Archives for category: Dessert

We knew we couldn’t leave without adding a blog post about our favorite restaurants in Rome.

But it isn’t so easy to make recommendations here. In fact, there are probably tens of thousands of pages of books and blogs dedicated to eating in Rome. It’s tricky because the center of the city, where most visitors stay, is not home to great dining. Most of our favorite places are not near the parts of town where visitors are likely to stay. Also, we tend to like osterie or trattorie, not ristoranti. That means the places we enjoy the most are casual places with traditional food, not the more formal haute-cuisine places with white table cloths.

The best dining advice we can offer is to follow the advice of Katie Parla or Elizabeth Minchilli—purchasing their apps is well worth it. They included GPS enabled maps so that you can find great places to eat or drink while you are out and about, even without any service on your phone/ipad:

http://www.parlafood.com/rome-for-foodies/

http://www.elizabethminchilliinrome.com/p/food-guide-eat-rome.html

But whatever you do, don’t trust web sites like TripAdvisor. We have found such sites to be great for hotels, where people share common standards and expectations, but are not useful for restaurants. For example, many tourists may not appreciate the culture of a trattoria and rate a great food place poorly or a mediocre food place well because it feels familiar. It is important to understand the ground rules here. You are not the customer who is always right; rather, you are a guest who is inconveniencing the waiter. No, the place serving the food of Lazio cannot prepare pesto for you, nor can they do the spaghetti carbonara without bacon or salt, or serve the fish before the pasta course. The waiter will disappear after your food arrives. This is not intended to make it “impossible to find a waiter” or ignore you. Instead, they wish to leave you alone to enjoy your meal and your company, and will never offer to bring the check until you intentionally seek them out; to do otherwise would be rude and make you feel rushed. If you are older than ten years of age and show up wearing short pants and order a diet coke, you will be viewed as the culinary equivalent of a barbarian, and may be treated as such. And yes, you may get a menu, but it will be largely irrelevant to what is currently offered. Instead, you introduce yourself to the waiter, chat, and let him (and rarely, her) guide you through the meal.

What follows are the places where we have most enjoyed our meals together! Many of these restaurants have surfaced in earlier blog posts.

They are loosely organized by area of the city. We have included URLs where possible; if none is available, an address is provided. Note that all restaurants have at least one closing day a week, and that pizza is usually not served at lunch (exceptions noted). Note also that in most cases, the house wine will be very good (despite being just a few euros for a carafe or bottle; you can also get half or quarter carafes), and highly appropriate for the food served, as it comes from the same region as the food. Lunch is generally served from 1-3pm and dinner from 8pm until early the next day. It is considered polite to make a reservation, even if it means calling just before you arrive. Once you do, you can arrive any time and not worry about being late, because the table is yours for the  afternoon or evening.

Spagna/Popolo (our neighborhood):

Pizza Rustica: Hole in the wall pizza al taglio place (take-out pizza by the slice), easy lunch or dinner. On Via Flaminia just north of Piazza del Popolo, next to the wonderful Castroni fancy foods store (Via Flaminia 42).

Dal Pollarolo 1936: Our go-to place in the ‘hood. Very reliably good pizzas and pastas and salad, and they are famous for their roasted chicken and potatoes (one of Eli and Jenny’s favorite meals). Also open very early for dinner if necessary. http://www.dalpollarolo1936.it/

Ristorante Nino: The area around the Spanish Steps is a bit of a good-food desert, because there are so many horrible restaurants catering to tourists. This lovely Tuscan restaurant is a bit more expensive than our usual haunts but the food is great. Nell lives for their cannellini beans in olive oil, and Eli recommends the fried chicken. Ask to see the Italian menu too because the English version may not have all the specials. http://www.ristorantenino.it/

Ad Hoc: This is one of the few fancier restaurants that we tried and really enjoyed. Not the Roman classics, but very well prepared dishes and a great wine list. Reservations possible by internet. http://www.ristoranteadhoc.com/inglese/home.htm

Settimio all’Arancio: Ristorante with a very good seafood selection and nice outdoor seating. Pricier than most of the others on this list. Via dell’arancio 50-52.

Pizzeria al Leoncino: Crowded with locals, serves Roman-style pizza at both lunch and dinner. Get there at around 6:30 if you don’t want to have to wait a long time to get in. Via del Leoncino 28.

Gran Caffè Esperia: Technically not in our neighborhood, but in Prati right across the river from the Ara Pacis museum. Great café, but what we especially love for lunch is their tavola calda (hot table), which is essentially an upscale cafeteria. Wonderful selection of antipasti , great vegetables and pasta dishes; you pay for however many dishes you try. Lungotevere dei Mellini, 1.

Babette: Another lunch favorite, known for its simple but sumptuous prix fixe buffet and beautiful outdoor dining area. Reserve ahead. http://www.babetteristorante.it/index.asp?id=99&lang=eng

Pantheon

Trattoria da Gino: Classic Roman trattoria, with the nicest waiter in Rome (Mario). Their house special pasta is a long pasta (tonnarelli, a local pasta shape) prepared with peas, mushrooms, and meat of some sort (they will make it vegetarian): buonissimo! Eli swears by their veal steak. Cash only. Reserve well in advance. Vicolo Rosini, 4.

