I’ve followed many threads on Chowhound, mostly about Rome, and here’s my first post. Our family of four spent a week last fall in Rome, but I never wrote about our experience. This past winter was so bleak in NYC that we made plans to get to Rome again, and quickly. We just returned yesterday, and I’m writing now or I’m afraid I never will. Comments on some of our meals are below. Many thanks to Chowhound contributors who introduced us to these restaurants in the first place.
Trattoria Monti. We got the last table, right by the door, for our first evening in Rome. Our apartment was on Viale del Monte Oppio, about five minutes’ walk from the trattoria. Daniel was our waiter, one of the brothers. He was as welcoming, helpful and amusing as we had expected from reading the remarks of others on Chowhound. The dishes were memorable: zucchini sformatino, subtle and delicious; tortello, the giant ravioli; rigatoni with Marche sausage and cave-aged pecorino (aged in tufo caves, we were told), a surprisingly delicate dish; rabbit, stuffed; maialino, fantastic; and an “apple strudel”—it seemed like a very ancient way of doing this dessert, dense and intense. We had a glass of the house verdicchio, and for the first time, lacrima morro d’Alba. Our waiter and I were both miming tears running down our cheeks. He said they pick the grape when it starts to weep.
We had such a wonderful time we planned to go back on Sunday, but were pick-pocketed on Via Cavour just before lunch and had to spend a couple of hours cancelling credit cards. As it happened though we were forced to extend our visit an extra day—a fire at Fiumicino Airport—and snagged the last table again for dinner. Most notable dish this time: ravioli stuffed with grouper; or perhaps the dessert—amaretto gelato with hot chocolate. Oh my.
Urbana 47 – we were about a ten minute walk from Via Urbana, so we walked over for lunch on our second day in the neighborhood. I had a memorable tagliolini with fava beans, peas, and pancetta, sitting in back by the kitchen. We stopped in a couple more times for excellent caffé, good pastries, and when sitting outside, an enjoyable view of the passers-by.
Panella was just down the Via Merulana from our apartment, so we went there several times for coffee, pastry, and Macedonia di frutta, which was tart and delicious, with a little zabaglione on the side. One morning, after coffee here, we wandered over to the Apple store (which we’d never have known was there if Elizabeth Minchilli hadn’t mentioned it somewhere), then an hour or so at the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale next door in the Palazzo Brancaccio, and a stroll over to Forno Roscioli Pietro (also noted by Elizabeth or we’d have missed it—see her blog), for some great take-out. The pizzette here are stunningly good (pizza by the slice at Panella is excellent, but these little round ones from Forno Roscioli just killed me). And we sat at one of their several tables for a caffé. And they serve wine too. I fantasized just staying there all day. But we took our swag home and had a great Roscioli lunch in the apartment.
Piperno. Four of us had a birthday dinner on the piazza. What a fine place for a family celebration. Last Thanksgiving we came here with our two grown sons and sat in the front room, which I love. We ate the famous dishes and relished them all. And there’s something special about the service at Piperno.
Casa Bleve. A few years ago I lunched alone at this fancy enoteca, and by “alone” I mean I was the only person in the place for half my meal, and joined by one couple just before two o’clock. This former palazzo courtyard is grand and formal. They played Diana Kral on the sound system all the time I was there—a bit jarring. I recall delicious zucchini blossoms. This time the place was very busy with a mostly male crowd of what looked like sleek lawyers and politicos. My cousin, his wife and I shared a salumi plate and a formaggi plate and a couple of glasses of wine; after a while followed with pastas that were OK. All in all we enjoyed Casa Bleve, in large part because of our attentive and engaging waiter.
L’Asino d’Oro. Our lunch was a bit disappointing—our expectations were so high, perhaps too high. The service seemed distracted, perfunctory. All of the diners were non-Italian, mostly northern European tourists. And the vibe was in fact kind of northern European, not Italian. it's just possible this was an off moment for us, or for them. I'll try again.
Grano. I mention Grano because I had enjoyed a couple of meals here in 2012, and had been distressed to read later on Chowhound about their pricing policy for tourists. Last Monday we decided to try it again, partly because there were few alternatives. Our meal was fine: our pastas were spaghettoni with calemari; fettucine with zucchini blossoms, pecorino and yellow tomatoes. And the secondi were good. The service was blasé though. And the menu is written in clumsy English translation with no Italian. Some places, such as Urbana 47, print the description of the dish in Italian, then in English (Piperno adds French for a nice touch). My Italian is not so good, but I recognize most Italian food vocabulary and always like to learn more. You can’t do that with their “All English” menu, not to mention that it feels, for me, kind of alienating and patronizing.
As you can tell, I respond strongly to the tone of a place, to the service, to the physical details, as well as to what’s on the plate. For example, my take on “L’Asino d’Oro” was strongly influenced by those aspects. And one reason why we loved Trattoria Monti was the interaction with the staff—given how many tourists flock there, their obvious enjoyment in serving their guests is pretty amazing. (I just read this to my wife and she agrees with everything I wrote!)