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Rome and Florence Trip Report. Rome: La Campana, Matricianella, and La Mani in Pasta. Florence: Sostanza, Nerbone, Cibreo Caffe, and Omero

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Just returned from Rome and Florence. Had an amazing time.

Favorites of the trip was easily La Campana in Rome and Nerbone in Mercato Centrale in Florence.

Biggest disappointments were La Mani in Pasta in Rome and Cibreo Caffe in Florence. Cibreo Caffe was actually the worst meal of the entire trip and also the most expensive.

*La Campana (aka so good I went back thrice). I thought this could be a potential tourist trap since it was in all the guidebooks and trip advisors and whatnots. It was outstanding. The cuisine is seasonal. The food so fresh they proudly display every ingredient. Every dish was good. There was not 1 single miss in 3 visits. We ordered arancine, fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese and anchovies, grilled porcini, funghi ovulo, risotto with tomatoes, cream, and shrimp, fettuccini with white truffles, fettuccini vongole, spaghetti with zucchini flowers and bottarga, roasted lamb, braised veal shanks, and probably a few other dishes that I’m forgetting. The pasta dishes were superior to anything else we had or anything I’ve ever had. The porcini and truffles without comparison. Highlights were:

-Porcini arrosto: grilled in season porcini, huge ones, at 16 euro a plate. Porcini this good we do not have in the states. The stems were sweet, fragrant, and savory. The caps creamy and custardy, almost like egg yolk. I consumed 5 plates of this during 3 nights in Rome.

-Fettuccini with white truffles. We ended up downing 4 plates of this. There were very generous shavings of white truffles. The aroma was so fragrant, you could smell orders from the other room. Superior in every way to white truffles I’ve had in the US even when compared to the highest end restaurants. Very reasonable at 45 euro.

-Risotto with cream, tomatoes, and shrimp. Risotto perfection defined. I don’t know what else to say. Another dish that tops any high end version I’ve had in the states

I’ll be back in April. La Campana is must see Rome landmark in my opinion.

*Matricianella

Amazing wine list. Epic actually with some of the finest Italian wines you’ll see. Food was good. The rigatoni with oxtail ragu was good. The carbonara was good, the amatriciana. The fried porcini here were a failure compared to La Campana.

*La Mani in Pasta

Not worth trekking through the ghettos for and easily our worse meal in Rome. They sat all the tourists downstairs in the basement. Pasta was decent but not the same level as La Campana. Much of the seafood was frozen (and not just the shrimp). The best dish was the spaghetti with lobster. I did see that the upstairs had dishes that were not on the menu downstairs. So maybe if you’re local and Italian, you get a much higher standard. I asked if they had porcini, they told me no, but I noticed that they were on the counter upstairs on my way out.

In Florence, I returned to Nerbone in Mercato Centrale where I had my first Panini Bollito about 7 years ago. It was as good as I remembered, if not better. We also had a local, very opinionated and slightly bigoted and xenophobic driver who told us that Sostanza was toursity (it was, about 100% tourists) and that Omero was the only place in town still using Chianina beef.

*Nerbone. Another place that couldn’t miss. I ate here 3 times for lunch. Had 3 panini bollitos, ribollita, minestrone soup, braised veal shank, bollito zuppa, tripe fiorentina. Everything was deep flavorful and delicious. The tripa fiorentina was amazing good.

*Cibreo Caffe. Total ripoff. 19 euro appetizers and 30 euro entrees. The appetizers we had were a cream of porcini soup which was decent and a fish soup which was unremarkable. Entrees were an insult. Two 4 inch medallions of veal meatloaf at 30 euro and a very thin piece of veal under a torrent of sauce also 30 euro. Just horrible.

*Sostanza. Very toursity. In fact, it was pretty much 100%. Steak was very flavorful and good. Nice char, and definitely grilled over charcoal. The meat was not as good quality as Omero.

*Omero. Supposedly more local and much less touristy. It was. This is up on a hill beyond Piazza Michelangelo. The food was indeed out of this world good. The hearty vegetable soup with barley was immensely delicious and had amazing depth of flavor. The pasta with meat ragu was also perfect. The fried rabbit was the best fried rabbit I’ve ever had. It’s like the best fried chicken x 2. The bistecca fiorentina was not as salted and flavorful as the one at Sostanza but the meat was definitely a much higher quality and had a much better texture. Beautiful view of the city.

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  1. Interesting post. So you ate 3 nights in the same restaurant in Rome; granted it sounds very good, but this reduced your ability to try other places which might have expanded your dining experiences.
    Same thing in Florence. Hard to see you as a food maven if your best experience in Florence was to eat 3 times at Nerbone. I agree they serve quite good food at low prices, but again this limited your exposure to other places worth trying in Florence. As for Cibrèo, you apparently dined in the upscale restaurant rather than in the Trattoria Cibrèo around the corner which serves similar food at much lower prices. Teatro del Sale would have been worth your visit and it is right near the 2 Cibrèo places. So many other Florence restaurants you could have tried. There have been lots of recommendations on this board for other restaurants in Florence -- did you try any of them?

