The SO and I are visiting Italy over Thanksgiving. We are 31 and NOT wine drinkers. We will spend 3 nights in Rome, 1 night in Florence, and 2 nights in Venice. Right now I just need help with our dinner plans. I could eat pasta every night we are there, but the SO needs a lot of meat (I'm not a vegetarian, I just really like pasta). We don't mind spending money, but we'd like to keep it under $150 USD for the both of us for a meal. We'd be willing to blow that budget once. We would like an appetizer type course, 2 entrees, dessert, and some non-alcoholic beverages for that amount. Here's our short list, but we need to narrow it down and figure out cost:
ROME-staying in Piazza Navona but willing to travel
Quincy & Gabrieli
Armando Al Pantheon
FLORENCE-no hotel yet
Trattoria Il Contadino
Vini e Vecchi Sapori
Trattoria Antico Fattore
Venice-no hotel yet
Do Farai Osteria
For Florence, I recommend your trying to get a room at Berchielli Hotel, which is right on the Arno and very close to the main attractions - Uffizi, Signoria, Ponte Vecchio, etc. Good breakfast included in the room rate. If you have only 1 night in Florence, I suggest you select Sostanza (not far from Berchielli) and try their artichoke omelet, bistecca fiorentina, and the pollo in burro (chicken breasts in a magnificent butter sauce). This will meet your budget well.
For a more interesting dining experience, I really recommend Teatro del Sale (farther than Sostanza but a great sampler). Since you mentioned these 4 restaurants, I assume you read my December 2007 Florence Report - if so, read what I wrote about Teatro del Sale and go there for dinner (reservation required). It will cost you 30 Euros each (plus 5 Euros to join the club) and you will have a great variety of foods to try (all buffet style and all you want to eat). You also get a show after dinner at no extra charge. Both wine and mineral water are available on a serve yourself basis at no extra charge and you don't have to tip anyone either for service, as you serve yourself.
I don't remember the cost of any of our meals so I can't help with specific restaurant recommendations. Instead, I'm supplying some random observations.
At today's exchange rate, you're looking for restaurants that will cost 100 Euro.
You didn't mention precisely what non-alcoholic beverages you'll be drinking. American-brand sodas are extremely expensive. The cost of large bottles of still or sparking water is much more reasonable.
I don't think of Italian restaurants as serving memorable desserts so we tend to skip that course as part of the meal. Instead, we opt for getting some gelato at some point in our after-dinner stroll. Obviously, our dessert strategy may not be appealing given the timing of your trip.
Little known secret of Do Farai is that Stefano, the owner, makes a great Negroni. He's very good behind the bar. I think the ambience of the place is very enjoyable, but the prices are in line with Venetian dining, and the best dishes on the menu -- raw fish carpaccios, anchovy pastas, branzino -- are all seafood. So just be prepared for that.
I am one of the few people on the planet who did not enjoy the meal at Fiaschetteria Toscana. I had liver.
I'm a huge fan of Armando al Pantheon. I'm also a huge fan of Lo Zozzone off the piazza Navona, when you just can't face another restaurant meal. They serve really tasty, freshly baked pizza bianca, more like a foccacia, stuffed with whatever you like. (By that time, the no-eating-in-the-piazza law will have run out, and you can take your pizza to the Piazza Navona).
If you find any interesting pastries in Roma, by all means let us all know! You might find gelator doesn't taste as good in November (I cannot eat it in the cold months in Italy and amazed others can).
You're not going to have trouble finding meats and lots of it in Firenze. In November, I would definitely go for some hearty Tuscan soups, with and without meat. If there is pumpkin around, have some, in whatever form.
In Firenze, I would opt for hot chocolate over any other kind of sweet. Riviore, opposite that big fake David in the middle of town, is the premiere sipping spot, and you'll pay through the nose if you grab a table. But a truly fantastic spot of hot chocolate and a pastry in Firenze is right opposite the Museo San Marco, which I dearly hope you will not miss. It might be called Caffe San Marco. It's just a classic from another era, with marble cafe tables covered with pink linens, silver service, etc. But marvelous pastries, including these kind of donuts Fiorentinis eat -- I think they're called "bombolini" or something. Anyway, there is a long glass case and you can just point.
Almost directly opposite the gelateria Perche No! there is a marvelous salumeria/paninoteca that stays open nearly 24/7 and specializes in platters of sliced meat and cheese. Again, a great place to go when a restaurant just doesn't appeal.
Have a great trip.
On your list for Venice, Fiaschetteria Toscana is one of the best restaurant in Venice. It is somewhat understated with excellent professional service. The Venetian menu is large and cooking top-notch. The antipasti and primi are around 20E and the secondi 30E so it is pushing your budget. If I have one splurge meal in Venice, F. Toscana would be it.
Alla Madonna is a large bustling trattoria with a seafood and vegetable display case when one one enters. I have not had much luck with the food. The first time I ate there was more than 25 years ago and found the food to be overcooked and tired. I went back there couple years ago and nothing has changed. The squid ink pasta was served two minutes after our waiting took the order, the vegetables were limp and the service perfunctory.
I have not been to Do Farai Osteria.
My choices for moderately priced restaurants in Venice would be Alle Testiere, Anice Stellato and Boccadoro.
Although there is some truth to an above post regarding unmemorable desserts in restaurants, F. Toscana has some wonderful desserts as well as excellent cheeses. I've had great desserts in Alle Testiere, including the tiramisu and a chocolate chestnut tart. In other restaurants, one will find good versions of panna cotta, honey apple cake and good versions of Italian pastries.
I didn't have any "dessert" pastries, I had breakfast pastries made with flaky pastry and warm ricotta, cinammon, raisins and almonds -- what people call "Danish" in New York. I don't recall them as very sweet. I tried gelato in Noto, but didn't swoon. Every now and then I've lucked out with a fresh batch of some unusual combo -- hazlenut and fig was one I remember -- but I'm not a good judge of it. I just prefer ice cream, or even semi-freddo. I'm sorry when I was in Sicily it was too cool to try granitas, because almond granita sounds very tasty.
I agree with you about the breakfast pastries in Sicily. They stuff them with much filling (ricotta cream, vanilla or chocolate pastry cream) that they just oozes out, real decadent and a wonderful indulgence. The next time you are in Sicily, have to try the combination of brioche style bun and almond granitas, a tradition.
I agree with you about Fiaschetteria Toscana and Anice Stellato. Both are worth trying, although they are in quite different leagues:
FT is an old-style ristorante, whereas AS is more a kind of a "nouvelle cuisine" place, not inexpensive and still a little bit on the rustic side...
We did not like alle Testiere at all. This is a place for people who are dependent on an English-speaking waiter and are used to get overcharged. The food is OK, but way too expensive !!
We also like da Rioba, which is quite simple but serves excellent food, and Nono Risorto for their garden and their pizza.
And always keep in mind: restaurants in Venice mainly are for tourists and therefore try to overcharge. If you REALLY are interested in Venetian cuisine you should spend a few days on the mainland and get an Italian friend to show you the REAL food scene....
For pastries, there is no better address than Rosa Salva: http://www.rosasalva.it/eng/index.php
There you can get wonderful small pastries for less than one EUR !! (YES !), and an Espresso for 80 cent. BUT: standing room only and no toilets..
The 'hounds are the best, thanks for all the recs! Seems like most people know about Venice and Florence, not a lot about Rome out there.....