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Jul 26, 2011 01:32 PM

Italy 2011 progress report. Rome/Sienna/Florence/Venice/Milan

First night in Rome we went to la gensola.
It was nice. They let us in with a baby but seemed to put us in a room with all the tourists.
the server was charming and warm. We got a nice bottle of Italian red on his recommendation.
We ordered cerviche and pulpo. Both were great. But then we ordered the carbonara and amatriciana. And the server convinced us not to order the fish because of the primos that we ordered. So we shared the tripe.
The pastas were good and solid but not what I would imagine having my first time in Italy. I currently live in japn and so admire their ability to copy and Perfect other cultures food. I have seriously had better pasta in japan than the carbOnara and amatriciana there. The tripe with mint was amazing. Never have I had such soft and tender and non gamey tripe.
I was not very used to their canoli. The crust was not very much to my liking

2nd night thanks to Katieparla (big shout out). We went to l'asino d'oro
It's really tough to call this an Italian restaurant. I would say they are very modern.
Super child friendly. We started with a nice bottle of white. When I saw the price asked the server if that was by the glass. He looked at me funny and said it was for the bottle. The price was 11euro. WOW!
that has got to be the cheapest bottle of wine that I have ver gotten at a restaurant. And it was a good win at that. It was a Satrico if I remember correctly. We ordered a herring tiramisu and a chicken salad. Which seem very unconventional and mOdern. They were both very interesting and very good
We went on to a duck liver Fettuccine that was fantastic.
Followed by sweet and sour ribs and wild pig in a chocolate sauce. I am originally from NYC and currently livn in Tokyo. And I believe I would have had an one of thes dishes at a trendy restaurant from those cities. I won't take anything away from the taste because they were exceptional. But if I was going inthere expecting classical italian fare, I would be surprised. I think some people may feel apprehensive to his menu.
We loved it and the price was amazing.
Well on to day 3
We expect to make a reservation for campana tomorrow.
Will post tomorrow

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  1. yay glad the l'asino d'oro recommendation panned out! and thanks for the shoutout! it's true, the dishes there are not what one might envision a typical "Italian" meal to be, nor is the food strictly umbrian. chef sforza calls his cuisine "umbrian soul food" and his personality and umbrian roots collide on the plate. nice place and glad it was a hit. hope you enjoyed la campana and i look forward to reading more!

    regarding la gensola, im surprised the server didnt talk you out of the carbonara and amatriciana! the fish-based pasta dishes are so much better than the roman primi. oh well, next time go for the spaghetti con bottarga or some other fabulous thing.

    17 Replies
    1. re: katieparla

      I know. I kind of got an ear full from my wife for not asking him for the specials or recommendations but I had just read so much about carbonara and amatriciana from all the other chowhounds, that I figured it was the right thing to order. I just think we went in there with too high of expectations.
      Thanks again.

      1. re: dingaling

        I dont think it was too high expectations, it was too general expectations. Having a list of restaurant NAMES is not enough - you need to know a little more about the restauant itself , what its specialties, region, strength and weakness etc. to get a good meal - thats what the advice on this board is about.

        Italy is very regional and "classic italian" has no meaning. Its a good idea to approach italian cooking in Italy on its own terms instead of judging it based on Japanese renditions or NY restaurant culture. give yourself a few more meals and you will have a better idea.

        1. re: jen kalb

          Well it's not like I just pick a few names and pick randomly. I figured we had 3 nights here in Rome. I checked the board extensively before the trip and based on certain criteria, I made my choices. I think I know what good food tastes like no matter the region, culture or ethnicity. I love to eat and I think I can determine what tastes good to me. So growing up in NYC with Italian friends and Italian friends moms who cook and now tasting all the michelin starred Italian restaurants (not that it really means anything) I'm jus tryingto drive home the fact that they do Italian pretty damn well in japan. I was pretty disappointed with Rome. Please read day 3.

          1. re: dingaling

            I am sure you know what tastes good but knowing what to order in a particular town or restaurant can require knowledge of what the local specialties are. Italy is highly localized and there is no such thing as "Italian" food though I guess generalizations can be made. the NY Italian chefs (I live in NY myself) may mix up regional styles to suit their tastes and those of New Yorkers, most NY home Italian cooks cook southern italian styles reflecting where their ancestors came from.

            My point is only that knowing more about particular restaurants, their regional style and their specialties can increase your success in ordering a good meal there.

