My husband and I just got back from our 2.5 week honeymoon in Italy. I relied heavily on Chowhound recommendations, most of which were wonderful. We live in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn (next to Carroll Gardens, a traditional Italian neighborhood) and have very good Italian food in our own neighborhood (Frankies 457, Lucali, et al) - so I was pleasantly surprised to find many of our meals better than what we've ever eaten. I feel it boils down to quality of ingredients. Here is a synopsis of what we ate and where:
We loved Venice and its food and ambiance, even after nearly every friend and family member who had been warned us that it was touristy and expensive with forgettable food. I regretted we didn't have another day here - we only had 2.
We arrived just in time for cicchetti and aperitivo hour. We went to Naranzaria, next to the Rialto Market for prosecco and aperol spritzes (divine) and some satisfying nibbles. Definitely worth a stop, and I am sure it there's great people watching when its a bit warmer - lots of locals there. For dinner we went around the corner to Trattoria Alla Madonna, which has extremely mixed reviews as it is an older, somewhat touristy restaurant. It was crowded and featured very bright lighting, so not amazing ambiance, but the food made up for it. Best seafood risotto I've ever had, and the spaghetti with clams was also outstanding. To start we had the crab cocktail (fresh, though a few shards of shells needed to be fished out) and proscuitto crudo, also very good. We ended with textbook tiramisu and some complimentary lemoncello. Everywhere we went we told them it was our honeymoon - many places gave us an after dinner drink, prosecco or small treat, which was nice.
Our second day we started off with a hearty breakfast at our hotel, Ca Sagredo, and then ambled around to see the greatest hits of the Venice sights. For lunch we stopped at Harry's Bar for bellinis and their famed ham and cheese sandwiches. For anyone who isn't aware, the bellinis break down to about $18 US - quite a splurge for a cocktail, but we enjoyed them nonetheless. Cicchetti hour was spent at Al Merca, around the corner from the night before close to the Rialto Market. For dinner that evening we went to Antiche Carampane, which was overall very good. The menu is both very seasonal and local, which we enjoyed - but I think it gets a bit more hype by Chowhounds than it deserved. We got the mixed seafood carpaccio and gnocchi to start - both fantastic. For our second course, we got the moleche crabs (which are fed eggs and parmesan until fat and then cooked) and squid in its ink over polenta. We enjoyed both, especially for the novelty as they are local delicacies, but agreed the starters were better.
The next day we went to the Rialto Market to assemble a picnic for our train to Florence. Got some great cheese from a shop next to Al Merca (some of the best goat cheese I've ever eaten), salami, wine and cheese. For dessert, blueberries and pastries.
Gelato Stops: Sosa and Da Nico. In my opinion, Da Nico is the best gelato I had on the entire trip (pistachio and bacio). We were going to try Alaska, but our waiter at Antiche told us he did not recommend it.
Overall, by far our best city ranked by food alone. The city itself we were not keen on - every other person seemed to be speaking American or British English, even when we wandered a bit farther afield in the Oltrano district. The Centro Storico felt like a big, cheap shopping mall, with the outer edges a more upscale one. We found it uncomfortably crowded, and we live in NYC! We will only be back to eat and explore Tuscany in the future.
Our first dinner in Florence was La Giostra, which was touristy as expected - but the food was completely fantastic. The antipasto plate given complimentary was hearty and tasty. For starters we got a mixed crostini plate (delicious) and burrata with grapefruit (very, very good but not as good as the one we had in Rome later on in the trip at Roscioli). For secondi we had the truffle "carbonara" tagliata and burrata ravioli. We talked about the truffle pasta for the remainder of the trip. I still think about it. Potentially the best pasta I've ever eaten in my life. The ravioli was also great but couldn't hold a candle to the tagliata.
Our second day we took a private wine tour through Chianti (great wine and scenery, but endured some carsickness due to the winding roads, which no one had warned us about). For dinner we went to Sostanza, which had about 40% American and 60% Italian diners that evening. We had the artichoke omelet and a salad to start and progressed to the famed pollo al burro (butter chicken) and the steak, with a side of fresh white beans. I actually preferred the steak and my husband the chicken, but we agreed they were both fabulous. Ended with biscotti dipped in Vin Santo, a quintessental Florentine after dinner dessert.