Al Duello: A lovely newish ristorante owned by a young couple – he serves as chef de cuisine, she (Martina) is the maître d’ and sommelier and dessert chef. Warm and very friendly ambience, more upscale than our other haunts. We have taken or sent many out of town guests here and none of us has ever had a dish that was less than great. Their olive oil is truly special. Only 8 tables, so reserve ahead. And let Martina select a wine for you: it will be inexpensive and excellent. http://www.ristorantealduelloroma.com/

Enoteca Corsi: Enoteca Corsi is a workingman’s wine bar that also served a few perfect dishes at lunchtime. It was our go-to lunch spot, but last month it appeared in a Rick Steves guidebook and now it is packed with tourists. But the food is still great, and the daughters of the proprietor, trained sommeliers, are warm and helpful. Best faro soup and best eggplant parmigiana we’ve ever had (other than our friend Pat Mulvey’s). http://www.enotecacorsi.com/

Piazza Navona

Baffetto1 and Baffetto2: Eli and Nell consider this to be the best pizza in Rome. The kids also think the waiters are nice. The grownups don’t entirely agree on either count, but we had great dinners at Baffetto1 almost every Wednesday night this spring with our friends Monica, Patrik, Michael, and Daniel. Baffetto2 takes reservations. http://www.pizzeriabaffetto.it/

A related restaurant around the corner from Baffetto1 (owned by Baffetto’s son), Dal Paino, is also excellent and much less chaotic than Baffetto1.

Ristorante Lagana: This restaurant features food from Calabria, at the tip of the boot in Italy. The waiter, Roberto, is great and we have never ordered off a menu here. Highlights are the copious antipasti, pasta with seafood (whatever is fresh), and the grilled calamari. A little pricier than most of the others on the list. But just tell Roberto generally what you want (pasta, seafood, etc) and let him choose for you. Don’t miss the antipasti, but tell him “just a little” because you’ll get a lot. http://www.ristorantelagana.it/index.html

Orso 80: This restaurant is known for its antipasti. When we go, we don’t order anything else and just waive the menus away. Dish after dish arrives, including a salad with cubes of hard cheese and celery, fresh mozzarella, and grilled and marinated vegetables of all kinds. They usually also include a variety of meat-based antipasti but are always willing to serve us a meat-free spread. So many dishes arrive, they start stacking them on top of each other as the table fills. Totally simple and fun food.

Campo di Fiori

Roscioli: One of the most famous restaurants in Rome, and on every food writer’s top restaurant list, but still remarkably down to earth (if you don’t mind paying 20 Euro for a ball of the most amazing burrata mozzarella you’ve ever had). The front of the restaurant is a cheese and salami store, and around the corner is their bakery.  The cooking is very simple but the ingredients used are spectacular. Arguably the best cacio e pepe (pasta with sheep cheese and pepper, a canonical Roman dish) in town.  http://www.salumeriaroscioli.com/

Filetti di Baccala: Fried cod served in napkins, plus really great puntarella salad with anchovy dressing. It’s not a meal for the health conscious, but once in a while, it’s quite a treat! If you walk back to the kitchen you can buy your fish take-out.  Largo dei Librari 88.

The Jewish Ghetto has several fun restaurants; we like Trattoria del Ghetto (http://www.latavernadelghetto.com/ ) and Sora Margherita (Piazza delle Cinque Scole 30). The iconic food (in season) is fried artichokes; they are squashed and taste like the best chips you’ve ever had. Ricotta chocolate tart is amazing.

This is also the highest concentration of great bakeries in Rome: Forno di Roscioli (best pizza rosso), Antico Forno di Campo Di Fiori (best pizza bianco and sandwiches), Il Fornaio (great cookies and sweets), and the Forno del Ghetto for Jewish specialties (including so-called Jewish pizza, a sweet thick dough with dried fruits and nuts).

Monti:

Doozo: We really missed Japanese, Korean, and Mexican food this year. Once in a while, we steeled our wallets for a trip to dine at Doozo. This Japanese restaurant is housed in a charming Japanese bookstore and gallery, and diners can choose to either eat in the shop itself or in the lovely garden behind the bookstore. Really, really fantastic food. http://www.doozo.it/

La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali: By all rights, this should be a tourist trap. It’s nestled a block from the Forum and 3 blocks from the Colosseum. But the pasta is house-made and outstanding, as is the service. The perfect spot for a lunch break while touring the major sites of Ancient Rome, with friendly service. http://www.latavernadeiforiimperiali.com/

Trastevere:

Mani in Pasta: Simple, bustling, tiny, and excellent pasta as per the name. Remarkably inexpensive given its Trastevere location. Dining room is still fairly empty at 9pm, then the buzz starts as the tables fill. Reservations essential. http://www.lemaniinpasta.com/home.htm

Roma Sparita: Known for its cacio e pepe, which is served in a bowl made from parmigiano. On a beautiful piazza with outdoor seating (and room for kids to kick a ball around). There’s been some drama about the fact that they may be issuing a service charge to foreigners but not to locals, which is problematic. http://www.parlafood.com/roma-sparita-from-hit-list-to-shit-list/

Assinocotta: This restaurant is small and intimate, with an open kitchen. It doesn’t really get hopping until quite late so we only managed to go once this year. But the children still talk about their salads and desserts there (including gelato stuffed into fruits and then frozen: kiwis, figs, strawberries…). http://www.asinocotto.com/ristorante.htm

Via Veneto area (American Embassy)

Cantina Cantinari: On Thursday (dinners), Fridays, and Saturdays, they serve an all fish/seafood menu. We love sitting outside and enjoying the view of lovely Piazza Salustio, and drinking their house-bottled wine from Le Marche. In fact, we chose to have lunch at this restaurant for our last lunch in Rome. A few steps away is Gelateria I Caruso.

Pizzeria San Marco: This is the most American feeling restaurant we’ve enjoyed in Rome. Big menu and, unusual for Rome, composed salads. They also have a more authentic feeling restaurant in Prati, with nice outdoor seating on a quiet street. Another big draw to the Prati location is that it’s around the corner from the Gelateria Gracchi.

