Thanks to all Italy Board Chowhound posters
I'm leaving for Italy tomorrow and just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to everyone in advance. I'll be in Rome for several days (including dinner plans with Farmer's Daughter), then Ravello, back to Rome, Siena, Firenze and finally Alba.I am armed with apps from both Katie Parla and Elizabeth Minchilli, have reviewed Maureen Fant's book for Williams-Sonoma on Rome, have a tasting scheduled with Vinoroma, and so much more. So many of you have contributed to my plans; thanks to all, and I promise a trip report on my return.
Part One: Travelling solo in Rome
I promised a report once I returned, so here it is. Just to give you some context: my husband, Matt, worked in Italy, beginning about 23 years ago and continuing for about 4 years. We've been travelling to Italy ever since--averaging one trip every two years. On this trip, I spent 5 days in Rome on my own. Once Matt arrived, we headed to Ravello for a week, back to Rome for 2 days, then Siena, Florence for several days, and finally to Alba before returning home.
I arrived in Rome on April 10th, both starving and jet-lagged. I was staying at a convent at Piazza Madonna dei Monti, and had a very late lunch at La Bottega del Caffe--had gnocchi alla sorrentina, which was perfectly adequate for my needs but nothing special for a dining destination.
On Wednesday, I had a cooking class scheduled with Cooking Classes in Rome in Trastevere. I was one of a group of twelve--a mix of family, couples, another single. We made artichokes alla romana; fettucine with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, mushrooms and peas; a contorno of spinach; saltimbocca; and a divine crostata. Very hands-on and geared toward the local and fresh ingredients. I was still too full from lunch to consider dinner, so I stopped at Delizie di calabria and picked up bread and cheese for a light meal.
On Thursday, I visited Villa Farnesina, then walked over to L'Arcangelo. I didn't think I could possibly manage both the suppli and the gnocchi, so I had a soffiche of pecorino romano, follwed by gnocchi all'amatriciana. The gnocchi were absolutely to die for. By dinnertime, I still couldn't possibly eat another fulll meal, so I headed over to Al Vino Al Vino for wine and a cheese plate. Nice wine list and a perfect place for a small meal or snack.
TO BE CONTINUED....
Part One-Travelling Solo in Rome (continued)
On Friday, I had reservations both for lunch and dinner, so I skipped breakfast in anticipation of two great meals. I had the famous 12 Euro lunch at L'Asino d'Oro. To start was Passata di asparagi e patate, which was a perfect beginning on a cold, rainy day. Next was lasagne di pane (layers of bread instead of pasta) with tuna and artichokes, followed by seppie in umido su crema di piselli. The seppie were perfectly tender. Everything was fabulous and an incredible bargain, so I also added dessert, spuma di zabaione. I will note that some may find the portions small. For me, they were perfect: it was the first lunch in Rome that made dinner a possibility. (I should probably note that I'm 5'3" and, as much as I love good food, there is just so much I can ingest in one sitting.) Good thing, too, as I was meeting Farmer'sDaughter for dinner at Trattoria Monti that evening. As much as I've been enjoying my solo trip, it was great to have a dining companion. It turned out that we had much in common--both attorneys, though in different practice areas, one on the east coast and one on the west, but both with a long history of Italy travel and a love of good food. We each started with a sformato with radicchio, followed by the Calamari special. The calimari were stuffed with a seafood and bread stuffing and lightly sauced with tomatoes. We shared a bottle of verdicchio and finished with apple tart (for her) and crostata (for me). Good food; good company; good evening.
My husband was arriving mid-day Saturday, so I spent the morning shopping. I had been hoping to check out the major markets, but it was another rainy day, so I decided to keep my shopping local in the Monti neighborhood and bought a few provisions so that I would not arrive in Ravello with a jet-lagged husband, empty cupboard, and everything closed. I wanted to check out Mia Market on Via Panisperna, which unfortunately was closed that day, but I found the essentials (bread, wine, cheese, salume, etc.) within walking distance from the piazza.
Part Two: A week on the Amalfi Coast
The original travel plan was that Matt and our two sons would meet me in Rome, then spend a week in Ravello. We were then sending the boys home to spend a week with Grandma, while we stayed on in Italy for another week. The kids ditched us for an opportunity to take a school-sponsored trip to China, so we had two weeks in Italy senza ragazzi--the first in a very long time.
