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Italy dinners

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
Taverna Trilussa

FLORENCE-no hotel yet
Trattoria Il Contadino
Vini e Vecchi Sapori
Trattoria Antico Fattore

Venice-no hotel yet
Alla Madonna
Fiaschetteria Toscana
Do Farai Osteria


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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Indy 67

        Good idea Indy 67, but maybe we can replace gelato with a great Italian pastry on our walk home. Although I'm sure we'll eat our fair share of gelato as well!

        1. re: debbie421


          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.

          1. re: summerUWS2008

            Ah, here it is:

            Gran Caffe San Marco


            Cantinetta dei Verrazzano
            Via dei Tavolini, 18-20
            Tel: 055-268-590
            Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (July & August 3 p.m.).
            Closed Sunday.

        2. 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.

          6 Replies
          1. re: PBSF

            I think the Venice, with its Austrian and French influences, is a better bet for pastries than Roma and many other parts of Italy. Much of northern Italy (Liguria excepted) has nice pastries. For the south, Sicily literally takes the cake.

            1. re: summerUWS2008

              Sicily does have beautiful pastries but I found most to be overly sweet for my taste. Same for the gelato.

              1. re: PBSF

                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.

                1. re: summerUWS2008

                  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.

                  1. re: PBSF

                    The next time I'm in Sicily -- it has such a wonderful sound to it!

                    I want to take the overnight ferry there from Genova sometime next year, and then maybe go to Tunisia too.

            2. re: PBSF

              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..

            3. 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.....

              1. hi debbie,
                pierluigi, ditirambo and armando are three very good restaurants in rome. pierluigi has excellent seafood. ditirambo's pasta, especially the cacio e pepe, is superb. their grappa list is extensive. armando is good but the specials really stand out. leave room for dessert.

                reservations are a must at all three. i believe they all have websites.

                1. If you still have not booked a place to stay in Venice we have twice stayed at and loved Ca'Gottardi, a little family-run place that has great breakfasts included in the room rate. http://www.cagottardi.com/en/index.htm It is right near a small restaurant we love called Osteria Giorgione (although it specializes in seafood, not meat). http://www.osteriagiorgione.it/en/ind... Both are somewhat off the beaten tourist track in Cannaregio, which we consider to be an advantage. We have eaten at and enjoyed Fiaschetteria Toscana (although we were a tiny bit put off by tuxedo'd waiters at lunchtime). Don't know anything about your other two Venice choices. For a big splurge meat meal in Venice you can't go wrong with Ai Gondolieri (near Peggy Guggenheim Museum). Have a great time and please report back after your trip.

                  1. Update:

                    We're staying at Al Codega in Venice and Hotel Davanzati in Florence.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: debbie421

                      Where are you staying in Rome? I was in Rome four times this year (for a variety of work/fun reasons) and it is my FAVORITE city in the world. You have a bunch of great choices on your list at the top, but thought I'd mention faves -- Fiammetta (near Piazza Navona), more casual, we had great pastas and pizzas and veal, but I saw others eating roasted meats that looked very good too, don't miss La Piazzetta, vicolo del Buon Consiglio, 23a, Rome, (39-06) 6991640, not far from the Colloseum, where my Dad had beautiful lamb and we had the most delicious ravioli in Italy, my other favorite place is Il Matriciano, Via dei Gracchi, 55, 321-3040, not far from the Vatican, and really nice for Sunday evening. I have eaten at each of these places for around 140 euros for 3 people, but that always included wine, so getting a nice meal on your budget for 2 persons (without wine) should be possible. Also, please note that I traveled last March when the euro was $1.65 or so in US dollars, and the euro today is down to about $1.24 ... another great reason to go to Rome for a fall vacation !!! Have a super time and report back!!

                      1. re: PeggyD

                        We are staying at Navona Suites Gallery in Piazza Navona. And I think I have the final list!

                        Venice: Anice Stellato, Fiaschetteria Toscana
                        Florence: Sostanza
                        Rome: Armando Al Pantheon. Trattoria Monti, still need to choose between Paris/La Matricianella/La Piazetta for the 3rd dinner

                        1. re: debbie421

                          In Rome ... you have so few nights and such a great list of options ... I can't help myself but offer an unsolicited opinion. I think Armando is really average ... I would never go out of my way to eat there. Also, when I did eat there last July, it was 100% full of Americans ... I find that off-putting when I am in a foreign country. Call me crazy, but that just says "too touristy" to me!! Trattoria Monti -- the food is great, a bit avant garde in preparation for me, and you will need a reservation as it gets VERY full. La Piazzetta FAR exceeds the value and quality of Armando. I loved Il Matriciano (which is a different restaurant from the one you list, Matricianello) and I hear that Paris is very authentic in terms of Roman ghetto food, although we did not go there, as it was closed the night we tried. To me you should aim for La Piazzetta, Trattoria Monti and Il Matriciano or La Fiammetta (in that order, although from your hotel, you will be able to walk to La Fiammetta and the setting is warm and homey!) Did not mean to confuse you or but in again, but I couldn't resist ... report back ... we can't wait to hear how the trip goes for you!!

