We just returned from a week in Rome, with eating well a major goal of our trip.
We usually travel in Italy with lists of restaurants from Chowhound and similar sources as our guides.
We did that again this trip, but quickly found that – given the size of Rome and the lack of an unlimited budget for taxi fares – our resources were not as helpful as they are in smaller, more easily navigated towns and cities.
We found, inevitably, that we were, at mealtime, in a part of Rome for which we had no clear guidance for eating. So we developed a strategy that almost invariably helped us find a restaurant where we were that also provided a memorable dining experience.
Our first rule was, never eat at a restaurant that promised burgers, NY-style pizza, or anything else designed to look familiar to the casual tourist. We were really surprised – and scandalized -- at the number of these places we ran into.
Our second principle was, never eat at a restaurant within 3 blocks of a major tourist attraction. We violated this rule only once, and had the least memorable meal of the trip.
Our third rule was, never eat at a restaurant that had someone outside hawking the food and encouraging folks to come in. We figured that if the food on offer could not make it in the marketplace without aggressive marketing, we wanted none of it.
We skipped a restaurant hear the Trevi Fountain on this basis, even though it claimed to be in the Michelin Guide, and learned later that the place had fallen on evil times, and our concerns were well-grounded.
Our fourth rule was, to look for stickers on the windows or doors that showed the restaurant was recognized by Italian dining organizations.
By following those rules, we had a number of really enjoyable and memorable dining experiences.
Here is what we found. For lunch on day one, we ate a fine anchovy salad, a pasta all’amatriciana, and a delicious grilled fish with roasted potatoes at Ristorante Papagio (Via Capo d'Africa), several blocks from the Coliseum.
For dinner that night, we had the most memorable meal of the trip, at La Pace del Palato, on Via del Teatro Pace, several blocks from the Pantheon, including another delicious anchovy salad, an artichoke ravioli, and an order of meatballs in a rich sauce. This was a small place, with splendid service, complimentary prosecco, and a welcoming staff.
Our second day, we grabbed a quick bite of acceptable pizza at Caffe Doria (Via della Gatta) on our way to the Galleria Borghese, and for dinner ate at Il Chianti (Via Del Valatore), near the Trevi Fountain. We avoided Al Presidente, in Via in Arcione (see above, Rule #3), and chose Il Chianti, which was fine, for a farrow and bean soup, pappardelli with boar sauce, and a shank of lamb.
The food was good, solid, well-prepared, but not really memorable. Maybe it was still too close to a tourist attraction (see Rule # 2, above).
The next day, we were wandering south of Piazza del Popolo, and stopped for lunch in Buccone (Via di Ripetta) for lunch. This is chiefly a very well-stocked wine store, but they also had food, so we had delicious platters of antipasti misto, one meat, the other grilled vegetables. I would not go here for much else – we saw the owner heating pasta sauce in a microwave, but the food we had was delicious, well-chosen, and well-served.
That was a Sunday, and near our apartment the only thing we found open was a chain bar/diner/catering service called Il Pappagallo, the Parrot Bar (Via Gregorio VII) where the food was a reminder that not all food served in Rome is memorable, or even very good, but we turned the occasion into an opportunity to sample the wide range of digestifs they had at the bar.
The next day, a Monday, we did the Vatican museums and had pizza (OK) in the Vatican for lunch. Dinner took us to Trastevere, where near the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, w found Ristorante La Scala (Piazza della Scala) for a really splendid meal of risotto with mushrooms and sausage, of spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and zucchini flowers, and of salt-crusted sea bass.
Tuesday found us in the Quirinale neighborhood, where we found Ristorante Berzitelle (Via delle Quattro Fontane) for lunch and thoroughly enjoyed stuffed zucchini flowers, calamari with tomatoes, peppers, and whole red peppercorns, linguini with Sicilian red shrimp, and swordfish with rosemary, olives, and red peppers.
That evening, we were agan back in our neighborhood, south of Vatican City, and found Le Vele, an elegant chiefly seafood restaurant (Piazza Pio XI), for mussels, ravioli with ricotta and ham, and a potato-crusted turbot.
Our last day, we wandered from the Campo di Fiori along the Tiber through the Ghetto area and into Trastevere again. We had lunch at a wine bar in the Campo (of which the less said the better), but had dinner back in Trastevere at Trattoria Da Enzo, a small and modest place that features locally grown food. We thoroughly enjoyed fried artichoke, pasta cacio e pepe, and oxtail in a chocolate and tomato sauce.
We ended our Italian travels with a splendid pear tart, and with renewed confidence that—while we are grateful for all the guidance we can get from other diners about good restaurants – we are able to spot places to eat that are promising and usually deliver memorable meals.
In fact, writing about our dining experiences has made me very hungry. Time for lunch!