Roman Food Holiday - A Review (Long)
My husband and I just returned from a 5 night getaway to Rome. Thanks to some great advice and tips on this board, as well as some great Rome food blogs (Minchilli, Parla, Fant), we ate some wonderful food & gelato, drank beautiful wine and coffee, and in general managed to avoid tourist-trap eateries.
Now I am not a food writer, and it also seemed odd to take out a notebook during a meal, so my reviews below may be somewhat fuzzy, and certainly not as articulate as the above, but here goes anyway!
Day 1: Lunch at L'Asino D'Oro
I wish I could start on a higher note (it does get better) but I was fairly underwhelmed by this spot. Certainly great value for money, but nothing really wowed me. It is a fixed menu for lunch and the main dish was rabbit, which I do not care for. But that is my issue, not theirs - we were just not a good fit. I also don't actually care for lobster, or duck - perhaps this is why I'm a 'wannabe foodie' and not a true-blue one...
Wine Tasting/Class with Vino Roma
This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip! Hande hosted such a fun and interesting class in her lovely home, and it was a great introduction to Italian wines. I thought they were all delicious, and it was the perfect way to start our holiday. Thank you so much, Hande!
Dinner at All'Oro
We originally made reservations at Checchino dal 1887 for this night, but I happened to be 'consulting' with a family member’s friend - a Sicilian, living in Rome for 17 years, and a teacher at the Sommelier Association in Rome. He absolutely did not steer us away from Checchino, but he did recommend that we try All'Oro at some point during our stay, and that first night ended up being the only time it would fit. What a find! We ate at a variety of places, so comparisons can sometimes be apples to oranges, but this has gone down as our very favorite meal in Rome. The restaurant is small, only about 8 tables, but it just felt warm and cozy and intimate. The service was impeccable, but not aloof, and in general, extremely hospitable and gracious. We had the 6-course tasting menu, and just asked the chef to surprise us. We had them choose wine pairings as well. Every single dish was a delight, the wines were stunning and perfect with the food, and they were kind enough to email us afterwards, itemizing the menu. (My comments in caps)
Salt-code with bacon and rosemary flavored potatoes foam
Mezzelune pasta filled with Burrata, tomatoes and anchovies
Roman bread broccoli sausage and “cacio&pepe” sauce (WOW - just amazing.)
Ravioli filled with mascarpone, duck ragout and red wine reduction
Home made cappelletti filled dry broth, Parmesan cheese and saffron (THIS WAS LIKE A LITTLE LIQUID EXPLOSION IN YOUR MOUTH!)
Beef cheek, chestnuts, ginger and pan d’epice
Predessert apple and cinnamon
Chocolate ganache with caramel gelato (I ASKED MY HUSBAND IF HE WOULD MIND NOT TALKING. THIS WAS SO DELICIOUS I HAD TO FOCUS.)
Berlucchi Cellarius Franciacorta 2007
Vermentino Bolgheri Grattamacco 2005
Cabernet Sauvignon Refolà Le vigne di San Pietro 1997
La Viarte Tazzelenghe 1998
Madeira Finest full rich 5 years Henriques & Henriques
The chef, Riccardo, came out to our table to greet us and chat for a bit, which was unexpected and very kind. All in all, a fantastic experience, a pleasure from start to finish, and it would be my #1 restaurant recommendation in Rome.
I hesitate to admit this, but due to jetlag, sleeping in too late and rushing to our 12:30 entry time at the Vatican Museum, lunch was a slice of pizza in the museum cafeteria. Oh well, can’t hit a home run every time.
After the Vatican, however, we sought out Caffe Sant’Eustachio, which I had read on some coffee blog somewhere that it was the best coffee in Rome. I’m sure they are right. It was dreamy, and not only did we return there during our stay, we bought some ground coffee home in the hopes we could replicate the taste.
We also had San Crispino gelato that day. My husband had the lemon and tangerine sorbets (just bursting with fresh, citrusy flavor) and I chose pear, and the chocolate with meringue flavor. Heaven. We continued strolling and finished our gelato just as we came across Grom, but alas, my party-pooper husband suggested we not eat gelato again immediately, considering our plans later that evening. So, onto…
Dinner at La Pergola
This was a reservation we'd made many months prior, and we'd been very much looking forward to this particular 3*** Michelin experience. We'd expected that we would choose the tasting menu, but decided instead to go with the a la carte menu as a few of the tasting menu items didn't appeal, and at those prices I want to be sure I’ll enjoy every single bite ☺.
