I warn you that most do seem a bit overpriced and the food may be spotty. Alternatively, I might suggest for a large group such as yours to go to 'Gusto, either the pizzeria or the osteria (I DO NOT recommend the 'Gusto Ristorante). It has a very lively atmosphere, you can eat al fresco with a view of the Mausoleo di Augusto, they have good food, a wonderful kitchen shop, wine shop, and wine bar also, all under one roof and is open late. It is in the Spanish Steps area, website www.gusto.it.

          1. re: torta basilica

            The only rooftop restaurant with a view of the Pantheon that I'm aware of is the Minerva Roof Garden on top of the Hotel Minerva. Unfortunately, I don't think this place will remotely fit your budget or qualify as any kind of authentic Italian experience. As for ground level with a view of the Pantheon, you'll find plenty of restaurants in the Piazza Rotonda, but I've never eaten in any of them despite routinely staying in a hotel one short block away. I've always assumed that location drives the prices up and produces indifferent food.

            I can, however, enthusiastically recommend L'Angoletto, an excellent, moderately priced seafood a short walk from the Piazza Rotunda. The restaurant is tucked away in the Piazza Rondanini so there is a lovely space for al fresco dining. Will your teen and 25-year old eat fried seafood (e.g. calamari or shrimp) or pasta with seafood? If so, I'm completely confident they'll be thrilled. I'm reasonably confident the menu includes items other than fish and seafood. However, since L'Angoletto means something like angler and we like seafood, we tend to stick to those choices.

            In four or five visits over a decade, we've never been disappointed. I must confess a particular fondness for the restaurant as the place that introduced me to lemoncello. At the end of our first meal, the waiter placed an iced bottle of lemoncello on the table and invited us to drink.

            1. re: torta basilica

              I think this would be a very good start to your visit since it is very good food and Roman atmosphere and is in the midst of Renaissance Rome, short steps from the Pantheon, Pzza. Navona, etc, but its not al fresco. Personally, I would not be attracted to eating in the Piazza della Rotonda, since it swarms with tour groups and I would think the restaurants are dubious unless you can get a solid recommendation.

            2. A trip to Rome is not complete without at least one meal at 'Gusto, if for nothing else than the vibe.