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A month in rome - Week 3/4 Trip report: The End!

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PixieM Sep 23, 2013 01:36 PM

So this was a week of 8 nights therefore 8 dinners with my husband. No more dining solo. These restaurants were mostly on the Chowhound 'greatest hits' list so I will not go into great detail except where I think it is necessary - ie, interesting for whatever reason.

Overall: I can't say that in a month (albeit with 2 weeks of that month being restricted to solo dining options) we had a single GREAT meal. We had some lovely meals with some individually lovely food but every meal was uneven in some way. This inconsistency surprised me.

I suffered from what I have termed 'foodie tourist anxiety' as I was both making my list and working/eating my way through it. What if there was a better restaurant down the road, recommended by someone else? Should I be going for repeat visits to a restaurant that isn't favoured by all the writers/critics? Was I missing anything vital? If I didn't like something that everyone else did, had I chosen badly? Or did I not know enough about food?!

Then there is the tension between good food (or 'good enough food') and atmosphere. In my kitchen at home, I'm a pretty good cook. Most of the food we ate I can replicate (although not necessarily with the same quality of ingredients and certainly not at the same cost if I want that quality) without a great deal of effort. But I can't create 'being in Rome' and if the atmosphere was right, then I tended to discount the vagaries of the food. The better the atmosphere the better the food tended to taste. Atmosphere for me is a whole lot of things: welcoming staff, pleasant, comfortable decor - modern, quirky, old style tratt, whatever - attentive but not over the top service, a good number of locals present and clearly enjoying themselves. Outdoors is good if it's available but not necessary. The restaurants I re-visited tended to fit the atmosphere brief nicely and to have food that was more even and consistent across three courses.

The most memorable meal was at Pierluigi. The setting was gorgeous, film set Rome; the service was absolutely spot on; the food was good (not great); and they helped us choose a lovely Franciacorta to go with it. Yes, it was expensive (250 euros) but we had three courses each and the overall meal was worth every cent.

In summary (across the four weeks) others that we really liked and would recommend without hesitation:

- Trattoria Monti
- Roscioli (two visits)
- La Gensola (two visits)
- Flavio

Those we think are worth going to if you're in the area (but not a trip across town):

- Sorpasso
- Taverna dei Fiori Imperiali (two visits)
- L' Asino D'Oro
- Nerone

We missed out on a reservation at Armando which was my fault for being disorganised. We ended up at Agata e Romeo which unfortunately was the strangest meal of the trip. The room was lovely but on a Saturday night it was half empty (our booking was at 9pm) and the owner kept pacing the room and watching the wait staff like a hawk so much so that it felt uncomfortable. The sauce of the cacio e pepe was the best of the trip but the pasta was not fresh which was a let down. The mains were a pleasant veal with mushrooms (very small portion) and a cod tasting plate which was fine, but no sides were offered or available. (Maybe I missed them?) The lemon mousse turned out to be a cheesecake, never a favourite of mine. The very limited menu would have been fine if the quality was exceptional but it wasn't. The wine list didn't match the prices of the food - it was hard to find a decent bottle under 50 euros.

All in all, I've had a lovely month. Two of the highlights were the wine tastings we did at Vinoroma - not to be missed! We learned so much from Hande.

And yes, Pizzarium IS worth the trek across town. We ate there twice. Other pizzas we had - Le Carette and Li Rioni, both in Monti - were good but not exceptional but both were lovely neighbourhood spots.

Our favourite bars in Monti were Tre Scalini and Al Vino Al Vino, both buzzy, friendly places.

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    allende RE: PixieM Sep 23, 2013 02:24 PM

    What do you mean by "the pasta was not fresh."

    11 Replies
    1. re: allende
      mbfant RE: allende Sep 23, 2013 11:02 PM

      That stopped me short too, but then I realized the intention was probably not that the pasta was past its prime, which would be extremely surprising anywhere, much less at Agata e Romeo, but that it was spaghetti. I believe they use Verrigni and I have certainly never heard anyone complain that Agata uses spaghetti for her cacio e pepe and not tonnarelli.