            Glad you got a better meal at La Campana, which is usually relaible Roman food.

            Most restaurants in the center or Rome will be full of tourists at nght because there are so many tourists staying in the area and not so many Romans living there any more. As far as your meal is concerned, you had a standard meal structure. The secondi in Italian restaurants are not usually garnished or served with starch and saucing (unlike French meals) is relatively uncommon. (there are exceptions). I often skip the secondi if I dont want meat, and order an antipasto instead. If you want potatoes or a vegetable side (contorni) to accompany your meat, you can order it separately. But thats really what the bread is for.

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

            1. re: jen kalb

              Thanks for the insight and yeah your right. That's what this board is here for and usually people post what a Certain restaurant is known for and what you should order or shouldn't order. But I wanted to order the fish at la gensola and he talked us out of it. I guess I could have easily told him no but usually I try to listen to the server. In the past and in other countries I have relied heavily on chowhounderd and they usually never lead me wrong.
              Thanks again. We will see how the rest ofthe trip pans out. Off to sienna tomorrow. Wish us luck.

              1. re: dingaling

                He talked you out of the fish bcs at that point it was too late - you can't go back to fish after carbonara and amatriciana. Your primi were the wrong step (wrong dish in the wrong place), steering you to trippa afterwards was the right thing.

                1. re: vinoroma

                  I totally understand that. It would have been too heavy for fish.
                  But I could have sworn I read in the past to have to try those two pastas. Perhaps I got all my information jumbled up. But I read so much about carbonara and amtriciana that on our first night. I just had to have it.
                  I love carbonara. it just wasnt that good there but yeah I'm glad he steered me to the tripe.
                  I need to tell future readers if you want the fish at la gensola. You need to order a lighter primi.

                  1. re: vinoroma

                    Dingaling: It’s regrettable that the carbonara and amatriciana left you disappointed, but given that La Gensola features Sicilian dishes, not Roman ones, perhaps you shouldn’t be surprised. Echoing some of the other replies, knowing what to order at a specific restaurant is just as important as knowing which specific restaurant to choose. That said, I can understand your eagerness to order carbonara and amatriciana, after all, you’re only in Rome for a few days, right? So at the risk of offending those with palates more sophisticated than mine, I completely disagree with Vinoroma. Why can’t you have fish after carbonara or amatriciana? Who cares if the heavier dish arrives first? You’re on vacation.

                    1. re: Il Duomo

                      Duomo, the thing is: he cares, dingaling does. Just because he is on vacation he didn't leave his tastebuds at home and had a less than perfect experience, which he wrote here. I do not care what the next person eats - but here on ch we are all food interested people trying to get the best out of everything, he didn't, and we are trying to tell him the reasons so at least his future experiences will be better.

                      1. re: vinoroma

                        Your advice to diners that they select complementing dishes is sound, but must it be applied to every meal? In a hypothetical case, a diner enjoys a primo, but a well paired secondo suggested by the waiter is not. I doubt the diner will overlook the secondo because the meal was well conceived. I think Dingaling and other diners should be informed, but I don’t think they should feel compelled to make choices based on traditional convention. My point about vacation was not that one’s taste buds take a break too; it was that these dishes may not be accessible at home and you should indulge when you get the chance.

                        1. re: Il Duomo

                          oh definitely, I'm all for indulging - but the thing is he indulged in carbonara & amatriciana in a fish restaurant, and was disappointed. Money, calories, tastebuds, time wasted and a restaurant getting a negative rep it didn't really deserve.

                          1. re: vinoroma

                            I noted that tLa Gensoli featured the Roman specialties on their webpage. I guess they feel they have to offer these dishes to meet the demands of visitors

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              Fiddlesticks! La Gensola offers Roman specialties because many Romans go to Trastevere looking for less expensive meals and don't want the spendier fish dishes.

                              1. re: zerlina

                                I dont think we disagree. Either way they are realistic in catering to an undiscriminating crowd.

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  exactly, they are offering them to complete the picture - demands of visitors / less discriminating crowd. I have never seen Romans eat anything other than fishy things there (well ok, zucchini flowers), and never heard any Roman recommend the place for carbonara & co, either.

                            2. re: vinoroma

                              Well said, Vinoroma. I agree with you.