Colline Emiliane.
 Some of the best fresh pasta we ate in Rome. This is a small family run restaurant serving the food of the Emiliana region. Few tables, so book ahead. Most restaurants in Rome are closed on Sunday, but these guys are open! http://www.ristorantebolognesearoma.com/

Testaccio:

Volpetti Piu: This tavola calda is extremely well known, as it is the dine-in outpost of the legendary Volpetti fancy food store. We enjoyed some great lunches grazing the offerings here. http://www.volpetti.com/vis_dettaglio.php?primo_livello=menu&id_livello=804

Flavio al Velavevodetto: Built into the side of the ancient garbage dump that is now Mount Testacchio, this restaurant has a following in the Slow Food community. The windows look directly out onto some of the ancient garbage (pieces of broken crockery), the pasta is house-made, and the service is warm and accommodating. http://www.flavioalvelavevodetto.it/

 

Proximal to Vatican/Castel St-Angelo

Da Cesare: An excellent option for Tuscan food, with probably the best fish and seafood in the city. The waitstaff are very professional but also great with kids. 10 minute walk from the Vatican museum, and open for a late lunch and open Sundays. http://www.ristorantecesare.com/

Pizzerium: Our choice for our last dinner in Rome. Pizza al taglio with the utmost inventiveness. The dough comes from a starter with roots in ancient Umbria (supposedly), and it is supple and thick. The toppings range from the simple to the divine – even the simple is divine. At the Cipro metro stop, 10 minutes walk from the Vatican Museum entrance. http://www.parlafood.com/pizzarium-reopens-today-in-rome/

 

Ponte Milvio:

Siciliainbocca: Beautiful Sicilian restaurant. The room is tiled in sunny yellows and oranges, and the staff is extremely friendly. As befits a Sicilian restaurant, their specialty is seafood. We love the Fritti di Primavera, which is a huge platter of delicately fried tendrils of zucchini and calamari. Eli always orders their grilled sea bass. Their cold antipasti di mare are great. And the desserts are amongst the best in Rome, with a focus on citrus. We chose this restaurant for our bonus lunch when our flight home was cancelled today. http://www.siciliainboccaweb.com/

Da Gnegno: Very downscale trattoria, no menus, 3 choices of primi/secondi, and an admittedly grubby bathroom, but the food is truly spectacular. Each bite is to be savored. Via Prati della Farnesina, 10/12. Have coffee afterwards at Gelateria Mondi!

Antica Trattoria da Pallotta: This historical landmark trattoria (it has been open since 1820) has reliably excellent pastas (especially the gnocchi with sage and butter) and very nice antipasti/desserts. But the real treat is the setting. The restaurant is basically a courtyard with a roof made of vines and winding tree branches. Beautiful on a nice day and a few steps from Gelateria Mondi. Piazzale Ponte Milvio 22

Nomentana:

La Mora: This Tuscan restaurant/pizzeria is at Piazza Crati, far from the center of town and the tourists. One of our favorite pizzerias in Rome. The pizza with radicchio (wild endive) is especially great, as is their porcini mushroom, which sometimes appears as a special. Just down the block is Café Cremolata which serves cremolata (crushed frozen fruit), which is a perfect dessert after enjoying one of the thin-crust pizzas. Also nearby are the Catacombs of Proscilla, which is worth a visit.

New to Us:

These are two places that we only visited once, so we really can’t call them favorites. But we really enjoyed them and would gladly return.

Trattoria Da Luigi  is on the Piazza Sforza Cesarini, which is just off Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Our friends Hisham and Maria took us here for our goodbye dinner, and we absolutely loved it. It’s a solid place with a mostly (but not exclusively) Roman menu and reasonable value given the excellent seafood. The patio area outside in front of the pretty piazza, especially when the weather turns warmer, is lovely and festive. www.trattoriadaluigi.com/index.html

Armando al Pantheon. This family-run trattoria is just next door to the Pantheon. And you’d think in such a touristy area, the place would be horrible and over-priced. But quite the opposite! Yes, the place has a lot of tourists, but also a following of locals who come for the seasonal Roman classics. The food is excellent old school and the service is warm. It is fun to sit and watch the constant, heavy stream of people without reservations being turned away at the door—don’t be among them and reserve ahead. http://www.armandoalpantheon.it/

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When we first arrived in Rome, there were many family debates about which place served the BEST gelato. But this discussion soon ended for the same reason that discussions about politics and religion are often avoided in families: no one was about to change their mind, and each of us defended our opinions with fervor.

Over time—and many scoops of gelato– we came to appreciate a few realities about the limitations of designating any one gelato as the BEST.

First, everyone has slightly different tastes, and a particular style or preparation of gelato might appeal to one person more than another. Second, we have learned that some gelaterias are better at some flavors than others—maybe one really shines with fruit flavors whereas others hit their high mark on nut flavors.

So we decided that the search for a BEST gelato was misguided, or at least futile . . .especially with so many outstanding exemplars in this city. But we also had an urge to gather some data, because we are inevitably asked: “What is your favorite gelato place in Rome?”

We wanted to pseudo-systematically evaluate the gelaterias of Rome. And we even (briefly) considered covering a true range or sample of establishments. But life is short and our time here shorter. Therefore, we decided to work with a restricted range. We culled lists from our favorite food bloggers and established dining guides including (Tavole Romane, Katie Parla, NileGuide, Gambero Rosso, Italian Linguini – Tempo di gelato). From these sources and others, we generated a list of any gelateria that made it onto any reputable food writers’ list of favorites. So remember that any place on our list is going to be pretty darn good!

We established a rating scale from 0 to 10. But because we were tasting gelati that would ALL be excellent, we adjusted the scale accordingly. Thus, the lowest score of a “1” meant Good But Not Memorable, the midpoint was Really Good, a “7” was Amazing and by the time we got to a “10” our socks really needed to be knocked off.

We evaluated separately TASTE, VARIETY of FLAVORS OFFERED, SERVICE, and assigned an OVERALL score that did not need to be additive or an average of the other scores.