We arrived at the villa in Ravello, which was about 20 minutes from the town center, in the early evening, settled in, and decided to walk up to the center for dinner. We strolled around the charming town a bit, then decided on Cumpa Cosimo. I was chilled from the rain, so I started with soup, then veal scallopine with lemon, while Matt had cannelloni and grilled sausages. The food was o.k., but not great, but the experience was fun--a little kitschy, but Matt speaks fluent Italian, which always takes the experience out of the "typical tourist" mode. If you're looking for fine dining, skip it, but it was an enjoyable evening.
TO BE CONTINUED...
I've been neglecting my report--that pesky day job gets in the way sometimes, but here goes:
Part Two-A Week on the Amalfi Coast (continued)
On Sunday, we hiked down from Ravello to Atrani and then Amalfi. Who knew that downhill could be so hard? A light rain was falling, so we stopped for glasses of prosecco and then headed to LePalme, which was recommended by the owner of our villa, as well as several mentions on this site. I started with spaghetti alla vongole, which was full of tiny, sweet clams. I especially liked that the garlic was restrained because too much garlic can overpower the clams. Next, I had the fritti misti. I tried my best but couldn't finish the huge plate of seafood. Matt is not a seafood lover, so he started with a pasta and bolognese sauce and had a simply-prepared grilled fish that he enjoyed.
After such a big lunch, we just had some wine and cheese at the villa instead of a proper dinner.
Monday was another rainy day, so we drove down to Paestum and wandered around the ruins in the light drizzle. We had no firm plans for lunch but happened across Ristorante Nettuno, which was well-reviewed on Trip Advisor. It's more white-tablecloth than our usual choices--hosts a lot of weddings and other events--but we had a perfectly fine lunch: provola affumicata and risotto with seafood for me; proscuitto with bocconcini and veal scallopine for Matt.
As was becoming our usual pattern, we had a light meal at "home" that evening.
More rain on Tuesday, so we changed plans and drove into Naples. This was really our first visit there, unless you count changing trains once before en route to Pompeii. Matt makes pizzas at home on our small wood-fired oven, so we had to try pizza in Naples. We decided on Sorbillo and didn't see a tourist in the place. Matt had 4 staggione, and I had proscuitto crudo--both very good. We decided that we are probably overcooking our pizzas a bit and can't wait to experiment more once we return home.
After visiting the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, we picked up some pastries for dessert and headed back to the villa. Actually had a proper dinner at the villa: caprese, pasta with a fresh tomato sauce, and artichokes alla romana.
Sunshine at last on Wednesday, so we hopped on a boat to Capri for the day. After exploring the town, we stopped at Aurora for lunch and were very happy with our choice. Again, a bit more upscale than our usual haunts, but the food was very, very good. Matt had caprese, followed by riso a sartu, and I had a perfectly-grilled plate of vegetables followed by torta di pasta (pasta formed into a cake, coated with breadcrumbs and delicately fried, then sauced with zucchini). Delicious.
As we hiked up to Villa Jovis before returning to the mainland, we decided to have dinner out in Ravello, this time at Da Salvatore. I had mixed feelings about this place, which I guess I would classify as creative versions of local classics. Matt and I shared an unusual, mostly-deconstructed caponata--different from what I expected, but good. Matt followed with stuffed shells, which I must admit were much better than mine at home, no doubt due to the quality of the cheeses. I had ricotta gnocchi sauced with nuts and bits of candied orange. The best part of this dish, though, were the veal cheeks served on the side--tender and delicious.
It stormed all night but was relatively clear on Thursday morning, so we drove over to Positano. I must admit we took a cab back up to our car, as we were parked much further away than we had realized. Although we had tentatively planned to have lunch at Il Ritrovo in Montepertuso, our cabdriver suggesed Scirocco instead. It turned out that our server there had lived in Quincy, MA for several years, just down the street from Matt's hometown. I had paccheri with cozze and cherry tomatoes, while Matt had ravioli. Matt followed with an entrecote with a sauce of mirtilli and delicious roasted potatoes I tasted a bit of Matt's secondo, and the sauce was very good, without being overly sweet. The views at Scirocco were also amazing. We hope to get back to Montepertuso some day, as it looks like all the best food around Positano is up there.
