Friday, 23 March 2007

When in Rome

Rome is unusual for an Italian city, in that it is actually quite possible to have a bad meal. As a general rule, the farther away from tourist neighborhoods, the better the food. The problem is that most of Rome is a tourist neighborhood. I generally break Rome down into lunch places and dinner places.

For starters, for lunch go to Sora Margherita in the Ghetto. It is literally a door in a wall in the Piazza Cinque Scuole. In order to get around some arcane Italian regulation they are a "cultural organization," so you need to be a "member" to eat there. What that means in practice is ther you'll need to fill out a "membership card" when you arrive, it's free and takes about two minutes. Once you have, you're a member for life. The place has no decor, the menu changes daily, but it is family run and the food is delicious. I recommend the tagliatelle cacio e pepe con ricotta, the lamb scottaditto, and the carciofi a la giudia (fried whole artichokes). In fact, you're generally safe with those two things everywhere good in Rome.

Also in the ghetto are Vecchia Roma (formal, starched white table cloths, good for dinner) and Giggetto, both of which are very good. But Sora Margherita is THE place in the ghetto. Unfortunately, it's been discovered, so you'll find more than a few tourists there these days, but it hasn't seemed to effect the food yet.

A similar now-discovered secret that I love is Pierluigi - a fantastic fish place that's a little higher end but not super expensive - still mostly Italians. If you're facing the Palazzo Farnese, walk to your right down via Monserrato until you get to Piazza Ricci, the restaurant is on your left on the corner. The octopus Sopresatta is unique and wonderful, the spaghetti a la vongole always fresh and the grilled whole fish is simple and divine. There's another fish restaurant on via Monserrato on your right side just before you get to Pierluigi, at which I've never eaten but which is supposed to be excellent.

When I have one lunch in Rome because I'm using it as a transit spot in or out of Italy, I go to Taverna Romana. It's at 79 Via Madonna dei Monte which is one block to the left (parallel) to the Via Cavour if your back is to the Forum (making it an excellent lunch spot for sight-seeing). It's run by a cantankerous old Roman couple that don't really speak English. The menu is tipica Romana, and the standards are good, particularly the scottaditto, the cacio e pepe, and the carbonara. The house wine is very tasty as well.

Osteria Romanesca in the Campo dei Fiori was a decent trattoria 4 or 5 years ago, very simple and very cheap. The food was super salty, but I like that.

Dal Bolognese near the Piazza del Popolo is a power dinner place, very good food, a bit more formal. not cheap (but not crazy). reservations likely required.

Il Matriciano off the Collo di Rienzo is a big Italian movie industry hangout. The food is excellent, you'll need reservations. The marinated sardines and the bucatini amatriciana are a must.

In the Testaccio district you could try Checchino dal 1887 (they have a website and take reservations by email). It's very, very famous for organ meat, so be careful what you order, but it's a true Roman institution. Not cheap at all, but an experience, and they have a fantastic wine cellar.

There's also a place called Tram Tram that I liked, near the basillica of San Lorenzo, which is out of the way. Not touristy, trendy with locals. The menu is fish-focused. I'd take a cab there and back, as some of the side streets are a bit sketchy at night.

Finally, there's this place Alfredeo e Ada on Banchi Nuovi, 14, Near Castel St. Angelo, that I've been dying to try - little hole in the wall, a bunch of old italian ladies. It doesn't seem to be open all the time and it's hard to find (no sign).

And of course, don't forget gelateria Giolitti near the Pantheon. It's simply fantastic.

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