“Taste” is an obvious category. We decided to also rate “Variety” and “Service”, but not let them necessarily influence our final scores for a few reasons. First, we agreed that there are times when it is good to have lots of choices. Maybe you are with a group and people might like different flavors, maybe you aren’t sure what you are in the mood for, or maybe it is just fun to peruse the case and see the offerings. But we also knew of places that only offer a few flavors at a time, and what they offer is outstanding.

Service did end up being important to us and influenced our gelato experience. It started to factor into our decisions about which place we wanted to go to. For example, there is a really cute Sicilian gelateria right around the corner from our house. We must have made 30 visits there within a short period of time, always ordered from the same lady, and never once did she show a glimmer of recognition or even a smile. A very fancy and famous place down the road, San Crispino, has okay gelato, but the most unpleasant employees we have ever encountered in Italy.  At one point we decided to never give them our business again because it just wasn’t fun and that makes the gelato less enjoyable. In contrast, a visit to Il Gelato di Claudio Torcè has felt like visiting the home of a friend. Rocco behind the counter always offers a warm greeting to our visiting guests, offers us a little taste before we order a new flavor that he thinks might not be for everyone, and even gave the kids a free scoop when they reported perfect scores on their math or spelling tests. Really, shouldn’t gelato always be fun? But we kept these scores separate because there is no notion of “customer service” here, and Italians would take no notice of surly staff—they just go for the food.

Nell was our most consistent taster: after a year here and what must amount to literally hundreds of scoops of gelato, she has never ordered anything but chocolate (with one exception). She argues that her tastings do reflect variety, as she has had Intense Chocolate, Madagascar Chocolate, Chocolate Cinnamon, etc. But because everyone else tasted across the gustatory board, Nell at least was comparing oranges with oranges (or chocolate with chocolate) across establishments. So her scores probably have less noise.

And here are two related “insider tips.” Although it might sound strange, on hot days here, I longed for a scoop of sedano (celery) gelato from Il Gelato. It isn’t an after dinner dessert, but a late afternoon refreshment, and it is wonderful and indeed thoroughly refreshing. There is also an Il Gelato outpost a few blocks from the base of the Circo Massimo on Vialle Aventino—perfect for a sightseeing break. Second, although this post is limited to gelato, we often re-routed ourselves to ensure we passed by Gelateria Corona for granite (a cup full of icy fruit). Corona serves up what we all agree is the best granite in the city. (And we have our friend Monica to thank for clueing us in to this joy).

Here are our results. Happy licking.

–Seth

Seth’s Top Picks:

1. I Mannari

2. (tie) Il Gelato di Claudio Torce’

2. (tie) Gracchi

3. Neve de Latte

4. Tony

5. Gelateria del Pigneto

Nell’s Top Picks:

1. Il Gelato di Claudio Torce’

2. I Mannari

3. (tie) Tony

3. (tie) Gracchi

4. Alberto Pica

5. Duse

Jenny’s Top Picks:

1. Gracchi

2. I Mannari

3. Corona

4. Mondi

5. Alberto Pica

Eli’s Top Picks:

1. Il Gelato di Claudio Torce’

2. Gracchi

3. I Mannari

4. Tony

5. (tie) Mondi

5. (tie) Fata Morgana

The complete List (Alphabetical; note new locations always open, so check addresses):

Alberto Pica Campo di Fiori

This gelato has a very creamy and thick texture. We loved the pistachio, crème, chocolate, fragola, and limone. But the Rice & Cinnamon was the real star. . .like frozen rice pudding. This is a classic, old-fashioned place and an authentic experience- not fancy or modern, and a lot of fun.

Canova, Piazza del Popolo

Decent but not memorable. Though some in the family loved their chocolate, and a friend craved it throughout her pregnancy. Other flavors are okay. The strawberry is icy- refreshing but with bits of plain ice in it that we didn’t love. Don’t expect any warmth from the harried servers; the place is flooded with tourists.

Ciampini 
Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina 29

The mango and chocolate were not special. The pistachio was creamy  and pale, almost white and tasted fresh, as did the hazelnut. The most special flavor was frutta di bosco (mixed berry). Portion sizes were generous.

Duse- da Giovanni, via Eleonora Duse 1e (Parioli)

The dark chocolate was really dark- according to Nell it tasted like a cold bar of dark chocolate. What was really special here was the zabaglione  flavor—which locals came up to us to say we had to try. Spectacular. No tourists at this local place! One of the best, but off the beaten path.

Fata Morgana (Prati, Monti)

Great and charming location in Monti! But very small portions. . .the scoop is so small that we felt cheated. Given the fame of this place, we were surprised that some flavors were off: the cinnamon had pieces of bark that were so large they had to be spit out, the fennel/licorice was a bit too  strong and unpleasant, and the crème was just plain bland. Madagascar  chocolate got good reviews, as did black cherry. We had fond memories of this place from a few years ago, but feel that others have now surpassed it.

Fior di Luna, via della Lungaretta 96 (Trastevere)

A humble, no frills place, still frequented by locals despite being on a very  tourist-laden street. No cones. Crème catalane was low on flavor, chocolate was very good. White chocolate was tasty but not memorable. All organic and locally produced and better than others in this high-tourist, generally poor food area.

Gelateria Corona Campo de Fiori/Largo Argentina

Although known for their gelato, the granite at this place is truly outstanding! They have a range of flavors and all are savory and  refreshing. The gelato was excellent, but truly outstanding and special was the lemon/basil. The pear and cinnamon was also fabulous.

Gelateria Frigidarium Via del Governo Vecchio, 112 (Piazza Navona)

The “Fridgidarium” flavor is crème caramel with pieces of biscotti- and is very delicious, if not cloyingly sweet. This place gives you the option of having your scoop of gelato covered in dark or white chocolate after it has been placed in your cup or cone. The gelato is good, albeit a bit on the sweet side.