We were seated at the window, overlooking the twinkling lights of Rome below. So pretty. Although, I must admit this end portion of the dining room felt a little cold because of all the glass. I would have preferred to be seated in the front end of the restaurant. We chose our water from the water menu (no, we did not pick the 200 Euro bottle with Swarovski crystals), and were then given our ‘his & hers’ menus. His with prices, hers without. Thankfully my progressive, feminist self is secure enough to just think it’s kinda funny.
For an appetizer, I had the Crispy bread cannoli with amberjack and a brunoise of melon and celery, while my husband had the Emincé of sea bass marinated in vervain, with sweet pepper and aromatic herbs. He said it was the best use of peppers he’d ever tasted.
For the first course, we each had the Tortelli with braised lamb on pecorino sauce and menthe. We both agreed that this tasted like the very best comfort food in the world.
We also decided to stick with the same dish for the main course, and each had the Soya-poached fillet of beef and potato purée scented with jasmine tea, sake sauce. Wonderful.
The Sommelier chose wine pairings for each of our dishes, and I only wish I knew what they were, because they were delicious.
After the main course – dessert. And to be more explicit – the Grand Dessert. Oh. My. Word. When they switch out your tea lights for a different set of flickering candles, you realize they’re setting the scene for something magical. There was a pre-dessert, then a trio of hot desserts (including some kind of coconut-y drink that was sublime), followed by a trio of cold desserts. All this was accompanied by the ‘magic box’, filled with little treats, sweets and cookies that were all delicious. This, paired with a perfectly chosen dessert wine. Delicious.
A great place for a special occasion, and if you are in the mood for something a bit more formal.
Lunch at Palatium
Despite arriving at what we thought would be fairly early, this place was totally buzzing, and absolutely full downstairs. After a few minutes at the bar, we were ushered to the top floor dining room, and the ambience there was fairly disappointing compared to the ground level. At first all I could hear were British and American accents, so I was afraid the top floor was where they put all the tourists, but I had to remind myself that it was indeed full downstairs, and after a while the tables were filling up with Italian voices too. We shared a plate of meats and cheeses – it’s very hard for me not to enjoy prosciutto and parmesan, so that went down quite well. I then had pasta – cacio e pepe – and it was delicious. The house wines were… ok. There is only so much wine one can drink and we were not up to splitting a bottle, so the house wine is what we ordered. To be fair, it came on the heels of the wine tasting with Vino Roma, and wine pairings at All’Oro and La Pergola, so my wine palate was now entirely too used to drinking the nectar of the gods.
We decided to forgo dessert there so that we could suss out another gelato place, and top of my list of places to try was Il Gelato. This was fairly close to the Ara Pacis (yes, we managed to see a couple of sights in Rome, it was not all about food. Colo-what?) and we managed to find this little hideaway thanks to the Eat Rome app and the handy iPhone maps feature. You really do have to know it’s there, and that it’s worth finding – but, oh boy. Definitely vies with San Crispino, for sure. My husband went the citrusy sorbet route again, while I unceremoniously mixed flavors like cinnamon, wild fig, and something caramel-y. I couldn’t help myself. We just had too few days with too many gelato flavors. Next time in Rome, I’m getting the hotel wake-up call at 8:30am and I’m starting with gelato early.
That day we walked and wandered many miles, including down along the Tiber to the Jewish Ghetto (in search of what we had heard was the most amazing Chocolate Ricotta cake), and when we found the storefront closed we realized it was Saturday. Duh. Probably just as well, but we did go back the next day, and while that cake was sold out (by 11am!), we had an incredible cherry marzipan pie slice… There isn’t even a name over the bakery door, it’s just a hole in the wall and diagonally opposite the sign that says “Jewish Info Point”.
Back to Saturday’s story, that evening we had reservations at Trattoria Monti. Now, Hande did pre-warn us, and thankfully my husband is quite secure, but I do believe I was surreptitiously gawking that whole evening. Rome is full of beautiful people, but the two brothers who own/run/manage that restaurant give everyone else a run for their money. They should be the models on one of those ads where they shoo all the tourists off the Spanish Steps for some or other designer clothing or cologne.