Our third day we tried to go to Nerbone for lunch to try the bollito (roast beef) sandwiches. Waited in line for 30 minutes, and the person two ahead of us got the last sandwich roll. We did go on the later end (1 PM) - so I'd recommend going earlier. They open at 8, so we decided to go back on our last morning as I was deadset on trying! We went to GiGi, behind the San Lorenzo Market, instead - decent but nothing to write home about. Inquired at Trattoria Mario, which I'd read about on Chowhound, but the wait was 1.5 hours!
For dinner that night we went to Teatro Del Sale, which is owned and operated by the Cibreo team. It was QUITE an experience, and I highly recommend. We were definitely the only non-Italians there. You arrive and are asked to complete a members application (as it is a private club), then pay 30 euro pp for the food and show. This includes all you can drink chianti - a bar is available but at charge. The food is a progressive buffet - when a new dish is set out, one of the cooks sticks his head out a window and screams "Attenzione" and names the dish. Diners then rush up to get a helping - and the most popular ones run out quickly. We ate approximately 15 different dishes, the best being "fusilli grande" with sausage and capers. The buffet included soups, salads, appetizers, fish, pasta, and meat, ending with gelato (banana). The show was entertaining but lengthy and a bit inane. It was a one woman act performed by Maria Cassi, an Italian actress and the girlfriend of Fabio Picchi, an Italian celebrity chef who owns Cibreo. Both dramatic and humorous to the extreme, to the point of absurdity. All in good fun though, and the food and experience were wholeheartedly worth it.
Our last day in Florence we had I Frattellini sandwiches for lunch (very good but not great, sparse on the filling). The truffle, ham and pork one was the best of the lot. For dinner we ate at Osteria Cinghale Bianco - which I was a bit wary of due to mixed reviews - and it was another home run. We had liver crostini (the best version we tried in Florence), wild boar pappardelle and truffle tagliatelle. The truffle tagliatelle was nowhere near as good as Giostra's, but the wild boar pasta was fantastic. We actually ordered a second plate of it! Highly recommend. For dessert we had tiramisu, which was actually better than what we had in Venice, and complimentary limoncello. Our waiter and the manager (who spent time living in New York) were among the nicest we encountered.
Our last morning we made it to Nerbone and had bollito bagnato sandwiches (bagnato = bun dipped in juice) with salsa verde y rosso. The bread was a bit chewy, but overall the flavors melded together wonderfully. I don't think my husband and I spoke a word until we'd finished. Wonderful.
Gelato stops - Vivoli (recommended by my brother who studied in Firenze and known to be the best) - we found to be just average. It was a little too melty - perhaps they don't keep it as cold as other gelaterias. Dei Neri - get the chocolate pepperoncini - this was my second favorite gelati of the trip. San Trinitita - artisinal, fruit flavors were the best we tried of the trip. Carrera G - many candy and cookie flavors, a little overly sweet for my taste but my husband loved it.
Our favorite city overall - the ruins are positively magical when seen at night - but unfortunately, this is where my Chowhound advice ran astray. i actually put up one post asking for advice (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/811230) as the choices in Rome are vast. The service was gruff everywhere we went - and my husband and I both spoke Italian and were very polite. We could not find a decent Carbonara, which was disappointing as it's one of the most famous Roman dishes and we love it. Here's where we went:
First dinner - Roscioli - recommended highly by pretty much everyone on this board. We were seated about 30 min after our 9 PM reservation and then sat for about 20 minutes with menus before our order was taken. Our waiter was very indifferent and forgot things (a bottle of water) and actually brought us the wrong item and then disappeared for 20 minutes - so we just ate it. Also of note - portions are ENORMOUS. Each dish can easily be shared by 2-4 people. The burrata was indeed the best version - by far - we've ever eaten. Definitely worth a stop just for this alone, though it could easily be shared by 4 people (and we love cheese). The second starter we ordered was braciola - but instead we received a huge mixed meat plate. For secondi we both got the carbonara - and it was not very good. I've had dozens of good ones in NYC restaurants as well as my own kitchen, and unfortunately it was not up to snuff. Dry and far too eggy, and the pancetta did not taste fresh. Very disappointing. For our last course we shared the smoked ricotta meatballs - which were really great, but we did not a lot of room left after the cheese, meat and pasta.
