Saturday, August 14, 2010

Roma - Tourist Tips

This is predominately a blog about food, beverage and restaurants, so I will try to keep the site seeing tips brief.  The 2 things that really blew us away last trip were both things we did for the first time.  The Galleria Borghese and The Forum.

Galleria Borghese and Borghese Park- the Galleria Borghese is a former Cardinal's palace that sits inside Borghese Park.  The Galleria is filled with works of art and sculpture.  The most impressive works were the collection of Bernini sculptures.  I cannot say that I new much about Bernini sculptures before this visit.  But, after I am definitely a fan.  This museum took about 2 hours to see.  Reservations are required, a it is a rather small museum.  Before or after, take some time to walk around Borghese Park, as it is incredibly beautiful.

The Forum - In the afternoon of that same day we visited the Galleria Borghese, we went to the Forum.  The Forum is right near the Colliseum, so it is possible to see the outside of the Collisuem and get pictures on your way to the forum.  I think the Colliseum is best viewed from the outside, so this works out perfectly.  We were absolutely fascinated being inside the Forum.  It was incredibly beautiful, and was on of those places where you can almost feel energy from the enormity of the history of the place.  Definitely, bring a guide book to help with what you are looking at.  We used Sloan's favorite, Rick Steves.  The light in Rome is absolutely incredible, you can almost tell in my pictures, as I am in no way a photographer.

The Pantheon - I think the Pantheon is actually open 24 hours.  It is an easy place to visit for 15-20 minutes, as you make your way to one of the nearby espresso meccas!

Tour by Taxi - on the list trip to Rome, we made a habit of having our taxi drivers stop at a famous piazza or fountain on the way home to the hotel.  This is probably the best tourist tip we have to offer.  We visited Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, the Maltese Embassy and the Colliseum this way.  Another time, the driver waited while I ran into Tazza D'Oro for an espresso.  Every taxi driver we had was incredibly nice, they will all gladly wait a few minutes for you while you run out to take a picture of whatever you are seeing.  Something like the Trevi Fountain is best viewed at night with less people around, and really only takes 5 minutes.  Even though the fountain was still swarmed by agressive Bengalis hawking trinkets at 11PM in the rain in January.  The traffic in Rome is not bad at night either.  Be sure to tip, and the driver will be your best friend, as Italians don't.

The Maltese Embassy - This is a little far out, but not far from Trattoria Monti.  The embassay is in a beautiful section of town. What makes it famous is the key hole on the gate.  If you look through the key hole, it perfectly frames St Peters which is way in the distance.  It is a cute oddity.  There will be guards an people there at all hours of night.

St Peters and The Sistine Chapel - these are probably both something you need to do if you have never seen them, although they are definitely a production.  On our honeymoon, we did go to see the Sistine Chapel, we waited about an hour to get in, and then once inside were hoarded through on a packed march with thousands of others.  After walking through a large museum, you slowly trudge through the chapel.  It is a shame that is becomes really hard to appreciate.  I have read that they do small private tours in the evenings.  This is sure to be very expensive, but might be worth it for the real art lover.  On this trip, we did not make it into St Peter's because it was way too crowded.  If you are visiting both of these sites, plan a whole day.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Roma - Expensive Hotel Cocktails

This is my first post about expensive hotel cocktails, there will definitely be more.  I am a strong believer that vacationing in a big city requires a few stops at nice hotels to have a civilized drink.  Hopefully, where you are staying has a nice bar.  In Italy, cocktails are not a huge part of the culture, so hotel bars are often the best place to find a nice cocktail.  We haven't found too many cocktail spots in Rome, but the ones have found, are good ones.

The Hotel Eden:
Via Ludovisi 49

We were lucky enough to stay at the hotel Eden on both of our trips to Rome.  The hotel is  not far from the Spanish Steps, the Via Veneto or Borghese Park.  On the top floor of the hotel there is a nice bar where you can have a cocktail and see all of Rome.  From their windows you can see St Peters and the top of the Spanish Steps.  It is a great way to appreciate the 7 hills of Rome.  It could be worth a trip on a clear night. 

Traveling in style back to the hotel Eden.

