[Rome] Trip report in bites

I’m only reporting on my first few meals, so I can try to keep up with this (especially for you @JenKalb as you trip plan).

Visiting Rome with my cousin who has never been here before. After flying overnight and through Paris all day, we went for an early dinner at Armando al Pantheon. This is probably my favorite trattoria in Rome, and I planned it as an ideal introduction to my cousin of the excellent food and welcoming vibe that to me are hallmarks of the Roman holiday.

I am glad to say that the meal was exquisite, and is the one we are comparing all bites to as we are eating our way through Rome. We shared the eggplant parmesan and the bruschetta with stracciatella and anchovies w/pistachios. Of the latter, it is an incredible dish, and if you think you don’t like anchovies but think you could if they didn’t just taste fishy or salty, you might consider trying this dish. My cousin is still asking me why we can’t get anchovies like this at home. I don’t have a good answer, but it is an almost perfect illustration of what they do so well here. Such a simple dish, but every element makes you want to sing. Truly. We then split a serviceable carbonara (my cousin oohed and ahed, but I am waiting for him to try the one at Roscioli later in the week) and they had the oxtail as the only special (and it is v. special), so we had that and the roasted potatoes. (Again, I don’t know how they make the roast potatoes here. They are not particularly crispy, but they are essence of potato with a little crisp here and there, just wonderful.) We shared the sublime “Torta Antica Roma,” and my cousin is still talking about trying to figure out how to make that! (I should add here that his father, who had taken courses with Marcella Hazan, moved the family to Albuquerque to open an Italian restaurant there with his mom; kids went too and grew up in this “Italian” kitchen, so coming to Rome for the first time is truly a kind of culinary pilgrimage for him.)

We slept it off, explored some of the city the next day and ended up at Colline Emiliane where I had never been. Not Roman, of course, but I must say, we were wooed by the warm welcome of our no-nonsense waitress, the wonderful wine, and the food, yum! The menu offers an assorted appetizer for two and then lots of different ham and other salumi. Perhaps this will give you a taste of my cousin’s and my simpatico dining approach. We asked our waitress what was in this assorted appetizer and she said a little bit of everything you see and some other things. He and I just looked at each other and said “yes.” This plate was overflowing (sorry I took no pictures!) and came with some items not on the menu (a mortadella mousse was a favorite of both of us), and the meats were all incredible. And I asked the passing waiter what the little bit of ham-looking remnant was on my plate, and he took one look and said it was the Copa, from the shoulder apparently. It was especially delicious, methinks.

For primi course, we shared the tagliatelle alla bolognese and a special ravioli with cheese, spinach and sausage in a butter sauce of some kind. Don’t know if I could choose which one I liked more. I think my cousin and I would answer “yes” to this question too. Particularly, we appreciated that they plated them separately and served them one after the other, so we tucked in for a seriously long meal, enjoying every mouthful. Because, well, we were not finished. We split the milk-braised veal with mashed potatoes. I had never had veal cooked this way (well, hard to find veal of any kind anymore, and I definitely put aside my feelings for this one), and it was delicious. Soft and saucy, perfect with those potatoes (again amazing potatoes). We split a special dessert (our waitress had put one aside for us), can’t recall exactly what was in this except that it was a creamy moussy dessert with rum and the walnut caramel cake that we just added to the order because it appealed to us, maybe like something we might see on a Thanksgiving table. Think pecan pie on steroids. Fantastic. Real caramel, not whatever the glop is you often get in pecan pie…I am still swooning over these desserts, and as I have mentioned elsewhere, dessert is not something I generally hold out for.

Last night, a friend of my cousin’s joined us for what to me was a disappointing meal at Tavernaccia da Bruno. Usually a favorite, I was just not happy with this meal, and will not return. The lardo with honey bruschetta was tasteless; the ham was cut too thickly; worst of all, the rather small portion of suckling pig was on the dry side with limpid, not crackling, skin. Ick. One high note was the tagliatelle with a white wild boar sauce. It was delicious. We had glasses from three very delicious wines (white, red and dessert) suggested by our very wonderful waiter. The welcome here is honest and sincere, but I am afraid that the cooking is not what it used to be.

For Sunday lunch today, we were at Trattoria da Cesare di Casaletto. It was a beautiful day, after a rainy one yesterday, so we took the tram8 (currently the bus8, as they are renovating the track) out to the end of the line. We sat on the covered terrace, starting early, and the whole place was teeming inside and out by the time we left. Older couples, whole Italian families with assorted babies and other children. So much joy, and we loved the experience. We had a mix of fritura: totani, stuffed squash blossoms, fried gnocchi cacio e pepe and bruschetta pomodoro to start. N.B. we got a half order of the gnocchi, and I thought it might be overkill. We ate every bite. We did not have a secondi, however, after all that. My cousin ate the spaghetti vongole, which I did not try, but he enjoyed, and I had the always wonderful tonarelli gricia. All was delicious, and the service was again friendly. We had a very wonderful bottle of white. I know my cousin took a picture. I will circle back with wines we have drunk, if anyone wants to know. I am a novice here; I know if I like something (and if I really don’t), but I never know what I am looking at in a wine list and depend on the mostly excellent advice I have gotten from waiters and sommeliers. Suffice it to say, this place still rocks, and I would go back in a heartbeat.