Second day - For lunch we went to Naumachia, between the Colosseum and San Clemente church. Fabulous thin pizza. The only place in the neighborhood that didn't look touristy/godawful. Highly recommended - we got a buffalo mozzarella margherita that was better than the ones we had in Campania, as well as one with proscuitto crudo, rucola and cherry tomatoes.
Dinner that night was at Piperno. We were seated inside, as the patio was full. Our waiter was a bit stiff but otherwise the nicest we had in Rome. The artichokes were to die for, and the squash blossoms were terrific as well. For our main we got a cacio e pepe (very good but i've had better in NYC) and a veal saltimbocca (same as the pasta).
Third day was spent at the Vatican. Lunch was sandwiches from Paninoteca Guido - adequate and cheap but forgettable. The waitress was rude and pretended not to understand us although we ordered in Italian.
Dinner that night was at Checchino dal 1887 - foodwise, the best meal we had in Rome. The place was completely empty at 9 PM, which we found odd for a Wednesday night. Only two other tables of diners. Our waiter was the coldest we had of the trip, which was strange as he was almost overly nice to the other American couple who was there, as was the manager. The third table was Italians. We had crostini (good) and a salad to start, and followed up with the bucatini alla amatriciana (very good) and the rigatoni pajata (excellent). As a main we shared an involtini, which was just okay. For dessert we had a ricotta chocolate cake which was delicious.
Our last day in Rome we had lunch at Matricianella and partook in "Gnocchi Gioveddi" - thanks Katie Parla for the tip, as we did not know about that tradition prior to her recommendation. We got a tomato basil version and an involtini and cheese, which we agreed was the best gnocchi we've ever tasted. Big business lunch crowd, so make sure to book ahead. Just a simple trattoria, but a very good one.
Our last dinner in Rome was at La Campana. Other than comments about how touristy it is, there was little bad on this board said about the food. I regret to report that it was, by leaps and bounds, the WORST meal we had in Italy. I actually thought most of it was positively inedible and wondered if the chef recently quit. Worth investigating. Interestingly we were seemingly the only Americans there - mostly Italians, though only about half full on a Thursday night. We started with grilled scamorza, the only thing I liked. The salad arrived drenched in cheap olive oil. We got fettuccini carbonara, which was drowning in cream (from what I know, cream does not belong in carbonara) and extremely bland. I tried to add pepper, which still made it inedible. The veal saltimbocca tasted like it had been cooked in concentrated broth and was far too salty to eat. Many of the other diners were eating fish dishes - which we never would have considered over the classics La Campana is known for. 80 euros later, we ended the night at McDonalds (no, I'm not kidding!).
Also of note, we went to Forno al Campo di Fiore THREE times while in Rome. The first two were in the afternoon and all they had left was the margherita, but the third was in the morning our last day and we had eggplant and squash blossom. Definitely worth a stop for a snack, note that they close for siesta every day from about 2:30 - 4:30 PM.
Gelato Stops - Giolitti - the best in Rome, we went twice. Huge serving, a "small" will get you three flavors. Make sure you get yours "con panna" - they top it with cream! Ciampini - gelato in wafer ice cream sandwich form - I loved these, my husband did not. San Crispino - we got the crispino, which is honey. Delicious and unique. Tre Scalini (gelato in tartufo form) - very good, but I'd advise only going for a dessert and coffee and not a meal as it is a tourist trap.
Our focus was on relaxation and romance in Positano, but we found some fantastic food!
First dinner was spent at Donna Rosa in Monteperuso, in the hills above the town. Family run (mom and one daughter in the kitchen, other daughter and father at the front of the house), it was the warmest service of the trip and also the best pasta besides La Giostra's truffle pasta and Cinghale Bianco's boar. Everything was fresh, delicious, and cooked before you (our table was next to the kitchen). Complimentary bruschetta and limoncello sweetened the already delicious meal - we had black and white seafood pasta and spinach/ricotta ravioli, which we agreed was the best ravioli we'd had to date.
