My husband and I flew to Rome on Thursday, November 5, 2009 with plans to spend a long weekend in the city prior to embarking on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise on the Celebrity Solstice the following Monday. Here is an account of the eating portion of that weekend:
On our first day in Rome, after arriving on an overnight flight, we took an overlong nap and missed lunch. Then we went for a walk and along the way, hunger overtook us and we began looking for a place to have a snack since it was way past the lunch hour. Nothing appealing seemed open until we got to Bar Al Senato, just a few blocks from the Albergo del Senato, our hotel. We stopped in and decided to split a Pizza Funghi, which they made from scratch and which was quite tasty. The barman offered us dessert – he said his wife had made the tiramisu and it looked good – but there was no way we were going to have another bite and spoil our first dinner in Rome, so we declined and headed back to the dryness and warmth of our room. I was surprised, but very pleased with the quality of this first, impromptu snack pizza.
Dinner was at Armando al Pantheon and when we arrived with our two traveling companions at 8:30, some people were already eating. We took our table and the place quickly filled up. For primo, we ordered Spaghetti ala Claudio (with garlic, mushrooms, and saffron), Spaghetti ala Carbonara (with egg and guanciale), Spaghetti ala Gricia (guanciale and pecorino romano), and Ravioli ala Armando (funghi and cream). All were delicious. Secondi honors went to two dishes – Abbacchio a Scottadito (grilled lamb chops) and Veal Saltimbocca (veal with proscuitto, sage and wine). Two of us ordered the lamb and two ordered the veal. With one house red wine – Masciarello Montepulciano d’Abruzzi, which was excellent, two carciofi ala Romana for appetizers and two big bottles of Pellegrino, the tab came to 140 Euros for the four of us. We were delighted with our meal. Although a little fatty, the lamb was especially tasty. (As you shall see, I was on a mission the entire weekend to eat lamb and try to duplicate the fabulous lamb of my dreams, previously eaten in Rome four years ago at Da Giggetto.)
Following dinner we strolled over a few blocks in search of gelato at Giolitti. The choice of cup or cone was easy, but choosing the gelato took a little more time and thought. I ended up with a scoop of coconut and a scoop of chocolate and loved both of them. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at San Crispino to examine their gelato, but the flavors did not entice us to go for seconds. We decided to stroll over to the Trevi Fountain to finish off our first day in Rome on a high note, and then made our way back to the Pantheon and to bed.
Alessandra, who works on the front desk at the Albergo del Senato had handled my restaurant dinner reservations in advance of our arrival. Two of them were made without a problem, but she was unable to get through to the third restaurant I had requested. She said they had been renovating and it didn’t appear to be open yet, but if I wanted to check, she helped me find it on the map so I could go over and find out. We strolled around, admiring the buildings and wandered over towards the river, looking for Via Fiammina, where I hoped to find La Fiammetta open and ready to receive us for dinner on Sunday evening. As Alessandra predicted, there was plastering in progress and no sign that the restaurant would reopen any time soon… certainly not in time for our planned Sunday night dinner.
After breakfast on Saturday, I went out to confer with Mauro, another of the excellent front desk folks at the hotel, on a replacement restaurant for the closed La Fiammetta. Alessandra had suggested one around the corner from the hotel called “Due Colonne.” As she described it (and we had walked by and checked the menu on her suggestion the day before), the décor is simple but they have a large and delicious seafood menu with very fresh fish. She noted that they are closed on Monday because there is no commercial fishing on Sunday. When I asked Mauro for his opinion, he first joked that the Donato, the owner, is his son so of course he recommended it. After I laughed at his wink, he said, “Actually it is a good restaurant and I recommend it, but Donato is no relation”... quite a comedian. We booked it for Sunday night dinner.
We set out about 10:30 for the market at the Campo di Fiori, stopping to take a sunny day photo at the Piazza Navona. The market stalls were set up in the Campo and were filled mostly with fruits and vegetables with some meat (I saw at least one butcher) and some pasta stalls along with the requisite tee shirts and hats and other touristy clothing items.
We continued our walk to the street I wanted to explore – the Via Guilia, and then over to the street along the Tiber and continued our stroll with the river at our side on this gorgeous day. The leaves were still on the trees and glistened in golds and yellows in the bright sunshine. Days like this remind me why I like to travel in the autumn… no heat and no crowds.
After visiting the Vatican, we were ready for lunch, so we headed down the Borgo Pio, a street lined with shops and restaurants seeking either Arlu or Tre Pupazzo, my two recommended restaurants in the area. Since we found Arlu first, that is where we lunched. The restaurant has a lovely little dining room decorated with paneling, ribbons and pictures (with more seating outside). We ordered one Pizza Funghi and one Tonerelli with Funghi, two cokes and one mineral water and the bill was 27 Euros. Everything was good, but I wish the chef didn’t have such a heavy hand with the salt.
Dinner on Saturday night was reserved at Matricianella. I knew this restaurant was over towards the Trevi Fountain area, and thought I’d found the street on my map, but checked with the front desk, and was very glad I did. It turned out that there were two different Via Leones in the same area. I thought it was the one closer to the Spanish Steps, but it was actually to the left of the Corso. We stayed at the Albergo del Senato partly because we could walk everywhere, and this evening we again set out on foot to get to the restaurant. It was exactly where my friend on the desk had said, which saved a lot of trouble.