But this is Chowhound, so I will say that it would be worth going to Trattoria Monti even if the two brothers were not there. It was just such a lovely, relaxed place – perfect to unwind and chat after a long day of walking. The house wines on offer there were very very good (I was a bit nervous to just order the house wine, but it was a good choice), and we just moved from white to red as the courses progressed. I had the radicchio flan for an appetizer, while my husband had the aubergine (I think?) flan, and they were both delicious. The radicchio one had just the right amount of ‘bite’ to it. I then had the raviolo stuffed with spinach, ricotta and runny egg. I’d never had a single raviolo before, and certainly not one filled with runny egg. Yum! That was followed by expertly seared beef tenderloin, and the house red packed just the right smooth punch to accompany it. The environs were warm, inviting and charming, and we loved it.
For dessert, we decided to consult the Eat Rome app for a nearby gelateria, and there was one within a 10 minute walk, so off we went. The streets were deserted and we did wonder if we had made the right decision after a little while, but then we spotted the Palazzo del Freddo Fassi. And when we walked in we realized why the streets were deserted – everyone was getting a gelato at 11:30pm! This place was buzzing, with all types of people. We loved it. We got our gelato, snagged a table, and enjoyed the people watching for a while.
Sunday lunch had proved to be the reservation most difficult to make. Initially we’d decided to go with Perilli (one particular blog post about it being a suitable last meal before the Rapture was particularly enticing), but then, honestly, I was scared off by reading some other reviews online which indicated they could be less than friendly towards non-Italian speakers or locals. We just didn’t feel like taking the risk. We still wanted to be in the Testaccio (or at least, Trastevere) neighborhood for lunch, so our options were fairly limited. We booked at Roma Sparita, but a last minute check on Katie Parla’s site revealed it had been struck from her hit-list, and so we cancelled that, opting instead to try Flavio al Velavevodetto in Testaccio, as per some earlier advice on my original Chowhound post. Traditional Roman food, with a modern twist, according to those in the know. Before lunch, we met our Sicilian/Roman/Sommelier friend and his wife for a cappuccino, and he persuaded us to walk over to 00100 for some suppli’ and a beer. Quite yum, and unexpected, because I’d read about 00100 but hadn’t put it on the itinerary. This didn’t bode well for our big Roman Sunday lunch at Flavio, however. We’d already eaten some cherry/marzipan decadence in the Jewish Ghetto, had a cappuccino, and now for a sampling of 4 or 5 suppli, chased down with beer? It’s not like we’d been starving ourselves in the days prior either… but how do you say no to a charming Sicilian and his beautiful wife?
Nevertheless, we did manage to order and eat some fried zucchini flowers (I think – really at this point I have a food coma just remembering all these meals!), and some very very delicious rigatoni carbonara. We just couldn’t manage to finish off our plates though, and with our limited Italian and the server’s limited English, we hoped they didn’t think we didn’t enjoy the food. Flavio is a great little spot, a restaurant carved into the side of Monte Testaccio, and you can see the old jars & vases that make up the hill, behind glass windows on the back wall. Pretty cool.
That evening we met up with an old friend, and took a cab out to La Gatta Mangiona – a delightfully local pizzeria in the ‘burbs’. After a round of suppli, and a fantastic Italian beer recommended by the owner, our pizzas arrived, and it felt so good to just tuck into some cheesy, doughy deliciousness. I had a blanco pizza with potatoes on it, certainly not a topping you find in the States, but it was great. After dinner, and back in the city center, we managed to once again step into San Crispino, and the honey and whiskey flavors were just phenomenal. Seriously, Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Dasz are just never gonna cut it anymore…
Monday, our final full day in Rome, dawned. Off we went down to Testaccio again, and stepped into the small marvelous world of Volpetti. A sweet and friendly young man behind the counter came out to assist us in choosing some salami and prosciutto, various cheeses, olives, artichoke hearts, some fried goodies, a few thin slices of nutty bread and a decent bottle of Chianti, for a picnic lunch. And then he proceeded to arrange it all on a plate, in the order in which we should eat it. Nice touch. He uncorked the bottle for us, wrapped our platter carefully, provided us with napkins and plastic cups, and we put it all in a navy blue Volpetti shopping bag for good measure. Up the Aventine Hill we marched (or strolled, rather. I’m not much of a marcher), through the Piazza di Malta after peeking through the keyhole (cool!) and into the Garden of Oranges. We spent a good hour or two there, munching on our picnic fare, toasting each other and Rome, acknowledging the ‘thumbs up’ from the local businessman who ate his lunch there and noticed our Volpetti bag, with a view of Rome in front of us, and the obligatory kissing couple stretched out illegally on the grass, right next to the ‘don’t go on the grass’ sign. It was the perfect way to spend a few hours.
