october in rome: the porcini files (long)
Thanks to all the hounds whose wonderful and thorough reports on this board helped me plan our trip. You guys never steered us wrong. In gratitude for all your help, I submit this report.... Just got back from more than a week in Rome. And October in Rome means porcini, porcini, porcini....
Roscioli. The Roscioli wine bar is at the end of Via dei Gubbonari near Largo Argentina. It's probably the best meal we had in Rome. Why? Oh, the porcini. We started with a potato flan, basically feather-light whipped potatoes, wrapped in pancetta -- and with cheese inside, oh yes. I wanted to dive into the potato flan and swim around. As if the potato flan were not enough, the plate was then loaded with porcini, grilled, perfectly seasoned, succulent. Incredible. Primi: we shared a Sicilian-style pasta with anchovy, tomatoes, breadcrumbs, and pignoli. Secondi: we shared a plate of swordfish involtini, basically lovely little croquettes, with braised cicoria. And desserts too. Their homemade tiramisu is truly fantastic. My husband, being somewhat less of a hedonist, had apples and pears macerated in Calvados, also delicious but not as exciting as the tiramisu (IMHO). You must book for dinner.
Buca di Ripetta, via di Ripetta. This was a terrific meal. For primi, we had cacio e pepe, and a very unusual dish of pear ravioli in a spicy orangey sauce. The ravioli were very light and only slightly sweet. Then secondi: more fresh porcini, sliced over perfectly cooked turbot in a creamy sauce. You must book for dinner.
Osteria dell'Angelo, Via di Giovanni Bettolo, in the Prati. This is about a 10 minute walk from the Vatican museums, and a world away from the tourist crowds. We enjoyed it so much for lunch, we went back for dinner (not on the same day, we're not THAT bad). This is old school Roman home cooking, and it is excellent. They are very friendly, even to clueless foreigners, although the place is very much patronized by locals, especially at dinner. There are no menus. They start you off with good bread and a very good dip of blended tuna and potato (we thought it had chickpeas or white beans but we were wrong). Then waiter comes to the table and reels off your options for primi: cacio e pepe, amatriciana, carbonara, and fettucine with tomatoes and basil. The amatriciana was heaven. Then they come back, and reel off the options for secondi. At lunch, we just had the primi, and were sufficiently motivated by that to book for dinner on another night. The drill at dinner is that it's prix fixe, including the house wine, and they just keep bringing out the dishes. Antipasti are that tuna dip, fagioli, and tiny salamis and bruschetta. Then the primi, the same as at lunch. Then the secondi: polpetti, oxtail, tripe, etc. We had the polpetti and the oxtail, both of which were delicious. And contorni, we had the puntarelle salad with the anchovy dressing. Then they finally bring you a plate of sugary, crunchy cookies and a quarter liter of lambrusco. All of this for 25 euros each, a terrific value. You must book for dinner.
Cavour 313, at the foot of Via del Cavour. So good, and so well located, we ate there twice. Over two lunch visits, we tried many tasty dishes, and enjoyed several glasses of excellent frascati. Dishes included two assortments of cheeses from the campagna around Rome, an assortment of vegetable antipasti, assorted prosciutto, couscous with vegetables (a great homey hot lunch), and nice salad. I felt that the place really shines in their cheese selection, all of which is very local. Order the cheese plate that comes with the chestnut honey, or just ask them really nicely to bring you some chestnut honey with whatever you order. Make sure to get there before 2:45, when they close the door until evening.
Enoteca Corsi. Via del Gesu, just north of Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. As the slogan on their placemats basically says, in my rough translation, when you come to Corsi, you'll have no remorsi. This is truly a great place for lunch, you just know the minute you see it. After a few days of eating nothing but pizza and pasta, we were somewhat protein-deprived so jumped directly to the secondi. I had spezzatino (veal stew) and my husband had roast veal. Both were delicious and very homey. The sides -- artichokes, braised escarole, and roasted potatoes - were also excellent. Add a mezzo litro of house wine, and you're ready for a nice post-pranzo nap.
Baffetto. Everyone on this board knows where Baffetto is, but in case you don't, it's basically straight due west of Piazza Navona on the little street that runs to the north and parallel to Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. And yes, it was great. Very thin and crispy.
Antico Forno del Campo di Fiori. We fought our way up to the counter for takeaway pizza, funghi and fior di zucca. It did live up to its reputation for being delicious. It's also an absolute mess to deal with. Find a place to sit down with it where oil will not drip on your trousers.