    18 Replies
    1. re: CJT

      This was not my first visit to Rome or Florence so I had tried some of the board favorites in the past. For dinner in Rome I did try 2 other restaurants for dinner on the trip. During lunch I did the Campo di Fiore standards. As you know, there is very little consensus on whats good even here on CH.

      As for Florence, also not my first time. Nerbone was for lunch. I love the place. Menu changes daily and the food is better than many sit down restaurants in Florence. The places I listed were for dinner. I had plans on 4 Leone and Cingiale Bianco per board recs but were shot down by driver and hotel staff as very touristy. Even Sostanza is highly toursity and I heard english only the night I was there. I tried Trattoria Pallotino and Le Mossacce in 2003 (two of your frequent recs) and they were good but I didn't crave them the way I have craved Nerbone. Unfortunately, many board recs are not considered good by local standards or are often outdated so you have to do some footwork and asking around once you arrive.

      Cibreo Cafe was the lower priced option. Trattoria Cibreo was the more formal restaurant at 20 euro for an appetizer and 36 euro for an entree. I had printed your rec for Teatro del Sale so I knew that was an option. Word is that the father of the Cibreos passed away 6 months ago and the food and restaurants have not been the same since. I think a lot has changed since you last were in Florence Dec 2007. Consider that prices may have gone up and that the passing of the father may have rendered the Cibreos not good/worth it anymore.

      I used this thread for Rome: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3218...

      1. re: Porthos

        Don't know where you come up with the idea that Fabio Picchi, owner of the Cibreos and Teatro del Sale, passed away. If you have facts, present them. Otherwise this is a lousy way to disparage his restaurants. Who exactly is :Word is that" who says Picchi is dead -- was it your taxi driver?

        1. re: CJT

          You're absolutely right. I have no proof and it would be a horrible thing to say if our tour guide was grossly misinformed. Why he would say such a thing if it were not true is beyond me but your point is taken.

          The fact remains that the food at Cibreo Cafe was grossly overpriced and not very good at all. This is confirmed by others who have recently dined at Teatro del Sale. It is very likely that things have changed for the worse since your last visit 3 years ago.

          1. re: Porthos

            Again, you cite unnamed "others" who have dined there but posts on this board in 2010 were favorable to Trattoria Cibreo and Teatro del Sale (April and October 2010 posts, not mine of nearly 3 years ago). You are still suspect on your facts because THERE IS NO Cibreo Cafe -- there is Cibreo (more expensive restaurant and "formal") and Trattoria Cibreo. Trattoria Cibreo is the lower-priced of the 2. Where did you really eat - and were the prices you stated for 2 appetizers and 2 entrees? If so, that's not out of line at all for Florence.

            1. re: CJT

              there certainly is a Cibreo Caffe but its a cafe (the kingdom is proliferating). Probably OP ate at the Trattoria not the Ristorante or Cafe. but whatever, his report on food quality remains. useful.
              http://www.edizioniteatrodelsalecibre...

              1. re: jen kalb

                As I said, things sure have changed since you were last in Florence in 2007.

                I ate at the caffe. Prices I stated were 20 euro per appetizer and 30 euro per entree. It would not be a problem except it was 30 euro for two 4 inch medallions of "veal meatloaf". I will upload pictures when I get a chance.

                Cibreo Caffe:
                http://www.foodandwine.com/restaurant...

                The "others" are in this thread which you have replied to. See jfrao's report of Teatro de Sale in September 2010.
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7347...

                1. re: Porthos

                  Photo of said Cibreo Caffe

                   
              2. re: CJT

                Porthos is one of Chowhound's best contributors.

                1. re: steve h.

                  absolutely, it was a great report.

                2. re: CJT

                  I agree!

          2. re: CJT

            I can't speak to Florence (it's been too long since I spent any amount of time there), but as regards Rome, there is a school of thought, to which I adhere, that holds that finding one satisfying place and returning to it is more rewarding than chasing off to different places of the same kind. Going from one mid-level traditional trattoria to another might expand but will not necessarily improve the dining experience, as Porthos found when he went to Le Mani in Pasta (which is slightly but not very different). For years, to the dismay of Roman friends, I went haring off to trattorias all over town, with mixed results. Now, I return to two or three that I know and like, and I'm almost never disappointed.

            1. re: zerlina

              Zerlina, which other mid tier trattorias would you recommend in Rome? I'll be returning in late April/ early May in hopes of catching artichoke season. La Campana will be my first and last meal in Rome but that leaves me 2 nights to explore.

              1. re: Porthos

                I know the area around La Campana. Returning, building a relationship is important.

                I like grappa. Ditirambo has it. It's a mid-tier place that sheds its German/American tourist clientele sometime after 9 p.m.. I like the house-made pasta (best cacio e pepe in town).

                Lots of other mid-tier stuff.

                1. re: steve h.

                  Steve. Long time. What are your mid tier recs for Rome?

                  1. re: Porthos

                    Rome is all about mid-tier places. It's also a city that is all about relationships.

                    Casa Bleve, for lunch, is good. It used to be a buffet (very, very fancy) place but they got religion (figured out how to make even more money). Give it a shot if you are a wine lover. I'm a fan.

