I just got back from 2 great weeks in Italy, where I stayed in Rome, Florence, and Venice. I thought I would share some of my favorite and least favorite dining experiences on the trip.
Before my trip I scoured Chowhound to form my itinerary, so thanks to all contributors for your recommendations. I'm not going to waste your time with tales of mediocre meals, so here is the best and the worst.
Pizzarium (cheap lunch) - This will probably be the best pizza you'll ever eat. If you're visiting the Vatican, take the extra ten-minute trip to Pizzarium. It may look like veggies slapped on focaccia, but it's so much more. The dough is light, the sauce is rich and everything is magic.
Standout dishes – potato pizza (light as helium) and marinara pizza with roasted garlic (the tomato sauce was one of the highlights of the trip).
Pastaficio (cheap lunch) - A great cheap lunch near the Spanish Steps. Two pastas - one red, one green (in our case arrabiata and potato/pesto/green beans). Locals favor the red sauce, so get there early to beat them to it, but the green is a nice consolation.
Perilli (dinner) – Although more and more tourists seem to be heading out to Perilli, this place still seats more locals than other restaurants you’ll read about. The pastas here were the best on the entire trip – a carbonara unlike anything in North America and the greatest, most text book amatriciana I’ve ever had. Their mains didn’t stand out, but the oxtail and the roast lamb didn’t warrant any complaints. Damn, that pasta haunts me. PS - You’ll need reservations, so get your hotel to make them! PPS – Order their house red, it’s cheap and delicious.
San Crispino (gelato) – Best pistachio gelato I had on the trip (and I had a lot of others). This is seasonal, perfectly-balanced, “adult” gelato that is neither too creamy nor too sugary. My personal favorite.
Giolitti (gelato) – Great atmosphere, and they stock every flavor you would want. It’s a bit creamy (which some of you may like) and sweeter than San Crispino, but still great for the classic flavors like fig and raspberry. My girlfriend’s favorite.
La Taverna dei Fori Imperali – The service is good, especially for tourists, but this place really isn’t bringing the heat. The prosciutto was too thick and leathery (it tasted like it came out of a packet) and the pastas were below average. A few prominent names on Chowhound swear by this place, so we regretfully took their advice. I would direct you to this blog post for a spot-on breakdown of the restaurant’s “demise”: http://www.revealedrome.com/2011/03/t...
Checchino dal 1887 – This place is OLD-SCHOOL, which was the original attraction, but the dishes simply weren’t that great. In fact, the involtini – their signature dish that comes with a souvenir plate – was flat-out cafeteria bad. Granted, their wine selection was excellent, but if you’re talking food, you’re not talking Checchino.
Gusta Pizza – Fresh, generously-topped, wood-stove pie. The place is always rammed, but if you can’t find a seat, get your pizza and a beer to go and sit at the square around the corner.
Trattoria Cibreo (dinner) – Just a great dining experience. The owner speaks perfect English and voluntarily went over the entire, short, menu with us. A simple starter of pappa al pomodoro was very good. The veal scallopini and chicken polpetta mains were excellent, particularly the intense tomato sauce on the veal. Even though we were stuffed they gave us a comp ganache torte for dessert. After Perilli, this was our favorite meal of the entire trip.
La Carraia (gelato) – As you can tell by the name, this place is right next to Ponte alla Carraia. I don’t remember seeing it without a line-up. Great classic flavors. Easily my favorite gelato in Florence.
Trattoria la Casalinga – Florentine institution or not, this place just isn’t that exciting. Their specialty is boiled meat, which was about as uninspired as it sounds. Their pasta sauce tasted like it came from a can. I don’t generally care about service, but if you do, stay away from this place.
All’Arco (lunch/snacks) – This was the best place I visited for traditional Venetian cicchetti. Fresh sardine bruschetta, mini prosciutto sandwiches, smoked Italian “tuna”. All of the little bites were great (plus the prosecco’s cheap).
Trattoria da Fiore – I consumed one of the top-three dishes of my entire life here – the seafood soup. It tasted like ripe tomatoes swimming in the sea and was overflowing with fresh seafood. My girlfriend’s seafood pasta was grossly over-salted, but this soup, my friends, is something to experience.