report (v. long): Venice/ Florence/ Rome with 2 kids, 5 and 7 - Part I
We just returned from Italy and I wanted to thank all of you CH'ers for your helpful and insightful advice. We found some gems as a result. All of my choices were made knowing that we would have 2 young, tired, cranky kids in tow. That said, we didn't stick entirely to the schedule and ended up winging it a few times (I made sure to jot down backup places). I skipped over all the charming enotecas and romantic restaurants, though, and my husband and I thought we had to compromise on our food choices because the kids were with us, but we still ate well. Those other places will be for another trip.
Venice: we arrived in the late afternoon on the train from Geneva. We had dinner reservations at 9pm for Al Nono Risorto. In the meantime I had planned on walking to Il Doge in Dorsoduro for some gelato, but we got lost and just started walking around. We bumped into Bancogiro, just off the Rialto Bridge, which I had read about here (to mixed reviews), but it was a perfect outdoor setting for our restless kids, tired from the 7 hr train ride. The fact that it has no barrier from the canal wasn't an issue for us, the kids had room to run and chase birds, and they're old enough to know not to go in the canal, so we were able to sit and relax for a bit before dinner. We had the ubiquitous spritzes (my new favorite cocktail), tasty and refreshing, and not too sweet, and some chichetti (bacalao mantecato - sp? for me, and some salumi for my husband). I was really looking forward to trying the bacalao, knowing it is a typical chichetti, but it was entirely underwhelming. My husband liked the salumi and so did my son. They also served us some tasty little crackers, which was a nice touch.
We tried very hard to find Al Nono Risorto but despite several maps (and a GPS on my blackberry), I'm ashamed and disappointed to say we coudn't find it. Our kids were also hungry, tired of walking and were close to melting down, so we decided to slip in to a Tratoria/Pizzeria we found tucked in to a little street near Dorsoduro called Tratoria Da Silvio (sorry I don't have the address but I'm pretty sure it was on the Calle de San Pantalon). The restaurant looks small on the outside but inside it opens up to a fairly large but cozy outdoor restaurant, with friendly service. We all ordered pizzas (mine was a porcini pizza) and a salad, plus house wine. They brought us limoncello afterwards (good). The food was good and reliable and I'd say the restaurant is good for kids. Afterward we were able to find the gelateria Il Doge, where we had their signature and award-winning flavor, the Doge, which I remembered fondly for the rest of the trip. The Campo Santa Margherita where Il Doge is located was perfect for the kids to run around in. Incidentally, if you like ice cream/gelato as much as I do, I highly recommend seeking out the highlighted gelato places - it is so worth it. Yes, it's true, it's hard to find a bad gelato in Italy, but in my opinion, some are definitely better than others and worth the trek to find them.
The next day we found Al Nono Risorto (accidentally, of course - we had such difficulty finding addresses in Venice - I expected this but not to such a degree!). Anyway it turned out to be practically around the corner from our hotel. I was so disappinted because it definitely would have been a good choice for us and the kids. Oh well.
The next day we were visiting San Marco - utter insanity with tired and hot children - and rather than having lunch at a place I had picked from reading these boards called Al Vecio Portal, we got sidetracked when our kids said they were hungry so we stopped off at the nearest non-descript outdoor restaurant. I can't remember the name but it was fine and served its purpose... On our way back from San Marco we got the kids gelato near the Rialto and were once again by the trusty Bancogiro restaurant, so we stopped here for some spritzes. The kids sat on the pier and dangled their bare feet in the water, watching the gondoliers, etc., go by (we watched them from our chairs).
Dinner that night was at 9pm at La Zucca, which is not necessarily kid-friendly nor known for its Venetian cuisine, but which I nonetheless really wanted to try. I had seen it recommended here and it was also recommended by a client of mine who lives in Verona. We really enjoyed this restaurant. The food was delicious, seasonal, and the service was good. I had an asparagus flan with some ricotta and seasonal vegetables. My husband had a burratta with prosciutto. I had a secondo of jasmine rice and a vegetable/bean dish - unusual I know but very tasty and just what I wanted. My husband had a duck and pasta dish that he thoroughly enjoyed. My kids each had their tagliatelli with butter and parmigiano, and each ate their entire plate. The bill, including a liter of house wine was €70. I mentioned this place is not kid-friendly not because the staff isn't welcoming to them but rather because it is a tiny restaurant with some indoor seating and about 6 tables outside (ours was the only outside table for 4, I think because we had requested it earlier). The restaurant is next to one of Venice's typical tiny bridges, and after our kids finished eating they went off to play on the bridge (within our eyesight), and this was our saving grace in that we were able to enjoy our dinner. After dinner, I had planned to try the gelato at the 'famed' Alaska, but (surprise) we got lost and couldn't find it. There is a gelateria directly around the corner from La Zucca, I think it's called Gelateria San Stae, but it closes at 11pm (as do most Venetian gelaterias, I think), and so we went wihout gelato that evening, unfortunately.