Gelateria dei Gracchi 
Via dei Gracchi 272 
(Prati)

Don’t leave Rome without going here. The freshness of the flavors and    ingredients is unparalleled. Especially good at fruit flavors- such as peach  in high summer (which made our heads spin) and the fragolini- little  strawberries—in early summer. The pistachio is amazing and the chocolate won rave reviews for its smoothness.

Gelateria del Teatro 
Via di San Simone 70 (Navona-ish)

Fun and unusual flavors such as sage & raspberry, white chocolate & basil. Winning flavor seemed to be Sicilian orange. Great location and fresh ingredients. Truly artisanal.

Gelateria Origini via del Gesu (Pantheon)

Delicious gelato, but nothing extraordinary. Unfriendly service and the  highest price tag of any of the places we visited lead me to conclude that it  is a tasty treat, but not worth going out of my way.

Giolitti, via degli Uffici del Vicario 40 (Pantheon)

You’ll have read about this place in all of the standard guide books- as    have the throngs of other non-locals elbowing their way to the counter    without having paid first (which means they have to elbow their way back out). Fruit and nut flavors are very good and there is tremendous variability in flavors. When I first started tasting gelato, I thought this place was amazing. . .now I realize that it is not exceptional. There is a lot   of hype. Nell did not love the chocolate and Eli threw away his stracciatella without finishing it.

GROM (Ubiquitous)

Eli was not impressed with the stracciatella and Nell found the chocolate sub-par. My vanilla was not great, and my sea salt with caramel was disappointing. One winner: Eli said the red grapefruit was very good.  Overall, a standard chain (they are all over the city) that is fine, but you can do a lot better.

I Caruso. Via Collina, 13-15 (Via Veneto-ish)

Absolutely delicious. Not charming and because the word is out, swarming with tourists. But so good that after finishing, we got back on the line to get  another shared cone of strawberry. Nell was disappointed with the extra dark chocolate, which she found not bitter or dark enough. But – unusual for her- she loved my strawberry, which she described as “like a fresh cold bowl of strawberries.” My peach was also outstanding. We never get whipped cream with our gelato, but did here. The zabaglione is fresh whipped rather than served from a machine. Also has the great advantage  of being around the corner from one of my favorite restos, Cantina Cantarni on Piazza Sallustio, which features the food of the Marche region.

I dolci di checco al Carettiere (Trastevere)

Eli was very disappointed in the stracciatella and gave it a zero; but he said the limone was excellent and gave it a 10. We all found our flavors to be very tasty, just not memorable. Still a decent spot to stop for a treat.

I Mannari, via di Grotta Perfetta 125 (EUR-ish)

Nirvana. The gelato here is made by Giuseppe, former gelato-maker at   Tony. He uses few ingredients in this gelato, basically fruit, sugar, and  water. The favors were so clear and fresh. The mango felt like a scoop of fresh mango, same with the clean, pure banana. The buffalo milk fior de   latte was simply outstanding. This was truly perfect gelato: simple, ideal, refreshing favor—and at bargain prices. The owner tells us that he isn’t in this to build a big business and make money because that would sacrifice  his gelato. I ended up dreaming about this place. It is, unfortunately, not so easy to reach for visitors. But for me, this is the best gelato in Rome.

Il Capriccio di Carla Piazzale Prenestino, 30/31 (Pigneto)

I was a bit annoyed because the person behind the counter wouldn’t offer any suggestions about which flavors were best on the day I visited-  insisting that all were excellent. I’d say all are okay. The fruit flavors were good, but ordinary. The lemon was bland and the melon almost too strong.  The real winner here was the pistachio- rich, smooth, with little bits of nuts- I could really taste the quality if the pistachios.

il Gelato di Claudio Torce’ 
Viale Aventino/ Monte D’Oro (Pza Popolo/Spanish Steps or Circus maximus)

This is our modal place. We visited here more than any other gelateria this year. At any given time, Il Gelato features about 80 different flavors. About  twenty of them are in the chocolate category and Nell says they are all winners. She especially likes chocolate/orange, intense chocolate, 100% cocoa chocolate, and chocolate cinnamon. The cinnamon and ginger is amazing. Eli   says that every flavor here is great. I became addicted to the ginger & cinnamon  (zenzero e canella), celery (sedano), salty peanut, and rice (riso) flavors. Jenny says that this place is one of the things she will miss most when we no longer live here.

* Il gelato di Procopio Piazza Re di Roma

A bustling place that has been around for generations serving locals, this is a fine gelato. There are some special flavors (like wild berry and crème or crème of mini strawberry) that have a little too much overrun; but the air does leave the flavors tasty and light. The regular fruit flavors are pleasant and  refreshing. A no-nonsense, good standby.

La Casa del Cremolato  (fruit frozen): Piazza Crati

Not really gelato, but it is so hard to find true cremolato these days. . .and this place really does it right! Eat at Restaurant Mora, grab a cremolato  here, and then go visit the Catacombs of Priscilla a few blocks away. . .what a perfect afternoon.

La Gelateria del Pigneto, via Pesaro, 13

Few places in Rome still make their gelato the way Fillipo does it here. I arrived in late morning before he had officially opened, and there he was, in the small back kitchen working alone and mixing a batch of pistachio by  hand. His entire kitchen is viewable by anyone standing in front of his cash register. I tried his special flavors, mango with chili and chocolate   with chile. They were both flavorful with a nice kick of heat. Then I went  back to try more traditional flavors. His pistachio was excellent, with nice crunch. But his real winner was the canella (cinnamon), which  was amazing. This is a cute little neighborhood place and a fine artisanal gelato.

Mondi, via Flaminia 468 (Ponte Milvio)

Hidden away near Ponte Milvio, a lovely place that also has great pastry   and chocolate. The coffee gelato was a hit as were the featured combos in their own case. I had “Insuperibile,” which was crème, lemon, strawberry, pistachio, and pieces of meringue. The featured combos all looked  incredible. And all the tasters gave this place rave reviews. In a future post, we’ll highlight three of our favorite restaurants in Rome that are very close to Mondi.

