A Local’s Guide to Eating in Rome

The Tasting Table has some of the best articles.  Now I just need to go back to Italy again.  Bypass the tourist traps and get the inside track on the Eternal City’s best trattorias, pizza spots, and gelato joints

Where to Eat in Rome like a Local

Rome is a city of classic fare and ancient flavors, of cacio e pepe and carbonara, artichokes and wild greens, fire-crisped pizzas and silky gelato—and, of course, divine wine. But Rome is also a city of tourists, which means that an unforgettable meal isn’t always guaranteed in the Eternal City.

“Four million Romans live in Rome, while tourists crowd in the center,” says Count Giovanni Bonmartini Fini, a Roman local and winemaker with a 500-year family history making and exporting Italian Pinot Grigio. “For the best food experiences, get out of the center and experience what we eat in our many neighborhoods.”

Rome is a sprawling tangle of ever-expanding neighborhoods, but despite its growth, there’s still a simple, old-world mentality when it comes to culinary culture.

“Our foundation is [we eat] what’s in season, what’s nearby. We’ve never left that,” Bonmartini Fini says. He’s a locavore without trying; seasonality dictates dinner. “People talk about the local food movement, and that’s [a mindset] that has always been here. When it’s artichoke season, everyone is eating artichoke. Pizza with artichoke, salad with artichoke, pasta with artichoke, meat with artichoke.”

Go to one of Rome’s famed open-air markets, and you can tell the time of year by what’s in stock. “My absolute favorite market is one of the ugliest, but it has incredible options: Il Mercato di Via Riano near Ponte Milvio [a 2,000-year-old Roman pedestrian bridge]. Some of my favorite stands are the fresh seafood caught by brothers and wild mushrooms harvested by a little old lady,” Bonmartini Fini says.

Bonmartini Fini insists on being properly caffeinated before food shopping—and what Italian would disagree? He’s devoted to his neighborhood espresso bar in the leafy residential area of Parioli. “Il Cigno is a five-minute walk from my home and run by my friends. It has the best macchiato and pastries. My absolute favorites are the cornetto integrale con miele, a whole-wheat, honey-filled croissant, or the decadently amazing cornetto alle mandorle, a marzipan-filled croissant.”

Besides mainlining shots of espresso (always drunk standing up at the counter), Romans stay hydrated via the city’s many ice-cold, spring-fresh drinking fountains nicknamed nasoni, or “big noses.”

But back to stuffing our faces: There’s always an Italianate locality to Rome’s dining-out culture: “When we go out to dinner in Rome, it’s not like, ‘Are we going to get Japanese, Indian, Chinese?’ No. The question is: ‘Are we going to eat Tuscan, Sardinian, Piedmontese, Umbrian, Roman?'” Bonmartini Fini says.

More often than not, the answer is Roman. Some of the very best Cucina Romana is casual. For the city’s famous thin-crust pizzas, Bonmartini Fini lets his two teenage boys choose: “Al Gallo Rosso is packed with Roman teens and has a paper-thin crust, wood-oven pizzas. You can’t spend more than 15 bucks there.

“If my wife, Scilla, decides, it’s La Sagrestia, located on the side of the Pantheon, a non-touristy pick in a tourist-dominated area.”

For special occasions, the choice is usually seafood, since the fish is shockingly fresh—and even more shockingly expensive. (It’s often charged by weight at a restaurant.) “Scilla and I love to celebrate down the street from our home at Ai Piani, a wonderful Sardinian fish restaurant.”

There are plenty of spots for native dishes like Rome’s classic carbonara, which gets its velvety texture from farm-fresh, raw egg yolks cooked into the still-hot pasta. (Unlike in America, there’s no cream in sight.) “If you ask 10 Romans where to get the best carbonara, you will get 10 different answers. The dish is always made with just eggs and bacon, but every carbonara is different because we have six different ways of saying ‘bacon’ in Italian.

“My favorite is always Trattoria Perilli in Testaccio,” Bonmartini Fini says. Set in a working-class neighborhood, the often-packed Perilli’s is where the owner—a gentleman well into his 90s—can still be found bringing out dishes of carbonara and bottles of wine. Most of the wine Bonmartini Fini makes under his Barone Fini brand is exported to the U.S., but Perilli’s serves Barone Fini Valdadige Pinot Grigio alongside its legendary rigatoni alla carbonara.

