One of the best parts of having a blog is coming into contact with all sorts of lovely people–people I may not know personally, but with whom I feel connected based on our mutual obsession with food. People like Laissez Fare, a NYC-based food blogger who recently moved back to the States after a 10-year stint in London. Laissez Fare has a dining resume that would impress any gastronome on earth and I’m lucky to have him here as a guest contributor recounting his dining experiences in Rome. Here’s how it went down:
Toward the end of June, we made the long journey to visit our family, who were staying in Umbria for an extended period of time. As we were flying into Rome anyway, we thought we’d make the most of it and spend a few days in this ancient city of visual and gustatory delights.
Given that I hadn’t been in Rome since I was a college student, I needed help in finding some good places to eat. As we had our one-year-old daughter with us, we wanted casual places that had authentic food (not necessarily Roman per se), and to stay away from the plethora of tourist traps that literally litter the streets of this great metropolis.
I was instructed by gastro-friend @Gastro1 to get in touch with @KatieParla, who kindly provided us with a number of suggestions. In the end, we made it to quite a few of her recommended places, and you can read about our experiences below.
La Gensola, a restaurant in Trastevere specializing in Sicilian food (seafood in particular), was literally outside the door of our bed and breakfast, and was our first proper meal after arriving at the crack of dawn on the transatlantic flight.
We had a truly lovely meal; everything was fresh and well seasoned. Our favorite dish was probably the Ceviche di Spigola (marinated raw sea bass with oil, lemon, onions, chili and fresh coriander), which provided bounds of zingy flavor that sang on the palate. My dish of perfectly cooked monkfish on the bone, with a side of what was basically applesauce was pretty good too…who knew? The only stale note (literally) was the mini cannoli that we had for dessert, which didn’t have a good pastry-to-cream ratio (they were too dry), and the pastry itself seemed a bit stale. I much prefer a larger single cannolo with more cream.
The charming waiter, who I believe is the front-of-house manager, became our friend as we ended up walking past him nearly every time we went to and from the hotel, which was a happy coincidence. He always said hello to our daughter and played with her for a minute. We liked the place a lot. You can see the full set of photos here.
Roscioli is both a bakery and a salumeria / wine bar / restaurant in the Centro Storico district of Rome. The bakery is located on a cute little side street (Via dei Chiavari), and the restaurant is just at the bottom of the street at the t-junction. Restaurant Roscioli is perhaps better suited to people who don’t bring their children, or don’t have them. Unfortunately, the service was pretty poor overall – more lackadaisical than anything, which is not great when your child needs to eat pronto.
But that was pretty much my only gripe, because the food is out of this world. I could hardly believe the meat and cheese counter, which was a feast for the eyes and nose alike. The carefully chosen wine list is also intriguing for those who enjoy fermented grape juice. Before ordering, they brought out two little fluted cylindrical towers of ricotta cheese topped with a candied orange peel to have with the freshly baked bread. The cheese was addictive, although I didn’t care for the white bread too much (the brown pane di Lariano, however, was excellent).
The burrata was probably the best example I’ve tasted: gorgeously creamy but retaining some firmness on the outside, it was paired perfectly with some of the best sundried tomatoes I’ve ever had. Please take heed that the portion is huge (especially when added to the first freebie of cheese). I was pretty much full before getting to the end of this.
But we were in Rome, and it had been suggested that their carbonara was the best in town. So, despite the +100°F heat outside, I decided to order this rich and creamy classic. I am certainly glad I did, though I am not sure my stomach was so appreciative. It was definitely the best carbonara I’ve eaten. It is composed of Spaghettone di Gragnago, three kinds of black pepper, eggs (from Paolo Parisi – whoever that is) and Pecorino Romano DOP. But the kicker is the cure pork jowl that they use, which is simply unlike any other I’ve tasted. The guanciale is from Conero and its crunchy texture and slightly spicy flavor is the perfect complement to the dish (much better than the pancetta you often get). The flavor was so delicious I can really still taste it.
The prices are quite punchy, and we left on a slightly sour note as they ended up charging us €14 for a small helping of simply prepared green beans for our daughter (compare this with L’Asino d’Oro below). Nevertheless, I would return to Roscioli in an instant – on a fuller stomach – to sample the many culinary delights, as well as some more of their wine. It is worth a visit alone just to check out their meat and cheese counter. You can see the full set of photos here.
La Gatta Mangiona was exactly the kind of place we were looking for on this trip. It is a perfect neighborhood restaurant with nice staff and well-cooked Neapolitan pizzas that contain good-quality ingredients. It was worth the mini-trek. We tried to walk there using Google Maps at first – which I hasten to add doesn’t alert you to the long, steep staircases that you may well have to scale along the route (with a stroller in our case) – but my wife’s common sense finally triumphed and we at long last jumped in a cab!. We really enjoyed both pizzas we had – a Margherita Classica and a Napoletana. The bases were perfectly cooked and the toppings and seasonings were well balanced. The sampling of fritti we had was also nice. I would recommend this restaurant if you want to go a little off the beaten path and eat like the some of the locals do. You can see the full set of photos here.