      1. re: mbfant
        ttoommyy RE: mbfant Sep 24, 2013 03:52 AM

        I believe the OP means fresh as opposed to dried pasta. Would a cacio e pepe ever be made with fresh pasta?

        1. re: ttoommyy
          mbfant RE: ttoommyy Sep 24, 2013 04:00 AM

          Yes, tonnarelli. But nowadays spaghetti would be more usual as tonnarelli weigh a ton of bricks. Felice, Checchino, and really traditional places use tonnarelli. Agata's cacio e pepe is very idiosyncratic and upscale and is generally considered a minor masterpiece.

          It is simply wrong to expect that a good restaurant will serve fresh pasta, especially in long formats. Agata certainly, and necessarily, uses fresh pasta for her excellent ravioli, cannelloni, and other such shapes.

          1. re: mbfant
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            barberinibee RE: mbfant Sep 25, 2013 11:48 AM

            I don't think it is "wrong" to expect a good restaurant to be serving fresh pasta -- especially if the restaurant is "certainly" using fresh pasta in the restaurant! -- but also when one can name many good restaurants in Rome serving the exact same dish using fresh pasta! There may have been a misunderstanding here about what kind of a cacio e pepe to expect at Agata e Romeo (apparently the restaurant was a fallback choice anyway) but fair enough to say that the use of spaghetti constituted a disappointment for a person who would have preferred the dish made in the traditional way with fresh pasta no matter how many other people hail the idiosyncratic version is a minor masterpiece.

            Also, where I live, anything that isn't dried pasta is sold in what is known as "pasta fresca" shops -- with huge signs out front that read PASTA FRESCA -- so count me as disbelieving other residents of Italy were sincerely left scratching their heads about what "fresh pasta" meant in this context, unless they have an awful lot of trouble with context.

            1. re: barberinibee
              jen kalb RE: barberinibee Sep 25, 2013 02:13 PM

              Look, the dish can be made either with fresh or dried pasta, but either way, it will likely say spaghetti cacio e pepe or tonarelli cacio e pepe, or rigatoni cacio e pepe - the diner should be on notice which version it will be .

              1. re: jen kalb
                mbfant RE: jen kalb Sep 25, 2013 09:25 PM

                Jen, of course. The dish is labeled "spaghetti cacio e pepe" or "tonnarelli cacio e pepe." A gourmet restaurant making exquisite gourmet ravioli in its small kitchen is not necessarily also equipped for tonnarelli. It's a question of both space/logistics and style. High-end spaghetti is actually much lighter and more delicate than tonnarelli. There are restaurants that specialize in tonnarelli cacio e pepe, but it's unfair to criticize a different style of restaurant for serving a different style of dish.

                1. re: mbfant
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                  PixieM RE: mbfant Sep 25, 2013 09:47 PM

                  My expectation was that because the tonnarelli had been fresh, the spaghetti would have been fresh (as opposed to dried, which seems like a normal word to use as a means of differentiation?) I'm not sure why this would be so unusual? I make fresh spaghetti at home. However, of course I stand to be corrected if in Italy you are never served anything other than dried spaghetti. At Agata, there was no other pasta on the menu that night so I wasn't able to compare re their technique. You have told me that I am "simply wrong" and now "unfair" in my criticisms and this makes me disappointed when all I was trying to do was accurately reflect MY experience and opinion.

                  1. re: PixieM
                    vinoroma RE: PixieM Sep 25, 2013 11:02 PM

                    As usual, i loved your report and actually meant to comment on your foodie tourist anxiety, which i totally understand, but didn't have time till now.
                    Jumping in here for my two cents: never is a big word, but i do believe spaghetti is "never" made fresh in restaurants or at homes. Tonnarelli, pici, even spaghetti alla chitarra, yes, but regular spaghetti not (maybe not never, but definitely not a normalcy). I don't know what exactly A&R uses, but a restaurant at that level uses artisanal spaghetti made with bronze extruders and slow drying, i.e. things not available at restaurants and homes. Even the air in a certain area where the best pasta comes from is thought to play a role in its quality, so you can understand the importance ;) I believe at the moment there is even a discussion between Marcella Hazan, Ruhlman and others about home extruders, the sense or nonsense of making eggless dried pasta at home.... As you can see, it is a hot issue.
                    Btw, brownie points for making your own pasta - i am dough handicapped and admire everyone who can do that!

