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Report from Rome and the Amalfi Coast- Long


Restaurants & Bars 12

Report from Rome and the Amalfi Coast- Long

jmbinDC | Jul 12, 2009 03:53 PM

My wife and I took a trip to Rome and Italy’s Amalfi Coast in June, and after learning so much on these boards we wanted to give back by adding our thoughts on the restaurants we visited. We’ve never written up a report of our travels before, so apologies if we leave off any necessary details. Hopefully this will prove helpful for those in the future planning visits to these wonderful places.

(A note on us: we love Italian food and Italy, but neither of us speaks Italian. That said, we did not encounter any difficulties with translation at any of the restaurants listed below, although some waiters spoke better English than others, obviously.)

We started off our trip in Rome, and then went to the Amalfi Coast where we set up home base in Positano. We will describe each restaurant in chronological order.

Armando al Pantheon
Our first night in Rome we had dinner at Armando al Pantheon, located just steps from the Pantheon. We had emailed and made reservations beforehand based on advice on these boards, and it was good advice as we saw a great many parties turned away at the door while we ate. I started off the meal with an appetizer of spaghetti carbonara, which was my favorite carbonara of the trip. The sauce was creamy with a hint of pancetta, and overall quite delicious. My wife skipped a first course and had the veal saltimbocca as her entree, which was light and tender with a great lemon-based sauce that she very much enjoyed. As a secondi, I got the roasted veal with potatoes. As with the saltimbocca, the veal was tender but with much less flavor; the real standout of the dish was actually the potatoes, which were seasoned to perfection with herbs and olive oil. For dessert, I had the frozen custard, which was a fantastic treat on a hot summer day- I loved the texture over your standard custard or crème brulee. My wife had a traditional pastry with ricotta cheese filing and a strawberry jam. The cake was a bit dry but the filling was delicious. We drank the house wines (both red and white), which were both serviceable but nothing memorable.

Enoteca Corsi
The next day we lunched at a small enoteca near Chiesa Gesu, called Enoteca Corsi. We both highly recommend this enoteca, as the house wines were fine, the small plates delicious and perfectly portioned, and the limoncello was the best we had. I ordered a delicious spaghetti with tomato and bacon sauce for lunch, and the spaghetti was cooked to a fantastic tender texture. That creamy tomato-based bacon sauce was much better than I expected for a random enoteca—I was used to having cream-based bacon sauces, but bacon goes equally well (if not better) with tomato-based sauces. My wife had a ravioli dish where they were filled with various cheeses and spinach. The ravioli were nice and fresh, and my wife liked the sauce so much she wiped the bowl with her bread (I’ll admit, I did the same with the bacon sauce). At this point, we had enjoyed decent house wines and small lunch plates that were better than expected amongst the locals (no other tourists appeared here while we were there), but the best was yet to come. I probably drank limoncello with 70% of my meals on this trip, and this was the best limoncello I had. It was so fresh and lemony, with a great balance of sour taste up-front and a smooth slightly sweet finish. It was home-made, served in a reused bottle out of which you helped yourself. If I could, I would have bought bottles of that limoncello on the spot.

Cul de Sac
We had a late dinner reservation, so we hit up another enoteca for a late afternoon snack. Cul de Sac was within walking distance of our hotel near the Pantheon, and served its purpose. They had a huge selection of cured meats and were very helpful in pairing meats, cheeses and wines. We found a Muller Thurgeau we really liked, and the waiter was very helpful in finding similar wines as well. Overall, we liked this place, but Enoteca Corsi was definitely preferable in every respect except for the location (Cul de Sac allowed outdoor seating and people-watching, which was fun).