The Hassler:
Piazza Trinità dei Monti 6

The Hassler is perhaps the most famous hotel in Rome.  It sits directly at the top of the Spanish Steps, so this is an easy place to grab a drink during a long day of site seeing.  The hotel is very old school, and a little stuffy.  It has a beautiful lobby lounge, and a nice bar in the back.  We were having a drink there late one Monday when Tom Cruise came striding through the lobby.  He was in town to promote Valkerie.  The Hassler is that kind of place.  In the picture below, it is to the right of the church, behind the palm tree.

The Hotel de Russie:
Via Del Babuino 9

The Hotel de Russie is a much more modern hotel than either the Eden or the Hassler.  This hotel is located on Babuino, the main high end shopping street in town, not far from the Piazza del Popolo an the Spanish Steps.  We did a quick walk through the lobby on our last trip, and it was absolutely gorgeous.  There seemed to be a beautiful bar, and an amazing interior courtyard.  The spa looked pretty amazing as well.  We are hoping to stay there on our next visit to Rome.  

Roma - Osteria La Gensola

Osteria La Gensola
Piazza della Gensola 15RomeItaly

Osteria La Gensola was a very nice osteria in Trastevere neighborhood.  Trastevere is a very cool neighborhood of small streets on the other side of the Tiber river.  We have only been there twice at night.  I would definitely like to walk the cobblestoned streets during the day one trip.  

This was the one restaurant that Riccardo made us promise we would try on our 2009 trip.  Riccardo had a cousin who used to be a regular of the restaurant, we were instructed to tell the Chef that we were his friends.  The chef was definitely a spirited host and cook.  We agreed to do a tasting menu and were well rewarded.  

For those who know NYC Chefs, this guy has a striking resemblance to Tom Valenti!  Truth be told, they are similar in appearance and personality!  See Below, that is him on the right with the beard:

There is serious cooking happening at La Gensola, the chef is very talented.  There is a definite Sicilian influence to the menu.  Sicilian seems to be a popular cuisine of the moment in Rome.  Truth be told, I dont really love Sicilian food.  But, this meal had many hits.

Pictured above are some excellent panelle: or fried chick pea fritters very similar to the southern French panisse.

Next, the Sicilian theme continued in a dish of gamberetti over cous couse.  They were delicious.  Then Sloan started her nightly truffle tour with:

A dish of tagliarini with truffles and a truffle omelette, and Sloan was a happy lady.  Did I mention she likes truffles?

That is all of the food I have pictures of, and really remember.  We definitely enjoyed our meal.  You may well want to have a dinner in Trastevere, as it is definitely a hip food neighborhood.  This would be a good choice for a fun meal in a trattoria with modern ambitions.  I am not, however, dying to go back.  I think maybe this is due to the heavy influence of the food and wine from Sicily.  It felt a little weird to be eating Sicilian food while in Rome.  You know what they say......  Either way, La Gensola is definitely a good restaurant.

Roma - Gusto

Piazza Augusto Imperatore 9

'Gusto is a complex of restaurants on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore.  The complex is located short walk from the Piazza del Popolo.  'Gusto could be a good choice for a lunch more casual than Dal Bolognese.  The main thing about the restaurants is the design, they are drop dead gorgeous.  All the places are highly designed in the "Keith McNally type style."  There is a ristorante, a pizzeria, a salumeria, a retail store etc.  We just went and looked at the menus.  It is a little confusing, but I think we ended up in the pizzeria.  

The food was good, nothing memorable.  Other than Sloan's quattro formaggi pizza which was a real belly bomb.

This thing must have weighed 2 pounds, and easily could have fed 4 people.  There was really nothing traditional or special about it, but it was good in the guilty pleasure type of way.  I dont remember anything else we ate, but I do remember the rooms.  Gorgeous room shots below:

In conclusion, the 'Gusto complex is pretty cool, but is more about beautiful design than food.  Riccardo says that they are famous in Rome for serving an American style brunch.  But, please dont eat an American style brunch in Italy!  You need to save room for 4 courses at lunch and dinner with snacks in between.
I would definitely recommend going for lunch, but for dinner the food might not be special enough.