Neve Di Latte 
via Luigi Poletti 6

Just behind the MAXXI museum, this all-natural gelateria is a winner. All of the ingredients are organic and fair-trade, many from small farms. Pistachio  and chocolate were amazing, all of the flavors were rich and decadent. . .this  is pretty close to a perfect gelato, and it is extra fun knowing your purchase is supporting small, dedicated farmers and dairies! Worth the schelp- at the end   of the #2 tram.

Petrini, piazza dell’Alberone 16/A

Although this is not a flavor that appeals to me and I have never ordered it, all the locals were requesting banana and the tub kept emptying and getting replaced as I tried to fight my way to the counter. The banana was a pale off white—a good sign because, when you think about it, the inside of the fruit isn’t bright yellow and the gelato shouldn’t be either. So I tried it and it was magical. Smooth, light, and full of flavor. The fior de latte was also cool and refreshing.  Great gelateria with the crowds spilling onto the on the sidewalk to prove it.

Rivareno, via Magna Grecia 25 (San Giovanni)

Excellent, but tastes more like ice cream than gelato. The vanilla    Madagascar was very good. A special treat: the crème all’aceto Balsamico.   Rather than being blended in, the syrupy Modena balsamic vinegar was spooned   and spread across the top of the crème flavored gelato by the server. Still,   the place felt a bit corporate and low on charm. Not a destination type of   place, but worth trying if you are nearby.

San Crispino (Pantheon)

            This place is a lot of hype, mentioned in every guidebook for Rome. I find it all a little too precious, a lot too expensive, and way too unfriendly. Last  time I was there, I think the server was literally scowling at his customers  while his co-worker pretended not to understand any requests in English (is “chocolate” really that hard when you work in an ice cream shop?).  Whereas Neve di Latte proudly lists the locally procured ingredients in   each of their flavors, San Crispino says their ingredients are a big secret that can’t be shared. Whatever. I do think that their lemon gelato is terrific. But in the end, this place is no better and a bit worse than other places. I prefer to take my business and taste buds elsewhere. Plus, they consider  themselves too fancy to offer cones.

Sciascia Café: Via Fabio Massimo, 80/A. (Prati)

Like a throw-back to another time, this dark wood paneled, old-fashioned candy store exudes charm and nostalgia. . .as does the elderly owner who uses the most respectful forms of Italian (expect “arrividerla” instead of  “arriverderci’). I asked the barista which of the seven flavors available  was the best and he selected for me the pistachio and crème. Indeed,  they were smooth, creamy, flavorful, and simple. Great gelato and ambiance make it a charming place to cool off. I really loved my visit here  and can’t wait to go back. It was delicious, fun and comforting.

Tony (ai Colli Portuensi), largo Missiroli 15/16/17 (Monteverde Nuovo)

This place rocks, pulling among our highest scores on a day when we all arrived almost too hot and cranky to be pleased. It was an excellent value at E1.50 for THREE scoops of gelato. Our favorites were the crème, the   ricotta and cinnamon, the Sicilian pistachio, the stracciatella, and, of course, the chocolate. Judging from the long line of locals waiting to get in, and the pace at which all of the flavors were moving, I don’t think we could    have made a bad choice from the wide variety. The gelato was clean, smooth, and flavorful. A clear favorite and everything we could want in a gelato!

Vice 
Via Gregorio VII 385 (Vatican-ish)

A fancy up-scale place, but the gelato is tasty and some of the unusual  flavor combinations are wonderful. Hits included the Amalfi Lemon and I think   they had the best Madagascar Vanilla that I tasted. A new location is expected   to open in the Center soon.

Places We Couldn’t Get to This Year. . .maybe next time:

Al Settimo Gelo 
Via Vodice 21

Bar Cristiano, piazza Eschilo 84-85

Cremeria Aurelia, via Aurelia 389

Fassi, via Principe Eugenio 65/67

Gori – Piazza Menenio Agrippa, 8

Greed 
via Vestricio Spurinna 97/99

Il gelato di Gatto, via Luigi Capuana 30

Chatting with the chef/owner of I Mannari

I cajoled our friends Maria, Hisham, Laith and Aden into visiting I Mannari after dinner (okay, it wasn’t that hard to do). . .it was so close to their home and they had never been there!

With our food guide, Megan, at the cheese stall.

A high point of our trip to Istanbul was the food. We literally ate our way through the city.

As java-philes, it took us a few days to adapt to being in a tea culture. Surprisingly, Turkish coffee appeared infrequently. But the black tea flowed continuously from samovars, and its scent permeated the air. We are not usually souvenir shoppers, but we purchased a set of the popular glasses that the Turks use to consume their tea as a memento (and because the funky curbed glasses made tea drinking extra fun).

On our second day we tried something novel: We signed up for a food tour. A group of young friends had started a web site called Istanbul Eats to ferret out the most spectacular offbeat culinary finds in the city. They soon found themselves receiving emails from people who had followed their blog requesting help guiding visitors to tiny purveyors around town. So they started putting tours together.

Outside the Spice Market (inside is kitchy; the real action is around the perimeter)

Seth and Nell enjoyed this amazing food tour (Eli was still not feeling well, so Jenny left the food tour halfway through to keep him company in the hotel). Our phenomenal guide, Megan, was an American graduate student finishing her dissertation in linguistic anthropology at the University of Chicago. She was fluent in Turkish, had been living in Istanbul for well over a decade, and was friendly with all of the cooks and purveyors that we visited. I knew we were off to a good start when, 20 minutes into what would turn out to be a seven hour eating tour, Nell pulled me aside to whisper “This is turning out to be a lot more interesting than I thought it was going to be.” After a full day of traversing the city, taking in both information and food, with our bellies aching even more than our tired feet, Nell said that it was by far the best tour she had ever done. I agree!