L’Asino d’Oro was without a doubt our favorite restaurant and meal during the few days we spent in Rome. Their lunch deal must be the best bang for your buck (or Euro) in Rome. You get three courses, plus a little amuse bouche, a bottle of spring water and a glass of pretty decent wine for €12. Yes, you read that correctly: TWELVE EUROS. The quality and simplicity of the food is spot-on, and I liked the decor too, which followed a theme of red in the bar area and one of yellow in the main dining room. The waiter who looked after us was very hospitable and helpful, and made us feel at home right away.
There were three very memorable things from our meal. Firstly, the bread soup was to die for, a description you wouldn’t normally ascribe to such a humble dish. It was made from bread (obviously!), carrots, onions, garlic, beans, passata and pecorino. I could have eaten the whole pot.
Secondly, the gnocchi were textbook perfect – so pillow-like that you could really could sleep on them, messy as it may be. The depth of tomato flavor in the sauce was also impressive. Each dish had very few ingredients, but it was immediately evident that whatever went into the food was of very high quality. Such is the way of (good) Italian food.
Thirdly, we decided to share a dessert. It didn’t sound like much, just a strawberry tiramisu, but my god was it delicious. This is another dish that I can still taste as I write. I only wish we would have had another dessert based on the quality of this one.
The whole meal cost us less than €30 and they didn’t even charge for our daughter’s gnocchi (they made a plainer version for her, and she licked her plate clean) – compare this to the €14 green beans at Roscioli. I would highly recommend this place, especially at lunch, although please note that there is no choice of dishes at lunchtime: the menu is the menu. That said, the à la carte menu is also very reasonably priced. You can view the full set of photos here.
We also made it to Fiora di Luna, a very cute little gelateria that was a short walk from our B&B. The various chocolate options were the best in terms of texture and flavor. The water-based, mostly fruity flavors didn’t seem to be as consistent, and a few we tried were overly sweet. I like that they only use very natural ingredients, many of which are organic and Fair Trade.
After two weeks in Italy, I was struck by how affordable good gelato is compared to similar artisan-type ice creams in the United States. A small cup, in which you can usually sample one, two or three flavors, costs between around €2-3 in most of the best places, which is great value compared with many at home, which easily cost over $6 for and deliver less (both in terms of quantity and quality). You can see the full set of photos here.
I absolutely loved Caffe Sant’Eustacchio, which we visited a few times. Their cappuccino, while not the prettiest I’ve ever seen, definitely delivered the delicate balance this drink is meant to, but so rarely does. I also liked the fact that they could make a decaf shakerato for my wife, who wanted a cold drink but not a sudden jolt of energy. It was cold, bitter (we asked for no sugar to be added – something you have to indicate before it is made) and refreshing. The froth at the top was perfect, too.
It is interesting to note that while the world is now full of new varieties of good, bad and ugly chilled coffee drinks (for example, in New York, I have recently become addicted to a good cold brew coffee when it’s warm out), this doesn’t seem to have been embraced by the staunchly traditional cafes in Italy…at least so far as I’ve been able to notice. I wonder if and when they will begin to enhance their offerings, and most likely their profit margins, by adding high-quality cold coffee drinks.
I also liked Tazza d’Oro, which I visited the last time I was in Rome…in the mid-90’s believe it or not! They are both classics that are well worth a visit.
You can see more photos of the coffee (and some pastries) we had in Rome here.
As a side note, we ended up having dinner at a local trattoria recommended by our B&B’s owner. Trattoria da Teo is simple, rustic and very reasonably priced restaurant within the context of Rome. Much of the food was very tasty, and they were so good with our daughter that we went back for a second dinner, mostly as it was so close to our hotel, which made life a lot easier.
A straightforward dessert of mascarpone with wild strawberries was so delicious that we ordered a second helping even though we really didn’t need it at that point. We had the veal one night which, while it certainly wasn’t going to win any beauty contests, sure tasted delicious and was plentiful in quantity. A side of chicory was also memorable and my cacio e pepe was perfectly good. My wife’s pasta dish had been cooked for too long and had a burnt flavor. However, when we informed them of this (in our best Italian, which isn’t great), they took the issue very seriously and immediately wiped the charge from our bill.
They were packed on both nights we went (from 8pm), and the staff had some difficulty in coping with the full house, but they were certainly well-meaning. If you show up when they open (at 8pm for dinner), you can most likely secure a table at their pleasant outdoor terrace.