I've been wanting to give a big thank you to those hounds who - without knowing it - helped my hubby and I eat very well on a recent trip to Italy, my first. Before leaving, I did some research on this board and discovered that there were already so many great threads on where to eat in Venice and Rome that posting a new request was totally unnecessary. Here are some of the highlights:
-- VENICE --
Trattoria Antiche Carampane - Sestiere San Polo, 1911
As we ate this meal, my husband said, in complete seriousness, that even though this was the first meal of our trip, he knew it would be our best, and that he would be pining for it for the rest of his life. So glad we tracked this place down in a way-off-the-beaten-track residential neighbourhood - only hubby's superhuman navigation skills allowed us to find it; Google Maps guidance is only an approximation in Venice. We got in without a reservation - luckily we were early (for Italy) on a Wednesday night. Cozy, small wood-beamed, decorated with fish-themed artwork - not as cheesy as it sounds. Despite what might seem the tourist-unfriendly sign out front warning that you will find "no pizza, no lasagne, and no menu turistico" - the staff provided an English menu and were very friendly, while speaking little English. The tiny fried shrimps in a cone provided as a complimentary amuse-bouche (photo) were so fresh they didn't have the rubbery texture that usually puts me off shrimp. The seafood/fish carpaccio (photo) was so fresh it was almost moving. The leek-and-fish ravioli and crab taglioni were also hits, as was the fried-fish platter and tiramisu. A night to be remembered and pined for... as my hubby said, forever.
Osteria La Bottega ai Promessi Sposi - Calle dell'Oca 4367, Cannaregio
We were happy to find this place, which lies off a very narrow street. A lantern with the restaurant's name marks the spot. The waiter spoke English and was happy to translate the parts of the Italian-only menu that we hadn't already figured out. We had a first course of spaghetti con vongole (photo), and a typical Venetian pasta dish, "bigoli in salsa," whose sauce of anchovies and onions was rich and creamy. Slices of bread served out of a brown paper bag helped mop up the last traces. We ordered the delicious baked fish for two (photo), which came with slices of roast potatoes. An almond semifreddo was a fabulous end to the meal. In the afterglow of another amazing dinner, we sat writing postcards in the cozy surroundings, while two little girls at a neighbouring table of Germans sang to a table of two other customers, who also happened to be German.
Trattoria da Fiore, Calle delle Botteghe, San Marco 3461
We hit up this small restaurant for a light, late lunch, for what turned out to be our first and sadly, only taste of "cicheti" while in Venice. As we were there somewhat in the off-hours (I think it was about 3 pm) it was less busy than I'm sure it would have been at peak times, but it also meant that a couple of items I'd been looking forward to were not available, such as the fried squash blossoms. Nonetheless, we had a variety of delicious fried things, including a plate of mixed fried fish and seafood, sardines & onions on rounds of white polenta ("sarde in saor con polenta"), artichokes and eggplant. Glasses of cabernet and peach juice rounded out the inexpensive meal. Loved the sign in this place, obviously geared to the throngs of impatient tourists that must clog this restaurant during the high season: "You are on holidays, you'll be served as soon as possible."
-- ROME --
Babette - Via Margutta, 1/d - 3
This wasn't a Chowhound rec, but it happened to be close to our hotel, and was a convenient spot for our first night, after arriving from Venice by train. Friendly service, very good food, but felt overpriced compared to other meals we had in Rome. The "Zuppa di Cecino Rosa di Reggello allo Zenzero" (ginger-flavoured chickpea soup) was hearty and tasty. Hubby enjoyed his fettuccine with lobster chunks in basil cream sauce. My tortiglioni with zucchini, saffron and pistachio pesto was very good, but not ethereal.
La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali - Madonna dei Monti, 9 (Metro B "Cavour")
I'd made a reservation for my birthday at this place prior to leaving on our trip, and had the hotel confirm it to make sure I hadn't screwed it up. Ignoring the hilarious English translation on their website and trusting instead in the excellent reviews I found everywhere, we made our way to this place after hopping off the metro. It was a bit difficult to find - we had to ask a few people on the street to point the way, as the Google Map location was completely off, but once we found it and were greeted warmly by the staff, all our worries about running late disappeared. The friendly English-speaking waiter recommended a wine to my hubby which was the best of our trip - spot on what he likes*. The walls were covered in photos, including one of the owners with Robert DeNiro & Al Pacino - what movie might they have shot together in Rome, we wondered? - and another with Ron Howard, presumably in town for "Angels & Demons." We followed other hounds' tips to order off the evening's specials, and weren't disappointed. "Carciofi alla giudia" (Jewish-style deep fried whole artichoke - photo) was an excellent appetizer, and hubby adored his Roman-style roast pork with garlic toast (photo). Main dishes of pasta and risotto were equally yummy.
