Restaurants & Bars

Mini trip report: Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Amalfi Coast

mqholt | Sep 26, 201802:47 PM     5

This will be sort of a mini-report. My wife and I took our two teenage boys to Italy this summer for a three week vacation. We visited Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and Capri. It was not a food vacation, but we did happen to visit many fine restaurants, which I often found by reading reports from Chowhounds. So I thought I would give an overview. I didn’t take notes at any restaurants, and this is all from memory, so accounts are a bit thin. But I thought this report might be useful, particularly for families with teenagers.

We flew into Rome, and on our first night we ate near our hotel, at a restaurant called Berzitello. I picked it because it was open on Sundays, it was a half a block from our hotel, and it had both pizza and standard Roman fare. I wasn't expecting anything special. But it was actually quite good. (I should note that later on in our trip, when we would go to a restaurant that was merely average, we would always say, if this was the first restaurant we had been to in Italy, we would absolutely love it.) But the service at Berzitello was excellent, the pastas were good, and the prices fair.

My older son, who is not an adventurous eater, started his "Best Pizza" contest here. At this point, Berzitello’s was the best pizza he had ever eaten. It ended up quite a few notches down.

The next morning we went to the Collosseum and were hungry afterwards, I had read on Chowhound, “TNExplorer” say Pizzeria Imperiale was quite good. We went and it was! We sat outdoors under the awning. The fans were helpful on a very hot day. It was crowded, but we got a table quickly and service was good. We all had pizza, and it was excellent! It immediately went to the top of my son's Best Pizza list.

After lunch we were very tired after our 12 hour plane flight. We went back to our hotel for what we thought would be a two hour siesta. We all slept for four hours! I had not made reservations for that night, because I didn't know how tired we would be. So we went for a walk by the Trevi fountain and over to the Pantheon. We were hungry by then, and were right in front of Armando al Pantheon, so I thought I would see if by chance they had room for us. They did not, but they recommended a restaurant just a block away, called Ristorante Archimede. It was very very good! It was standard Roman fair and very well done with great service and we were all very happy with our meals. The fried artichokes were particularly wonderful!

The next day we went to The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, which are of course must-sees. Afterwards we had planned to walk around and find a lunch spot, but it was incredibly hot, the hottest day in our whole trip to Italy. So I hailed a taxi, just to get in some AC time. I asked the driver to take us to Trastevere. He dropped us off somewhere near the basilica, and I was about to look at Google Maps to see if I had favorited anything nearby. But my younger son, who was very hungry, said “No, we are eating at the first place we see!” That place was Osteria Nonnarella. It was perfect—cool inside, with great food, friendly service, and good prices. I don’t know if most places in Trastevere are this good, or we got lucky, or both, but we had a wonderful long lunch.

That night my wife and I left the kids at the hotel and went to Al Moro. It was absolutely fantastic. I had asked for a table in the front room, and although they were slightly hesitant, we did get one. The tables are quite close together and the place does feel a little stuffier than most Roman restaurants. But after being there for just a few minutes everyone relaxed and it was great. For an appetizer we had the prosciutto with melon, and it was the best cantaloupe I’ve ever had. I had the pajata which was absolutely delicious. Of course it was the first time I had ever had it, so I have nothing to compare it to. My wife had pasta with clams which was excellent. Overall a great restaurant, with a wonderful traditional Roman feel.

By the way, the rooftop bar at our hotel, the Ambrosia Restaurant at the Hotel Artemide, had a great bartender, Maurizio, who made fantastic drinks. We didn’t eat there, but we enjoyed relaxing at the bar.

After Rome, we went to Florence. The first night we went to Alla Vecchia Bettola. We liked it so much we went back again two nights later. I do have to say that that first night we experienced the only negative tourist vs. local experience of our whole trip. Here’s what happened. We had 9:00 reservations, but the restaurant was completely full, so we had to wait about 25 minutes. Okay, it happens. Then we were seated at the end of a nice table inside. We hadn’t been there for two minutes when we were asked to move so another party could be seated. They were obviously regulars, an extended family of five. They were given bread and water right when they sat down, then their orders were taken in two minutes, wine brought in three, and five steaming plates of pasta were brought out at 10 minutes. At this point the waiter hadn’t said so much as buona sera to us. My younger son, who has a heightened sense of right and wrong, and who was also very hungry, was demanding that we leave for another restaurant. I was about to agree with him, when the mother in the party next to us told her father that my son was hungry and that they should share their food with us. He agreed and they offered us part of their meal. I politely declined of course, but they insisted and we did try their food. As soon as the waiter saw that we were talking to the locals, he immediately brought us menus and took our order. Everything was great from then on. The food came and it was delicious, and everyone was very friendly and fun. And €4 for as much good wine as you can drink is a very good deal. Plus they had the best tiramisu I have ever had.