Roma - Da Francesco

Da Francesco
Piazza del Fico, 29

Da Francesco was originally the recommendation of my Italian tutor Riccardo.  He described as the quintessential Roman pizzeria.  Da Francesco is the type of place that young Romans actually go.  In the picture above, you see the sign says, "Ristorante, pizzeria, forno a legna."  They key point there is, "forno a legna," which means wood burning oven.  Da Francesco is near the Piazza Navona, which is surrounded by good restaurants the Romans frequent.  In fact, when we left Da Francesco at 11PM or so, there were actually a bunch of cool book and clothes stores in the neighborhood that were still open.

Da Francesco is definitely casual.  They don't take reservations, so be prepared to wait out front of the restaurant after you checked in.  We were there on a rainy Saturday night in January, and the place was still packed.  We waited about 20 minutes.  A Roman pizzeria is a place for pizza certainly, but also for the Roman classics, carbonara, bavette cacio e pepe, amatriciana and saltimbocca.  We did our best to have them all!

Roman pizza in general, is thinner the Neopolitan pizza.  It is also generally less sauced.  You will see pictures below.  But first, hand cut prosciutto:

Prosciutto is an Italian word for ham.  What we know as prosciutto is prosciutto di parma.  So, you will see the word prosciutto used for a much wider range of hams.  The popular Roman way to serve prosciutto is hand sliced into pieces much thicker than we are used to.  The ham above was amazingly good. You will see above that the prosciutto was served with pizza bianca.  This is the most traditional of the Roman pizzas.  It is really a thin flat bread with only olive oil and herbs.  Also, amazing.

Next, I had linguine carbonara:

A real carbonara has no cream.  The sauce comes only from expertly tossed egg.  As you see, this is served with a ton of pecorino cheese, and guanciale.  Guanciale, really sets the dish apart, it is a cured pork jowl.  It is really much more interesting than the bacon usually seen in the states.  This was awesome.

For an entree, I had saltimbocca.  Saltimbocca literally translates into, "to jump into the mouth."  It is pounded veal, with prosciutto and sage.  Pictured below is the real thing in the right place:

While I ate my saltimbocca, Sloan and Mujah at a quattro formaggi pizza:

They were definitely very happy.  Take a look at the beautiful crust.  This pie was a little thicker than the pizza bianca served with the prosciutto.  All quattro formaggi pizzas in Italian have blue cheese.  Awesome.  I only learned recently that Italians really don't drink wine pizza.  Generally they drink beer.  I had no idea.  I was confused enough that I had to confirm with Riccardo.  So, we enjoyed a nice red, but a bottle of Peroni would have been more of the place.  Oh well!

Da Francesco is a great place to see real Roman life, and a real Roman pizzeria.  It is definitely fun and convivial.  Go early, or be prepared to wait!

Roma - Trattoria Monti

Trattoria Monti
Via San Vito 13ARome185

Trattoria Monti is the one restaurant from our last visit to Rome that we would definitely have a hard time not eating at on our next trip.  When you look back on the meals from a trip, the ones that you can't imagine skipping on your next trip are the ones that were really home runs.  Monti is one of the those places.  Monti is different from most Roman restaurants in that is a modern restaurant that respects tradition while offering an exciting dining experience at the same time. When I say modern, I am referring to things like the wine list, stemware, service and decor.  Monti is a very popular restaurant with Italians and Americans alike.  It was written up in 2006 in the New York Times in a 36 Hours - Rome piece, by Frank Bruni (former NYT restaurant critic who lived in Rome for several years before moving to NYC).  It is definitely a place for which you need reservations.  Here is the link to the article:

Monti has a charming dining room, and great service.  There is a momma in the kitchen, and the her 2 sons in the dining room.  Everything was very professional and elegant.  This is definitely a restaurant for a nice dinner.

For my appetizer I had a truly amazing dish.  I remember it being called a ravioli con uovo, but in the attached article, Frank Bruni calls it a tortellone.  I am not sure who is right, probably Bruni.  Either way, it was very, very good.