          2. I'm so glad you had a great meal at L'Asino d'Oro! It's one of my favorites, and I think I'd call it 'creative Umbrian' if anything. But hard to define. Surprisingly affordable, which I hope they can afford to keep up.

            So sorry about your experience at La Gensola. It's my go to place for fish, which is what they are known for. In fact, I've gone there with friends who don't eat fish and there was very little they could eat. So I'm not so surprised that you were dissapointed with your meal. It's just not what they are known for.

            We've been talking a lot recently, here on the Rome board, about knowing what to order at specific restaurants. MBFant has made the very good point - which us 'Romans' all take for granted - of always engaging the waiter and asking for the specials of the day. This is especially true in Rome, where most people never even look at the menu before hearing from the waiter. I know this can be a bit intimidating when you don't know the language. But don't be afraid to start a conversation in English. Most waiters/owners will appreciate your interest and try to communicate.


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

            L'Asino d'Oro
            Via del Boschetto 73, Rome, Lazio 00184, IT

            2 Replies
            1. re: minchilli

              Thanks for the reply and the heads up.
              That's so funny because since I didn't ask the first night, I figured I would ask at l'asino d'oro. But the waiter jus quickly said no and then walked away and I was left feeling like an idiot. I used to be in hospitality. I understand, not every server is going to be engaging or charming.
              It's just funny how things are sometimes.

              1. re: dingaling

                I guess I should have said "ask for daily specials except for L'Asino d'Oro where they don't do them." Sorry about the abrupt service. But that waiter actually doesn't speak English. And..not to excuse his abruptness, but they are totally over worked over there. But hope you had a good meal anyway!

                L'Asino d'Oro
                Via del Boschetto 73, Rome, Lazio 00184, IT

            2. Day 3
              Went to the Vatican today and it started pouring, so we ducked into a pizzeria nearby where the outside dining in the rain was jam packed. And the inside was pretty full probably from the rain. I think the name of it was osteria lilla or something likethat We figured it's got to be ok. Horrible seafood salad. But at least it was fresh seafood and we had no stomach problems afterwards. The worst lasagna I have ever seen or tasted. I mean seriously I make a meaner lasagna and I'm Chinese. And a pizza Napoli that was horrible. It was undercooked so badly. I left like a quarter of it behind and I never leave food behind. A complete tourist trap. Well shame on me.
              So we got our reservation at campana for the evening.
              Good solid Italian. I still can't get over how cheap the wine is. But once again our dining room was full of foreigners. We started with fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella that was really good. Fried really well and with a lit of good cheese. Then we split the fettucine with porcini mushrooms and was probably the best pasta I have had out of all 3 of my meals here. For secondi my wife ordered the lamb chops even though she swore off eating baby animals because of the birth of our daughter. But that was only because the restaurant showed us the regular menu but that we couldn't order off of it. So only the daily specials were offered fo the evening. And the choices were pretty slim but ranged from a lot of veal and lamb or brain and offal. I went for the sweetbread because it's hard to get in japan. Her chops were bread and done very well. Very tender and tasty. They pounded the heck out of it. My sweetbreads grilled nicely on a bed of rocket salad was good but it's a lot of just sweetbread. I wish I had some pasta to go with it. Or some kind of sauce. But that's just me being American.
              But then my wife and I always argue the point that isn't it more important that I enjoy the meal the way I like it or more important to have it the way the restaurant intends it to be. I mean I'm not talking about putting salt and pepper or ketchup on food at a 4 or 5 star restaurant but food you are familiar with at a regular restaurant?

              8 Replies
              1. re: dingaling

                Glad you had a good meal at La Campana. And not surprised you had only other foreigners nearby. It's the end of July in Rome and most locals are out of town already (that's life in Italy!)
                About your discussion: I think you have to adapt your expectations to your location. In other words you wouldn't expect to have pasta on the side when you order meat or fish in Japan, would you?

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

                1. re: minchilli

                  Well you would always get rice. But I totally understand, it's a cultural difference. I'm just saying that for me, it would have made the meal better.