Colline Emiliane
Dinner was at Colline Emiliane, where we had called and made reservations that morning. This was supposed to be some of the best Bolognese cooking in the city. My wife had the tagliatelli alla Bolognese, which was simply perfect: the Bolognese sauce was, as expected, great, but the tagliatelli was amazingly light and fluffy. To be honest, I didn’t know pasta could be that light. I had the pumpkin ravioli, which was almost as delicious. It didn’t really have a sauce so much as pumpkin flavor with a drizzle of olive oil, but with pumpkin flavor that fresh, why drown it in sauce? Our second platters were unable to live up to the appetizer standards. I had the braised beef with mashed potatoes, her the veal with ham and cheese. Neither was bad, just not spectacular or particularly noteworthy. Also, the tiramisu for dessert was likewise OK but not fantastic. To drink, we had a reasonably priced Via Nobile de Montepulciano, which we liked and complemented the tagliatelli quite well. Overall, the pasta here make it worth visiting, but the entrees are a let-down. I would go back and just order several pastas for my meal.

Dar Poeta
Lunch the next day was spent at a random pizza place, but for dinner we headed into Trastevere for pizza at Dar Poeta (which gets bonus points for being open on Sunday). We split a bruschetta pomodoro, which was what we have come to expect while in Italy: seasoned well, loads of fresh tomatoes, doused in olive oil. For pizza, I had the zucchini and salami white pizza, she the prosciutto and eggplant pizza. Both were tasty and generous portions, though we didn’t think it quite lived up to the hype on some of these boards. That said, we were able to walk in on a Sunday and the place was packed with locals, so they must be doing something right. Frankly, we thought the best part of the meal was the nutella calzone we split for dessert; I had no idea nutella and calzones could go together so well, but man that was good.

Buca di Bacco
Next we headed down to Positano, from which we traveled to the rest of the Amalfi Coast. Our first dinner was in Positano at Buca di Bacco. I started with the tagliatelli with wild boar ragu. The tagliatelli were quite light, though not up to Collinee Emiliane standards. Nonetheless, the wild boar ragu (tomato-based) was delicious, and I appreciated that they didn’t skimp on meat but used a good portion of meat in the sauce. My wife started with the pasta with zucchini flowers, which was a different take on zucchini pasta but good. I then moved on to the mixed grilled fish, which was skewered and seemed fresh. Nonetheless, I thought the dish could have used a bit more flavor, perhaps with some herbs or olive oil. My wife had the fish and steamed seafood (clams and mussels) in a tomato-based broth that also contained potatoes. This was a fine dish, nothing spectacular, but was probably enough food for the two of us frankly. The dessert was a pear ricotta, which was light (needed after such a big meal), creamy, and tasty. Overall, this place was OK but nothing spectacular. I wouldn’t remark on it except that I seems disingenuous to only hit the high points.

Lo Guaracino
For dinner the next night we discovered (and I do mean discovered, as you have to keep walking about this small ledge well past where you think any restaurant should be) Lo Guaracino. My wife started with the carbonara, which was good and similar to Armando al Pantheon but not quite as good. I had an amazing foccaccia flatbread with fresh cherry tomatoes, olive oil, parmesan cheese and sea salt. This may sound simple, but it was probably my favorite dish of the trip because it was done so well. So simple, so few ingredients, and yet so delicious. We moved on to my spicy ham pizza and my wife’s lemon veal with salad, but neither were particularly noteworthy one way or the other. The house wine was equally fine without being fantastic.

Barilotto di Nonno
The next night we visited Barilotto di Nonno (My Grandfather’s Barrel), which we insisted on visiting based on board recommendations despite our hotel concierge counseling against it. Our concierge was either corrupt or stupid or both. We started off with a shaved tagliatelli Bolognese, which was a great dish and a close second to that of Colline Emiliane at a much cheaper price in a neighborhood where everything else was overpriced. The pasta was light and fluffy, with an inoffensive but not boring tomato sauce. We also got the seafood risotto, which was both delicious and huge. My wife then had the eggplant parmesan, which was the best eggplant she has ever eaten. She could not stop raving about this dish, which was prepared differently (and better) than any other eggplant parm she has ever had. This is a dessert-obsessed girl saying she might skip dessert and order a second helping of eggplant parm. I had the swordfish in a tomato-cream sauce with herbs and spices. It was very good, but I couldn’t finish it after eating so much seafood risotto. For dessert we had the lemon profiteroles, which the waiter assured us were light. They were a great choice, so light we could eat and enjoy them despite being so full. Both house wines (red and white) were very good here, and the limoncello was the second-best I’ve ever had. The waiter here was a lovely man named Giovanni, who was simply a perfect waiter. We were nervous when we arrived here as we were the only people in the restaurant. One other party arrived later (they were the bridal party in tomorrow’s wedding, and were revisiting after getting engaged on their previous trip to Positano and eating here). Giovanni never hovered or bothered us, but at the same time was always there to offer help and to tell us stories about the area. We asked him whether they sold the limoncello (the answer was no), but because we liked it he kept bringing us more and more and sharing it with us while he told us about Positano. We left quite full, slightly inebriated, and very happy we had overruled the concierge.

