A Belated Love Letter to Rome
Rome wins. It just wins. Nearly everything about the city is perfect for a visitor like myself – a pasta/pizza/ice cream aficionado visitor – and I would like to go more often. I would like to find a reason to go many times per year (maybe a Baked in Rome makes sense?) and I would like to appropriately diet before each trip.
The oft-shared/oft-mentioned tale of Rome is that it is hard to find a bad meal in the city, and I have to agree. True, not every meal I had would set your mind on fire, but I never once tasted anything even remotely bad – and I ate at some truly tacky tourist traps (yes, I wanted to drink wine in front of the Pantheon just because it seemed very cool at the time). I don’t think the same can be said for almost any other city, so that is reason enough to book your trip now.
A Brief Rome Travel Guide (with an emphasis on the food)-
First and foremost, before my last trip to Rome I was able to score Gina DePalma’s Rome tips. Nearly all of the restaurant recommendations below came from Gina and all of them were perfect. (And I should also mention Gina’s cookbook is a must have for any home baker). Keep your fingers crossed for Gina to publish a Rome ebook – you won’t be disappointed.
Second, do not go to Rome in July or August unless you want to know what it must feel like to sit on the sun.
Lastly, Rome hotels are quite expensive. Not a lot of bang for your buck. I highly recommend looking into renting an apartment via airbnb or the like. I stayed here and though it wasn’t five-star, it was inexpensive, and cozy, and in a great neighborhood, and the best part…ABOVE A BAKERY!!!!
Things to Do:
Yes, you should tour the Colosseum if you have never been (the tour in English is well worth the dollars), and you should check out the Spanish Steps if you must (though even when I went in off-season it was as crowded as Times Square). But I highly suggest a cooking class.
I took an amazing pasta making class organized by Maureen Fant and taught by Oretta Zanini De Vitti in her actual Rome abode.
OMG, again, the class was IN HER ACTUAL SUNDRENCHED ROME HOUSE! It was a dream fulfilled. Oretta is the author of the scholarly Encyclopedia of Pasta (a great book translated by Maureen) and we literally spent the day shopping for ingredients, making all sorts of pastas and fillings, then eating a little bit of everything (wine included, of course). I was able to make almost everything with Oretta’s careful instruction, but failed miserably at the farfalle. Ah well. Class info is here and here!
Go to the markets. There are many and they are varied. The Testaccio Market is the most popular (er…touristy but big and fun), but all of the other ones are equally worth a trip: the Mercato di Monteverde in Trastevere provides a peek into a true Roman shopping experience, and we ran through the Mercato Esquilino prior to our cooking class….the neighborhood is a little run down, but OMG…the stalls of breads/veggies…
Gina recommended the handmade Tagliatelle al Limone at La Sagrestia (Via del Seminario 89, near the Pantheon) and I am glad we took her recommendation-it was truly memorable. The pizza’s are top notch as well…and the location/service are lovely. Thanks Gina!
Enoteca Ferrara in Trastevere (Via del Moro, 1a) -another Gina rec- is lovely and chic-ish. The food, across the board, was perfect but it is the wine list that will stun you. It is MASSIVE, well edited, and inexpensive (the best part about coming from New York City is that everything seems priced accordingly or inexpensive).
If you like seafood (I am not a seafood fanatic, but my partner raved about his entree) head over to La Vecchia Roma. Don’t be frightened by the décor – it is slightly 80’s and slightly faux romantic Rome…and the prices are slightly higher here than other places we ate, but it is well worth dinner outside in the Piazza Campitelli…a flawless place to linger and imbibe with friends or a loved one.
Gelato: I chased down several gelato places (San Crispino was mentioned to me 1000 times). They were all very good, but it should be noted that none of them were better than what you can find these days in the larger American cities (Il Laboratorio in New York, etc…). My advice: don’t waste your time zig zag-ing throughout Rome in search of the best gelato…you can grab an above average scoop on almost any block in the city and linger and people watch. If you must go on a gelato search Gina recommends Gelarmony (Via Marcantonio) because it is weird and wonderful.
Coffee/Espresso: Thankfully or not, the-15-minutes-to-brew-a-cuppa-coffee thing has not yet caught on in Italy. We drank most of our 1 Euro espressos at the standing room only bars that dominate the daily caffeine trade and were more than pleased. They are fast and efficient and decent, but they are not delicate and precious. It is worth a trip to both Tazza D’oro near the Pantheon and St. Eustachio (you will like one or the other or both) for the fancier / sweeter type of coffee drinks. Both places are insanely busy, and both are great for people watching.
Dessert: Gina rightfully swears by the cookies at Innocenti on Via Della Luce, 21 in Trastevere and we practically moved into Antico Forno Marco Roscioli for quick snacks and yes, pizza for breakfast. Some Roman pastry people are not thrilled that most of the pastries in Italy are still made using a lot of shortening (to combat the heat in Italy among other things) but we managed to find unique and fun treats in many nooks and crannies (keep your eyes open and stomachs empty as you walk) and the restaurants usually do a fantastic job of prepping a great dessert menu. I rarely went an hour without sampling something cookie-like or chocolatey or cake-ish and I was always quite happy with whatever I purchased.
I could go on: I could tell you how we fell asleep in Villa Borghese (wonderful place to spend a lazy afternoon) and took our life in our hands by renting a very cheap scooter to navigate Rome from a different perspective. There are many other places to tell you about, but I am hoping Gina just publishes her Rome guidebook soon so I don’t have to write it all out. Regardless, just go to Rome and walk the streets, shop the markets, and eat everything you can find. You will not be disappointed. Enjoy.