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Apr 29, 2012 04:26 PM

Rome restaurant reviews

Thank you all who helped me in giving opinions and advice on the many restaurants in Rome. Because of various rescheduling issues we did vary from our original restaurant itinerary. Overall we found the food very good and more reasonable than what was expected. By this point in our itinerary we were feeling a bit overdone in the pasta and heavy food department and would have loved some lighter, less carb heavy foods, especially raw vegetables.

Our first night was at Le Mani in Pasta in Trastevere. Overall enjoyable, had tagliatelle with white truffle. Something I was hoping to be able to enjoy in Italy, but knew I was past prime season. Like all Italian pastas it was simple yet delicious. We also enjoyed fresh Sicilian red prawns, that were served whole, these were so sweet, it was like eating lobster, nice to have the head still on so we could try the head meat too. Our service was decent and the restaurant was enjoyable with a window to the kitchen. Definitely more boisterous and perhaps more tourists than in other restaurants we went to, but I did not feel it was touristy. Prices were reasonable and wine recommendation was good. I did feel we were not given the whole menu of daily specials but I spoke on this on another thread.

Next day we ate at Pizzarium for lunch. What a treat, some of the best we had, if not the best. Everything from the crust to the varied toppings was perfect. I had an artichoke, goat cheese and mortadello pizza, which was delightful but a bit heavy as the artichoke was actually a puree and very liberal with it. I preferred the lighter tomato based pizzas that my SO ordered. We did find this pricey for the size you get and the fact that it is really take out only.

That evening was dinner in the Jewish ghetto at Piperno. I was planning on this being our more expensive meal of Rome and it probably was. The fried items are fantastic, but heavy and tough to follow up with a main course (for me at least) and quite pricey for the amount you get. We had the fried artichoke and squash blossoms, both were perfectly fried and seasoned, the squash were filled with ricotta, very decadent. Next I had la vignarola which was a bit of a let down for me. I was expecting fresh, green and al dente vegetables, it really was a stew. The flavours were enjoyable, but to me it was just overcooked vegetables, it kind of turned me off on trying it elsewhere as the overcooked vegetable seems to be the norm in Italy. I really should have skipped a main as I barely got through a third of my white fish (not sure what kind), which was well flavoured, but very oily and heavy with its artichokes and a fried potato crust. It took a few blocks of walking before I could consider gelato....

The next day we had lunch at L'asino d'oro. This was a real treat, first because it was the first sunny day and they have a cute little patio space, but mainly because of the food and value. The food here stands our above all our meals in Rome for being innovative and young feeling (everywhere else we went was very traditional) They have a 12euro 3 course set lunch menu with wine and water, plus an amuse bouche. The starter was a carrot soup, which really helped my cravings for a vegetable taste. Second was a delicate cannelloni filled with ricotta. Sounds pedestrian, but their handmade pasta (I assume), made all the difference. Best pasta we had in Rome. 3rd was an eggplant lasagna, enjoyable, but eggplant is not my favorite. My only complaint was that they were not open on Sunday so we could come back for dinner and ordering off the menu was not an option. Also the service was fairly snooty.

The evening was supposed to take us to an enoteca, but after sitting our at Piazza Navona to enjoy the sun and some prosecco, we found we were interested in a meal. We didn't have reservations, but used Eat Rome to search out a place to go around the Campo di Fiori or Piazza Navona. Unfortunately our first 2 choices were full (Roscioli and another that I can't recall). Ended up at Costanza. Definitely the most touristy of all places we went to, and the ambiance was not as nice in the room we were in compared to the main room. Service was good, if not a little over the top. Food was enjoyable, as we opted for only 2 courses, one carbonara and one amatriciana, both enjoyable, but the bucatini was too al dente for me, in fact I would probably say it was undercooked, probably should have sent it back. Sauces were nice on each. Price was moderate to inexpensive.

Our last big meal was Sunday lunch at Flavio in Testaccio. Probably favorite meal in Rome. The carbonara was amazing, with the guanciale being so melty and luscious and the cacio e pepe was just what I had hoped it would be, fresh, bright and flavourful. Service was pleasant, the outdoor seating in the sun was perfect and the place was packed with boisterous Italian families. I felt like I was peeking in on a true Roman tradition of Sunday lunch with the family. Price was moderate.