                    1. re: vinoroma
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                      PixieM RE: vinoroma Sep 25, 2013 11:31 PM

                      Thanks for clarifying Hande. I wasn't saying that there was anything wrong per se with the pasta only with how I expected it to be. This is useful knowledge for my upcoming trips. And pasta making is a lovely thing - we do it together when hubby is home and we have a glass of wine at hand....it's messy and the whole kitchen ends up covered in strands....but the result is amazing!

                    2. re: PixieM
                      mbfant RE: PixieM Sep 26, 2013 12:52 AM

                      What I actually said is that IT is wrong to EXPECT fresh pasta in long formats, especially at a high-end restaurant. I'm delighted you enjoyed your trip to Rome. If anyone's negative opinion was based on a misunderstanding of local practice, and this small matter of the pasta seems to have been, it bears pointing out for future reference.

                      No, spaghetti is not served fresh in Italy. Fresh, handmade spaghetti-like (i.e., string-shaped) pastas exist, but are called by different names, such as pici. As Hande explained, the extrusion and drying are essential phases of the manufacture. Tonnarelli are cut, not extruded, and it is normal to serve them fresh, but they tend to be found in trattorias, most likely acquired from a nearby pasta shop. Agata e Romeo serves Verrigni pasta, which is among the top handful of dried pasta makers in Italy. Also, nowadays tonnarelli usually contain egg, which spaghetti doesn't. Egg pastas are more likely to be served fresh.

                      Ravioli, cannelloni, and other stuffed shapes can be factory made and made in quantity, so that while technically served fresh, they are not always made in house the same day. But in high-end restaurants they do tend to be made with loving care in small amounts and close to the time of serving, and a portion consists of just a handful of pieces. That is an entirely different type of work from rolling and cutting tonnarelli, which take up more room than the stuffed shapes and don't exactly challenge creative chefs. That is why fresh pasta may be on the menu, but not for every dish. Also, traditionally some sauces are always served with fresh formats, some with dried, though cacio e pepe is served with both.

                      Of course, in Italy, "never" and "always" should be taken to mean "not traditionally" and "most of the time."

                      Finally, yes, IT is unfair to criticize a restaurant of Style A for not serving a dish that belongs to Style B -- hence the importance of studying not just where to eat but what to eat where.

                      1. re: mbfant
                        jen kalb RE: mbfant Sep 26, 2013 07:16 AM

                        Obviously, expectation (of a fresh form of spaghetti) made a real difference to @PixieM's experience, so this discussion is really useful. The only fresh extruded pasta I remember seeing in Italy has been bigoli in the veneto and lombardy but in the US and it seems Australia pasta extruding machines have become common.

                        Im wondering, when we first visited Rome "spagetti alla chitarra" all'amatriciana, etc, was actually served , but I do not remember seeing it on a Roman menu for some time. Did tonarelli come to replace it in the standard repetoire, or were they always alternatives in your experience? Or is there a generation of restauranteurs from the abruzzo that is now gone?

      2. b
        barberinibee RE: PixieM Sep 23, 2013 03:30 PM

        What an incredibly useful trip report for those traveling to Rome, solo or with others!

        You only forgot one thing here, which is links to your first two installments, so I hope you don't mind my tacking them on now:

        Pixie M's month in Rome -- Week 1 trip report

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/915755

        Pixie M's month in Rome -- Weeks 2/3 trip report (Monti

        )

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/916656

        I really appreciate your elaborating on how you reacted to the whole dining and eating experience of the places you liked and disliked, and your candor about the values and anxieties you brought with you to Rome or experienced as a visitor (shared by many).