Florence: we arrived here around 3pm and were staying near Fiesole, about 20-30 min outside of Florence by car. We ate a wonderful lunch in our hotel and the kids spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool. For dinner that night we ate at Pizzeria San Domenico in Fiesole, recommended by my cousin who studied nearby and would eat there at least once a week when he lived there. The kids had pizzas here, which they loved (they were excellent). I had capellini with tartufo cream (cream of truffles). It was decadent and delicious and the portion wasn't too huge. I tried not to think of everything that was in it that was making it taste so good. We also ordered assorted Tuscan bruschetta - one with tomatoes, one with mushrooms, and one with the traditional chopped liver. I don't eat any meat but my husband does and he didn't care for the liver bruschettas. For dessert I had 'tartufo' - sort of a dark chocolate shell covering a lighter chocolate mousse but firmer that the usual mousse I've tried. It was also delicous. I wish I could remember what my husband had because it was also unusual and delicous - i think it was called 'zuppe italiano' or something like this. Dinner with bread and 1 liter of house wine was around €70.
We had a car in Florence so the next day we drove into Florence and luckily parked just outside the city, near the Santa Croce cathedral and the library. On the way to the center, we passed the Gelateri Neri, near the Piazza de la Signoria. I had the dark chocolate and it was bitter but good. Here I wished I would've tried a different flavor. I had planned for lunch at Cipolla Rossa but we decided to go to the San Lorenzo food market. We were looking for Bondi Focaccine, a sandwich shop that my cousin had highly recommended for a delicious, quick lunch. Despite asking for directions and having a map, we couldn't find it...(there's a window of time you have with tired and hungry kids). We drove up to the Piazzale Michaelangelo for a lovely and incredible view of Florence, and ended up having lunch at one of the touristy spots in the Boboli Gardens across the street from the Piazzale. I can't remember the name but we had good pizzas and salad (€35), the view was nice and it wasn't crowded.
That night at 9pm we had dinner reservations at Da Sergio in the Oltrarno- one of our favorite restaurants of the trip. The restaurant is small and in a charming, non-touristy area of Florence. The owner was warm and helpful, and it was the quintessential Italian dinner experience, where you feel like you are in someone's home. The atmosphere was casual and friendly, and the food delicous, simple, and seasonal. I had the fusilli pasta with arugula pesto and hazelnuts - light, flavorful, and delicious. My husband wanted the classic bistecca Fiorentina, but was told it would be too much food for one person (and I don't eat meat), so the waiter offered another steak dish using the same meat as the bistecca. My husband said it was delicious. We had a liter of the house vino rosso, which the waiter said would be very good (and was). Afterwards he brought us some sinus-clearing grappa. I really wanted to stay here and just linger - what in Spanish is known as 'sobremesa' ...but with 2 young kids...by now you get the picture.
We planned to walk to the nearby Gelateria San Trinita (directly across from the Ponte Santa Trinita) apparently known for their dark chocolate flavors, and this definitely looked like a nice place to check out, but on the way we stumbled upon the Gelateria La Carraia, which had a long line outside. A no-brainer, we thought. And we were rewarded with delicious, perfect gelato. Most of us had the chocolate mint here.
The next day we drove to Siena and on our way back we drove through scenic Chianti, for our lunch reservation at the touristy but out of the way Osteria alla Piazza. It is touristy but they are tourists in the know who come here for a reason - good food and eye-popping beautiful vistas. We arrived around 2pm when the restaurant was full but mostly everyone was finishing their meal. By the time we left it was empty and the waiter was (mercifully) entertaining our kids. I had the tagliatelle with tartufo (truffle), generously topped with the largest truffles I have ever seen ( I love truffles). We had a bottle of Chianti, of course. The drive back to Florence from here was spectacular.
Rome: upon arrival we had lunch in our hotel's restaurant, Circus. Lovely view, good food and very fancily prepared - a la French food. Expect to pay more here. We only ate here this day for convenience, but it would be a fantastic place to have a drink and watch the sunset, if your kids are calm and can sit still for it (mine wouldn't so I know better).
Dinner that night was set for La Gatta Mangiona further outside of the city center, which I was looking forward to, but we decided against it because of the distance. As a fallback I had read about Alla Rampa near the Spanish Steps and although I suspected it would be touristy, I had a hunch the food would be good, and it was more centrally located. Well, it is definitely touristy and probably one of the most expensive meals we had (approx €85), but the food was good and they had an extensive menu. We actually sat inside, way in the back of the restaurant with many locals. I had risotto with smoked provolone and prosecco (huge portion, tasty). Then I had asparagus with fried egg (another huge portion, good). My husband had lobster pasta and burratta with cherry tomatoes and arugula. My son had the spaghetti bolognese and my daughter had cheese tortellini. To be fair, I'm not sure if this meal was more expensive because my kids ate a specific dish here, instead of their usual pasta with butter/cheese, or pizza. Anyway, it is a kid-friendly restaurant.