*As I don't drink wine myself, my vino descriptions are rather sparse - apologies to the wine connoisseurs reading this!
La Nonna Betta - Via del Portico d'Ottavia, 16 Rome - in the Jewish Ghetto
I was intrigued at the idea of Italian kosher food, and since we were nearby, we decided to check out Nonna Betta for lunch. A short wait at about 2 pm - we were given postcards and brochures by a cheery maitre d' while waiting in line - and then we were seated. The menu was full of choices that appealed - as a non red-meat eater, I was digging Italian dairy kosher already. We shared a mixed platter of fried Roman specialties, including "carciofi alla giudia" (I think I could have this dish every day!) and codcakes - everything was delectable. Risotto with salmon and provola was also excellent. (The waiter had tried to steer me toward something more typically Roman, but since I unfortunately have an aversion to strong cheeses, particularly parmiggiano, I opted to go my own way.) Hubby's grilled tuna was excellent, and our recommended side of sauteed spinach with pine nuts was a nice complement.
00100 Pizza - Via Giovanni Branca 88, Testaccio
In an attempt to eat authentic Roman pizza while in Rome, we'd made a long trek to Pizza Da Remo in the Testaccio district after a morning of walking through the Roman Forum, only to find that it was closed for lunch. Sniff. Luckily I'd also made a note of a few by-the-slice pizza places, and happily, 00100 (a play on the "00" flour used in pizza dough as well as the Testaccio area's postal code) happened to be close, because by this time our feet were about to fall off. It was an adventure ordering in this tiny place, as the smiling counter person didn't speak a word of English, and by this time my minimal Italian had become so confused with my French and Spanish that I was probably barely comprehensible in any language. Fortunately, another patron translated for me as I pointed at various items, and I managed to order some absolutely scrumptious "Pollo alla cacciatora" (chicken cacciatora) stuffed into fresh bread pockets (a concoction they call "Trapizzino"), along with a rectangular slice of pizza, which was heated up while I waited. A self-serve fridge provided a selection of beer, soda, and water. We ate outside on the bench provided for that purpose. An inexpensive gem.
Mondo Arancio - Via Flaminia
What can I say except that this was the single most unpleasant food experience on our entire three-week trip, which covered 12 cities and 3 continents. It was another late night and we were too exhausted to go far after a long day of exploration on foot. This was across the street from our hotel, and a quick Google revealed no great warnings. Little did we know. A hostile server barked things at us like "We close in 10 minutes!" "Cash only!" "You better not want to eat here!" as a snarl of scary proportions distorted her face made me feel like I was a worm. With rabies. We were charged 18 euros - I'm sure we were overcharged - for a tiny amount of food, which was almost thrown at us, cold, and without utensils. Already out the door I discovered that we were missing part of our order, which the server grudgingly added to our bag when we returned. Order complete, we went back to our hotel, where I literally ate cold eggplant in tomato sauce, with my hands. Even the arancini I thought I was ordering - a supposed specialty of the place - turned out to be a doughnut, which I would have known in advance had I not been afraid of asking the server prior to ordering! What a disaster.
The cafeteria at the Vatican Museum - not worth a review, except to say that I can now claim, without lying, that I ate pizza at the Vatican. Who knew?
-- NAPLES --
Ristorante La Piazetta - Via N. Sauro, 21/22 | Lungomare di S. Lucia
We didn't have any choice about where to eat our sole meal in Naples, since we were on a guided tour that included lunch. Our group was led to Ristorante La Piazetta and served a fixed meal of a very good mixed salad and an individual-sized margherita pizza, which we enjoyed (photo). I'm amazed they managed to serve such a large group (we were about 40) all at roughly the same time, given that all the pizzas had to fit in their oven. Dessert was a local specialty (I'm guessing) that I didn't manage to get the name of - round dough balls in some type of sweet syrup. Not sure what they were, but reminded me of a Napoli gulab jamun.