Al fresco Saturday in Rome
- EATTV Jun 18, 2007 05:03 PM
What's your best recomendation for outdoor dining with a view in Rome on a Saturday night in July? Pantheon perhaps?
La Terrazza at the Eden and other hotel rooftops. Michael Mewshaw wrote an article some years ago in the NY Times, possibly findable on line, about restaurants in Rome with views. But the center doesn't otherwise have views, it being the view for restaurants on the surrounding hills (famously La Pergola on Monte Mario). For charming outdoor dining on the edge of the ghetto, go to Vecchia Roma. Also Al Presidente near Trevi Fountain.
re: Sid Cundiff
That is undoubtedly true, but how's the food? In any case, I find that once-lovely piazza (ahime!) singularly unpleasant to sit in, having done it exactly once -- I met a friend for an aperitivo and spent the hour fighting a pigeon off my potato chips. Piazza Navona is another tragedy -- fabulous setting, awful restaurants, vulgar, noisy carnival (and I don't mean Carnevale) atmosphere. Most ground-level views in Rome have this problem -- every day I see the pathetic tourists eating at Bar Martini, of all places, for a view of the Colosseum. (For Colosseum, Nerone is a good solution.) Piazza di Pietra is another beautiful piazza with unsuitable eateries. It is very rare to find good view and good food in the same place anywhere, but the awfulness that Romans tolerate, and tourists perpetuate, in the city's most historic spots, is scandalous. Maybe there's a decent place I've forgotten, but I think they are all on roofs or hills, not street-level. What you can hope for at street level is charm, like Vecchia Roma, rarely a spectacular view. OK, some tables at Giggetto. I think it's pretty bad, but it's not a total loss.
It is with fear and trembling that I dare to differ, however slightly, with such an august and weighty figure as the deservingly well-published M. B. Fant, one whose judgement in food is impeccable, unsurpassed, and upon which I greatly rely. I concede at once that much of what she has written is true. I concede that I've eaten at Di Rienzo only al fresco, only in the evening and night, only Nov-March -- even in rain and cold, for against both outside protection is provided. I concede that I've eaten better elsewhere in Rome (and worse), and at a better price/quality ratio (and worse). Yet I've never eaten badly at Di Rienzo. And I've never had service rude or indifferent (on the contrary: once when I ordered only a choice wine, the waiter added some finger-food gratis) -- but this may be attributed to my Dixie mien: unpushy gentility, adagio tempo, general civility, unboorish reserve. More importantly, I have never seen a sight before my eyes more inspiring, save the view from the door down the nave in the church of Santa Maria in Campitelli. Perhaps not _St. Teresa in Ecstacy_, but close. I have never found pigeons a pest there, themselves not night creatures; for _that_ experience, I was in Piazza San Marco in Venice, at one of the famed cafes, where I thought first I had become an understudy for a Hitchcock movie; but then the experience turned out actually amusing, at least to my tastes.
I can only plead these tastes include the visual and the auditory, the aesthetic and the historical and the picturesque, along with the gustatory; and when in Italy -- a experience becoming dearer as the dollar declines against the Euro -- these are my priorities in rank, however important the gustatory still is. The Pantheon competes with the cathedrals of Worms and Chartres, the aforementioned church in Rome and San Ivo, and with the Parthenon as the supreme achievement in architecture; and perhaps the only 20th C work that can even hold a candle to it is the Opera in Sydney. In love with classical antiquity, I can stare at its facade for hours, and have indeed done so. If the Pantheon is sublime, then the piazza in front of it is picturesque, with its softly splashing fountain, the greystone paved surface, and gentle peeling old buidings -- the only suggestion of Bauhaus brutalism the inconspicuous autobankteller on a corner. In short, the piazza is an assemblage of the picturesque that adds up to the beautiful; and it goes great with Di Rienzo's plate of spaghetti carbonara. The only piazza better is the one before San Ignazio, where the Baroque and the Rococo have a standoff. I especially like to splurge on a fine wine, and consume the entire bottle over a period of hours, with the sublime _an sich_ before me. Yes, I know Chowhound is about food, but does not the literal circumstance, at times, add to the flavor?
Mrs. Fant lives in Rome (yes?), and thus the sublime sight of the Pantheon -- in the evening, as the massive and ancient doors are closed, and the building, bathed in ghostly light, becomes "magic casements into fairy lands forlorn" -- may be quotidian, and I envy her for the experience. Quotidian it ain't for the usual North American visitor to Rome, or even to Europe, for whom beautiful buildings in general, and sights older than the belfry in Jamestown, are an experience novel and singular. Mrs. Fant lives also in a shoe-leather culture, Gringos and Canadians in an automobile one; even the American shopping mall is only space to be quickly moved through. Thus for North Americans any street-life whatsoever is a Three Day Wonder, a curiosity worthy of some serious and arresting study, however plain-penny it may appear to those exposed to it daily. Was the street life in Piazza della Rotonda "vulgar" and "noisy"? I do regard my tastes somewhat refined, yet I didn't think so. More a donnybrook than a carnival, perhaps, and one not cacophonous, salacious, or bizarre; and the comedy, albeit on rare occasion buffoonish, was not of the grosser variety. At least I didn't behold anything so indelicate as the sword swallower at the county fair. Those who do prefer the ribald competing with the preposterous, the gross with the inane -- and Mrs. Fant and I are not among them -- might just as well go to Gringoland and watch the Tube.
In short, Mrs. Fant and I are only just very slightly in disagreement with the facts in the matter as she has presented them. We just have somewhat different criteria for judging those facts; and readers can make there own judgements for themselves.
Regards to Mrs. Fant.
If it is still there, the Forum Hotel in Rome, www.hotelforum.com, has a lovely terrazza restaurant from which you get a magnificent view over the forum. It's likely to be a bit pricey and it is about 20 min walk from the Pantheon but worth it if you can get a chance to eat there.
The term "al fresco" is not really used in this way in Italy. Use the term "fuori" or "all'aperto".