                          1. re: PeggyD

                            Peggy, your post makes me sorry I have recommended Armando if all of the reccs here and on other Boards have brought the masses
                            -Debbie, Its a long-standing, comfortable institution and I dont quite believe the food is less than very good (we especially liked the lbaby lamb dishes, the chicory and the roman pasta specialties as well as the pears in wine for dessert), even tho I havent been back in a few years - not all the dishes are equally good however and its a very large menu. A traveller in the winter and at lunch will NOT find all americans there as in MIdsummer. However one never lacks for choices in rome and there must be literally dozens of places (just pick up a Gambero Rosso Rome Guide, or Slowfood for example ) that are never even mentioned here that are worthy of exploration.

                            Also do remember that lunch can be a better meal than dinner to eat out in Rome - much of the city is closed at that time anyway and its good to adopt local custom - pizzerias are only open in the evening.
                            fyi In the winter months do do your church visiting before lunch because by the time they re-open in the afternoon, its getting too dark to see.

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              Very good point ... going to Rome in July, it is very hard to miss Americans ... that WON'T be an issue in Nov., and I TOTALLY AGREE that many times, our best meals have been at lunches we had in Rome. You make a curious point, that I frankly did not think of, but Armando has a really big menu, and perhaps I chose the wrong item to enjoy their best. Anyway, this is a new question, but when the "specials" don't appeal to you, what is the best way to make good choices when the menu is large, as it is in many places? That is a really good question -- and one that I get wrong frequently. Sometimes, that makes me avoid restaurants altogether when I see a long menu in the window ... I always presume (perhaps unfairly) that nobody could do all those items well or with fresh ingredients ... so I keep going to the next place. Any comments on that?? I am learning a lot on this board! PeggyD

                              1. re: PeggyD

                                honestly I dont know - I get sucked in and disappointed by specials as much as the next person. One area of that particular menu that didnt work for us was the portion our then-vegan daughter ate from - the vegetable soup and a pasta dish with saffron were both lackluster. I have liked the specialties they make from Apicius - duck and guinea hen - but others posting on this board have not (guinea hen can certainly be dry). For me, when in Rome , in a tratt like this I go for the Roman specialties.

                            2. re: PeggyD

                              I didn't know La Fiametta as so close! I think I'm changing Rome to Monti, La Fiametta, and La Piazetta. Does it matter that we know absolutely no Italian?

                              1. re: debbie421

                                Debbie -- You realize that I am living vicariously through you -- you are going to have a great trip. I think those choices are EXCELLANT -- get yourself a nice Italian phrasebook, and learn just a very FEW phrases. Italians are WONDERFUL people and many, many of them in Rome speak english, but they appreciate it if you try to manage in their language a bit!! When in Trat. Monti, the waiters are the two young, handsome sons of the chef/owner in the kitchen, and each of them seem to have GREAT command of english. At La Piazzetta, the night we went there, only one gal spoke english, but it is FABULOUS food and I would go there if I had to order food by pointing at the menu. You need to look at a guidebook or Maureen Fant's website, which is where I think I found a list of typical Roman food -- so that you can read the italian wording of the great Roman dishes ... for e.g., I don't know that much italian, but I learned how to find my favorite dishes -- veal, ravioli with various ingredients, artichokes Roman style -- in italian. If you can recognize these things, you can order in italian even in places where they do not speak italian well. They would speak italian to me, and I would point and speak as well as I could back and we always had great food and wine!! At La Fiammetta, the two waiters we had there spoke english, and doted on my young son so much, you would think we were their favorite patrons. You will love Rome for this attitude -- they are a lovely people to meet on vacation, believe me!! Finally, I used the map from Rough Guide -- it shows all the little tiny streets, with markings in T for all the taxi stands if you find yourself too far from your hotel to walk home. From the top left side of Piazza Navona, you will find La Fiammetta at the corner of Zanardelli and just around the corner from Hotel Genio -- we had two dinners there and it was GREAT!! It will be even better in November -- warmer inside, colder outside, cozy atmosphere to enjoy pizza, pasta, and roasted meats and veal.
                                Finally, I went to Rome for the first, second, third, and fourth time in my life this year ... search this board, and if you find advice from Jen Kalb, CJT, MBFant, RomeAddict, and a few others, you cannot go wrong. Have a GREAT trip!!!!! Ciao!! Peggy!!

                      2. Taverna Trilussa is a tourist trap. You eat well, but pay three times as much you need to for a decent, but hardly great dinner. I'd trade that up for Spirito di Vino (also Trastevere) in a heartbeat. A very different type of restaurant, but at least at SDV you get something special.