Buying simit in front of the New Mosque (new because it's only about 500 years old).

We began the morning by stopping at a street vendor for simet that had just been delivered in a bicycle-driven heated box. To describe these round, chewy bread rings as “sesame encrusted bread” or “Turkish bagels” doesn’t do them justice; their flavor and deeply satisfying texture is unlike any other carb we’ve tasted. It may be from the pekmez used in the batter (go Google that one!).

Olives!

We went on to sample some local cheeses, but the real winner is what the Turks call, humbly, “white cheese,” which has the mouth feel of a combination of mild crumbly feta and rich cheddar. It appears on plates all day long, from breakfast through cocktails. We sampled a variety of olives, each one tasting distinct from the next, and then were ushered into a ‘secret’ hallway behind the Spice Bazaar to unwrap what we had purchased thus far and enjoy some tea with our breakfast. Nell discovered Turkish apple tea (which is not at all like the result of an apple-flavored tea bag) and it became her beverage of choice for the duration of our stay.

Nell helping the pide maker, who loves kids!

We next went to a small restaurant where local workmen duck in during the day for red lentil soup. The restaurant doesn’t serve anything else. And why would they? It was perhaps a perfect bowl of soup, with layers of flavor in each spoonful. After that we met a charming pide maker. Pide isn’t just a Turkish version of pizza. It is a thick oblong pita bread that, in our case, was covered with soft and hard white cheese and a spicy green pepper, covered with a raw egg, and baked quickly to order in a wood-burning oven. These canoe-shaped treats hail from Turkey’s Black Sea region.

The candy of sultans.

Our next stop was Altan Sekerleme, the marble-top countered shop of a family that has been making candy since 1865, following the same recipe that was used to serve Ottoman rulers. The Turkish Delight was a sublime, sensual experience, as were the rows of tall glass containers of colorful hard candies in flavors such as bergamot and orange-cinnamon. We stopped into another secluded courtyard to sample some pistachio halvah and have some more tea, before visiting with an amazing doner sandwich maker and drinking fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.

Vefa Bozacisi, the famous boza purveyor.

Nell and I were surprised to find out how much we enjoyed Boza, a drink made from fermented millet (or bulgur). It has a reputation for building vitality that has been used by warriors and nomads since the 4th century– and would certainly not be to everyone’s taste. We had ours with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas sprinkled on top at one of Istanbul’s famous boza bars, established in 1876. It was so popular with locals of all ages—kids stopping in after school to the elderly—that we had to hustle across the blue tiled floor to grab a marble table.

Now THAT's a mustache!

We ended the tour in “Little Kurdistan” where we enjoyed a chopped shepherd’s salad with pomegranate molasses dressing, a hand-made walnut baklava, and kunefe. Kunefe is made by drizzling a row of thin streams of flour-and-water batter onto a turning hot plate, so they dry into long threads resembling shredded wheat. The “pastry” looks like long thin vermicelli noodle threads. The pastry is heated with some butter and then spread with soft cheese. A thick syrup, consisting of sugar, water and a few drops of rose water, is poured on the pastry during the final minutes of cooking. Crushed pistachios are then sprinkled on top as a garnish.

Kunefe!

Sole kebabs and sea bass in parchment paper.

By Thursday, we were acutely aware that our opportunity for meals was rapidly diminishing (our flight to Rome was the next day). . . so we set about finding a few places that we were determined to try. Our lunch destination was Tarihi Karaköy Balikcisi, a small restaurant tucked away on a back street amongst vendors selling hardware that our food guru, Katie Parla, described as the best fish restaurant in town. We were advised to go at lunch when Maharrem Usta is working the charcoal. The unimposing restaurant was, in fact, so subtle that a shopkeeper who saw us standing in front of it looking around, came over to open the door for us—somehow he suspected we were in the neighborhood with lunch, rather than home renovation, in mind. We were ushered past the big barbeque pit on the first floor, up a narrow winding stairway, to a small table on the second floor. There, the owner brought over a large silver tray displaying each of the fresh fish being served that day. Eli decided to try the restaurant’s famous spigola cooked in parchment. Jenny and Seth followed what was rumored to be an excellent preparation—the sole on a stick, preceded by an exquisite fish soup. We left our plates spotless.

The pudding restaurant!

Despite that fact that we were feeling very happily satisfied after lunch, Seth needed to find Ozkonak—a real pudding shop. This was mostly because he had no idea what a pudding shop was, but liked the sound of it. This place has been in business for over 50 years, largely because of their tavuk gogsu, chicken breast pudding. (For the first time since 1982, Istanbul left Seth truly regretting his decision to not eat meat). He implored Jenny and Eli to order the pudding and describe it to him. The pudding doesn’t taste of chicken at all. We also ordered a thick, creamy rice pudding dusted with cinnamon, and a bowl of home made unusually thick yogurt (that was Nell’s favorite). And as we were leaving, we asked the owner if we could take home a portion of kaymak(the delicious Turkish version of clotted cream made from the milk of water buffalos) to save for breakfast the next day. It was amazing!

The owner of the pudding shop was very pleased with our intense interest in dairy desserts!

Chicken breast pudding for dessert. Sublime!

For dinner, we again followed one of Katie Parla’s suggestions and tried Asmalı Cavit in Beyoğlu. This restaurant is what is known as a meyhane: a casual restaurant serving raki (the Turkish national drink of anise-flavored brandy that both Seth and Jenny ended up loving) and mezes (starters). The mezzes were displayed like a dim sum restaurant: they are wheeled from table to table on a multi-decker tray, and are simple and deliciously fresh dishes. We tried watercress in yogurt, fava beans, aubergine spread, hummus, roasted peppers, kale, grilled shrimp, patlıcan salatası (smoked eggplant with a touch of bechamel), and beyaz peynir (white cheese), among others and fantastic bread.

