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Rome Dining Report - May, 2011

s
sernoff May 18, 2011 09:18 AM

My wife and I, having returned to Southeast Florida from a wonderful week in Rome, offer this report on our dining experiences there. By way of preface, I should note that we are seniors, light eaters (though pasta lovers) and take our main meals while traveling at lunchtime. All of our restaurant choices, and most of the dishes we consumed, were based on Chowhound Italy Board commentary, but none of them were a destination in and of themselves. We tried to match restaurants with touring destinations.

On arrival in Rome, we had our first meal at a location close to our hotel in Prati. We loved L'Arcangelo. The restaurant has a pleasant ambiance, and our reception by Signora Dandini, who was also our server, was very pleasant. We were served a lovely amuse bouche, which was a soup of carrot and lemon puree with bottarga shavings. We then split an order of suppli, which consisted of two suppli and two other fried items which appeared to be filled with a delicate puree of zucca. We claim no expertise about suppli, but can't imagine they could be prepared better. Then I had rigatoni carbonara and my wife had rigatoni amatriciana. Both dishes were lightly sauced, as we generally prefer, but very rich and flavorful. We had three glasses of wine between us. Our bill came to E63; truly a bargain. Our choice of L'Arcangelo was mainly predicated upon Katie Parla's descriptions and photos of the dishes we ordered. Thanks, Katie. By the way, as Katie has indicated, L'Arcangelo serves pasta somewhat more al dente than is usual. It was fine with us, and we were too exhausted from the trip to request any special treatment.

The next day, while touring in the Spagna area, we dined at Palatium. We split a large, and very fresh, insalata mista. My wife then had pollo con peperoni, which she found quite enjoyable. I had ravioli di porchetta, which I found uninspired. Frankly, I found the porchetta panino I got at our litlle neighborhood bar for an evening snack more tasty. We had two glasses of wine. Our bill came to E45.50, which was obviously reasonable. The modern, spare decor of the restaurant offered litlle in the way of ambience and the service, while adequate, was indifferent. One bonus for dining at Palatium was the opportunity to pick among a nice selection of local oils. We bought a 250 ml bottle of Sabina DOP for E4.50.

The next day, while touring in Trastevere and the Ghetto we had lunch at La Gensola, which we absolutely adored. This tiny restaurant has a charming ambience and offers a wide variety of seafood dishes (along with Roman classics). We started with two orders of scallops, grilled lightly to perfection, placed on a film of squid ink. The two identical appetizers were the result of my fumbling Italian. We intended to split one order, which would have been insufficient. If I had been more competent, I would have ordered one scallops and one tonno "polpette", but je ne regret rien. For mains my wife had her perennial favorite, spaghetti vongole, and I had tagiolini with calamari, sundried tomatoes and a hint of what I believe was fennel. My wife's vongole were "best ever", partly because the clams were cooked just to perfection, and partly because the pasta were not swimming in the usual pool of oil, clam juice and, often, white wine. They were moist and redolent of the sea, but posed no risk of decorating the diner's shirt or top with stains. Perfect! My dish was also extraordinary. These folks have mastered the art of cooking squid. We had four glasses of wine between us, two espressos and shared a terrific warm, flourless chocolate cake "mit schlag" (my description, not theirs). Total bill: E93. Run, don't walk, to La Gensola. Thanks to Elizabeth Minchilli for her part in directing our attention to La Gensola.

The next day, while in the area of Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, we dined at La Campana. This place looks like everyone's fantasy vision of a Roman restaurant. The ambience is traditional, but informal. Service acceptable but a tad stiff. I had abbacchio con patate, which I found moist and delectable, if a bit chewy. My wife, the scallopine lover, had saltimbocca with fresh porcini. She was very happy. Thanks to Maureen Fant for suggesting an order of vignarola, a dish unfamiliar to us, at La Campana. We loved it. We each had a glass of wine and an espresso. Total bill: E49. Clearly a bargain at a fine restaurant.

The next day, after touring the Campidoglio and the forum we took the metro to nearby Trattoria Monti. We started with their justly famed flans; mine with red onion and gorgonzola, my wife's with asiago cheese. Not to be missed at this restaurant.
My wife then had pasta with ragu marchigiano which was quite good and I had the famous tortoni al uova, which I had expected to be the culinary highlight of the trip. It wasn't. I found it rather ordinary and not particularly lush. We had a half bottle of wine and two espressos. The ambience at Monti was not particularly memorable; the service was agreeable. One negative was the heat. The place was a bit of an oven. Why this was the case mystifies me. None of the restaurants we patronized was air-conditioned in 75 degree weather, but this was the only one where we felt immediately cooler when we stepped outside. Our bill: E61. In my opinion, Maureen Fant has this place pegged: a better than average neighborhood trattoria that has been somewhat over-hyped in the media.