Since 1497, the Bonmartini Fini family has been producing Pinot Grigio high in the Italian Alps, where the grapes grow natively and superiorly. Because of this and the naturalist cultivation methods, Barone Fini Pinot Grigio has a DOC designation, a stamp of integrity and authenticity stipulated by the Italian government. DOC regulations preserve the quality of traditional gastronomic products all across Italy “It’s not an opinion; this is a government distinction,” Bonmartini Fini explains.

In Rome, wine is drunk to complement food—its intention isn’t to dominate the meal, but instead to improve it. Coupling heavy pasta with a refreshingly acidic grape varietal is one move you’ll see replicated night after night in Rome. “You need acid and crispness to cut and clean your palate. And the Pinot Grigios from this area [Trentino-Alto Adige]—even though they’re naturally balanced with minerality—they still have the strength to clean your palate.”

Another debate among Romans is the superlative gelato shop. “Every Roman has their own version of the best. The most famous is Giolitti, which is over a hundred years old.” This less-than-secret, old-world gelateria is worth the hype with an array of flavors including Italian wedding cake, Champagne, and stracciatella (a more serious version of chocolate chip). Bonmartini Fini has his own trick: “I always get three different chocolates on a cone.”

A dinner out in Rome is bookended by a classic aperitivo and digestivo. For an aperitivo, Bonmartini Fini drinks a spritz or a glass of bubbly Franciacorta (a sparkling wine from Italy’s Lake District) at the Hotel Eden’s rooftop bar (“the best view of Rome”) or, if he’s in the mood for something buzzy, at Ciampini in Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina. As for a post-dinner digestivo, he turns to a bittersweet amaro, a dark, herbal liqueur that’s increasingly popular stateside.
The one thing Bonmartini Fini can’t help you within Rome? Wine bars. “Listen, I make my own wine, so I’m not so good at going to enotecas.”

Fair enough.

A Local’s Guide to Eating in Rome

Road Trip: The Great Myth

Starting a “Road Trip” is exciting.  Ending a road trip is heaven. That is why there have been no posts on my blog for a while.  We went on a “Road Trip”.  We left on a lovely sunny day in Kingston and headed out to Cannon Beach, Oregon.

About an hour into the journey it started raining and continued raining the rest of the way to Cannon Beach.  I had wanted to go to EVOO, a cooking school where you cook and eat your dinner, but of course the day we arrived they did a lunch class.

Searching “TripAdvisor” online we found a restaurant that sounded heavenly.  Newman’s at 988, is a small cozy restaurant in the main part of town, run by a successful chef, John C. Newman C.E.C.  We had hope to walk to the restaurant, but it was pouring buckets. We were the first to arrive at 6:15 PM and were not joined by others for a while.  I saw a lovely Brunelo on the menu, so we ordered this delightful wine.  We discovered this wine in Florence several years ago.  After touring all day, we would find a small intimate cafe and share a bottle.  The one served here is on equal par with any we had in Italy.  IMG_5291

I love scallops and theirs sounded delish, so that was my choice for appetizer.

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And yes, it was as totally delicious as it looks.  I totally savored the first course.

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For my main course I ordered the duck, as I don’t usually cook it, but love it for a festive occasion, and after driving all day in the rain, anything deserved to be a celebration.  It was beautifully presented and very, very raw in the center.  I ate around the edges and decided not to say anything.  IMG_5297

Michael, my meat eating husband had a lovely sirloin and enjoyed his meal much more than I.  We ventured back to the room and watched a beautiful sunset, as it was still pouring down rain, so a walk on the beach was sort of out of the question.

Interesting fact:  Find your rooms via TripAdvisor, but book through the hotel. Booking, TripAdvisor and Expedia, etc get a certain rate, not always better, a certain amount,of rooms, usually ones that will not fill and charge you the same.  I asked when we checked into our room if they had any view rooms, as we could not get one online and they said of course and the view above is from the room.

We continued our drive in lovely weather the next day:

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Doesn’t this look like a fun road trip. Michael drove and I played “Angry Birds” on my iPad.  Michael likes to drive and I have to say I do NOT like mountain roads or rain, or big trucks.  I am beginning to wonder about the logic of a “Road Trip”.  My idea of a road trip is stop every few hours, find something interesting and meander for a while.  His idea is to have a destination and get there.

Arriving in Coos Bay, which we changed to at the last minute, we stayed (no photos please) at a hotel one step above a Motel 6, (if you remember those) right on the highway, with lots of road noise and no movies to watch.  We did find a lovely (sort of ) local restaurant that served Escargot and home made Gnocchi.  Only problem was it was way too rich.  I think I ate a pound of butter by myself with the meal.  IMG_2911

The best part of the restaurant, was the wine bottle water fountain that separated the bar from the entry.  We ate in the bar, as there was a party in the other room.  I have always wondered why some chefs think the richer the dish the better.  Moderation is lovely to me.  I didn’t photo the food, and really did not feel well later from all the butter. I cook with butter, but a little butter is a little better.