We had one of our favorite lunch choices on Friday at DaVittoria in Ravello, after visiting Villa Cimbrone. Matt started with a plate of arancini, fried mozzarella, mini-pizzas and such, followed by very light and delicious gnocchi alla sorrentina. I had a sformata of eggplant and cheese with a tomato sauce, followed by a type of gnocchi stuffed with cauliflower and some type of fish, sauced with butter, pine nuts and a touch of lemon. Delicious!
After all that food, had a simple pasta with marinara sauce back at the villa for dinner.
EKC--have a wonderful trip. The AC is perhaps the most beautiful place I've ever been, despite the rainy weather we experienced. And to continue on with our trip:
Part Two--A Week on the Amalfi Coast (continued)
We spent our last day in Amalfi, as the Museo della Cartiera was a must-visit for my engineer husband, who used to work in the paper industry. Matt was not up for more seafood, so we drove to DaMario, outside of Ravello, which reportedly (according to the villa owner) had the best pizza around. We should have known better, as the pizza was available only for dinner, so we had veal scallopine, mine with mushrooms and Matt's with lemon. Obviously I can't comment on the pizza, but otherwise, don't bother. We made risotto al limone, and green beans with grated lemon zest back at the villa for dinner. I love the Amalfi lemons!
Part Three--Travelling North
On Sunday morning, we hit the autostrada and reached Rome by 12:30. That left us plenty of time to drop off luggage at the hotel, return the rental car, stop for a quick drink, then head to Flavio al Velavevodetto for pranzo. Matt started with tonnarelli cacio e pepe, while I had fettucine alla vignarola (Elizabeth Minchilli recently mentioned that vignarola was now sometimes treated as a sauce for pasta, which is exactly what I had). Mine was good, although I think I would have preferred the vignarola on its own. Matt's pasta, which I had to try, was excellent. Matt followed with a beef dish--can't remember the details, as I was absorbed with my abbacchio (thin baby lamb chops breaded and fried) served with zucchini sticks. We had been debating between Flavio al V. and Perilli for lunch and were very happy with our choice. Afterward, we had hoped to stop at Claudio Torce for gelato, but couldn't possibly eat another bite.
Next on our agenda was a winetasting at VinoRoma. Although we've been drinking Italian wines for over 20 years, this was our first real winetasting, three whites and three reds from regions all over Italy. Given Matt's familiarity with the wines of Piemonte (from the time he worked there), Hande substituted a lesser-known Freisa for the planned Barbera, so we had a chance to check out the wine cellar, too. The class was very enjoyable and informative, without being stuffy. I especially enjoyed talking about possible food pairings with each wine we tasted.
After all that food and wine, I wasn't eating another full meal, so since we were in Monti, I took Matt over to Al Vino Al Vino, where we had piatti misti di salumi e formaggi with a bottle of Dolcetto before heading back to the hotel.
We spent Monday morning visiting Matt's favorite sites, since I'd already had 5 days on my own, then headed over to Roscioli for a late-ish lunch. We absolutely loved the burrata but had mixed feelings about the carbonara. The sauce was much richer and creamier than the one I make at home, and I loved the guanciale--crisp little nuggets of concentrated flavor, and so much better than the bacon I'm forced to use as a substitute at home--but for our taste, the pasta was a touch too al dente. Overall, though, a good meal, and Matt was thrilled with the cookies served with chocolate.
More touring that afternoon, then a well-deserved break for gelato at Gelateria del Teatro. I had a coppa of salvia e lampone, which sounded a little odd but tasted great, and ricotta/fico/mandorla, which was one of my favorite combinations ever. I had a taste of Matt's ginger--also excellent--but regret that I didn't taste the dark chocolate with wine.
We had planned to have pizza that evening at Pizzarium, but I wasn't hungry (I must find a way to increase my eating capacity on our next trip because there are so many places I want to try!). Matt decided he still wanted a bite to eat, so we dashed over to Forno Campo de Fiori. Too late--they had just closed--so we stopped at Cul de Sac for sopressata piccante and formaggi misti so poor Matt wouldn't starve to death. I checked out all my neighbors' dishes, and this is another place I'd like to explore more.
Further exploration will have to wait for our next trip, though, as we leave for Siena tomorrow morning.
