Rome and Tuscany Trip Report
First, thank you to all the 'Hounders who contributed intel for what turned out to be a fantastic trip. Special thanks to Elizabeth Minchilli and Katie Parla for their wonderful apps. Here are our impressions on where we ate.
Armando al Pantheon. We loved the look and feel of the place, and of course the location, but found the food just perfectly OK. For mains I had the tripe and my wife has the salt cod, both of which were fine but not outstanding. I started with the cacio e pepe, which was great. My wife had the artichoke and burrata with balsamic, which she really enjoyed. The meal was marred a bit by a rude local couple sitting next to us who were clearly not happy they had to sit next to Americans. All in all, a fine meal but don't expect to be blown away.
Sciascia. Great coffee before our trip to the Vatican.
Sorpasso. We loved this place, and the staff were accommodating for our early lunch. I had the meatball trapizzini and my wife has the zucchini trapazinni - both were wonderful. The highlight, however, was the amazing cheese plate. Holy wow. My wife's favorite choice.
Romeo. Stopped in for a post-Vatican and pre-dinner snack. We absolutely loved this place, which has an amazing vibe and is full of locals. Because we got there early we were surrounded by families enjoying their time together, and even caught a glimpse of Chef Cristina doing some early evening paper work or menu planning. The staff were wonderful in explaining how to navigate the counters up front.
Cesare al Casaletto. What an amazing restaurant. As noted a bit out of the way, but worth the ride, I think. We ordered the fried gnocchi and meatballs, which were as good as advertised. It was a lot of food to start with! For our mains my wife had the cod, which she thought was outstanding, and I had a very nice amatricianna. Dessert of panna cotta and the creme caramel were fantastic. Here again, the staff were amazingly helpful and considerate of our horrible Italian skills. Full of locals who clearly knew the staff and each other - even still - many other customers passed our table with a welcoming "buona sera".
Localino Da Claudio. Lunch after the Borghese Gallery. Wonderful fish, and a nice atmosphere with (again) many families sitting down for dinner (post-church, I would guess). Great find and respite from pasta and pizza. Tasty fried amuse-bouche. I had the grilled swordfish - not a usual selection for me - and it was outstanding.
Pipero al Rex. Sunday night, no Mr. Pipero, and less full than the other restaurants. A nice dining room but its location off the hotel lobby makes it feel a tad less special. The carbonara is as amazing as advertised, though for some reason our menu didn't include the price per weight option. Perfectly fine but this is one we would have chosen differently.
La Bandita Townhouse. We stayed at La Bandita in the beautiful village of Pienza, and ate at the restaurant there two nights after long days of touring. Would a Scottish chef be able to cook great Italian food? YES. Wonderfully balanced tagliatelle with white truffles, a creative and fresh zucchini appetizer, local sausages, complementary sparkling wine, and (honestly) the best creme caramel and tiramisu we've ever had, created by the sous chef (it was apparently the tiramisu - a family recipe - that won him his job at the property).
Il Rossellino, Pienza. Enzo brought over a mason jar full of white truffles wrapped in paper towel, asking us to take the smell in as we perused the menu. Hard to resist, yet the tagliatelle with white truffles was better at La Bandita Townhouse (but still really good here). His wife does the cooking in the back. I had the stuffed rabbit for my main, which was a food highlight of the trip. We paired our meal with a nice Brunello.
Il Leccio, near Montalcino. Wonderful hilltop restaurant with a great wine cellar. Bottle of Cupano Ombrone for lunch (WOW). Run by a father and his daughter. Again, lots of locals. Highly recommended. Wish I could remember what I ate, but the impression of the meal still lingers.
Osteria Le Logge. Siena. Amazing lunch here, right off the Campo. I had the veal cheeks, which were expertly prepared. Started with a picci of red onions, local bacon, and cheese. Truly excellent food with a comfortable and interesting dining room. Almost like you're in someone's house. Both of the wineries we visited the day before recommended this place (without prompting), and it didn't disappoint.
Taverna di Moranda. Montecchiello. We wanted to eat at La Porta but it was closed, so we walked a half block down and found this place. Very quiet this time of far - we were the only ones there - but a nice lunch. The owner did the cooking and the serving. I had boar sausage, which was excellent with a half bottle of Nobile.
There were a few random pizza places scattered here and there, but those were the sit down meals. A memorable trip!
Thanks for your report. Many of the places you mention are on my list for our trip in June so I appreciate your reviews
About the restaurant at La Bandita Townhouse...do they serve just guests or is it open to non-guests? Is there outdoor dining there?
La Bandita Townhouse Restaurant serves guests and non-guests alike. The local truffle hunter was there one night…you could smell him coming yards away. Yes, they do have outdoor seating, but from our conversations with staff I gather that it gets quite crowded when the weather is nice.
If you're thinking of a place to stay in the Val D'Orcia I can't recommend La Bandita enough. Pienza is a wonderful litle town. We were the in December, so basically had the place to ourselves.
"Armando al Pantheon... The meal was marred a bit by a rude local couple sitting next to us who were clearly not happy they had to sit next to Americans. All in all, a fine meal but don't expect to be blown away."
Unfortunately, there are these types all over the world. I have seen it done here in NYC by a few uneducated NYers. It's a shame you let it get to you and "mar" your meal, as your say.
As for being "blown away" I would never expect to have this type of experience at a place like Armando. One goes to Armando to have a good, solid traditional Roman meal. We loved it when we were there in October, but never once expected to "blown away."
Also, thank you for the detailed report. Very helpful!