On to San Jose to pick up my wonderful six year granddaughter after a stop in my home town, Colusa, California for my 50 year high school reunion. That is another story for another time.

In San Jose we stayed in a lovely old mansion called the Dolce Hayes Mansion.  I wish we had more time to spend there, as it was elegant and very well maintained.  We headed to Hearst’s Castle in the morning with my granddaughter in tow.

I remember thinking Hearst’s Castle was amazing when I was young and honestly wish I had not gone back.  As an adult having studied design and art, I found it a strange conglomeration of what wealth with little taste could put together.  I know most people think it is amazing.  I think it is amazing that someone would take that much uncoordinated antique pieces and architectural pieces to the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere.  What I loved as I child, I felt totally lacked cohesion and/or taste as an educated adult.  Showy and sensational, but cold and lonely at the top of the world.

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Claire was bored with all of the tour and I had to laugh, when the tour guide kept pronouncing wainscoting – wainscoating.  If you are going to be a docent, then know your words.  She kept referring to parties they had at the castle as if she were part of them.  I wanted to say, if you want to pretend, then dress the part.  Put on a party dress and make us feel part of the adventure.  Not so…..

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The lilies and the view were the best part of the day for me.  The ride up the side of the mountain was not.

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The dinner table with Heinz and Heinz somehow did not appeal to my artistic senses, so I was glad when we took the winding trip down the hill and the tour was over.  I wish I would never have gone back and have the magic be gone from my youthful memories.

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The best part of the day for me, was the opportunity to see the Elephant Seals at the beach.  There are tons of them, and they wobble up and out of the surf and fan each other with sand.

We were going to go to The Sea Chest Oyster Bar for dinner, but read it was NOT kid friendly and had about 100 people waiting outside to get in.  We ate at the next one down the road, where the oysters were fresh and everything else was fried.  I saw more fried food on this trip than anywhere in the last five years.  I am not a fan of fried food, unless it is delicate and delicious.  I did not encounter that on our journey.

From San Simeon we drove to Napa to go to two kid friendly wineries.  Sterling winery has a fun gondola that takes you to the top, where for $50 per person you sample nine different wines and get to keep the Reidel wine glass.  Claire got a “throwaway” backpack and treats for $25.  I had to laugh, as when we went there when I was in college, the drinks and ride were free, but you had to pay for the food.  Time changes things.  Here we are, finally enjoying the sunshine at the top of Sterling.  My son, Chadwyck joined us for the day.

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From there we went to Castillo de Amoroso, which is an impressive remake of an Italian Castle.  It has only been there a few years, but is very popular with the overseas crowd, that lined the steps taking selfies, and literally would not let you get by.

The castle winery was beautiful and the tasting room was down-under, but I did not drink the wines in the tasting, as I did not enjoy them.  I think they sell the adventure hear, not the wine.

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was ready to head home, rather than go through the Gold Country, which is what I had originally planned as the basis of our trip.  It would be three more stops and I had discovered by then, my husband was not big on impromptu stops, so we most likely would have driven through the gold country.  We stayed another night in Napa at the Hampton Inn.  It is not in the heart of anything, but was the only room we could get in the area.  It was not most expensive hotel of the trip, and although we enjoyed the outdoor fireplace with a bottle of wine (or two), it was certainly not the nicest.

Next morning we headed out to on our way home, spending the night in Grant’s Pass at WeAskU Inn, a rustic hotel on the Rogue River where Clark Gable supposedly stayed with Greta Garbo.  Love this little place right on the river with a cocktail hour and a great breakfast.

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On our last (hurrah) night on the road, we went to dinner at The River’s Edge where Claire could have clams  (her favorite) Oh my gosh, they are all gone! IMG_5782

I could have scallops one more time, and these were wonderful:

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And since Claire is the world’s best traveler, she got to have dessert!

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As she finished she stated very calmly: “Now I am all sugared up!”.

We were glad to be on the last leg of our “Road Trip” and home is always a wonderful place to go.  Will we do another field trip?  Not in my lifetime!

Let’s see, I gained about five pounds, got really tired of sitting in a car, and really wonder why people think this is a great idea.  Fly somewhere nice, stay in the same hotel, rent a car or car and driver and have a lot more fun!

 

Road Trip: The Great Myth