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Trip report: Rome, Florence, Venice

ManhattanLawyer | Feb 6, 201508:46 AM

Thanks to everyone who weighed in on my posts about my dining itinerary for a recent trip to Italy. Many restaurants were closed because of the holiday season but I can confidently say we did not have a single bad meal, although some were more memorable than others.

ROME
Dinners at Flavio al Velavevodetto, Cesare al Casaletto, Perilli

Flavio was the last one I finalized after Colline Emiliane was closed thus my expectations were tempered but it was delicious. The highlights were the cacio e pepe, rigatoni amatriciana, and involtino al sugo. The polpette fritto were just OK. And the zabaglione semifreddo was way too frozen. The pastas and the involtino made up for any other inconsistencies.

Cesare al Casaletto was outstanding. The rigatoni carbonara was perfect, and the veal cacciatore could not have been more tender or balanced. The gnocchi pomodoro, tripe, and sour cherry crostata were all good but the standouts were the carbonara and veal.

Perilli started out a bit iffy as our server was very gruff but he warmed up to us and we had an enjoyable meal here. The rigatoni carbonara here was also delicious although I give the edge to Cesare. The stracciatella soup was also terrific. The braised oxtail in tomato sauce was very good. The veal chops were fine. The zabaglione was good.

Lunch:
Terrific lunch at Sorpasso. The mortadella with balsamic and pine nuts and the 30-month parmigiano were outstanding.

After reading all the rave reviews, we were disappointed with Pizzarium even though we sampled many different varieties.

Gelato: Gelato is one of my favorite food groups (could eat it every day) and having tried many others previously (Giolitti, San Crispino, Old Bridge, Monteforte, etc.), I was excited to try some different ones. Favorites were Ciampini and Gelateria del Teatro. After Il Gelato di Claudio Torce was unexpectedly closed, we found ourselves at Fatamorgana, which was not good. Most flavors we tried were icy and bland.

Bars: Bar del Fico was a lovely neighborhood bar, and we enjoyed the large beer selection at Open Baladin. We also had cocktails at the Hotel Eden one night and enjoyed the hors d’oeuvres that come with drinks.

FLORENCE
Dinners at Da Ruggero, Osteria di Giovanni, and New Year’s Eve at Enoteca Pinchiorri.

Da Ruggero: Thank you so much to those who recommended this, as this was outstanding. Husband and I shared the ribollita then the fried egg with white truffles then the bistecca and some artichokes then the crema catalan. Our waiter also had us try his homemade grappa which we enjoyed very much. The ribollita and egg were both exemplary. The steak had a terrific flavor but was a bit more medium than medium rare, as we had requested.

Osteria di Giovanni: Ended up here since Sostanza was closed and we wanted more bistecca. This was our least favorite dinner even though two of the three courses were very tasty. It just felt very “touristy” even though there were locals eating there, too. That said, the bistecca was delicious and cooked perfectly, and the lemon cake dessert was also wonderful. But our starters (the tortelli with pear and pecorino and the chickpea soup with prawns) were both really lackluster.

Enoteca Pinchiorri: We wanted a splurge meal for New Year’s Eve and this did not disappoint. As you would expect at a 3-star restaurant, service was flawless. Many of the courses were wonderful. Some of the highlights were the risotto with mandarin and goose liver, a potato puree with cotechino ragout, and the crab/avocado/caviar starter. The best course was easily the venison medallions with chestnut mustard, and the weakest in my opinion were the desserts. A terrific way to ring in 2015!

Lunch:
Had a terrific lunch at Ino. Just wish the sandwiches weren’t so big since we would’ve loved to try a few different options. We had the prosciutto, pecorino fresco, tapenade panino and the gorgonzola/anchovy panino. Loved this place.

Also loved Zeb. I was reluctant to come here since I thought it would be all hipster show without substance but thank goodness I disregarded my doubts because this was an incredibly memorable meal. The mother/son team are so cute. These pastas were some of the best of the trip. We shared the tortelli with ricotta and white truffle and the tortelli with pumpkin and cheese. The eggplant parmigiana was also delicious, while the short ribs in wine was a weak dish compared to the others. Really loved this place.

At Nerbone, we tried both the lampredotto sandwich and the bolitto misto sandwich. Both were very good.

