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Dec. Italy report: incl. Rome, Parma, Venice (long!)

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Restaurants & Bars 3

Dec. Italy report: incl. Rome, Parma, Venice (long!)

Jessica Ritz | Jan 5, 2002 03:14 PM

This was a short trip, always in giro, that yielded a nice range of culinary experiences. I certainly do not claim any place below to be a find, and a lot are listed in guides anyway. Note that almost every meal my boyfriend I ate was with Italian friends except in Venice, so even if they weren’t all the best they were at least pre-approved by natives. And the dollar went very far with the then in-use lira...

ROME
Not terribly memorable first meal at
PIZZERIA MONTECARLO (Vicolo Sevelli). I wouldn’t recommend if you only have a few meals in Rome. But the carbonara and bucatini all’amatriciana are sturdy and atmosphere lively. It's also cheap. Espresso at Sant’Eustachio washed everything down nicely.
PIZZERIA AI MARMI (Viale di Trastevere)—excellent choice for classic thin Roman style pizza. Crowded as all hell, which didn’t bother me as I inhaled a capricciosa.
BAR SAN CALISTO in Pza. San Calisto next to Santa Maria in Trastevere is a fantastic post-dinner hang with a seriously down-to-earth vibe, either in the bar or outside.
Because it was pre-natale time, all businesses were open Sundays. Which meant the bar at CASTRONI on Cola di Rienzo was hopping on a Sunday morning. I used to frequent the location on Via Flaminia during my study abroad days there, but I prefer this location. A stop at TAZZA D’ORO later on kept us well caffinated. Another bar worth mentioning that is less super famous is CAFFFE CAMERINO (the coffee with the 3 "f"s) on Largo Argentina.
DA GIGGETTO felt like a factory when we ate there on Chanukah. Albeit one whose products I’m quite fond of. Carciofi all giudia, superb spaghetti alla carbonara, tagliatelle ai porcini hit the spot. I prefer it to Al Pompiere. A Roman Jewish friend of mine, however, does not frequent Giggetto. Next time I’ll go elsewhere, like Piperno.
We failed to eat indigenous cucina romana at
I BUTTERI (Piazza Regina Margherita, 28/1, tel. 06.8548130), a faux pas which was totally fine by us. The ring of fat that surrounds the incredibly flavorful manzo steak must be the secret. Plus killer, sinfully rich papardelle with cinghiale. Serious stuff. This place is also open every day until 2 a.m.

Other places worth mentioning:
SETTIMIO DELL’ARANCIO on Via dell’Arancio, near the Corso and Condotti. Large menu, good prices. Delicious vongole veraci and seafood offerings. Unfortunately, one of my favorites, funky little sign-less ANTONIO BASSETTI, Via del Governo Vecchio (18, I think, near Fratelli Paladini that was closed every time we passed by—big bummer :-() was too salty, overall not as good as the meal I had there last year. But I still love it anyway.
PIZZA CIRO for Neapolitan-style pizza (there’s also a location in Naples). I enjoyed the gnocchi alla sorrentina, but the pizza’s the thing (Via Delle Mercede, 43, near San Silvestro. Tel. 06.678.60.15)
LA PIZZA BUONA is an excellent pizza rustica place owned by two young brothers at the corner of Argentina and Via dei Barbieri. It’s perfect for a quick bite and they have a lovely selection of antipasti.

PARMA
Next we headed to Parma, where, of course, folks eat ridiculously well. Old family friends treat me like their spoiled granddaughter; I’m happy to oblige and play the part when it comes to food. Although having cucina pugliese is somewhat odd in this gastronomic capital,
LA BRACE D’ORO (Via Abbeveratoia, 55 on the other side of the river near the hospital. Tel. 0521.981.255) made me want to hop a train to Bari. The spaghetti alle frutti di mare, orchiette con rape, and grilled whole brazino justified not having tortelli alla zucca that night.
Coffee was always taken at GRAN CAFFE ORIENTALE, which epitomizes the Parma bourgie vibe.
I look forward to an aperativo at the enoteca on Via Farini followed by a meal at
PIZZERIA ORFEO (Via Carducci, 5. Tel. 0521.285.483 closed Tues.) every trip. This time the pizza crudo bis (crudo, moz. bufala, rucola) was better than ever, in fact it was the best we had during our trip. A enormous, juicy, delicious florentine steak, sliced on a platter topped with rucola and accompanied with lemon wedges, almost did us in...