We were seated next to two young Americans and I was instantly amused to discover the guy studying the wine list (actually a giant tome). We determined that yes, he was a wine aficionado and that they were both lawyers in NYC… something they had in common with my husband, and that led to a long conversation on legal careers.
The dinner highlight for me was the Fritti Zucca de Fior, which was wonderful. I had decided to try the Pajata, which so many have raved about. Although good, it was not something I would order again. My husband’s Carbonara was quite tasty. Still seeking the fabulous taste of the lamb I had eaten four years before, I ordered Roast Lamb with Potatoes. It was flavorful, but quite chewy and not entirely edible, and fell far short of that memorable dinner. My husband ordered Steak and Rocket, only to discover that no steak was available. He ended up with Veal and Roast Potatoes, okay, but not great, and not what he wanted. The carciofi a la Guidea was served cold and the Insalata Misto ordered by my husband never arrived. If there were any specials, we never heard about them. With two glasses of house wine and one bottle of Pellegrino, the bill came to 82 Euros, but after pointing out to the waiter that we didn’t receive the salad, five Euros were deducted, so we actually paid 77 Euros. This meal was the only disappointment of our Roman restaurant experience,(with the exception of the restaurant that was closed), but since we enjoyed the company of our young friends, we still had a pleasurable evening. We strolled back on the Via Pastini and noticed that even past 11 p.m., it was still quite lively on this fair-weather Saturday night, the restaurants still filled with diners.
On Sunday we set off to explore the Jewish Ghetto. I had not made lunch reservations (a mistake on a Sunday) because I wasn’t sure where we would be at lunch and what we would feel like doing about lunch. Once there, and starting to feel hungry, we decided to look for Piperno. This turned out to be harder than it sounds, and when we eventually did locate it, we found that it was packed and there were no tables available so we walked back to Da Giggetto and snagged one of the last two available tables for Sunday lunch. (Note to self: book Piperno for next visit to Rome since it looked lovely and I was especially attracted to the antipasti display at the front.) Despite the fact that a woman we had met along the way who decided to join us for our impromptu tour had already eaten lunch, and my husband is never hungry, we managed to eat three Fritti Fiore di Zucchini (not nearly as crisp as the ones we had at Matricianella), two Carciofi Guidia (much better than the cold one I ate at Matricianella), one Spaghetti with Vongole with lots of tiny clams and delicious, and one Roast Lamb with Potatoes. (Okay, I admit it, I ate the lion’s share of the food…no surprise to anyone who knows me!) Interestingly, the lamb, while good, didn’t measure up to the extraordinary lamb my friend and I had eaten here four years ago. That was the best lamb of our lives, and I guess a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With two sodas and a bottle of Pellegrino, the bill came to 65 Euros. Four years ago when we ate at Da Giggetto, service was brusque, but this time we were fortunate to be served by Aldo, who was the best waiter we had during our weekend in Rome. Even though we weren’t eating much and had not booked, he treated us royally.
Later, after lots more walking and a rest, we met our traveling companions for dinner at Due Colonne. We dined on excellent Spaghetti with Clams, Seafood a la Amalfi (wine sauce with mussels, clams, and shrimp), Spaghetti with Pesto, Shrimps Scampi, Grilled Sea Bass, Fried Calimari and Shrimp and for my husband who had wanted beef for two days, Beef Stew with Rocket (a bad idea in a seafood restaurant!). With wine and Pellegrino, the total was 138 Euros for the four of us.
After dinner, we set out to locate Della Palma in order to try the other local gelato place, and here we found the largest selection of gelato in the neighborhood – fabulous choices including many with fruit and chocolate (orange, raspberry, apricot and cherry were all chocolate combinations you could order). It was also possible to sit here while consuming your gelato (not allowed at Giolitti!), but the price was the same everywhere we ate gelato in Rome – a small cone or cup with two scoops cost 2.20 Euros. It was time to go back and pack before getting some sleep in anticipation for our big day on Monday when we would travel to Civitavecchia and board the Celebrity Solstice.
After our cruise we returned to Rome briefly before heading home. Here is the description of our last meal in Rome – lunch in Trastavere: For our last lunch together, we decided to eat at Carlo Menta. This casual trattoria had been recommended by several travelers, and we were truly surprised when we saw the prices on the menu posted outside… a genuine bargain in a pricey neighborhood. We ordered a pasta dish and a pizza for each pair (Gnocchi and a Ham and Mushroom Pizza for the guys and Lasagna a la Casa and Mushroom Pizza for the two of us). Along with a bottle of mineral water, a litre of red wine, and two cokes, the tab was gentle ((I would tell the exact amount if I knew, but the guys treated us in return for my 105 pages of pre-trip notes. Suffice it to say that the Mushroom Pizza was four Euros, the Lasagna was five Euros, and I think the Mushroom and Ham Pizza was five or six Euros.) Both the pastas and the pizzas (extremely thin crust) were delicious and I would strongly recommend this place. (In fact, as I’m editing this while sitting in my living room, I’m dying for another pizza like the one we ate at Carlo Menta!) So our last meal in Rome left me wanting more Roman food… the perfect ending to our trip.