My wife B and I just returned from two weeks in Italy, including 7 nights in Rome. This was my first trip to continental Europe (my wife had spent a semester abroad in college) and I tend to enjoy researching trips as much as the actual travelling, so I spent a perhaps unhealthy amount of time squinting at the internet and compiling lists of places to eat. This is also my first post on Chowhound, partly as a way to contribute to a source of information I found particularly useful. If you find this report helpful, I am also posting a separate report about our food experiences in Florence and Spoleto.
Pizza Florida (Via Florida, just across from the southern side of Largo di Torre Argentina) – We had a couple of slices of good pizza on one visit (one zucchini and one tomato/cheese) and an amazing slice of sausage and artichoke on the second visit. Cheap. We meant to go back for more of that sausage/artichoke pizza but B. got distracted by boot shopping. Next time…
Enoteca Antica (Via della Croce 76 near Spanish Steps) – Me: A good salad with tuna, potato, egg, lettuce, tomato and mozzarella. Nothing fancy but simple, light and filling. B: Fettucine with a duck sauce. She liked it but I found it a little Chef-Boyardee-ish (OK but kind of gloppy). With a glass of red wine and a draft beer (Nastro Azzuro, I believe), €26.
Volpetti Piu (Via a Volta 8 in Testaccio) - This was an exercise in management of unrealistic expectations. Not having been to a tavola calda before, I had visions of a buffet-style serving line (a little of this, a taste of that) where I could sample treats supplied by the famous Volpetti shop around the corner and all for around €10/person. (Incidentally, the Volpetti shop was an absolute zoo of customers inside. The window displays were amazing but we didn’t even try to go inside.) Instead, when confronted by having to make quick ordering decisions about whole servings for the guy behind the counter, I think I froze up and ordered poorly and hastily. We had baccala with potatoes (not quite my taste but well done, I think – I had always wanted to try baccala), cooked spinach and brussel sprouts (both a little limp but OK), roasted pumpkin slices (interesting), roasted potatoes (excellent) and a ½ liter of red wine for about €30. All this is not to say that anything was bad (the quality of the potatoes and pumpkin made me wonder what else I might have ordered), just different than I had expected. I would try this again, though.
Frontoni (intersection of Viale di Trastevere and Via di San Francesco a Ripa) - One of our better dinners on the trip. I had a great pizza with cherry tomatoes and arugula, with a thin, crispy, lightly-charred crust. B. had a very good pappardelle with abbacchio (chunks of young lamb). We were both amazed by the simple green salads with tomato slices we got beforehand, though. They were like what we imagined the food in Italy to be like: small, tasty greens, with delicious tomatoes (in December!) and a dressing of good olive oil and salt. Simple and perfect! With perhaps the best house red wine of the trip and a draft beer, the bill was €30. We learned the hard way on another visit, however, that they only serve dinner on Saturday nights (check ahead first), and made due with a good sausage pizza slice and some greasy roasted potatoes from their deli counter (about €10 with a bottle of water and a Sprite). I would recommend them for Saturday dinner, though.
Miscellania (Via di Pastini, 110A, northeast of the Pantheon) – We had three visits here, partly because of the odd but friendly service. For lunch one day we got sandwiches to go (total €9). I had a braesola (sliced dried beef) with arugula, tomatoes and mozzarella. B had a “panzanella” sandwich: basically bread and tomatoes with oil. Both were good and made an excellent lunch sitting in the sun in front of the Pantheon, although I found the braesola to be a bit too rubbery and just pulled most of it out. As a plus, we were given two free glasses of a pleasant strawberry wine while we waited for our sandwiches. We returned for dinner the same night. I was somewhat disappointed by my prosciutto and funghi pizza, which I found too salty for my tastes, but B loved her small gnocchi with mushroom, cheese and (I believe) a balsamic vinegar reduction. The pasta was not my taste, I admit, but well done and interesting. With a large beer, ¼ liter house red wine and some very friendly servers, the bill was €22. Our third visit was meant as an afternoon beer for me and a quick snack for B, who got a very good fettuccine with funghi and cheese and a ¼ liter of house red. As we lingered, however, we ended up chatting with the waiter for a while and receiving a free bowl of potato chips, two free glasses of the strawberry wine each and a café latte that I ordered but didn’t show up on the bill. Rest assured that we left a good tip on the €12 bill before we staggered home.
Casetta di Trastevere (Piazza de Renzi 31/a) – We ended up here for dinner because we arrived starving for dinner at Da Augusto at 7 to find that they didn’t open until 8. After some discussion, we reluctantly agreed to try this place next door. I had a bad feeling when I saw the fake laundry hanging overhead in the restaurant’s fake Italian piazza décor and the waitress showed up with a hand-held computer thingee to take our order. I ordered a beer and the ravioli with butter and sage, which was worse than I hoped for but ultimately edible. B found her rigatoni with cream and sausage to be a little heavy and overcooked but OK. Surprisingly, while the house red wine was the worst of the trip (B wondered whether it might be worse than Two Buck Chuck), the bread was quite good. Rounded out by a limp green salad, the bill came to €27. As we ate, an enormous group filed in (a tour?), oblivious to their fate.
Café Café (Via dei SS Quattro, 44 east of the Coliseum) – A small friendly place with more Mediterranean than Italian food. We split an appetizer platter of dips (hummus, eggplant, yogurt/cucumber), bread and greens, which was quite light and satisfying. B enjoyed her “delicate” veal meatballs in a curry sauce and I went boring but liked my turkey on ciabatta sandwich (the only time I saw turkey in two weeks in Italy). We both had a nice glass of red wine (a shiraz from Lazio and something from Sicily) and had a nice chat with the friendly waitress afterwards as we arrived and ate before the typical lunch hours. Total: €39.
Da Augusto (Piazza de Renzi 15 in Trastevere) – After two failed dinner attempts, we finally made it to this popular place for lunch. Everything was simple but excellent. I had a rigatoni with pomodoro and sausage while B enjoyed the rigatoni with cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper). I got the roast pork and B got the lamb while we shared a side of roast potatoes and a ½ liter of decent house red and bottle of water. I’m sure that there was much higher “quality” of food in the more expensive restaurants we never made it to, but everything here hit the spot and we shoveled it in happily. Total: €36.
Da Tonino (Via de Governo Vecchio, 18/19, west of Piazza Navona) – Like Da Augusto, another excellent home-cooked style meal. It was packed but we were comfortably squeezed into a cozy little table in the corner with a good view. Everything was great. Ravioli with tomato sauce for B, a very spicy rigatoni with arrabbiata for me. I thoroughly enjoyed an oily, delicious plate of strachetti (I might be spelling this shredded beef dish wrong) with fresh arugula on top. Likewise, B liked her involtini, pot-roast-like beef wrapped around carrots and onions and cooked with a light tomato sauce. For a very filling meal, including a ½ liter of red and mineral water, the bill was €41 with tip.