We are heading to meet my cousin’s friend for a late pizza at Emma’s which is right around the corner virtually from our great Airbnb. Might be the best place I have stayed from that site in a while.

P.S. I just noticed I did take some pictures at Colline Emiliane: the veal and the two desserts. And for some reason, I cannot load them here…will try next time.

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Thanks for the write up! I miss Rome, haven’t been in a few years… Seen the birds?

Elizabeth Minchilli shared a post on Instagram: "I’d like to think this is what @ludovico_einaudi was thinking of when he wrote this beautiful piece. #birdsong #murmuration #winterinrome". Follow their account to see 6674 posts.

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I would have recommended Cesare al Casaletto, but you’ve been there. My two favorite restaurants in Rome are Ristorante Tullio, Via San Nicolo da Tolentino, and Le Tre Zucche, Via Guglielmo Mengarini. I think it’s only open in the evenings, and you’ll need a taxi to get there, but it’s wonderful.

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Yes! Most incredible natural occurrence I’ve seen in a long, long time.

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nonfood, what is the deal with the birds? what kind and where? its a lovely picture.

thanks for all this. I am looking forward to returning to da Cesare al Casaletto and of course Armando. My latest best dish there was the tripe. Have never made it to the torta, even with kids in tow, but we do very much like their wine poached pears if they are still on offer…

Sorry to hear about da Bruno tho I think we will still give it a first try. Staying near Piramide so it should be an easy trip over there.

Looking forward to more!

Elizabeth Minchilli shared a post on Instagram: "I’d like to think this is what @ludovico_einaudi was thinking of when he wrote this beautiful piece. #birdsong #murmuration #winterinrome". Follow their account to see 6675 posts.

Not sure if the link to instagram works. But it’s the phenomenom in Rome where dozens of birds ‘dance’ in the sky together.

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They are starlings migrating (murmuration). I had never heard anything about it, but on the second night here, I looked up from my book at dusk to see, out the little window in my closet (!), the extraordinary sight. (Google explained all to me.)

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I am a big fan of Checco Er Carretiera on Via Benedetta in Trastevere. Seafood or traditional Roman dishes along with ‘touristic’ staples. Do not order from the menu, look at the fresh cases they have filled with fish and veggies. They always had great seasonal veggies. I had my first wild asparagus and agretti there. Great zucchini blossoms with cheese and anchovy and filetti di baccala. Baked whole fish with white wine and potato really good too.

NB: our last trip to Roma was in 2003 or 2004. But I don’t think their food has changed mch in 50 years or more. But this is the kind of place where 3 or 4 generations of the family/owners are to be found at the restaurant.

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that explains it, this is the season for the starlings to migratesouth - they tend to move in huge flocks which can be impressive. Just have never seen this in Rome!

what lovely, evocative writing @ninkat !

A person of few, but incredibly kind, words. Quite the nicest compliment I can think of getting! Thanks @vinouspleasure !

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I’m enjoying reading about all your meals in Rome. Rome is such a great eating city. I had my first Cacio e Pepe in Trastevere - so delicious. Are artichokes in season? I’m curious about your cousin’s family restaurant in Albuquerque. I live there. Would you share the name?

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Thanks @Kjjr. Hopefully I will have time to write up the rest of our meals over the weekend. The family restaurant in Albuquerque closed many years ago now, but I’ll ask my cousin exactly when and what the name was, as it escapes me at the moment. (We’re old now! Though his mom is still living in Albuquerque and totally with it, if definitely long since retired.)

P.S. Artichokes not in season right now, though they get them from other places when not in season locally. I had an artichoke pizza one day that was delicious! (But didn’t seek them out, as I might have in the spring.

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Okay, here’s the rest of our eating odyssey! First, pictures from Collin Emiliane:


Milk-braised veal

Rum something dessert

Walnut caramel cake!

Pizza at Emma hit the spot…Fearing I am not the connoisseur that @vinouspleasure is on this front, but I think it might pass his muster. We had a salad (pears, walnuts, spinach, honey, parmigano, olive oil and balsamic on the table), I was jonesing for some fresh greens, etc., and this hit the spot; and shared bruschetta with tomatoes before the pizzas. I ordered the margherita di bufala, simple, but to me the best (pretty sure this is what my cousin had also); our guest had same with artichokes, also delicious. Only pizza restaurant we went to during the trip, but we ate our way through slices (or sandwiches made with white pizza) during the days. We were staying between two excellent bakeries (where these slices are most often as far as I can work out): Antico Forno Roscioli and Antico Forno Campo de’ Fiori. White pizza sandwiches with mortadella (again simply the meat for me) from either bakery kept me going till dinner many a day. Also, just about any of the pizza slices from Roscioli, but I prefer the ones made on thinner crust than the thick crust ones.