Some other places we tried that need mentioning:
Ma chi siete venuti a fa in Trastevere, tiny, kinda smelly beer pub with an amazing array of local and international artisan beers. The milk stout is a must.
Fior di Luna in Trastevere, best gelato we tried in Rome, you can tell this is made with care and finesse. The girls at the counter were very friendly.
Bar San Calisto in Trastevere, best cornettos in Rome that we tried (overall the cornettos were much better in Rome than in the rest of Italy) and really great coffee.
Gelateria Corona, near Argentina tram station: great sorbetto with strawberry and basil
Testaccio market: an enjoyable trip to see all the beautiful local fresh fruit and vegetables, we enjoyed buying and eating the fresh shelled peas and admiring the shellfish and whole fish the mongers were hawking. Oh the meals I could cook if I had access to fresh food like this all year round!

Regarding the coffee which is something I was looking forward to, over all I was underwhelmed, I tried many recommended places including the big ones Sant 'Eustaccio and Tazza d'Oro. I liked the atmosphere at these places as it was what I pictured in my mind, pushy, lined up and loud. But preferred the coffee at some of the smaller places. In fact the best one was a small bar around the corner from our B&B on Viale di Trastevere, that I forgot to get the name of and only tried on the morning we left Rome unfortunately. It was also the only one I saw in all of the places in Italy that we went that had a lever pull instead of push button, something that over here is held in high regard by coffee aficionados. But I have to admit, and my local coffee shop will be happy to hear this, Phil & Sebastion in Calgary, AB Canada is better coffee. I was really shocked.

Again thank you to all those that helped me decide my trip, it was truly influenced in a positive way by all the people that post on this board.

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  1. Thanks for the great report. It is always helpful to get feedback like yours.

    1. Thanks so much for checking back in. It's always great to get feedback.

      Regarding Vignarola: That's it in a nutshell, vegetable stew. It's never the crisp fresh 'stir fry' you may have been imagining, but always a kind of stew. That said, many traditional restaurants are starting to serve it as a type of pasta sauce (Flavio Velavevodetto is one of them) which works really well.

      8 Replies
      1. re: minchilli

        Yes. I had exactly this conversation last night with a chef from New York who had been disappointed to find that vignarola was a kind of stew with overcooked vegetables. Indeed, it is supposed to be a kind of stew, with tender vegetables. I find that North Americans find Italian vegetables "overcooked," when in fact they are simply "cooked." Overcooked is what North American (and plenty of northern European and British Isles) grandmothers used to do until half-raw vegetables became fashionable in the late 1970s. In Italy either they are cooked or they are raw, and both ways they have plenty of flavor. Of course the quality of vignarola, and style, is very variable, but it's not cooked for a long time. At home I do the peas and favas in 10-15 minutes, the artichokes about 20. According to one explanation I've heard, the ingredients could be picked after a morning's work in the vineyard (vigna) and cooked directly for lunch, which implies anything but long cooking times.

        1. re: mbfant

          @minchilli: more than happy to report back, it is a great way to catalog our food adventures! After all the help I received from you all I am delighted to contribute. I did see the vignarola at Flavia, but opted for the cacio e pepe as I had not enjoyed that yet, there was just not enough meals or stomach room!

          @mbfant: a good point, cooked not overcooked. Totally a matter of taste and preference. I have always preferred lightly steamed to preserve some crispness and IMO flavour (I also grew up after the 70s) Now I am curious why the change occurred to cook vegetables less? Did it have to do with less need for preservation? or simply fashion?

          1. re: cleopatra999

            If I may, I think it had to do with a change of taste/fashion more than any other reason. So that if you expect your vegetables to be crisp to the tooth, you may be disappointed bycooked vegetables. cooked until they are tender. its more of a mouthfeel impact than a taste you are looking for.

            Once consideration is that vegetables need to be cooked a certain time to absorb salt and other flavorings. Even in stir-frying, the flavoring does not occur until some tenderness is obtained. So in my experience crisp vegetables have to be "dressed" to be properly flavored, whereas tender vegetables can be flavored by their sauce and the salt in the cooking water.

            Vignarola is essentially a vegetable stew - we loved the version we had which I dont think would have been possible unless the vegetables cooked to a tender state..

            1. re: jen kalb

              I agree Jen, I think that the vignarola had a lot of absorbed flavour, and I did enjoy it, it was just not what was in my mind. Also after 2 weeks of 'cooked' vegetables I was looking forward to crisp ones. When I got to Germany I wolfed down almost a whole cucumber just to get that craving satisfied. Next time I go back to Italy, I will be sure to eat more salads, and buy some vegetables at the market that can be eaten raw to keep me satisfied. I kept thinking the crisp vegetables would come, in another region, just around the corner.