We tried two pizzerias in Florence. First we went to Gusta Pizza in Oltrarno. (Most of the restaurants we ate at in Florence were on that side of the river.) It was absolutely excellent Neapolitan pizza. The chefs were very friendly and helpful and showed me exactly how their pizza was made. (My sons have challenged me to duplicate it at home, and I’m working on the dough starter right now.) The next night we tried Pizzeria O Scugnizzo, a recommendation from the people next to us at Alla Vecchia Bettola. It also also had a very friendly cook from Naples. It was actually even better than Gusta Pizza.

Our last night in Florence was a Saturday night, and we went back to La Vecchia Bettola. We didn’t have reservations, but they were not busy and we were seated right away. We had the same waiter as the first night and service was excellent. I should say that while the food was still very, very good, it was not quite as good as the first night. Maybe a different chef, or just an off night? But even if it was an off night, Alla Vecchia Bettola is still the favorite restaurant in the world of both of my two sons. Considering that they have very different tastes in food, and they have been to many wonderful restaurants, that is quite something.

While in Florence, we rented a car to drive around the Tuscan countryside. (Very luckily for us, the rental agency didn’t have the Fiat we had reserved, and gave us a free upgrade to an Alfa-Romeo Giulia. Wow—what a car!) In Chianti, we had perhaps the best overall dining experience of the trip. We drove to Lamole, near Greve in Chianti, and went to Ristoro di Lamole. We sat on the terrace overlooking a postcard picture of Tuscany. The service was wonderful, the food was great, and we just had a fantastic time. It’s a bit of a drive up some country roads to get there, but since I was driving that Giulia, that was fine too, and fun! I don’t remember all the food we had but I know we had the antipasti included their “Traditional” antipasto, chicken liver, and onion pudding with truffles. For other courses, my younger son had the pork sausage with beans, my other son had ravioli, I had a pasta with wild boar ragu, which were all delicious. Desserts and wine were also extremely good. Go here!

We wanted to visit a local winery after lunch, and our waiter suggested we go to and visit Castellinuzza di Cinuzzi. It doesn’t get more local—roll down the hill from the restaurant and you will hit it. It’s worth a visit. The tasting room is a cellar which was built in 1400, and the Chianti Classico Riserva Gallo Nero is excellent!

I do want to mention a roadside restaurant we went to the next day, mainly by accident. We had spent too long tasting wine in Montalcino, and so all of the restaurants were closed between lunch and dinner. While driving my younger son was starving and we saw a roadside place called “Locanda Sant’Antimo,” which looked like it might be open and so we went inside. It actually was closed, but the kind woman cooking in the kitchen said she was happy to bring us out some cold food, or a stew. So we sat outside on their pleasant patio and we had some appetizers and my son had the boar stew. It was all very good, and we were so grateful for their hospitality.

The next city we went to was Venice. We had our first lunch at “ai promessi sposi,” which was just two minutes from our hotel. It is a small place which I had read about, and was unpretentious and very nice and the food was absolutely delicious.

That night my wife and I wanted to try cicchetti. We went to Fondamente Misericordia, and hopped to several places between Vino Vero and Al Timon. This is quite a scene, and we had a great time. One couple that we met recommended one of the local restaurants, Il Paradiso Perduto, for dinner, so we ate a full dinner there. The seafood appetizer was absolutely outstanding. And the rest of the food was great too. I must tell you though that if you’re older at all this is a hipster place after 8 PM. Italians were pulling up in their private boats and tying off and going in for drinks, adding to the loud and boisterous scene. We were probably 20 years older than the next oldest people there. But the staff was very nice and we had a great time.

The next day we spent walking around and seeing the sights. Around lunch time, we were at Campo Santa Margherita and decided to try Fuori Rotta, a pizzeria and ristorante with nice tables under umbrellas on the square. I don’t suppose it is much different from hundreds of other similar places, but we had a very nice lunch, for a reasonable price.

That evening we had aperitifs at La Cantina. It is right on Strada Nova, and so is busy with tourists. The only we food we had were there were the oysters on the half shell that my son ordered. They were very fresh and absolutely delicious.

Our last dinner in Venice was at Anice Stellato. It was absolutely excellent. We sat outside by the canal and had a wonderful meal. The best single dish we had in our entire time in Italy was an appetizer there, the scallops. We wished we had placed 10 more orders of them. Everything else there was excellent as well.

(As an aside, many people are put off by Venice because it is so full of tourists. While this is certainly true, with just a little effort you can avoid the crowds and have an amazing time. Venetians are justifiably proud of their city, and Venice remains my favorite city of all that I have visited.)

Then we went to Milan. One truly memorable meal there was at Trippa. Trippa is trippy. I absolutely loved the place, and my son who is into food loved it as well. My wife and my other son: not so much. I knew that Trippa featured organ meat, but I didn’t know that was about all they had. My son and I tried the raw veal, and the goose liver, appetizers, and they were absolutely delicious. For a main course, I wanted to get the pajata, which was on the menu, but nobody else wanted it, and I also really wanted to try tripe (which as our waiter pointed out is the name of the place) but which nobody else wanted either. So I ordered the tripe which was delicious and I’m really glad I had it. And the place is really fun. The staff was great and at the end of the night the chef came out and talked to us at length. He’s a great guy and many of his friends were there drinking and it was really a great evening. I highly recommend going there.