For lunch the next day we went to I Capitano, with stunning views above town and fresh, delicious food. Seafood risotto, mozzarella and proscuitto salad. For dinner we went to Max, an enoteca in the heart of town. It was recommended by our hotel and everything we got was very good - lobster tagliatelle and sausage/ricotta lasagna. We had two desserts here - a lemon mousse and a chocolate souffle, both excellent.
Third day we went to see Amalfi and Ravello and had a casual lunch at Il Panini in Ravello - great toasted sandwiches, definitely recommend if you don't have time for a long sitdown (i.e Cusimo). We had drinks at the Il San Pietro (champagne) and then dinner at Taverna Fiora Leone. Solid pizza, though nothing we wouldn't find in NYC. We got a margherita and a sausage and peppers, as well as an antipasto misto plate to start.
Following day we went to Capri and had lunch at Gelsomina (thanks to all who recommended it!) It was very remote - though we got picked up in Anacapri by their free shuttle - but totally worth it for the food and views. We got squash blossom campanelle and caprese ravioli as well as a caprese salad - the best version we've ever had. After lunch we took a short trail to an overlook with one of the most spectacular views we've seen.
Our last dinner in Positano was at Il Ritrovo, in Monteperuso across from Donna Rosa. We did the tasting menu, a bargain at 35 euro each. The standout was the seafood pasta, though we enjoyed everything. Very friendly owner gave us a small bottle of wine and bag of spices, as well as complimentary lemoncello. One nice thing is that they have a shuttle that drives you back down to town as opposed to a taxi (we took one to Donna Rosa, 20 euro each way).
Last day of the trip was spent in Sorrento, where we had lunch at L'Abate (owned by La Lanterna) - very good antipasto and proscuitto/buffalo mozzarella/cherry tomato pizza. Our last dinner of the trip was at Il Buco, which used to have a Michelin star. Great room, a lot of ambiance but also a lot of fanfare. They didn't seem too pleased that we chose two courses each instead of the tasting menu (it was only 15 euros less than the tasting menu the way we did it). The starters were excellent - mozzarella five ways (deconstructed into yogurt, fried, grilled, etc) and beef carpaccio five ways. Our second course was a large tube pasta with arugula pesto and overcooked calamari (mediocre) and a spaghetti with pancetta and tomatoes (very good).
Hope this report is helpful! My research was pretty exhaustive, but the end result was very worth it.
Forno Campo De' Fiori
Piazza Campo de' Fiori, 22, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT
Ristorante La Giostra
Borgo Pinti, 10r, Florence, Tuscany 50121, IT
Vicolo della Campana, 18, Roma, IT 00186, IT
Via del Leone, 4, Roma , IT
Checchino dal 1887
Via di Monte Testaccio, 30, Rome 00153, IT
Monte de' Cenci, 9, Rome, Lazio , IT
Via dei Giubbonari 21/23, Rome, Lazio 00186, IT
Calle de la Carampane, 1911,San Polo, Venice, Veneto 30125, IT
Calle della Madonna, San Polo, 594,, Venice, Veneto 30125, IT
Via Montepertuso, 77, Positano, Campania 84017, IT
II Rampa Marina Piccola (Piazza S. Antonino), 5,, Sorrento, Campania 80067, IT
Teatro del Sale
Via Dei Macci, 111/R, Florence, Tuscany 50122, IT
Via della Porcellana, 25, 50123, Florence, Tuscany 50123, IT
Via dell'Isola delle Stinche, 7, Florence, Tuscany 50122, IT
Via dell'Ariento, 87r, Florence, Tuscany 50100, IT
Via dei Cimatori, 38r,, Florence, Tuscany 50122, IT
Piazza Navona, Roma, Lazio 00186, IT
Via Montepertuso,97-99, Positano, Campania 84017, IT
Via Buonarroti 48, Rome, Lazio 00185, IT
Venice, Venice, Veneto , IT
Venice, Venice, Veneto , IT
Osteria del Cinghale Bianco
Borgo San Iacopo, 43, Florence, Toscana 50125, IT