              1. re: cleopatra999

                we always - or almost always - order salads and other contorni with our meals in Italy. where you were in ER vegetables are a bit of an afterthought in most traditional restaurants, and when we have been up around Lago di Garda, they are not on many menus except as salads. Crisp veg is really not an italian thing but I think they have one of the great vegetable cuisines

                1. re: jen kalb

                  That's right, Jen. And people who come from cultures that massacre their vegetables, or at least used to, or whose vegetables have little natural flavor, should be ready to adapt to the Italian way and give the Italians some credit. The Italians didn't have to adopt a radical new approach in the 1970s because they had always eaten good vegetables cooked to preserve their natural flavor. What is unfortunate is that most of the wonderful vegetables and vegetable dishes rarely turn up on trattoria menus. One more reason to try to have a kitchen, or visit a private home.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    One exception might be in Puglia, where platters of fennel, celery, cucumbers, onions, carrots, and other vegetables appear at the end of the meal as a "sopratavola". No oil dipping a la pinzimonio, just salt. We had the same tradition, if a little less elaborate, in my Calabrian-American home, with fennel, celery, cukes, and whatever was fresh and good.

          2. re: minchilli

            Just returned yesterday from 3 weeks in Italy. While in Rome, I was hoping to sample vignarola at several locations, but so many choices! so little time! I did have the fettucine with vignarola that Elizabeth Minchilli describes at Flavio Velavevodetto as a primo for Sunday lunch, and I thought it was very good, too. Had the vignarola been served on its own, rather than treated as a sauce for the pasta, though, might have been even better.

          3. This year I had vignarola (my mother calls it Minestra Primavera) 10 times at least. Vegetables are cooked long enough to be tender and loose clorophil color, tending to the brown. Love vignarola and could eat tons. The crispy veggies, well, that is something different, this is a stew to be finished with plenty of bread!! What I find interesting is that you found the pasta undercooked when it is a matter of pride here to serve pasta al dente (even outside of Italy pasta is starting to be served al dente).

            6 Replies
            1. re: cristinab

              @cristnab, I found the pasta undercooked in only one dish I had, it was perfect everywhere else. Because of this comparison I feel I can say undercooked, NOT al dente, which is my preference as well. Think of bucatini that you could not twirl around your fork at all because it was too stiff.

              @mbfant, when I have vegetables fresh from my garden in the summer my preference is still for light cooking, I just love the taste and texture of fresh veggies. It is a challenge to be in such an amazing foodie city such at Rome for only 4 nights and want the best of eating in with perfect ingredients and enjoying the restaurants. Now that I have done the touring and enjoying restaurants trip I feel next visit would be in one or two areas at the most and choose the location based on what is in season and rent a place with a kitchen.

              1. re: cleopatra999

                ok, they served it "al chiodo". Something you will find only in Rome.

                1. re: cristinab

                  Meaning? Also it was not consistent in doneness, would this be al chiodo?

                  1. re: cleopatra999

                    Al chiodo means really hard, not cooked inside at all. The white part inside the pasta is visible and thick. You can tell because you cannot wrap the damn thing around the fork! Famous for the "al chiodo" pasta is Arcangelo and, I would say with no doubt,
                    it is a local tradition. Personally, I love al dente, not so fond of al chiodo, but there are many people who can swear it is the only way you should be eating pasta.

                    1. re: cristinab

                      Christina, are there other restaurants that tend toward this style?

                      Is this something customers specify on (al dente or al chiodo) or do the restaurants just serve it they way they serve it.

                      Personally Ive tended to see this more with beans than with pasta, white beans served at a harder, starchier stage than I prefer.

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        Hello Jen,
                        I personally don't know of any other restaurant because it is one of thise "foodies" thing. If you google, you'll find several topics related to The "alchiodo" pasta. I personally prefer al dente. I would not associate the pasta cooking with beans just because several beans can actually serious problems if undercooked (Simone Rugiati on "L'isola dei famosi" teaching). Thos beans are probably not cooked enough or well or just old beans.

            2. What a great review, loved reading it. All this makes me so excited about my upcoming trip (less than two weeks away!) The discussion about under/overcooked vegetables is quite interesting. Living and growing up in the southern part of America, all veggies were cooked to be soft AND well seasoned. Still love that taste. This discussion reminds me of comparing green beans cooked with bacon and onions until the very soft beans absorb the flavor of both. Or small tender green beans sauteed in oil and butter, still very crisp and sweet. They are both delicious, just two completely different tastes.