And then, our final dinner, was another cab ride away. Not too far though, only about 20 minutes, and worth the ‘trek’. Le Tre Zucche was recommended as one of the best restaurants in Rome, and not one frequented by tourists. What a charming place – friendly service (again, most gracious with us non-Italian speakers), and the food was delicious and creative. We had the tasting menu, and again had wines by the glass paired with the courses. I cannot remember all the dishes, but one that I can remember as being fantastic had slow-cooked beef cheeks. And the carbonara, topped with truffles – perfect! The portions were just right. After a few days of solid eating, my husband ALMOST had us cancel the reservation, he wasn’t sure if he could eat dinner. Gasp! I was not going to bypass this place, and we were both so glad we went through with the reservation. Thankfully, the dishes were perfectly sized, extremely tasty and yet light. Just enough to feel satisfied.
This was another restaurant that felt extremely hospitable, and to top it off, they presented us with a little box of pasta to take home with us to Chicago. Then they followed us outside to the cab, unable to contain their curiosity as to how on earth a non-Italian speaking couple from the USA, on their first visit to Rome, had found out about them, even to the point of making reservations! Clearly this was no ‘we just stumbled upon it’ restaurant. So we told them about Elizabeth Minchilli, and Eat Rome, and Hande Leimer and Vino Roma, and it seemed they were quite thrilled. As we were, honestly. We ended on a high note at Le Tre Zucche.
Places we wish we’d had the time to frequent, but are on the list for our next visit to Rome (barring any striking from ‘top’ lists, of course!) are: Roscioli (we stopped in but had just eaten elsewhere), Checchino, Pizzarium, Grom, Os Club, Sforno, L’Arcangelo. Places we’d return to in a heartbeat: All’Oro, San Crispino, Caffe Sant’Eustachio, Volpetti, Le Tre Zucche.
To all who commented on my original post/request for feedback, thank you so much for your wonderful insight and advice – we are convinced that our getaway and introduction to Rome would never have been as delicious and satisfying without your help.
(Attached - 2 photos: One, choosing picnic fare at Volpetti. The other, Round 2 of the Grand Dessert at La Pergola)
Via di San Vito,13a, Roma , IT
Via Frattina 94, Roma , IT
Checchino dal 1887
Via di Monte Testaccio, 30, Rome 00153, IT
Via Marmorata 39, Rome , IT
Via dei Giubbonari 21/23, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT
Piazzetta San Francesco, 2, Cetara, Campania 84010, IT
Via della Meloria, 43, Rome, Lazio 00136, IT
Via Statilio Ottato, 110, Rome, Lazio , IT
via del Campanile, Florence, Tuscany 50122, IT
Via Eleonora Duse, 1, Rome, Lazio , IT
La Gatta Mangiona
Via Federico Ozanam,30, Rome, Lazio 00152, IT
Flavio al Velavevodetto
Via di Monte Testaccio 97, Rome, Lazio 00153, IT
I hope you'll never apologize again for not being a food writer. I enjoyed reading your report very much, and I can't say that about every food writer I've read.
Maybe I've not been paying attention when this subject came up before, but at L'Asino d'Oro, is the fixed menu all that is available at lunch, or could you have ordered off another menu? (I don't eat rabbits.)
Nicky, thank you so much for your great report! Believe me, I know (!) how much effort it takes to remember and write all this down. I'm so glad you were able to make it to so many of the really great place.
I'm only sorry that you didn't make it to Perilli due to fear! Just so you know, we heard back from another chowhounder about his trip there, and he made such good friends with the waiter, that he ended up sending him an opera cd. When I was there recently, the waiter told me about it, and started crying. Really!
Glad it all worked out and again , thanks so much for your well written, amusing and informative report.
PS I'll make sure the Monti brothers hear about your report too. :)
Via Marmorata 39, Rome , IT
What a terrific report, I almost felt as though I had been there with you. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it.