There were 2 sheets of pasta with a beautiful golden colored, soft cooked egg in the middle, with cheese, sage and a brown butter sauce.  This dish was really perfect.

For my entree, I had a piece of roasted pork with potatoes.  It was perfectly executed, with nice crisp skin.  The potatoes were delicious as well.  Looking at the picture above it looks like we had either a lasagne or an eggplant parmesan.  And, of course Sloan had tagliarini with truffles.  

Check out the original Faema E61 in the back of the restaurant on the way to the bathroom.  We have a replica version of this machine at Nizza.

We really enjoyed the dinner, it was our last meal for the trip, and it certainly filled that role well.  We highly recommend this as a choice for one of your dinners.  On the way out, we asked our cab driver to swing by Piazza Navona and the Coliseum.  We remember our very gracious driver explaining that he never gets tired of seeing the sites of Rome, because they make him proud, and because he truly feels that they are a part of who he is.  It was very touching.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Roma - Caffe!

Italy in general is a coffee country, but even more so, Rome is a coffee town.  There is a tremendous amount of great coffee in Rome.  You will be better off having your coffee during the day at a bar, instead of in a restaurant, or in your hotel.  "Bar" is the generic term for coffee bars in Rome.  Most bars will have digestivi available as well as coffee.  Some will have more food than others.

First a very brief rundown of coffee culture in Italy.  1.  Espresso is referred to as "caffe."  There really is no such thing in Italian coffee bars as American coffee.  You can order an Americano (espresso made long with water) if you want something close.  2.  Cappucino is only drunk in the morning.  Generally, before 11AM.  Feel free to order it later, but you will be judged and perhaps jokingly referred to as "German."  Also, Italians never drink cappucino after a meal, as they feel that milk is bad for digestion.  For many Italians, cappucino is breakfast, along with some bread, and fruit.  3.  At most of the bars, look for a cashier near the door.  You will tell the cashier what you want and pay for it there.  Then you will go to the bar, and order again from the barista.  Give him the receipt.  It is nice to leave some coins for a tip.  4.  The Italian way is to drink your coffee standing at the bar.  If a bar has tables, you will order at the table from a waiter and be charged a higher price.

Below, I will discuss 2 of the most famous bars in Rome, as well as one I found on the last trip that was really nice.

Very fortuitously, two most famous bars in Rome are located within a stones throw of the Pantheon.  It is quite possible to do both in one shot if you can handle the jolt.  I will discuss both, before revealing my favorite.

Caffe Sant'Eustachio
Piazza Sant'Eustcachio , 82

Sant'Eustachio is a little tricky to find the first time, but once you have found it, you will never have a problem again.  When facing the entrance to the pantheon, like the in the picture below, walk to the side street that runs along the right side of the building.  Perpendicular to this, you will see a small side street called Piazza Sant'Eustachio.  If in doubt, ask any Roman and they will point you in the right direction.

Once you get to the end of the street, you will see a little shop on this tiny piazza, that is absolutely mobbed.  We went there on a Sunday in January 2010, the place was packed to the gills with Italians who were enjoying the day.  It was a scrum to get to the cashier, and then a scrum to get to the bar, but it was a lot of fun as always.  You can see in the picture below, that the line snakes outside the door.

The house specialty is the "gran caffe."  This is a frothy, sweetened, double espresso.  No one knows exactly how they make this, and they would like to keep it that way.  There is a metal divider that blocks the espresso machine from the side, so you can't tell what they are doing when they make the coffee.  A gran caffe is pictured below.

I find the gran caffe a little sweet, but it is definitely very good.  The texture is very frothy, and a is hauntingly good.  If you want the gran caffe without out sugar, you can order it "senza zucchero."  They sell bags of coffee, and nice souvenirs as well.  Don't forget a back for me, your culinary advisor!

Tazza d'Oro

If you look left, when facing the pantheon (the same picture from above) you will be able to see Tazza d'Oro.  Tazza d'oro means cup of gold.

This is a larger bar than Sant Eustachio.  It feels more like a real working bar that is for the Romans.  Tazza d'oro has been in the same spot roasting there coffee on site since the 40's.  They actually have a second location in Fiumucino airport.  If you are lucky enough to arrive through that gate, get yourself a cafe, and you will know that you are in Rome.  Tazza d'oro also has some nice souvenirs.  Be sure to check out the roaster on the left side of the shop.

