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Jan 25, 2014 02:28 AM

Reporting back from Rome, Parma, Bologna, & Orvieto (December 2013)

Three friends (in our 30s from Seattle, San Diego, and NJ) spent 9 days traveling in Italy at the end of December 2013/early January 2014. We had all been to Italy once before and were very much focused on great meals and gelato for this second trip.

We got many excellent recommendations from this board (as well as Katie Parla and Elizabeth Minchilli’s apps, which we discovered through Chowhound) so wanted to report back!

Favorite dinner: Da Cesare al Casaletto -- VERY easy to get to from our hotel in Trastevere (just a simple ride down the 8 tram and a 2 minute walk from the last stop.) Our fried gnocchi with cacio e pepe & polpette di bolito were both pleasingly light and delicious. The Bucatini Amatriciana had excellent al dente chewiness and just the right amount of spice. Our other primi, trippa alla romana, was a bit on the heavier side but tasty. Coda alla vaccinara made for a hearty and satisfying secondi, especially when paired with a simple plate of seasonal veggies: beautifully grilled eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers. We topped off the meal with a berry panna cotta and our favorite dessert of the trip: a perfectly balanced tiramisu that we reminisced about for the rest of our time in Italy. We never did find another tiramisu we loved as much!

Service was gracious, and the simply decorated room came alive as the night went on. I would return in a heartbeat.

Favorite street food pizza: A toss up between Antico Forno Urbani and Pizzarium.

Antico Forno Urbani -- I had several hours to myself before my friends’ planes arrived, so I spent the morning strolling from our hotel in Trastevere to the Jewish Ghetto across the river (stopping for a little paper bag of cookies from Biscottificio Innocenti along the way!)

Before exploring the fascinating Museo Ebraico di Roma, I stopped for a quick slice of pizza rosso at Antico Forno Urbani (an outpost of the Roscioli bakeries). I relished sitting on a bench in the Jewish quarter, taking in the morning sights and sounds, munching away on my slice of pizza rosso. The beautiful crunch and chewiness of this pizza were well-matched by the flavorful red sauce.

Just around the corner from Antico Forno del Ghetto, I peeked into the unmarked Il Forno del Ghetto to marvel at the pizza ebraica (a fruit cake of sorts, studded with almonds, raisins and candied fruit). These looked truly magnificent, but having just consumed my pizza slice and the remnants of my cookies from Biscottificio Innocenti, the pizza ebraica would have truly been carb overload!

Pizzarium -- Whereas the beauty of Antico Forno Urbani’s pizza rosso was its simplicity, at Pizzarium, the complex flavors of the toppings were the star. My friends and I sampled several slices while sitting on the bench outside. My favorite was the salted cod and pine nut.

(An an extra treat, at Pizzarium, we had the pleasure of bumping into Katie Parla, showing a very lucky family around the neighborhood!)

Favorite gelato: Il Gelato di Claudio Torce. We stopped at the Prati location of Claudio Torce, as part of a self-guided morning food walk, that included an early visit to Mercato Trionfale, a snack at Pizzarium, and a serendipitous encounter with an organic raw milk truck!

The gelato at Claudio Torce was truly outstanding, only outmatched on our trip by Ciacco Gelato in Parma. The unusual savory flavors were fun to sample, though I ultimately settled on persimmon and pistachio. We all agreed that the former tasted as if the gelato maker had taken a farm fresh persimmon and captured it perfectly in frozen form.

During our stay in Rome, I also tried Fatamorgana and Gelateria del Teatro, but Claudio Torce was the clear winner.

Favorite market: Mercato Trionfale for its produce, Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio for Mordi e Vai.

Mercato Trionfale: We enjoyed a morning visit to this market frequented almost entirely by locals. The produce vendors here displayed in artfully arranged bouquets the most beautiful artichokes I’ve ever seen in my life! We also enjoyed watching the butchers shaving slices off perfectly carved legs of prosciutto. They were truly artists at work.

Mordi e Vai at Mercato Testaccio: The tripa sandwiches at this food stand were as tasty as reported by several sources, but the highlight for me was actually the carciofi alla romana (braised whole artichoke).

Most disappointing: Romeo. I admit I probably ordered the wrong dishes here, but I had a disappointing experience at Romeo. I ducked in for a late afternoon solo lunch on my first day in Rome before my friends arrived. Located in a lovely neighborhood, the modern interior space at Romeo is indeed fun and inviting, but the dishes I ordered ranged from passable (a muted fennel, orange, and olive salad) to downright inedible (a weird, barely flavored green pasta that was definitely more raw than al dente). I had read on Chowhound that some Roman restaurants intentionally serve pasta less well done than al dente, but both the texture and flavor of this pasta were simply unappetizing. The one solid part of the meal was the bread, which given Romeo’s Bonci lineage, was undeniably tasty.

I will say that the patrons next to me shared a magnificent looking plate of prosciutto and a gleaming ball of mozzarella di bufala. Perhaps these platters and the assortment of little sandwiches on offer are the way to go at Romeo. (Alas, I was six months pregnant at the time, so I was wary of partaking in any cured meats or soft cheeses.)

For our next visit: On my last day in Rome, I had an awesome cab driver, who was good friends with the owners of Glass and seemed to really know his food. His rec for the best pizza in Rome was La Focaccia on Via Gallarate. Have any hounds tried this place out? He also spoke highly of Pecorino in Testaccio for the offal specialities. Next time!

Parma, Bologna, and Orvieto reports up next…

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  1. Great report, thanks! Sorry about the subpar experience at romeo, just wanted to comment that you definitely did not order wrong, romeo is not only about salumi and cheeses, the regular dishes are also (usually!) very good. Two things i also wanted to clarify: the bread/pizza lineage at romeo is not bonci, but roscioli. Also, i am not aware of any connection between urbani and roscioli, where do you have that info from?

    1 Reply
    1. re: vinoroma

      Thanks for the correction, vinoroma! I definitely meant "Roscioli lineage" for Romeo, not Bonci. That's what I get when I try to write up a food report at 2 in the morning without a fully clear head =)

      I did think that Urbani and Roscioli had a connection from one of the many blogs I read, but I absolutely defer to your expertise!

      Thanks again to you and the other hounds for all of your generous advice!

    2. really enjoying this and looking forward to the remaining posts!

      1. Thanks so much for the detailed report! Sounds like you ate very well in Rome. I'm very happy that you took the time to discover two of my favorite snacking spots: Innocenti and Urbani. Urbani, however, does not have any connection to Roscioli.

        Very sorry that you had a bad experience at Romeo. Again, the bread here is Roscioli, and not Bonci.

        Taxi drivers are great sources. I haven't heard of either of the two places he recommended, but will try to check them out.

        1. Looking forward to your impressions of Parma, Bologna & Orvieto. We are travelling in late May to Venice then heading south thru Bologna, to Tuscany, then Umbria, scooting to Naples/Pompeii and Rome...all in 20 days with our 15 year old son. Thanks for your posts!

          1. What were your thoughts on traveling that time and the weather (ie. was it too cold). Don't mind a bit of cold, we just like to be outside. I was thinking about heading over there at the beginning of December, and going to some of the same places and maybe a little bit south. My wife and I have both been to Italy before and have hit the big cities.