I've been practically living at court these past two weeks (I'm an attorney), so no time to write. Picking up where I left off:
Traveling North (continued)
We arrived in Siena around 11 with no fixed plans, so we strolled around, stopped for a glass of wine, and explored restaurants, settling on Da Divo for lunch. Matt had grilled quail served over kale, then pici with a meaty ragu. (This sounds backwards as I'm writing it, but that's what my notes read.) I started with involtini di zucchine, long ribbons of zucchine stuffed with roasted red peppers and cheese, followed by ravioli filled with beans and potatoes served with tomato concasse. My memories of Siena dining from past trips were thoroughly unremarkable, so we were pleased with our choices. Spent much of the rainy afternoon at Museo del'Opera del Duomo, then made plans to meet Gina Stipo at Bar Palio for a glass of wine. (Side note: Gina runs a cooking school, Ecco La Cucina, just outside of Siena. We met her a couple of years ago when I won a contest through Chicco's. The prize was a cooking class by Gina at my home for me and up to 10 friends.One of the top 10 events in my life--so much fun for all.) Of course, the glass of wine turned into two or three or so, and we eventually wandered over to L'Osteria for dinner. I know that we all shared bruschetta and crostini with lardo, and that I had scottoditto but must admit that my memories are a little blurry.
Off to Florence the next day, arriving around noon. Although we've been to Florence many times before, in the recent past, we've rented a cottage in Carmignano with the boys and taken day trips into the city. We were excited to be staying in Florence again. We made several calls looking for a place to eat lunch, but had difficulty reaching anyone. We then realized that today was a holiday, so we decided to stroll around, armed with Elizabeth Minchilli's app, and see what was open. Our old favorite, da Sergio, was closed, but we happened by Cipolla Rossa, which turned out to be open, and settled into a leisurely and delicious lunch, beginning with risotto with asparagus. I followed with tagliato di pollo, which had a lovely flavor from the grill while still remaining moist, and Matt had filetto al burro rosolato. I didn't try his beef, but Matt reports that it was quite good. Spent the afternoon revisiting some of our favorite sites. By evening, I still wasn't hungry, but Matt wanted a bite to eat, so we ducked into a nearby pizzaria to grab a quick bite. I didn't write down the name of the pizzaria, but it was most definitely not a dining destination.
Spent the next morning shopping and visiting San Marco, then headed over to Da Mario for lunch, arriving just before the huge crowds. Somehow, we'd never managed to eat there in all our years visiting Florence--we usually end up at either Da Sergio or Casalinga, our perennial favorites. I had ribollita to start, which was quite good, although I decided that my version (a recipe from Carol Field) was quite respectable. Matt started with ravioli in meat sauce, followed by a steak. He scarfed the steak down so fast that I didn't even get a taste but reports that it was excellent. I followed with the most moist and tender rabbit I've ever had. Da Mario is certainly not for everyone--crowded, brisk-paced, not "fine dining" but the food was really good and the price amazingly low. If I lived in Florence, I would be a regular here. More sightseeing throughout the afternoon, with a gelato break at Carapina. I had pear, which was surprisingly flavorful given a pear's somewhat delicate taste, and crema di vin santo, which was to-die-for delicious. Of course, after a great lunch and gelato, a full dinner was out of the question for me, so we walked over to Coquinarius, another Elizabeth Minchelli rec and only minutes from our hotel. Although the place was bustling, we snagged a table and shared a crostone with ham, cheese and artichokes, and a plate of beef carpaccio with salad. A bottle of cool, crisp Verdicchio was delicious after a hot day. Service was friendly. Again, if we lived here, I think this would be one of our regular hangouts.
After a morning at the Uffizi, we had lunch reservations at Sostanza. I must admit that I had mixed feelings about returning here. Our last visit (15 years ago, when our eldest was a toddler) left a bad taste in my mouth. We're not the sort of parents who let their children run rampant through a restaurant, but we felt distinctly unwelcome with our son. I am happy to report that this was a completely different experience. Matt and I had identical meals: pasta with meat sauce, then the famous chicken breasts in butter. I don't care how many calories were ingested; the chicken was one of the best things I've ever tasted in my life.Service was also very pleasant. Had a lovely chat with our neighbor at the next table, who was clearly a regular, and turned out to be a retired engineer (my husband's profession). I am quite pleased to report that this was a completely different experience from my first visit, and I would happily return again.
(More to follow, but almost done!)