        This evening, as the sun set in Italy, I had dinner on my patio with my husband, and we ate the last of the ugly-looking summer tomatoes from the garden (chopped up over garlic rubbed toast), slices of leftover cold steak on a bed of greens dressed with olive oil and salt, and talked about (who else?), Angela Merkel. We probably won't get many more chances to eat outdoors this year. I found myself realizing as the last of the light faded I just couldn't have been more satisfied with my meal. Or happier. (And all we drank was water.

        )

        As you pointed out, the alchemy of eating in Italy is really so much more than zeroing in on which restaurant is most recommended by whom. People can get too complicated about that, I think, and lose the nourishing spirit and pure enjoyment that can be had when a whole bunch of things, planned and unplanned, come together in a unique way to make for a unique meal in Italy.

        Thanks for being so honest.

        1 Reply
        1. re: barberinibee
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          PixieM RE: barberinibee Sep 25, 2013 09:50 PM

          As usual Barberinibee, your comments are kind and generous. Thanks for linking my reviews! I do try to tell it as I see it and hope that this helps people to understand where I am coming from so that they can make a useful comparison with what they might like.

        2. jen kalb RE: PixieM Sep 23, 2013 08:59 PM

          Have enjoyed the whole arc of this trip, thanks for sharing.in so much detail.about all the places you visited. Personally, Ive had some wonderful meals in Italy, only sometimes but not usually of the boffo socko sort where every dish is terrific - its more the overall experience, where appreciation and enjoyment of good food and wine and hospitality are such an integral part of life that comes together to make a meal special.. Not every item on a menu is going to be equally good,(especially in a tourist town like Rome where dishes may be on menus to satisfy tourist requests) .

          Wondering about your experience (not pro) at Asino d'Oro - what disappointed you?

          1 Reply
          1. re: jen kalb
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            PixieM RE: jen kalb Sep 25, 2013 10:00 PM

            Jen, thanks for your feedback.

            Re Asino, I think it was mainly our choices that let us down - we had the red pepper pate for a primi and the potato and zucchini flan for a main and they turned out to be very similar in texture, with little textural contrast on either dish. The dish of the night was a very delicious snails braised with tomatoes, garlic and herbs with a bit of added spice - it was actually one of my favourite dishes of the trip. The pasta with summer truffles was a bit too intense for my taste but still very nice; and the beef braised with carrot cream was nice but nothing exceptional. We skipped dessert.

            I absolutely agree with your comments about the overall experience of eating in Italy. I adore it, despite whatever criticisms I might make! I am planning to visit Milan and Venice with my daughter in January and then after that a 10 day road trip to Genoa, Alba and Turin hopefully in truffle season (actual details yet to be decided). So these boards haven't seen the last of me yet!

          2. ttoommyy RE: PixieM Sep 24, 2013 03:57 AM

            "I suffered from what I have termed 'foodie tourist anxiety' as I was both making my list and working/eating my way through it. What if there was a better restaurant down the road, recommended by someone else? Should I be going for repeat visits to a restaurant that isn't favoured by all the writers/critics? Was I missing anything vital? If I didn't like something that everyone else did, had I chosen badly? Or did I not know enough about food?!"

            This paragraph saddens me. Especially when coupled with the fact that the OP did not experience "a single GREAT meal." This is exactly why I always caution people to do a little research, make a couple of reservations and leave the rest to serendipity. Just enjoy your time in Rome and don't stress out. To me, eating out in a restaurant isn't as much about finding the "best" as it is about being in a ceratin time and place and enjoying the meal.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ttoommyy
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              PixieM RE: ttoommyy Sep 25, 2013 11:03 PM

              Ttoommyy,
              I didn't mean to sadden anybody. I was actually trying for a bit of self deprecating light hearted Aussie humour! While I didn't have a 'great' meal, I had many, many lovely meals. I wasn't set on finding 'the best', I just wanted to eat well and I did, without a doubt. I do tend to over think things (not just trip planning); that is my nature. Serendipity is a wonderful thing: I would be lying if I said that I didn't hope, on a daily basis, to discover a restaurant that no one had ever reported on before! But even after walking the city for hours at a time, days on end, that didn't happen. I didn't want to abandon my list which had been enjoyably researched. So I would have had to have had two meals a day to try restaurants that I walked past and which looked inviting. I am a small person and there is no way I could have fitted in two Roman meals a day! I really hope that I conveyed to you (and to others) that I wasn't searching for perfection but for a 'whole' experience and this was, at times, slightly let down by inconsistencies in the food I ate.

