after two amazing weeks in Italy - long review!
Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions in planning our one week trip to Rome and one week in Tuscany. Elizabeth Minchili's app in Rome was the most helpful to us in all our wonderful eating while in Rome, and the Michelin app was great in the countryside. For anyone driving in Italy, I can't recommend the TomTom app enough as we never got lost looking for our out-of-the way eateries - amazing for us! We were staying close to the Borghese Gardens near the Barbarini Plaza, so on our arrival on a Sunday afternoon we ate at Colline Emiliane. It was a very friendly, cozy place which was a lovely way to relax and realize we were in Rome. The food was not great but was a comforting lunch experience. I had already booked our first night dining at Al Ceppo, and we had a wonderful dinner. The restaurant is beautiful, with a fabulous grill in the entrance and a very warm and inviting wait staff. It seemed as if Americans were placed in a room separate from Italians but that not-withstanding, the food was outstanding and the owner came with a dictionary in hand and asked us how to say 'mussels' in english as we had ordered it in italian and weren't sure what we were ordering (they were fabulous) - she was lovely. It was a great restaurant with impeccably fresh seafood and a good wine list. I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
Day 2 - We booked a colosseum tour of the newly opened lower level (great!), then the forum, and in a state of complete exhaustion went to the gourmet panini shop in the Monti (whose name is escaping me - forgive me, as we went there several times!) which Elizabeth recommends. It was outstanding! That night's dinner was at Il Localino, again on Elizabeth's recommendations. It was beautiful, with outdoor eating and a lively atmosphere and clearly frequented by locals. It was challenging to order as the waitstaff didn't speak English, but they were good humored and the food was delicious. However, due to language mix-ups they left off half our order, but what we got was wonderful - very fresh and innovative fish preparations, especially with pasta. Good wine list and a fabulous place to eat.
Day 3- We had pre-booked Vatican tickets (great idea as the lines were ridiculous) and then headed for Sorpasso for lunch. Wonderful below-ground space drenched in sunlight with a harried but attentive waitstaff. Food was amazing - the pasta was exceptional and if it had been closer to our hotel it would have been a repeat. It was one of our favorite eating experiences. Everything that was being served looked delicious and it quickly became very busy - try to get there early - this is not to be missed! That evening was our only non-planned dinner and we went to dinner at the Trattoria Monti - had been strongly recommended by Michelin and bloggers, but out of our whole trip, this was my least favorite. It had only tourists, no Italians, the service was perfunctory and the food was bland, generally overcooked and overall, quite forgettable.
Day 4 -Had gotten tix to the Scuderie for a new and amazing Titian exhibit (don't miss!) and then wandered to the Jewish Ghetto (gorgeous neighborhood, intense history) and over to Trastavere. Tried a fried artichoke in the Ghetto which was not particularly good (very greasy) and then had a late dinner booked at Roscioli. Roscioli was quite the experience! It was packed with people trying to get in and rebuffed all evening (we were sitting by the entrance and so were in the middle of all the drama) and ordered the buratta (as good as everyone says), a charcuterie and cheese selection (amazing), and the carbonara. The carbonara was truly exceptional and we ordered a spectacular wine to go with it. The food was outstanding, the scene was intense, and our waiter was over-the-top flirtatious with my husband (quite hysterical, in fact). The tab was very steep but we felt we had a unique dining experience that we probably wouldn't have again!
Day 5 - Our last day in Rome, we wandered through our favorite places, saw the Museum Barbarini (great) and ate lunch at L'asino d'Oro - delicious simple meal and at an amazing price and had booked a special dinner at Antico Arco. The taxi ride up the hill was beautiful and the restaurant very modern and lively. We had high expectations which were met in the appetizers but sadly not in the mains. We did not go with the tasting menu (not our thing), but the food had a homogenous taste that became disappointing as the meal progressed. Definitely a recommended restaurant, as much for the locale and atmosphere as for the food. Wine was very good.
Dressing tip - men should always take a blazer (no tie) - it will work in any restaurant, even when paired with jeans. Women - I never got it right! Either too formal or informal....any hints? Antico Arco was shorts and jeans!! I felt very out of place in my black dress....
Left Rome for an adventure in Norcia, up in the mountains. Stayed at the Villa Seneca (beautiful) and was overwhelmed by the amount of truffles and boar prosciutto exhibited in nearly every small store in the walled city. Had the best meal of our trip at the restaurant in the hotel, the Seneca. It was exquisitely prepared, clearly refined and well-developed in its taste and execution. A sophisticated and outstanding meal in an amazingly romantic outdoor eating space. The owner came and talked to us at the end of the meal, providing a very personal note to a personal dining experience. If you're up to a challenging drive, Norcia is not to be missed. We took a hunk of boar prosciutto with us to Tuscany, and made our way to Villa Rosa dei Venti, an agrotourisme destination mentioned on Chowhounds previously. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and it is also famous for its cooking classes taught by Mom and daughter who own the property with the family. I didn't take the class, but everyone who did said it was the highlight of their trip.
Briefly, standout meals in Tuscany: Osteria del Teatro in Cortona (truly amazing food, for both lunch and dinner), Villa Petrischio (utterly romantic outdoor space frequented by european tourists, with exquisite traditional food) in Cortona countryside, Walter Redaelli (gorgeous, vine-trellised patio, good but not outstanding food, amazing wine - best of trip - and attentive, friendly service), and finally, the food stores in Pienza which provided the most amazing ingredients for a simple pasta meal in our own cottage.
Ultimately, we had the most amazing trip falling in love with Italy, it's food, people and it's history. As new friends said, "Italy is addictive" - we'll be back. Thank you, Chowhounds, for all your help in our planning and in all the anticipation, which is part of the fun! And, thank you, Elizabeth! You were invaluable.