                2. re: dingaling

                  Sorry but haven't been able to find steady Wifi for the past couple of days.
                  So day 4 we were on our way to Siena.
                  We stayed at the villa curina resort in a town called castelnuovo beradenga near Siena and ate at their restaurant that evening. I believe it's called il convito du curina
                  It's a beautiful resort type place and you get served by the owner himself who speaks Italian/french/English and is a connoisseur of champagne. The food was great and his wines were fantastic and all very local Tuscan. We started with a sort of vegetable souffle style app and a Parmesan pudding type dish. The parm pudding was really good. We split a tagiatele fungi and that was the best pasta I had in Italy so far. For meat I had a special wild pig dish in a cherry sauce where they picked the cherries from the tree outside. And my wife went with the beef tartare. They were both executed very well and the tartare was approved by the French family at the next table. I always feel that beef tartare is kind of tough to do as an entree.
                  Day 5 in Siena
                  For lunch we went into town in Siena
                  We saw these benches kind of built onto a hill and thought it would be interesting to eat at that restaurant. It was called permalico. We just had a kind of shrimp salad with this green dressing that we have never had before and a pici in like a pesto with nuts. Both were solid. I really liked the texture of pici and reminded me of thick shanghainese noodles. And another better pasta than I had in Rome.
                  For dinner, we were recommended to go to a local restaurant in beredenga called Bengodi.
                  It was an excellent suggestion. We loved everything there. Crostini and their antipasto. We had the most inexpensive tagiatelle in truffle sauce pasta ever. It was really really good.
                  I then followed up with a 1 kg T bone steak. I mean that's about 36 ounces. It was incredible. I got my meat fix for weeks. Living in japan, you seldom get to eat that much meat anymore. My wife had a pork in a balsamic sauce that she really liked but I didn't even get to try because I was so busy with my T bone. This restaurant had outdoor seating kind of in the middle of this little town square and that night they happened to have some kind of summer night festival where they had live music and some kind of feast across the piazza. It was a really nice atmosphere with kids running around and our server was ver friendly. Our whole family thoroughly enjoyed that meal together. Probably best meal in Italy so far. I highly recommend this place.

                  1. re: dingaling

                    Day 6 and we were on our way to firenze
                    First we stopped off at a winery in the area. We tried the day before but many were closed by Friday afternoon. This one was one of the few tha was open on a Saturday. I know this is not food related but I have to write down what a nice experience we had at Felsina winery. This totally changed our impression of Chianti. The owners daughter greeted us and showed us around and gave us a nice tasting. Their grapes are along the tailed of chianti and border the Sangiovese and that is why they describe their chiantis to be different.
                    So for lunch we stopped at another local trattoria in beredenga. I think the name was Quei 2. It was hard to read but we had a really nice pici in tomato sauce and a parpadelle with wild pig. They were very solid and tasted very fresh.
                    We got into Firenze and tried to get a reservation for Cibreo which came highly recommended by the daughter ofthe winery because she was originally from Firenze. But it was closed for the holidays. So we were really close walking distance to Due G.
                    A really great no frills simple meal. awesome chicken liver crostini. Followed by a really great risotto and i ordered fried chicken, vegetables and brain. What a combination. I love fried chicken and have to try it in every country I go to. I figured the brain was sweetbread and I like fried sweetbread. The dish was fattening but great. Really good juicy tender fried chicken and it seems like they only give you the meaty drumstick area. The fried veg was a good assortment of blossoms, eggplant, onions and green peppers. And the sweetbread was solid. We really liked it there also and it seems our food experience outside of Rome only seemed to get better.
                    The next day we were to meet up at the piazza del republica for a tour guide group and had lunch at the restaurant where we were supposed to meet. The name was something gubbe and I had a really nice pizza there much better than the other ones I tried. My wife had a nicely done light vongole. Fresh and clean tasting.
                    For dinner we tried to get a reservation for Ora D'aria but it was closed also on a Sunday. We later passed by it on our tour and it was indeed closed and we saw all the write-ups and awards that were posted outside it's window and knew we missed a nice place.
                    So after the tour and walking around for a bit we passed by this Chinese restaurant named Mandarina. This was also recommended to us by our winery friend. She said it was the best Chinese in Firenze. It was open and we were quite frankly a little italianed out. I figured I could be the first to write about a Chinese place in Italy. (maybe)
                    Very good hot and sour soup even for a chinamans standards. Not sour enough but my wife liked it. We got sizzling beef with onions, it was really good and they used green onions. A Thai fish, the sauce could have been better because it didn't taste Thai to us at all. You know sweet and sour and spicy but the fish was fried very nicely although it was a small fish. And eggplant Chinese style which is one of our favorite dishes and which I often cook at home. It was pretty good also. All followed by 3 bowls of rice. Haha. It was definitely comfort food for us and we were very satisfied. It was soooooo cheap too. All that food and a large bottle of beer and water for 38. The cheapest dinner had in Italy so far. Always count on Chinese food to be cheap anywhre you go.
                    On to the next city of Venice.
                    Will report when I get wifi there.