The next day we had reservations for Sunday lunch at Perilli but I had to cancel these because it was cutting in to our day. Everyone was looking forward to their famous carbonara. Oh well. they were very cordial when I canceled. I hope to make it back there someday. We ended up taking the train to Pizzarium to see what all the hype was about. It definitely didn't disappoint and was worth the trip. We tried the pizza with potatoes as is so often recommended here (so good, definitely try - my favorite), one with cherry tomatoes and mozarella and one with 3 types of tomato sauces. My kids also enjoyed all the pizzas. A good, inexpensive, foolproof choice for a casual lunch or dinner (no seating).
That night we had dinner at Il Fico, one of the few places open for dinner on Sunday that isn't a tourist trap. I really enjoyed this place. Good food, good service. A chalkboard listing the specials. I was able to try their cacio e pepe here, which was a special that day with ricotta - delicous. I think this one was served with bucatini. My son had bucatini alla amatriciana. We also ate inside here but they have outdoor seating. Afterwards we had gelato at the nearby Frigidarium - excellent. Gelateria del Teatro is also near this restaurant but we couldn't find it, twice! I really wanted to try Teatro but it wasn't in the cards.
The next day we visited the Vatican and there is really nothing noteworthy around here from what I could tell. I had reserved L'Isola de La Pizza which is about a 10-15 min walk from the Vatican museums, on the Via degli Scipioni. It was a nice meal, good and reliable, good for kids. Touristy, but to be expected given the location. It served its purpose well. Afterward we walked to Fatamorgana for gelato at their newly opened 2nd location (about a 6-10 min walk). I had the caramel sea salt gelato here - delicious. I recommend seeking out this gelateria if you're nearby either of their locations.
That evening dinner was at Trattoria Fiammetta, just off the Piazza Navona, which I was really looking forward to, since eggplant parmigiana is one of my favorite dishes. My husband and I both had this dish (which is served without pasta, by the way, and doesn't need it). It entirely lived up to our expectations and we were so happy. My husband was tired of gelato and had their homemade tiramisu. It is heavier on the espresso than others, also admitted by our waitress, but we are coffee lovers so this wasn't a problem; it was delicious. This was also one of my favorite restaurants of the trip and I highly recommnend it. Great food, attentive and graceful service and staff, not touristy, and reasonably priced (about €70). I love this place. Afterward we had gelato at the nearby Grom in the Piazza Navona. We sat at the fountains and ate our gelato. Very satisfying.
The next day was lunch at Armando al Pantheon, which was recommended as a kid-friendly place. I would have to respectfully disagree. The waiters are certainly used to attending kids and were courteous, etc., however it is a tiny restaurant and if your kids act up in there (thankfully mine did not), it might not be pretty. The food was very good, well prepared, fresh and seasonal. The waiter went out of his way to mention the off-menu items, which I appreciated. This meal was also one of our more expensive meals, especially since it was lunch (€80). That said, I really liked this place but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for kids. I am glad we ate here, though. We all enjoyed our food. After lunch we had gelato at the nearby Giolitti, which I thought was way too sweet (I couldn't finish it, which is saying a lot), although the consistency was good. A better choice would've been the other location of Grom, which is practically across the street from Giolitti.
I regret not having gone to the Il Forno de Campo di Fiore. This would've been an excellent choice for lunch.
For our last dinner in Rome, we went to a restaurant that was recommended by my cousin, who lived in Testaccio at one time and this was her favorite restaurant: Da Bucatino. I think it is on the same block as the Volpetti food market, judging by the address. Anyway, it is a huge restaurant, with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, packed with locals. It was a nice experience - a local neighborhood, loud and animated atmosphere. The pizzas here are really good - nice thin crusts and good cheese (we never really had a bad pizza in Italy, by the way, and I am from NY so I think I know good pizza). I had the seafood risotto, a special. It was good but I wish i would've ordered cacio e pepe again. The food is good and reliable. They also had a really interesting-looking buffett, lots of variety and vegetables. I regret not trying this. It seems like this is a draw of the place. I had the nocciola (hazelnut) gelato for dessert - homemade - it was delicious. This restaurant also happened to be a block away from a local pizzeria, Da Remo, that I had seen recommended somewhere. This pizzeria looked authentic and good. Packed with locals. There was also a large playground about 2 blocks away from Da Bucatino and my kids played here for about an hour with all the local kids. It was 11pm and packed. There were lots of benches to sit and relax. It was a nice way to end our busy but wonderful trip.
Well, I need to go now and make dinner - my kids are hungry! I promise to post later with all the addresses mentioned here, I just can't do this right now. I did want to post my experiences here in case this helps any other families traveling with small kids, since this definitely requires some research if you want something other than a run-of-the-mill experience, and also to return the favor and express my gratitude to all of you CH'ers who volunteer helpful information. I can't tell you how useful this was to me during our trip (and enjoyable to read). I often wondered if I was amongst any of you at some point at some of the restaurants I went to! Many thanks again.