Gelato: Gelateria dei Neri was the best in this city. The gelato that translated as “chocolate with brown sugar” was really terrific. Gelateria della Passera was very cute. I tried the famous crema with 7 spices as well as the fiordilatte with mint. Both had nice flavor but I found the texture much more firm than I like. Finally, Carabe was so bad I threw it out after just a few bites which is really saying something given my love for ice cream.

Bars: Sei Divino was close to our hotel and perfect for pre-dinner drinks and nibbles. Really cozy place and very enjoyable.

VENICE
Dinners at Anice Stellato and various cicchetti stops - El Sbarlefo San Pantalon, Al Portego, Do Spade

Anice Stellato was a very good meal objectively and yet I don’t have as much nostalgia for this as I do for, say, Da Ruggero in Florence or Cesare in Rome. I don’t know why. The standouts were the sweet and sour sardines with pine nuts and the bucatini “amatriciana” where they use smoked swordfish and tuna to imitate the flavors of typical amatriciana. Very hearty and flavorful. Their specialty dessert, the bonet, was also outstanding. The turbot main was good but not spectacular and, disappointingly, the Chianina beef tartare was very bland and not good.

El Sbarlefo San Pantalon was one of the few restaurants open on New Year’s Day but we could not have been happier with this one. The atmosphere was just what we were looking for and all the cicchetti were terrific. We had a LOT of food since we had only picked at our lunch at Aciugheta (see below). Everything was good but the highlights were the cured meats, the burrata with truffle, the smoked swordfish wrapped around fresh cheese, and the sardines.

On our final night, we went to a few cicchetti bars since we were still pretty full from our Antiche Carampane lunch (see below). Al Portego was great. Has a very neighborhood vibe to it and everything we had was great, including the mantis prawns, cannellini beans, and anchovies. Do Spade was unfortunately pretty mediocre. We only sampled the meatballs and eggplant as we were quite full but it was not very good.

Lunch:
Al Gatto Nero: Had a terrific lunch here on Burano. We shared the appetizer degustation which included everything under the sun (well, water), such as anchovies, large scallops, small scallops, razor clams, clams, mussels, smoked swordfish, mantis prawns, cuttlefish, octopus, and sea bass pate. It was wonderful. The grilled branzino and grilled eel were both terrific with an edge towards the branzino. We had a cheese plate for dessert which was fine but the cheese were pretty standard (taleggio, ricotta salata, grana padano).

Antiche Carampane: We were supposed to have a late dinner here our last night but since we had such an early morning the next day we were successful in moving this to lunch so we could really enjoy it and I’m so glad we made that decision. Loved this place. We had the mixed fish platter to start, which had similar offerings to those from Al Gatto Nero. Unlike at Al Gatto Nero, this served one instead of two, so we also had the calamari with truffles and soft polenta, which was great. For mains we had the bigoli pasta with onions and anchovies and the black cuttlefish with polenta along with a salad of radicchio with hazelnuts and smoked burrata. All was wonderful. Since this was our final day in Italy we splurged and got both the cheese plate and dessert! Cheeses were fine although, as at Al Gatto Nero, fairly standard (asiago, parmigiano). The dessert special was a caramelized pear with zabaglione gelato which was spectacular.

Very little was open on New Year’s Day so we ended up at Aciugheta, which has received decent reviews here before but we were unfortunately underwhelmed. We ordered the burrata with anchovies but they forgot the anchovies and the burrata tasted like regular mozzarella, not creamy at all. We also shared the cicchetti plate, which was fine but nothing was great. Luckily the other two lunches more than compensated.

We also had a “pre-lunch” one day after walking around the Rialto fish market at this adorable, bright shop called Lino Fritto, which serves different fish preparations in small sizes which enabled us to sample several. The tuna salad with onions, chickpeas and olives as well as the brioche with robiola, dried tomatoes, and smoked swordfish were terrific. The octopus salad and the grey shrimp with polenta were good but not as wonderful. Great concept.

Gelato: Suso Gelato was very good. Perhaps slightly more firm than I would’ve liked but very pure flavors. The dark chocolate and toffee caramel were both particularly good. Crema and yogurt with frutti di Bosco also good.

Thanks again to everyone for their input!

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