Dinner Monday night was at Trattoria Priscilla. This was a restaurant recommended by a friend of my cousin’s who grew up in Rome and has fond memories of this place where he returns every time he goes home. It is located on the ancient part of the Appian Way and was quite a project to get to, even in a taxi. Still, a very dramatic setting…from the outside. Quirky, idiosyncratic host/owner(?) asked us about our water choice when we sat down (I converted my cousin to the joys of “aqua leggermente” which I have only seen in Italy, until Paris recently came across with a with “fines bules” version that my landlord stocks my fridge with for me when I go!). Got the water, and then ordered, and he asked: Wine? Yes…Red or White? We were a little stumped by this, but we got a half carafe of each and then worried about the dinner. We needn’t have worried. Simple, but good food (sort of how I like it). We had some salumi and then some of that wild boar pasta I was becoming very attached to. (This was the second best wild boar pasta we had on the trip; best was at Trattoria Monti later in the trip.) We had some meat and potatoes (mashed) for the main, also succulent roast (veal, I think) and called it a well fed night. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t have any meal that we thought was just bad.)

We had a so-so meal at Babette the next night. I was disappointed because I remembered it as really swell. Pasta (we had a shrimp and artichoke tagliatelle) was overcooked. Mains were good, but on the boring side. We shared an appetizer of fried anchovies, stuffed with cheese, some salad that was really the best part of the meal. Lovely, room (I remember the garden also being beautiful). I would still try again, as maybe it was our ordering that was off.

We had lunch at Roscioli (the salumeria) the next day. We sat at the counter and ate our way through some anchovies and toast with funny butters (less of a fan of this than I thought I would be); the always delicious burrata and “semi-dried” tomatoes; and we both got our own pasta carbonara. I would travel across the world to eat this pasta, and my cousin practically licked his plate. They had a bottle of a wine I had tasted there before, and we both really liked it, finding a bottle to eat with starters Thanksgiving dinner the next night:


(We had a nice red that night too, but I didn’t take pictures.)

Thanksgiving at Al Ceppo was very meh, I’m afraid. A fancy and beautiful space. Service was wonky. And that detracted. We ordered different combinations of appetizers and primi courses, and the waiter made the executive decision to put them on the table at the same time (which really didn’t work for the one of us, not me!, who was eating both an appetizer and a primi). When we asked him to hold that primi, he got a bit fussy. I eventually won him over big time, explaining this was a special evening for us (we had friends of mine join us, not American, but understanding that this was a fête) but I still never got offered a coffee at the end. Food was okay, but not special. My friend’s girlfriend (who lives in Rome) had asked around, and this is what her friends had suggested. I wouldn’t recommend the restaurant…But we had a wonderful time anyway because, well, the company was great, the wine too, and we had lots to celebrate and be thankful for!

Friday night we had a splendid dinner at Trattoria Monti. I had never been there before, and would run back the next time I go to Rome. Full of Italians, as far as we could tell, wonderful service (no English menus, and we needed a bit of help). The aforementioned wild boar pasta was really, really good. Tasted deeply of wonderful flavor that couldn’t have been there if someone hadn’t had a pot going all day. Least that’s what it tasted like to us. We shared the suckling pig (nice portion with actual crispy skin) and a supernal eggplant parmigiana. Couldn’t eat dessert, but I was offered (and drank) a cup of coffee.

Last night we went to my friends’ apartment for aperitivo, and then six of us went to dinner downstairs from her place. It’s a very quirky restaurant in the back of a fish monger: La Pesceria Re di Roma. We were there for hours, and the platters of food kept coming. This is the place my New York HO diners would have gravitated toward. We had two different kinds of crudo platters, ditto fritura platters, several of us had the excellent pasta vongole (me, for one), and then two had whole fish mains…my cousin had two grilled fish (I’ll have to ask him what they were), but fresh excellent, just olive oil and salt added. Dessert was had, but not by me, after all that. Coffee yes.

We went home in the wee hours and managed to make our early flight out. One word about coffee. To me, coffee in Italy is all good. Even at gas stations along highways. Still, in the are of Rome I stay, I go for my morning macchiato either to Roscioli Caffe (it’s a minor monopoly in the area, but family run, and just a wondeful group of food emporia) where they also have pastries and maritozzi, though I don’t eat sweet in the morning or Sant’ Eustachio. I’m a bit of a coffee nut, and really anywhere is, as I said, great for coffee in Italy, but these two spots, one modern and the other very traditional, are my happy places in Rome. N.B. at Sant’ Eustachio, you pay at the cashier and then give your order to the barista. Make sure to say “no sugar,” if you don’t want sugar there. At Roscioli, you can drink and then pay at the bar. There is also seating out front and maybe in the back too, but I’ve never gone for a seat…it looks like they do breakfast, and maybe later aperitivo, I don’t know. I finally worked out that most places that are caffes by day do aperitivo (drinks and snacks) in the evening.

We had an amazing time, and even though it sounds like we did nothing but eat, we did a bunch of other stuff too, especially my cousin, who had a list, and checked off almost everything.

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Sounds mostly wonderful, and so glad you got to Trattoria Monti!
The last time we were in Rome we stayed on the same street - and were so disappointed that they were closed for the whole time.

Looking forward to more recollections.

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