MILAN
On a quick jaunt to Milan, where viewing a snow storm from the Galleria was a stunning experience, we kept warm for a few hours at
VICTORIA Caffe (Via Clerici, 1. Tel. 02.8690792). The focaccia topped with prosciutto was a great start; the primi, including two types of risotto, disappointed. The atmosphere and decor, however, are lovely. The presence of vintage posters, tall candles, plus frighteningly stylish young milanesi clientele were welcome after dining in establishments which are usually short on aesthetic appeal. Food over decor always, but admittedly it was enjoyable to have more of the latter just once, especially given the weather.

BOLOGNA
We picked up a kilo of Parmigiano-Reggiano at
SALUMERIA BRUNO E FRANCO (Via Oberdan, 16), which cost about $14 vacuum-sealed for the trip back. This place is far less snobby than Tamburini, or the "museo del cibo" as my friend calls it. Around the corner from Tamburini on Via Drapperie is
DROGHERIA GILBERTO, where they package all sorts of goodies to take home in plastic boxes. I forgot the name of the amazing grocery store on Strada Maggiore, where we happily roamed the aisles for a little while.
Cappuccino at GAMBERETTI (Via Ugo Bassi, 12) was fantastic.
PIZZERIA JARI (Via S. Serlio, 2, outside the center. Tel. 356.498 closed mon.) was the only complete restaurant meal we had time for, unfortunately. The quirky Sicilian owners of this wood-paneled, tightly packed place cook up a mean spaghetti with tomato, pancetta and radicchio di Treviso. The bitter and smoky combo was divine. The pizza is super, too. They also have amazing Sicilian desserts, including cassata and an almond semifreddo. It’s off the beaten tourist path, but intrepid visitors might be lucky enough to be treated to the proprietor’s dirty joke telling in various languages.

VENICE
Enough has been debated and discussed on chowhound about this city already. But I’ll throw in my two cents. This was my fourth trip to Venice, and the only one during which I ate satisfyingly and solidly well. Probably due to the fact that we only went to eateries already recommended by friends in Italy. Except Harry’s Bar, which we admittedly enjoyed...
LAVENA had decent cappuccino, but the surprise was the incredible cornetti! Even if the place feels like it’s fallen from grace and looks shabby around the edges, the hot fresh, honey-filled morning pastries were the perfect fuel for hitting the tourist circuit.
OSTERIA ALLE BOTTE (behind Campo San Bartolomeo tel. 041.520.9775) provided great cicheti, wines by the glass, and lunch. When I reminded our waitress that she forgot to charge us for the various snacks and 4 glasses of wine we had while waiting (hell, we were on vacation!), she only charged me an additional 11,000 lire (about $5). Rewarding honesty wins extra points in my book. VINO VINO was nice for a quick early drink, too.
Pizza at LA PERLA was better than most other places, I suspect, and fortunately it wasn’t crowded.
We found AL COVO to be very satisfying vis-a-vis the meal itself (gnocchi with polpetti, unbelievable fritto misto), but the atmosphere stilted. Plus in low tourist season, when we were very often the only tourists in restaurants, (yes, even in Venice!), there were no Italians in the joint. It was also the most expensive meal we had the entire trip.
In contrast, ALLE TESTIERE blew us away. Thanks to chowhound and friends in Rome for their hearty recommendation. I will never forget the grilled razor clams, small, punchy and succulent. Gnocchi with radicchio di Treviso and gamberetti was subtle, unique, and just awesome. The staff was wonderful and made the meal a terrific experience overall. We’ll dream about our meal there until we return...

p.s.—Although I didn’t pass through this trip, in Florence OSTERIA ANTICA MESCITA SAN NICOLO on Via San Nicolo, 60 is a great place for traditional Tuscan fare. It’s frequented largely by students, including my friend who brought me there, otherwise I wouldn’t have found it. And it’s less expensive than other comparable eateries in the center.

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