The next day, in Testaccio, we dined at Checchino dal 1887. The ambiance is pleasant but a bit formal, as is the service ( though not at all off-putting). My wife started with tonnarelli al sugo di coda, which she relished. I had pajata, which I didn't particularly enjoy. Tasty, but a little too gamey for my American palate (but I had to give the dish a try). If I knew then what I know now I would not have passed up what turned out to be my last chance to have cacio e pepe in Rome. Oh well, maybe next time.
My wife had abbacchio cacciatora, which she found quite delicious. I had coda vaccinara, which was an out of body experience. The meat was succulent and fell off the bone. The sauce was simply wonderful, with its taste of cloves and a touch of bitter chocolate. Happily, our local Publix market always has oxtail in stock, so I will take a crack at preparing this marvelous dish at home (based on online recipes that purport to be Checchino's and Perilli's). I have no illusions about how successful my version will be by comparison with the original. We also had three glasses of wine and two espressos. Our bill came to E86.

On our final day, after visiting the Museo Borghese, we took the bus from the gardens to Piazza Barberini for lunch at Le Colline Emiliane. It is a small restaurant with a pleasant ambience. Service was exceptionally helpful and friendly. I started with a delectable plate of culatello and my wife had a very fresh salad. Next, I had a very fine dish of tagliatelle bolognese, from which any hint of tomato appeared to be absent. There are lots of versions of this dish, even in Bologna; this was as good as any I have had in Italy or the U.S. My wife had the Sunday special, lasagna, which turned out to be her top treat of the trip. Her appraisal was alternatively, that she had never before had lasagne as God intended it to be prepared, or that the dish would make a mockery of any lasagne she eats hereafter. I agree, though I got only a tiny taste. Normally, my wife leaves enough on her plate for me to enjoy. Here she was stingy and grudging, offering only a peewee forkful. If you are in Rome on a Sunday this is your place and lasagne is your dish. We had two glasses of wine, two espressos and shared a dessert of zabaglione, which I deemed unremarkable. Our bill came to E73. I gather that advance reservations are a must at Le Colline Emiliane for evenings and Sunday. We had reservations at every restaurant we patronized in Rome, but this was the only one where I felt a luncheon reservation was necessary in order to be seated.

Not a great deal to report about snacks. We very much enjoyed pizza al taglio with a fresh tomato topping at Pizzarium, just two metro stops from our hotel. Signore Bonci was turning out some amazing and novel choices from his tiny kitchen. Also near our hotel was Gelateria Gracchi, where we had spectacular dark chocolate gelato. The spectacular tramezzini at Pepy's Bar on Piazza Barberini are also worth amention. We enjoyed them on our last evening in Rome.

Thanks to all for the advice that made our dining experiences in Rome memorable. A particular doff of my hat to Katie Parla, Elizabeth Minchilli, Maureen Fant, vinoroma and jen kalb. Apologies for missing any of the other restaurants and dishes you recommended. We did the best we could. If any forthcoming travelers have found this report useful, they might also want to consult my exuberant review of the Hotel Farnese when it appears on tripadvisor.com.

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La Campana
Vicolo della Campana, 18, Roma, IT 00186, IT

Trattoria Monti
Via di San Vito,13a, Roma , IT

Palatium
Via Frattina 94, Roma , IT

Checchino dal 1887
Via di Monte Testaccio, 30, Rome 00153, IT

Perilli
Via Marmorata 39, Rome , IT

L'Arcangelo
Via G. G. Belli 59/61, Rome, Lazio 00193, IT

Colline Emiliane
Via degli Avignonesi, 22, Rome, Lazio 00187, IT

Pizzarium
Via della Meloria, 43, Rome, Lazio 00136, IT

La Gensola
Piazza della Gensola, 15, Rome, Lazio 00153, IT

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    ekc May 18, 2011 11:12 AM

    Brava Sernoff - great report! I am definitely bookmarking this for our trip in October. You must return so you can eat at Roscioli ... so many choices ...