                    Via Andrea del Verrocchio, 8/r, 50122, Florence, Tuscany 50122, IT

                    1. re: dingaling

                      Dingaling: Very good of you to file a report on the go. Here is my advice on Venice. 1) Search for, and pay close attention to advice on this board by PBSF on dining in Venice (and, on some future trip, on dining in Barcelona). He is a most reliable guide. 2) For seafood dining --which is what Venice is all about--be prepared to pay and concentrate on delicacies from the Venetian lagoon that are rarely, if ever, available anywhere else. If seasonally available, don't miss moeche, tiny little soft shell crabs from the lagoon. 3) If costs are a concern, focus on seafood risottos or pasta dishes. We had wonderful
                      pasta with vongole veraci and risotto with squid in their ink in Venice at reasonable prices.

                      Sorry about your experience at La Gensola in Rome, which we loved. We had seafood appetizers and seafood pastas there. All prepared to perfection.

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

                      1. re: sernoff

                        Please don't get me wrong board. We didn't have a bad experience at la gensola. It was ok and just not what we expected our first night in Italy. It wasn't bad.
                        Thank you sernoff for the advice. It will be well heeded if I can continue to get wifi here. It's a bit sporadic. We got into our hotel kind of late. And Al Covo was fully booked so we resorted to the hotel restaurant called La terrazza. It was the most shi shi Fu Fu restaurant that we have been to the whole trip and the most expensive but still cheap by Tokyo standards. We ordered tuna tartare and fried zucchini blossoms to start. And they were both fantastic. The tuna was very fresh.
                        We followed that up with a grilled turbo and grilled sea bass. Both again were very fresh and light and well prepared. They had great desserts here but we scarfed it down because we had a very sleepy baby.
                        We have reservations for tonight at Al Covo

                        Al Covo
                        Campiello della Pescaria,Castello 3968, Venice, Veneto 30122, IT

                        1. re: dingaling

                          Looking forward to reading about your Al Covo experience! We are going to be back in Venice in October and am trying to decide whether or not to include Al Covo for dinner one night.

                          Al Covo
                          Campiello della Pescaria,Castello 3968, Venice, Veneto 30122, IT

                          1. re: dingaling

                            Al covo was excellent. I really admire the restaurant for their food and wine ethics. I think they are members of Italy slow food. They don't use animal fats or butter but try to let the natural flavor of the ingredients come through. They have local and bio dynamic or organic wines. Everything was great. For starters My wife ordered the seafood appetizer which was so fresh and full of things that we had not even had before. I am still trying to figure out how they have such tender octopus. I ordered the sea bream tartare. So fresh and so clean. One of the best ever.
                            Entrees we had the special sole filletnand the tuna sandwich. Which was not a sandwich but layers of tuna and eggplant laid up like a towering sandwich. With almost like a sweet miso sauce. It was great. Their cheese plate was great and desserts were great. Some of the more expensive meals on our whole trip was in Venice but still cheap by NYC and Tokyo standards. And very good food
                            Our last night in italy was in Milan. These 3 hour drives leave very little time for planning and it's my own fault for not planning earlier. The concierge recommended a place called il coriandola. It was good but also expensive and I bet all the concierge send their guests there. Had an excellent fried shrimp. The server called it Italian tempura. I was skeptical but they were big lightly fried and nicely battered huge portion of fried shrimp and my wife ordered an octopus salad that was also a very generous portion and very very good. My wife was craving one last carbonara. But it wasn't on the menu but they were nice enough to make it for us anyway. It was good but came out way too salty even before the Parmesan. I got a braised beef in red wine sauce that was really nice. Not the best braised beef I've ever had but the sauce was good and it came with a really good polenta and i usually don't like polenta that much. But my 1 1/2 year old liked the polenta a lot also.
                            So that pretty much recaps our almost 2 week journey of semi northern Italy. I think we had some surprises and some disappointments but in all a great eating expedition. Will probably try to hit southern Italy next time around
                            Hope all this info will help someone!