A picture of an espresso is below.

In truth, this is my preferred of the 2 bars.  I like that it a real working bar for romans.  The espresso is fantastic, and it is a little less of a hassle as it is bigger.  But, if you are a coffee fan, definitely try both!

Via Sardegna, 9/21

On our last trip in 2009 I found a bar somewhat near our hotel that was definitely worth the walk.  Our hotel, the Hotel Eden, was in the Via Veneto area, where a lot of hotels are located.  The owner was a very nice woman, who worked the cash register each time I was there.  If you can find a bar of this quality near your hotel, you are in business.  This is the perfect way to start the day for breakfast.

Pictured above is my breakfast from the day I went.  Un caffe, uno cornetto and una spremuta di arancia.  Cornetto is the Italian version of a croissant, the cafe is self explanatory, and the spremuta is another Italian treat.  Most good bars will sell succa di arancia as well as spremuta di arancia.  Succa do arancia is regular orange juice, while spremuta is squeezed on premises.  The spremuta is a little pricey, but definitely worth the extra charge.

Roma - Dal Bolognese

Dal Bolognese 

Piazza del Popolo 1-2, Rome

Dal Bolognese is a very famous restaurant on the Piazza del Popolo.  The Piazza del Popolo is nice piazza not far from the Spanish steps.  In between the piazza and the steps runs Via Babuino, which is home to the high end shopping in Rome.  Also, right near here is the Hotel Russie, which is a beautiful, modern hotel where you might want to stop for a drink.  In the piazza is a huge Bernini fountain with a sculpture of the lupa feeding remus and romulus.  

Dal Bolognese was our first lunch in Rome on our honeymoon in 2005.  We ended up there somewhat by accident, as I asked our concierge to send us somewhere very, "Roman." I was looking for a trattoria that would have saltimbocca, carbonara, amatriciana and those type of things.  Dal Bolognese is NOT the place for those things, but it is certainly very Roman!  We went not really knowing what to expect.  Maurizio made us a reservation, and we arrived at about 12:30 or 1.  We were seated at a nice table outside, while the place was almost empty.  On the way in, I almost wanted to leave after looking at the menu, but smartly Sloan convinced me to stay.  Smart wife, that wife of mine!

Within the next 20 minutes, the place was packed with best looking, wealthiest people in all if Rome.  This was definitely a power lunch spot.  There were what appeared to business men, politicians, rich woman shopping and all the other usual suspects.  Instantly, we were in the place to be, it was true people watching at its best.  The food was good, and the waiters were super nice and very professional.  I don't have any food or restaurant photos, as we probably would have been embarrassed.  

We ate 2 courses, and then I went inside to use the bathroom, and noticed that what everyone was eating inside was bollito misto:  mixed boiled meat.  I decided it was time to double down an order another entree.  This was very, very good.  They served the bollito from a cart with a huge pot of mostarda on the side.  The mostarda is made with candied fruit.  It was great.

I would recommend Dal Bolognese for a weekday lunch.  It is the perfect way to feel fancy during a day of shopping on Babuino and seeing the spanish steps.  You would definitely want to have a reservation, and to be somewhat dressed up.  I dont know exactly what happens at dinner, lunch felt like the place to be, not sure if it is the same energy at night.  

There are 2 grand and famous bars on the piazza that serves coffee and pastries.  The 2 are Rosati and Canova.  I had a great espresso at Rosati on our winter trip in 2009.  They buy espresso from Tazza d'Oro.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Roma - Piperno

Ristorante Piperno  -

Monte dé Cenci, 9 Roma
tel.Linea 1 +39 06
tel.Linea 2 +39 06 68.33.606
fax +39 06

Piperno is the most famous restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome, having been in operation since 1860.  Nowadays, it must be called touristy, but still definitely a place where you can have a really good meal.  We had a very enjoyable, and somewhat decadent lunch there in January 2009.  Piperno serves a purpose as a restaurant that serves the true Roman classics, in a nice atmosphere with very professional service.  In fact, every dish we ate was right out of the Roman greatest hit list.  Each dish was true to type, and very well done.