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    Roscioli
    Via dei Giubbonari 21/23, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT

    1. katieparla May 18, 2011 04:12 PM

      FABULOUS report, sernoff! thanks for sharing your experiences so thoughtfully

      1. tavoleromane May 18, 2011 04:55 PM

        Thank you for sharing this great report sernoff!
        Just an addition, the "fried items" you had at L'Arcangelo together with supplì are not made with zucca but with fried cream (yes, sweet cream!).

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        L'Arcangelo
        Via G. G. Belli 59/61, Rome, Lazio 00193, IT

        3 Replies
        1. re: tavoleromane
          mbfant May 19, 2011 06:05 AM

          Yes, super report.

          Not fried cream but fried custard. Crema = custard, panna = cream. Of course there are overlapping meanings since crema can mean anything smooth and creamy things don't always have cream, but the crema/panna issue comes up often.

          1. re: mbfant
            tavoleromane May 19, 2011 06:26 AM

            Thank you for clarifying this Maureen. I'm sorry for the wrong translation and in general for the many mistakes I do when writing in English, but with your help I'm sure major misunderstandings will be avoided.

            1. re: tavoleromane
              mbfant May 19, 2011 09:42 PM

              The vocabulary of Italian food is my grand passion and life's work. I hope my written Italian is anywhere near as good as your English.

        2. vinoroma May 18, 2011 11:39 PM

          thank you sernoff for this detailed and thoughtful report - I wish everyone asking questions here would come back to tell us the results like you did. And I am glad you enjoyed your dining here - come back!

          1. minchilli May 19, 2011 01:01 AM

            Great report! Thanks so much for getting back and letting us know about your meals. Reading your list and descriptions, I feel as if we were all there with you, sitting around one big table.
            Elizabeth

            3 Replies
            1. re: minchilli
              s
              sernoff May 19, 2011 04:01 AM

              You folks are killing me with kindness. When experts take the time to respond to my queries with free advice, the least I can do is file a report that indicates I appreciated the advice, followed it and benefitted greatly from it. While we obviously were very pleased with the choices we made, we necessarily missed some others we would surely have enjoyed as well. We were going to have one meal in Prati; we picked L'Arcangelo and missed Settembrini. After touring the Capitoline and the forum we took a short metro ride to Monti and missed L'Asino D'Oro. Etc., etc. The important thing is that we were able to pick winners for us based on knowledge gained here.

              All the detail in my report may have suggested that I was a retired bookkeeper fondling his receipts. Not guilty! Questions, and responses, on Chowhound range from those whose interest is tasting menus at Michelin-starred restaurants to those whose purse confines them to the best available pizza slice. It isn't always easy for those of us in the middle of the pack to fathom the pricing at restaurants that pique our interest. That's why I alway provide detail while the "evidence" is fresh at hand.

              Thanks again pals.

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              L'Arcangelo
              Via G. G. Belli 59/61, Rome, Lazio 00193, IT

              Settembrini
              Via Luigi Settembrini, 25, Rome, Lazio , IT

              1. re: sernoff
                jen kalb May 19, 2011 06:39 AM

                This was really a very helpful and enjoyable report, the more detail the better!

                1. re: jen kalb
                  c
                  CJT May 19, 2011 12:15 PM

                  An outstanding report -- one of the best I've seen in a long time!

            2. s
              Shoshanna88 Sep 4, 2011 11:00 PM

              My husband and I will be in Rome in a couple of weeks. I have been spending hours researching a variety of sources in my effort to create a short list of dining choices. Your report is great! I appreciate the time you detail where and what you ate, what you found sublime and what was not. Thank you also to all the regular rome posters on chowhound who enable people like sernoff and me and probably countless others to maximize our Rome experience.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Shoshanna88
                s
                sernoff Sep 5, 2011 09:37 AM

                http://www.atac.roma.it/index.asp?p=14

                Your comment is very kind. Those of us who profit from good, free advice on this site should always provide our comments on the restaurants we chose to patronize. If you scroll down a few place on this board to the entry entitled Restaurants in Rome for September you will find a little more of my "philosophy" on dining choices.

                I hope I have managed to enter the link for the ATAC website above. If you go to that sight and point your mouse on the Itialiano icon in the upper right hand corner you will see an icon for English appear right below. This will tell you all you need to know about how to get from wherever you are staying to wherever you are going quickly and economically. It saved us a good deal of time and money on transportation in Rome which we were happy to apply to dining. Taxis are reasonably priced in Rome, but the driving experience is often less stressful in a bus, or, particularly, the subway.

                Have a great trip. We did.

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