                    Il Drappo is a tiny brother/sister restaurant near the Campo de' Fiori (a block or so from my rental apartment). The food is Sardinian, the room is a jewel box. I wear a jacket when I go there. It's a good place for me to practice my broken Italian.

                    Lots more.

                2. re: Porthos

                  Da Gino (but *only* at lunch), Checchino (not strictly a trattoria but still mid-tier), and one other rarely mentioned here or in guidebooks.

                  1. re: zerlina

                    Zerlina - Consistent with your view, I had a wonderful lunch at Gino and a mediocre dinner. I thought it was because at lunch I was in the midst of a group of Romans, whereas at dinner we were four Americans. What is your thinking about the lunch/dinner divide there? Best, Jeremy

                    1. re: Jeremy M

                      As I see it, timing has more to do with it than nationality. At lunch, they only have one seating, mostly regulars, and Americans are going to get the same food and service as Romans (or Italians; a lot of the regulars are senators and deputies). At dinner, they have two seatings in a remarkably short amount of time, few or no regulars, and whatever Romans are there are going to get the same (mediocre) food and service as Americans.

            2. Thanks for the review.

              When we were there we just instinctively avoided Sostanza because there were too many tourists in it and went around the corner to eat with locals at Il Contadino.

              Your review of Omero reminds me that I also had a list of places outside the center that I wanted to try including Perseus and I Riffaioli to the North. But these places are outside the center and, to be honest, food was secondary in visiting Florence. We were there primarily for the Art - exploring every little church and trekking out for a private tour at Villa I Tatti - not to find the best food of our lives, although, as always, striving to avoid mediocre food.
              Thanks again. Nice report.

              1. Thanks Porthos - very interesting. At the end of the day people's recommendations are so personal and arbitary. I am off to Rome and FLorence in a fortnight for 5 days which I reckon will be 9 meals - 4 in Rome and 5 in Florence. I always go back to a couple of old favourites in each city....for example this time it will probably be La Campana in Rome and Osteria de Benci (where i haven't been for 3 years) & Vini e Vecchi Sapori in Florence - and the rest will be a (hopefully) successful voyage of discovery. I will probably ask the lady who owns the hotel in Florence as her ideas for non touristy restaurants have always been successful in the past. Likewise with Rome, I will read these boards and speak to the hotel as well...

                1 Reply
                1. re: LotsC

                  I would have to recommend Omero in Florence as my best mid-high tier dining experience in Florence to date. The steak is very good and so is everything else on the menu. The view of the city is also gorgeous at night.

                  It also helps if you tell them what restaurants you like. When I told our driver I really liked Nerbone, he recommended a restaurant run by the sister/?aunt that was also supposed to be very local. Cash only. Sounded promising.

                2. "La Campana (aka so good I went back thrice). I thought this could be a potential tourist trap since it was in all the guidebooks and trip advisors and whatnots. It was outstanding."

                  My sentiments exactly! We actually avoided La Campana the first two times we went to Rome (silly!) because we thought it may be a tourist trap. Last December when my nieces joined us in Rome we decided to try it and all four of us loved it. I can still picture the antipasi and fresh vegetables as we walked in the door. Such a delicious and memorable meal. So glad you enjoyed it Porthos.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ttoommyy

                    We first went to La Campana (recommended in the 60s era Companion Guide) in 1978 so I dont know when it hasnt been on the tourist radar We have revisited occasionally over the years and for the last couple of visits before 2009 it was pretty average. Per my experience last fall and the other recent reports, it seems to have stepped it up a quite a bit recently but its still fundamentally a traditional good roman trattoria., like say Armando. Im very glad its been revived but would not like to see it placed on a ridiculous pedestal and beseiged by tourists with unrealistic expectations . In fact our meal at Monti last year was better than our very good La Campana meal.

                  2. Regarding La Campana: Hate going to tourist places being a frequent visitor to Rome. This trip, we decided to do just that. Armando del Pantheon was BY FAR the best of the tourista restaurants we visited...not touristy at all, but rather local. Last night we went to La Carbonara, which frankly I expected to suck....it was wonderful, including the service. The maialino was amazing as were the roasted potatoes that went with it. Tonight we tried La Campana....excellent wine list....great prices....if you knew what to order. Really good Amatraciana....and then the maialino....served with FRENCH FRIES....are you kidding me???? They really thought no one would know....when I questioned them, it was only then they said they ran out of roasted potatos....and bought us a round of after dinner drinks. No offense, as they tried. but IMHO, there are much better places to eat local Roman food in Rome other than here,. Sorry...this is my opinion only.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sockster

                      Restaurants have good days and off days; the Chef does need to have the odd night off....and everybody has different tastebuds. Over time restaurants can get complacent and go off and on the other hand can improve dramatically....

                    2. Lets try that again. A few La Campana dishes

                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Porthos

                        Some Caffe Cibreo Entrees. Veal meatloaf in bottom right hand corner, 30 euros

                         
                        1. re: Porthos

                          Omero Steak, soup, and fried rabbit

                           
                           
                           
                        2. re: Porthos

                          I am absolutely salivating over the fettucini with white truffles. I can actually "smell" it! lol