Our next dinner was in Amalfi at Eolo. The amuse bouche was a potato and cheese croquette with a light pesto. It was extremely soft, almost delicate, and quite tasty. Eolo had the most extensive wine list of any place we went, with one book for reds and another for whites. My wife started off with the pasta of the day, a ravioli with cheese in a delicious creamed tomato sauce. I started with the angler fish ravioli, which was light with a rather mild flavor. My wife then had the salt-baked whole fish, which was brought out and cracked open and expertly de-boned in front of us, then drizzled with olive oil and lemon. It was quite moist, hardly salty at all, and we didn’t find a single bone in it. I had the amberjack steak in citrus sauce with candied lemon peels and green beans. The steak was small but cooked to perfection with excellent texture. The citrus sauce was actually very good, but there was not enough to overcome or match the amberjack’s natural flavoring. This dish was good, but with more sauce would have been very good. For dessert, the limoncello cake with vanilla gelato and citrus fruit was a good choice that we both enjoyed. Light, fluffy, just the right balance of limoncello flavor and tasty gelato. The limoncello was good, but not up to the ranks of Enoteca Corsi or Barilottto di Nonno.

Da Gemma
Our last big meal was also in Amalfi, at Da Gemma. This place started off excellent, with an amuse bouche of fried ricotta and creamed tomato sauce that hit the spot. Even the bread basket was varied and delicious, with olives baked into some of them. I ordered a slow-cooked braised veal cheek with asparagus and potatoes. The veal had clearly been slow-cooked and was probably the most tender I’ve ever had. There was minimal flavoring added to the veal, so you were really just enjoying super-tender veal. Overall, it was a great dish. My wife ordered the mixed fried seafood (called the Black and White I think), which came with a soy mayonnaise. The calamari were tasty, and the fish were extremely lightly breaded and fried. There were quite a few very small fish on the plate, but you had to work to get much meat off any single one. We thought the dish was good, but were expecting them to be beheaded and de-boned prior to serving. As such, I think the dish may have been a little too exotic for our tastes. We skipped dessert here as the meal had taken much longer than expected (over 2.5 hours) and we needed to catch the last bus back to Positano.

Final Thoughts
In summary, we prefer the small family-style trattoria more than the white-tablecloth ristorante of say Eolo or Da Gemma. That is probably just reflective of our tastes, so if you think you would prefer more fancy meals with more attentive service, this review may not be as helpful to you. Below is the favorite dish and favorite meal for each of us:

Favorite Dish (me): Lo Guaracino’s foccaccia bruschetta
Favorite Dish (wife): Barilotto di Nonno’s eggplant parmesan
Favorite Meal (both): Barilotto di Nonno

It is hard for us to overstate how much we enjoyed Barilotto di Nonno. Not only were the food and drink fantastic, but we loved the service just as much. Add in the fact that they don’t overcharge like other Positano restaurants do, and in our opinion you get a better product at a better price than anybody else offers in Positano. Also, I think we loved this place so much because it encapsulated how a great meal in Italy should be, with delicious food, fantastic house wines, amazing limoncello, and a lovely little old man serving as waiter while regaling you with stories about the town. Frankly, after the meal we decided we had to write a review just so this place will stay in business and we can visit again. We have no stake in the restaurant, other than wanting it to succeed so we can eat there again.

We hope this review is helpful, and thank all of you who have posted your experiences of dining in Italy, as it was immensely helpful to us in planning our trip.

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