My friends and I decided to celebrate our recent completion of medical school with a little trip to Italy. Our destinations: Rome, Naples, Florence. Due to circumstances beyond my control, many of my most mediocre meals happened in Rome. Florence was a gold mine.
Ill refrain from posting on the mediocre meals simply because I had not taken any notes on those meals. Suffice it to say that if it looks like a tourist trap and smells like a tourist trap then its probably a tourist trap. However using Frommers as our guide, we were able to chart 2 very successful meals in Rome.
Trattoria del Pallaro
I had also heard about Pallaro from my friend who recently traveled to Italy and received tips from people living there. Once I heard that a legitimate Italian grandmother was running the show there with her own recipes I fell in love and decided that I could not leave Rome without dining there. Disclaimer: my instantaneous infatuation with this woman may have clouded my judgment. I ended up leaving my friends to solo this meal because they were afraid that the prix fixe meal would contain items they did not like. It was unfortunate that I could not convince them but looking back, I would have deeply regretted not going. The entire meal cost 19 euros which also included a carafe of house red and a half bottle of water.
Immediately after sitting down, I was showered with plates of silky soft proscuito, crisp, refreshing fresh fennel dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar, some nice olives, beautifully cooked lentils with a hint of celery, and great bread. Soon afterwards, I received an amazing plate of fried veal meatballs and what I believe was fried polenta. The veal meatballs brought me to my knees: wonderfully soft on the inside and perfectly crunchy on the outside.
The primi was perhaps the most impressive plate of pasta I had during the entire trip. The rigatoni was perfectly aldente and covered simply in tomato sauce and cheese. Those 3 ingredients and textures were heavenly. Having already been brought to my knees, by the veal meatballs, I was knocked flat on my back by this dish.
The secondi was a beautiful round of roast beef served in its roasting juices and lots of olive oil. It was accompanied by sides of fresh mozerella, fried eggplants, and these awesome home made potato chips.
To finish me off, I was then provided with a slice of heavenly homemade lemon custard pie and a small glass of passionfruit juice. Its one of those meals that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
After my meal at Pallaro, I had some pretty forgettable meals. We then left Rome and traveled to Naples and Florence. However, on our last night there, we had our appropriately last and final meal at the excellent Le Maschere.
The restaurant is a weird mix of reds, wood, masks of satyrs, live music via piano, and most importantly, a visible grilling station with an area off to the side where yet another elderly Italian woman was hard at work making pasta. However, every element of that restaurant blended together to make our last meal very memorable.
After seeing the pasta made before my eyes, I decided to brave some odd looks and ordered 2 pasta dishes in addition to my antipasta. The waitress was without a doubt the nicest, friendliest person we ran into the entire trip. She kindly explained that the restaurant specialized in Calabrese cuisine and proceeded to describe every item on the menu. I was floored. Throughout the trip we were accustomed to curt service at best, and at times some very demeaning service (mostly at the gelaterias).
I started with the baccala fritters which was more fritter than baccala. They were good, but I should have had the fried vegetables like our waitress suggested. Next, I had a dish of baked gnocchi which was served in a bubbling clay bowl. The gnocchi was light, the tomato sauce rich, and the crunchy cheese crust topping perfect. My gnocchi dish was much better than my friends which was cooked the same way but with broccoli. Then I had pappardelle with seafood. The pappardelle itself was excellent and you could feel the texture of the handmade pasta on your tongue. The sauce was okay. My friends pappardelle dish with ragu was much better. For dessert, I had an apple cake topped with almonds while my friend had a cake made with cheese and chocolate. My dessert was excellent by all accounts, but my friends dessert was the show stopper. During the dessert, this uncontrollable grin began to spread across my face I looked up and realized that my friend was also looking at me with that exact same life is good grin. We broke out laughing and realized that life was indeed good.
There was also a couple of other notables on our trip in Rome that are worth mentioning.
This place has some amazing gelato flavors. It is arguably the best in the city. The chocolate and hazelnut were excellentstrong clean flavors with the perfect texture. However, I had to endure a couple of racial slurs and some very nasty looks to get that gelato. Was it worth it? Not after the second time. Theres a place near Campo di Fiore, Il Gelato, thats has a better pistachio gelato, service with a smile, and HUGE portions.
Forno Il Campo di Fiore
Excellent pizza rossa. The red sauce was vibrant and delicious on the thin crust. However the pizza bianchi was over-salted. We found that the forno near our hotel on via d. Nichola and Tarantino near Barbarini was just as good if not better. The pizza with zucchini blossoms there was gorgeous.