My wife and I just got back from a 9 night trip to Italy. We spent 3 nights in Rome, 3 in Sorrento and the surrounding area, and 3 in Florence. We had a terrific time, and ate some very good meals and a few disappointing ones.
Being from New York we have access to and have tried a wide variety of Italian food, so we thought it made sense to focus on what we thought Rome would do well, specifically traditional rather than contemporary food. Our selections were based in large part on David Downie's Terroir book, unfortunately we were generally disappointed.
On Friday, our first night, we ate at Matricienella. We shared a fried artichoke appetizer, which was oily and bland. My bucatini amatricianna was very good, one of the better pastas I had on our trip. My wife's gricia was not very good at all. We shared a roasted veal dish, which was a special, but it was overcooked and flavorless. Service was friendly and good.
Our second night was at Paris in Trastevere. It was the most disappointing meal of the trip, especially considering it was one of the most expensive. My carbonarra was mediocre. My wife tried their amatricianna, which had no spice and little pork. I had fried veal meatballs, which were ok; the flavor and texture was nice, but it was a one note dish. My wife had beef stew; I don't recall the exact name of the dish, it was decent. Our desert was a chocolate ricotta cheese cake which was cloyingly sweet. The service was friendly but rather slow.
We decided to try a gelato place recommended by Downie's book near the Vatican, I think it was called Gelato de Gracchi. We tried hazelnut, pistachio, a chocolate and something else. Except for the pistachio, it was not very good. The texture was good, but the flavors were suprisingly dull.
On Sunday night we tried Osteria Quercia (sp?), which is near Campo de' Fiori. We had walked by it in the afternoon, and it seemed popular with a mix of locals and tourists, and the food and menu had looked good, so we gave it a shot. I don't recall all that we had, but I remember that it was good. It was more reasonable than our other dinners, the service was good, and overall the best value we had in Rome.
We spent the next three nights in Sorrento, making day trips to Capri and the Amalfi coast. The whole area was beautiful, but did seem more tourristy than I expected. Given this impression, we didn't want to spend much money on the more expensive restaurants, such as Caruso and Il Buco, which seemed to cater to tourists. Instead we ate at more casual pizzerias and such, which were generally unremarkable, but we did enjoy Pizzeria Aurora in Sorrento.
Our last three night were spent in Florence, where we had by far the best food of our trip. From the snack shops to the finer restaurants, the menus were more diverse, the quality was higher, and the cost lower than in Rome or Sorrento.
We stayed in a wonderful B&B just north of the central area of the city called Relais Villa Antea. The rooms were both large and yet cozy, as well as quite attractive. The service was especially wonderful, the owner gave us a booklet of personal recommendations of attractions and food, which turned out to be wonderful.
On her recommendation on our first night we went to Perseus, which was the best meal of our trip. This is a traditional Florentine restaurant, which was boisterous and fun and full of mostly locals. Its specialty is beef, and their bistec alla florentine, was without question the best steak I have ever eaten! It put Peter Lugers to shame. We also had a gnochi that was very good. The house wine was a good chianti, and the service was very welcoming.
The next day we had a lite lunch at Osteria de' Benci, which was also recommended by our hotel. We only shared a few small things, most notable was the drunken spaghetti. Which was a noodle infused with red wine. I wouldn't have it often, but it was quite good and unique. The place was very pleasant, and I had the impression that the other items on the menu would have been quite good.
That night we had reservations at Osteria Tourbouni. This is an ambitious and very professional restaurant. It was more contemporary than any of our other meals. We had a cheese tasting, 2 pastas and shared a lamb dish. Everything was excellent, including the wine and service.
The next day we snacked at a few small shops in Oltrano and at the central market (which I highly recommend that anyone visit).
Our last night we went to Pizzeria Lo Spera. A small pizzeria in a residential neighborhood recommended by our hotel. We got there at the right time as it quickly filled up with locals and a few tourists. The pizza maker had won a world championship pizza making competition; and it showed. The pizza was more Napolian in crust style, but there were a huge variety of topping options. If I had more time I would have explored many of them. This may have also been our cheapest meal, 2 large pizzas and a half liter of wine were under 20 euro.
I hope to return to explore more of Italy, especially the smaller Tuscan towns, and northern Italy.