Three friends (in our 30s from Seattle, San Diego, and NJ) spent 9 days traveling in Italy at the end of December 2013/early January 2014. We had all been to Italy once before and were very much focused on great meals and gelato for this second trip.
We got many excellent recommendations from this board (as well as Katie Parla and Elizabeth Minchilli’s apps, which we discovered through Chowhound) so wanted to report back!
Favorite dinner: Da Cesare al Casaletto -- VERY easy to get to from our hotel in Trastevere (just a simple ride down the 8 tram and a 2 minute walk from the last stop.) Our fried gnocchi with cacio e pepe & polpette di bolito were both pleasingly light and delicious. The Bucatini Amatriciana had excellent al dente chewiness and just the right amount of spice. Our other primi, trippa alla romana, was a bit on the heavier side but tasty. Coda alla vaccinara made for a hearty and satisfying secondi, especially when paired with a simple plate of seasonal veggies: beautifully grilled eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers. We topped off the meal with a berry panna cotta and our favorite dessert of the trip: a perfectly balanced tiramisu that we reminisced about for the rest of our time in Italy. We never did find another tiramisu we loved as much!
Service was gracious, and the simply decorated room came alive as the night went on. I would return in a heartbeat.
Favorite street food pizza: A toss up between Antico Forno Urbani and Pizzarium.
Antico Forno Urbani -- I had several hours to myself before my friends’ planes arrived, so I spent the morning strolling from our hotel in Trastevere to the Jewish Ghetto across the river (stopping for a little paper bag of cookies from Biscottificio Innocenti along the way!)
Before exploring the fascinating Museo Ebraico di Roma, I stopped for a quick slice of pizza rosso at Antico Forno Urbani (an outpost of the Roscioli bakeries). I relished sitting on a bench in the Jewish quarter, taking in the morning sights and sounds, munching away on my slice of pizza rosso. The beautiful crunch and chewiness of this pizza were well-matched by the flavorful red sauce.
Just around the corner from Antico Forno del Ghetto, I peeked into the unmarked Il Forno del Ghetto to marvel at the pizza ebraica (a fruit cake of sorts, studded with almonds, raisins and candied fruit). These looked truly magnificent, but having just consumed my pizza slice and the remnants of my cookies from Biscottificio Innocenti, the pizza ebraica would have truly been carb overload!
Pizzarium -- Whereas the beauty of Antico Forno Urbani’s pizza rosso was its simplicity, at Pizzarium, the complex flavors of the toppings were the star. My friends and I sampled several slices while sitting on the bench outside. My favorite was the salted cod and pine nut.
(An an extra treat, at Pizzarium, we had the pleasure of bumping into Katie Parla, showing a very lucky family around the neighborhood!)
Favorite gelato: Il Gelato di Claudio Torce. We stopped at the Prati location of Claudio Torce, as part of a self-guided morning food walk, that included an early visit to Mercato Trionfale, a snack at Pizzarium, and a serendipitous encounter with an organic raw milk truck! http://www.biola.it/
The gelato at Claudio Torce was truly outstanding, only outmatched on our trip by Ciacco Gelato in Parma. The unusual savory flavors were fun to sample, though I ultimately settled on persimmon and pistachio. We all agreed that the former tasted as if the gelato maker had taken a farm fresh persimmon and captured it perfectly in frozen form.
During our stay in Rome, I also tried Fatamorgana and Gelateria del Teatro, but Claudio Torce was the clear winner.
Favorite market: Mercato Trionfale for its produce, Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio for Mordi e Vai.
Mercato Trionfale: We enjoyed a morning visit to this market frequented almost entirely by locals. The produce vendors here displayed in artfully arranged bouquets the most beautiful artichokes I’ve ever seen in my life! We also enjoyed watching the butchers shaving slices off perfectly carved legs of prosciutto. They were truly artists at work.
Mordi e Vai at Mercato Testaccio: The tripa sandwiches at this food stand were as tasty as reported by several sources, but the highlight for me was actually the carciofi alla romana (braised whole artichoke).
Most disappointing: Romeo. I admit I probably ordered the wrong dishes here, but I had a disappointing experience at Romeo. I ducked in for a late afternoon solo lunch on my first day in Rome before my friends arrived. Located in a lovely neighborhood, the modern interior space at Romeo is indeed fun and inviting, but the dishes I ordered ranged from passable (a muted fennel, orange, and olive salad) to downright inedible (a weird, barely flavored green pasta that was definitely more raw than al dente). I had read on Chowhound that some Roman restaurants intentionally serve pasta less well done than al dente, but both the texture and flavor of this pasta were simply unappetizing. The one solid part of the meal was the bread, which given Romeo’s Bonci lineage, was undeniably tasty.
I will say that the patrons next to me shared a magnificent looking plate of prosciutto and a gleaming ball of mozzarella di bufala. Perhaps these platters and the assortment of little sandwiches on offer are the way to go at Romeo. (Alas, I was six months pregnant at the time, so I was wary of partaking in any cured meats or soft cheeses.)
For our next visit: On my last day in Rome, I had an awesome cab driver, who was good friends with the owners of Glass and seemed to really know his food. His rec for the best pizza in Rome was La Focaccia on Via Gallarate. Have any hounds tried this place out? He also spoke highly of Pecorino in Testaccio for the offal specialities. Next time!
Parma, Bologna, and Orvieto reports up next…