We next took a train to to Pompeii, and I was not expecting good food at all. We went to see the ruins, of course, and they are absolutely amazing. I had expected the town just to be a typical tourist town, but I was surprised. There were many locals out at night, and it was a lot of fun. We went to a unpretentious pizza place by the Circumvesuviana train station called Pizza Margherita. It was absolutely the best pizza I had ever had. My son who was doing the pizza contest felt the same way. Prices were low, service was great, and it was all-around a great experience and highly recommended.

Then we went down to Salerno, where we had chartered a sailboat for a week to see the Amalfi coast. Our first town was actually Amalfi. We ate dinner at Lo Smeraldino, which was so close to where we docked we could have thrown a line to it. My younger son had lobster on squid ink pasta, my older son had pasta with a meat ragu, and my wife had linguine with clams. Everything was delicious.

Next we sailed to Positano. Positano is magical of course. For dinner, we decided to walk up the hill and go to Saracen d’Oro. On the way we stopped in at Faro Bar for drinks. The drinks were fine, but the view is absolutely amazing. And then Saracen d’Oro was very good—perfect for families, offering pastas and pizzas that were delicious and reasonably priced.

Next we sailed to Capri, which is of course beyond magical. For dinner, we went to Michel’angelo, in the town of Capri. It is a really great place that you should definitely go to when in Capri. It’s run by Gianluca D’Esposito and his wife Holly. Gianluca met us at the door and was also our waiter and he was delightful. The food was outstanding. Appetizers included insalate caprese (of course) and shellfish, and for main courses my wife had linguine with sea asparagus and clams, my older son had grilled chicken, my younger son had grilled calamari, and I had the fish of the day, which was bream. Everything was delicious.

After dinner we walked back to Piazza Umberto, which is a large plaza filled with several restaurants and bars. We had actually had a drink before dinner at Il Piccolo, one of the restaurants in the piazza. The World Cup match between Colombia and England was about to start, and we had said we might be back to watch it after dinner. When we went back, the waiter had actually saved a table for us! The piazza was packed with locals and visitors alike watching the match on the big screens that each restaurant had placed outside. It was a wonderful atmosphere, and of course a great game.)

After Capri, we sailed back to Amalfi. For dinner one night, we went to a nice place on the water called Lido Azzurro, which had been recommended by Giulio Coppola, who runs the dock where our boat was tied up. He said to ask for Antonio, and we did. The woman at the door was his daughter, and she immediately had Antonio come out. Antonio was great. He set us up with a wonderful table outside. The service was excellent! My wife again had linguine with clams, which was delicious. I had the seafood of the day which was sea bass and also delicious. Actually, everything was good, including several samples of dishes we had not ordered which Antonio brought out for us to try.

For lunch one day while staying in Amalfi, we sailed to Da Adolfo, which is near Positano, and only accessible by boat. You have to go there if you’re on the Amalfi coast—it was the most fun place we went to. But don’t ask me how to get reservations; I simply don’t know. I had tried calling them 20 or 30 times for several weeks to try to make reservations, but they never answered their phone. So what we did was just motor our boat up to their cove, drop anchor, and then wave to the guy running the tender. He came out and picked us up and we were in! We were there for four hours: swimming, drinking wine, eating lunch, talking. It was wonderful. I must say that although the overall experience was absolutely excellent, the food was not a lot better than simply very good. But very good was good enough. The best dish we had was a grilled octopus appetizer which was outstanding. I had the bream, which was the catch of the day and it was very good, but not excellent. Desserts were so-so. My wife and I shared a lemon tiramisu which was average. My son had the chocolate cake which was delicious. Do go here, and make a day of it.

After Amalfi, we sailed our boat back to Salerno. We went into town for dinner, and I wasn’t expecting too much. But we actually had a great time, and we found a great restaurant. It was a pizza place called Trianon Da Ciro, on a nice square. It was early for dinner when we arrived, and the place was empty. I asked if we could reserve a table outside for an hour later, and they said sure. So my wife and I had Negronis at another place on the square, called “Laltrolato ThinkEatDrink.” It had a chalkboard outside that read “Plan for the night: Negroni & Smile, Negroni & Smile, Repeat.” The negronis were delicious. Then we went back to Trianon, which was now packed. The pizza was absolutely outstanding. It was perhaps not quite as good as in Pompeii, but very nearly so. It is definitely worth a visit if you are in Salerno.

All in all, we had a fantastic time in Italy. Even thought the trip wasn’t centered around food, by doing just a little research, and with much help from Chowhound contributors, we were able to enjoy many incredible dining establishments. So go, bring your kids, be open-minded and flexible, and just enjoy. The people we met were all wonderful, and we plan to go back to Italy again next summer!

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