Of course, I started with a negroni, not becasue it is typically Roman, but because I really like them!  This was the first place I have ever seen a negroni served with olives in the drink.. Definitely different, but good.  We will leave that for my full negroni post, sure to come someday.

One of the top 10 most famous dishes of all of Rome, and certainly the most famous dish of the jewish ghetto is the: carciofi alla giudea.  Directly translated as artichokes in the jewish style.  Piperno is definitely the place to order this dish, in fact it would actually be silly not to.  Two caveats:  1: the artichokes we ate in January were probably frozen, and from nowhere near Rome, and 2: they are very expensive.  They were excellent, but when I ordered the carciofi alla giudea the waiter asked me if I wanted 2.  I responded yes, thinking we would get 2 pieces.  In reality, we got 2 plates with 2 pieces each.  Each plate was E18 or so.  There is definitely no need to have more than one artichoke per person, save room for something else.  The picture is below, they were definitely very, very good.

Next was time for pasta.  Everyone who goes to Rome should be aware of the 3 most traditional Roman pasta dishes.  In no particular order, they are:  bavette cacio e pepe, bucatini all'amatriciana, fettucine carbonara.  At Piperno, I order the bavette, cacio e pepe, pictured below.

As you see, this is a very simple dish.  It is made with olive oil, pecorino cheese (the main grating cheese of Rome, butter and copious amounts of black pepper.  You will see this pasta on menus all over Rome.  This was very good.  

Sloan had the delicious gnocchi pictured below.  For general information, the traditional gnocchi day of Rome is Thursday.  Restaurants all over Rome serve gnocchi as specials only on this one day of the week.  A gnocchi all romana would be a traditional semolina gnocchi, as opposed to potato.

Staying along the lines of local Roman specialities, we then shared a puntarelle con salsa di acchiughe.  Puntarelle is a very bitter green that grows around Roman.  The only thing I can think to compare it to is a leek.  It is very bitter, and very refreshing.  The traditional dressing for this made with anchovy.

For my entree I stuck to another ancient Roman classic: coda alla vaccinara : braised oxtails.  Roman cuisine is very big on secondary cuts of meat, along with organs and other cuts collectively referred to as: il quinto quarter (the 5th quarter).  This food of the poor has over the centuries come to define Roman cuisine.  Oxtails are definitely one of those dishes.  You will see trippa alla romana, pajeta (another tripe like dish) all over town in traditional restaurants.  The oxtails pictured below we very, very good.  It was a lot of work to get the meat of the bone, but it was definitely worth it.

The funniest part of the meal came with the dessert menu.  See the picture below:

That is right, "Fried Grandpas Balls" for dessert.  I guess grandpa should have been a little more help in the kitchen!  I am sure we ordered them, but I don't really remember what the dish was.  If you go, be sure to take a picture!

In summary, we really enjoyed our decadent lunch at Piperno.  It is a great place to taste some real Roman classics.  It is a little stuffy and a little expensive, both of which can be fun. I would consider it a best for a real, sitdown lunch.  It is a nice way to see the jewish ghetto (which isn't really much to see).  It could definitely work for a nice dinner as well.  For dinner, reservations would definitely be recomended.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Firenze - Boboli Gardens

The Boboli Gardens – The boboli gardens is on the left bank of the Arno – or altarno neighborhood.  It is an easy walk from the center of town.  We really, really enjoyed it there.  This was the palace of the DiMedici.  It is an amazing formal garden with views of the duomo.  We definitely recommend it.

Firenze - Gili

Piazza della Repubblica

The Piazza della Repubblica has 4 bars, one on each corner.  All are grand and famous, and have huge outdoors.  We wound up going often to Gili.  Gili is directly across the street from the hotel.   A bar like this is good for coffee, dessert, pastry, a cocktail or seomthing light to eat.  They were open very late, even in January, so it could be a nice adult place for a night cap.  During the day if you want coffee, you should go up the bar, order and drink it there.  The barmen are true pros.