            2. minchilli RE: PixieM Sep 24, 2013 10:48 AM

              Great report, and I loved hearing about your 'food tourist anxiety.' We all succumb to it now and again.

              So glad you like Pierluigi and your summing up of it is exactly my experience. The setting is magificent, excellent service and good to very good food.

              Also, I think Agata e Romeo is just plain weird too. I've never understood the attraction and feel the exact same way whenever I've been. Uncomfortable, awkward and angry I can't find a wine can't find a wine for under 50.

              It sounds like you had a great - and delicious time - despite your foodie qualms. ;)

              www.ElizabethMinchilliInRome.com

              1 Reply
              1. re: minchilli
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                PixieM RE: minchilli Sep 25, 2013 11:08 PM

                Thanks Elizabeth. Your app was enormously helpful, as was Katie's. I did spot you in the Mia Market one day with a food tour :) I loved that little shop - they had avocados when the rest of Rome was bereft and all I craved was some smashed avo and ricotta on toast.....And what a beautiful place Monti is, how lucky you are to live there!

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                PixieM RE: PixieM Sep 25, 2013 11:23 PM

                I did forget - how! - that we also went to Metamorfosi, albeit slightly pickled after a lovely afternoon tasting sparkling wine at Vinoroma......

                It's a fair way out (10 euro cab fare) and the night we went it was only half full, mostly with international clients so it lacked some of the atmosphere of other places. It was in itself a lovely space though, modern and chic. We were treated impeccably from start to finish.

                The dish of the night was a primi of fregola with king crab. A reduced fish veloute was poured over the fregola at the table. It was simply exquisite. The other primi was the macaroni stuffed with sausage with parmesan foam and roasted discs of beetroot. Also very nice but the fregola won!

                Mains were perfectly cooked lamb with cauliflower, both roasted and pureed; and the squab with foie gras (looking like a fig). My only criticism was the lack of sides - I do love my vegetables and I would have liked a choice of sides.

                My dessert notes are a bit wobbly but we had the white chocolate with caramelised bananas - the chocolate ended up as a foamy, zabaglione type consistency with the bananas within and with the crunch of caramel. I loved it, hubby wasn't so keen. He loved his coffee chocolate and hazelnut concoction, which came as a small ball of chocolate that you cracked open to ooze out loveliness.

                And the bread! It was by far the best we had in Rome, better even than Roscioli and that is saying something.
                And well priced: 186 euros which was three courses, a bottle of excellent pinot, water and bread.

                I do hope that people patronise it so that it stays around....

                2 Replies
                1. re: PixieM
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                  caitlink RE: PixieM Oct 2, 2013 04:57 AM

                  We just got back from 2 weeks in spain, paris and italy. I too suffered from foodie tourist anxiety but did not have a name for it at the time.
                  Once we got there, we did not have a bad meal except for a restaurant with horrible service in paris.
                  We loved the food and service in rome. The restaurant owners and staff were so warm and proud, we enjoyed most of our meals.
                  And the kids loved pizzarium. In positano, we went to a place called la taglitara (?). We all loved the meal especially the bufalo mozzerella. And mama was nice enough to come out and take a photo with us.
                  Once we landed, foodie tourist anxiety disappeared since the scenery and sights everywhere were so awesome.
                  I learned a lot from the recs on this board. Thanks.

                  1. re: caitlink
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                    PixieM RE: caitlink Oct 4, 2013 04:07 AM

                    I've decided that for an upcoming week in Milan and Venice (January 14), I am not going to plan (virtually) at all....except for where we are staying, whereby we should be able to walk out and get a good meal, if my 'foodie radar' is working (it very rarely lets me down in situations where there are no other sources).....we are then going to Barcelona for 2 weeks and I have done some bare bones research and I am currently resisting making 'the (cross referenced) list'....so we shall see...

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