Isola di Sicilia, on Via Garibaldi in Trastevere. This is a member of the Sicilia in Bocca family, apparently. (This was our good Trastevere trattoria experience; we also had another Trastevere trat experience that was awful, where we strayed from the excellent recs on this board and in our guidebook and foolishly decided to eat somewhere merely because it was busy. I don't remember the name of that place; I've repressed it.) Isola di Sicilia makes lovely pastas with fish. I had some kind of long pasta with sardines, fennel, breadcrumbs, currants, and pignoli, which I'm going to try to replicate at home. My husband had spaghetti with grouper, tomatoes, and basil, also very good. They also had lovely sugary almond cake for dessert which went beautifully with a glass of moscato.
RistorArte Vegetariana dal 1979. This is at the top of Via Margutta, very close to Via Babuino. Vegetarians can do fine in Rome in general, but it's nice to find a place that's entirely vegetarian. We had Sunday lunch here, which was a buffet, fixed price for 25 euros. It's a little expensive for what you get, but everything is good -- pasta dishes, egg dishes, very good selections of vegetables, rice and lentil salads. There was even a salad with tofu in it, quite a surprise in Rome. The vegetable platters prove conclusively that if you cook everything with a lot of good olive oil, well, it's really good. Probably the best dish we had was zucchini just simply cooked with a lot of olive oil. The buffet also includes nice tarts for dessert.
Est! Est! Est! This is a pizza place on a little side street off the Via Nazionale. The pizza is thicker crust than the main Roman style, more like an American pizza. It's good, but not in the same league as Baffetto. We had anchovy/fior di zucca and cherry tomatoes. Anchovy is the way to go.
Hotel Adriana. This is the place to go for lunch when you go out to Tivoli. It is directly across the street from the Villa Adriana, so about 6 km before you get up to Tivoli. It's a pleasant quiet garden space and the food is really good. They have a sampler of house-made pasta dishes, including ravioli with cherry tomatoes, cacio e pepe over some kind of wide flat squares of pasta, and tagliorini(?) with an herb pesto of mainly rosemary and thyme. The herb pesto was really special and unusual. They also have very nice salads. Great day trip from Rome: Start with Villa Adriana, have lunch at Hotel Adriana, and proceed up to Villa D'Este in Tivoli.
Dar Filletaro di Santa Barbara. This is a few blocks away from the Campo di Fiori. Above the door, it says, simply "Filleti di Baccala." So you know exactly what you are getting. You can baccala, or if you're not in the mood for that, try the baccala. This is very old school, clearly. There are a few antipasti choices, then the baccala, battered and fried, two salad choices, and well, that's about it. In fairness, the fish is really pretty good, and it's a huge bargain. Unfortunately, the side order of rudeness kind of sinks the place. Maybe that is old school also (maybe not), but we felt like we were really treated shabbily.
Trattoria Sor'Eva, Piazza della Rovere. This had the convenient feature of being two doors down from our flat. So a perfectly fine place for a decent pizza if you are in the neighborhood and are seriously jetlagged. The place is very popular with the priests and nuns crowd, as the Vatican is just a few blocks away.
Gusto. There's a substantial debate on this board about Gusto. We were only there for drinks and aperitivi buffet, which was fine, so we can't really comment beyond that. For drinks and aperitivi, when you're in the neighborhood, a perfectly fine choice.
AND A FEW MORE THINGS...
Gelateria dei Gracchi, east end of Via dei Gracchi, in the Prati. This gelateria is out of the way, but out of this world. I love this place. Go. We consumed less gelato on this trip than on our last trip to Italy (see Giro di Gelato 2004). This establishment was mentioned by someone on this board, and it turned out to be outstanding. We had several flavors: almond with orange, ricotta with pear, and zabaione. It's rich gelato, in creative flavors, really great. Here's what I recommend: Go to the Vatican in the morning, then lunch at Osteria dell'Angelo, then walk off lunch on the way across the Prati, and wrap up the afternoon at Gracchi.
Gelateria San Crispino. This place is frequently recommended on this board and in guidebooks. It was great, but well, Gracchi is better. The plum flavor (susine) at San Crispino was excellent, though, full of concentrated fruit flavor.
Drinks at the Hassler Hotel. We like to hit the bars of swanky unaffordable hotels when we travel, just to live that life for an hour or so. The Hassler proves that what money can buy is silence. You walk into their courtyard bar, and it's completely quiet and tranquil, no mean feat in the middle of Rome. They will bring you two substantial trays of nibbles with your drinks, including suppli, little canapes of salami and cheese, etc., etc. A very classy place with great service.
Thanks again for the recommendations, and buon viaggio!