A few of our other favorites over the week:

Eli loved the kebaps, perfectly grilled over charcoal, especially the chicken wing ones.

At the Grand Bazaar we tried sahlep, a hot drink made from orchid roots and served hot with cinnamon. We also ate at a fantastic restaurant hidden away in the enormous bazaar, Havuzlu. There, and also at the wonderful Ciya restaurant on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, you order by going up to the counter, overviewing the dishes of food, and just pointing to the ones you want to try.

Seth enjoyed a cold drink called ayran, a mixture of water, yogurt and salt.

We all loved the fresh juices sold everywhere, especially the orange and winter pomegranate that is fresh squeezed on the street (winter pomegranate is uglier and yellower than the pomegranate we usually see in the US- but also much sweeter).

Nell’s favorite dessert was found on the Asian side: a stall in the food market selling cups of thick yogurt that were drizzled with honey direct;y from huge honeycombs.

Jenny could happily live on the pistachio and walnut baklava.

Food Coordinates Below–>

Eating at the Grand Bazaar:

Havuzlu, Gani Celebi Sokak No. 3

Eating on the Asian Side:

Ciya, Guneslibahce Sk, No. 43

Filled with tourists, but decent vegetarian and kabop option near Ayasofya:

Khorasani, Divanyolu caddesi Ticarethane sokak No. 39/41

Meyhane in downtown (near the pedestrian street):

Asmali Cavit Saatci, Asmalimescit Cad., No. 16 D

Pudding!:

Ozkonak, Akarsu Cad., No. 46/B

The best fish restaurant ever (in Karakoy):

Tarihi Karaköy Balikcisi Lokantasi, Tersane Cad. Kardesim Sok No. 45/A

The real-deal for boza:

Vefa Bozacisi, Celebi Caddesi, 102

Amazing yogurt at the Asian side food market:

Etabal Merkez

The Sultan’s candy maker (and the best Turkish Delight):

Altan Sekerleme, Kantarcilar, Kiblecesme Cad., No. 96

Baklavaci Extraordinaire:

Bilgeoglu, Muvakkithane Cad., No. 56

Playing by the fountain in front of the Centre Pompidou.

The kids had a fall break last week, so we rented an apartment in Paris. Originally we had planned to do a bit more travel, but Eli & Nell were compelled by Paris and had a strong preference for spending most of the vacation there. They made a good call; we got a feel for the city and became familiar with our neighborhood in the Marais (which we loved). Although the adults had been to Paris in the past, we had always avoided the kitchy touristy sites. But much like Rome, the famous “monuments” turned out to be really fun and we were glad the kids motivated us to go. For example, the kids were very eager to see the iconic Eiffel Tower… and it was tremendously fun.

From the bottom...

Below are snapshots from our conversations about the trip, captured by Jenny trying to type as fast as we talked.

Eli: The Eiffel Tower was very cool at night, and had a light show every hour.

Nell: One evening we went on a cruise to see the city lit up from the Seine. We sat up on the top deck . It was very pretty. Paris is sometimes called the City of Lights and now I know why.

Eli: We had a surprise climbing Notre Dame Cathedral, and we actually got to see the bell that Quasimodo rang in the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

. . .and from the top!

Seth: We almost gave up waiting to climb the tower at Notre Dame because it started raining, but the view of Paris from the top was truly amazing and even more spectacular with the rain falling…and it was awesome when Eli found the huge bell on top.

Nell: We went to the Louvre museum. We saw the Mona Lisa. I liked the Venus de Milo. We got a tour guide for the Louvre. She was very nice.

Seth: And we learned the origins of the Nike “swoosh” symbol, and saw a wing of the Louvre that wasn’t open the last time I went, with Babylonian artifacts.

At the Louvre. Wow. Eli loved the Lamassu (above), which protected the entrances to palaces and cities in ancient Mesopotamia. Nell also really liked The Code of Hammurabi, a well-preserved Babylonian law code, dating to 1780 BC.

Eli: We went to a bunch of very good French bistros, and now I really want to learn to speak French.

Nell: When I first went into the neighborhood patisserie, I said “Oh my god, it smells so good here I might faint.” My favorites were the pain au chocolate and their special cinnamon croissant, and the apple was very good too.

Eli: In a playground next to Notre Dame, there was a spinny slanted wheel that Nell and I liked to play on (like the ones we played on in San Sebastian), and I met an Italian kid who I became friends with.

Looking nose-to-nose at the gargoyles atop Notre Dame was spectacular!

Nell: Paris is so stylish, even the subway stations and signs are fancy.

Eli: One more thing about the Eiffel Tower is that even if you take the elevator from the second floor to the top (which everyone has to do), it’s still like a 3 minute ride to the highest point of the Eiffel tower. We walked up 720 steps to get to the second floor.

Nell: The crepes here are amazing. They have very creative flavors, like caramel with banana or caramel with sea salt or chocolate with pear.

We missed our Italian coffee. . .the coffee in Paris is surprisingly bad. But we found a passable cup at Cafe Hugo at Place de Vosges.

Seth: But Nell’s favorite crepe was Nutella and Eli’s was classic lemon.

Eli: And we went to a sushi place that we liked so much that we actually went back there again for lunch on our last day in Paris.

Nell: It was a lovely visit.

Eli: I would love to go back to Paris.

Seth: Other crowd pleasers were the Jardin Luxembourg, Ste Chapelle, and a Gospel Concert.

Our Favorite Food Spots on This Trip:

L’as du Fallafel (34, rue des Rosiers) – every bit as good as Jenny remembered it, the best falafel ever, and a fun scene.

And the chocolat chaud was fantastique!

Tsukizi (2 bis Rue des Ciseaux) – Paris is filled with mediocre Japanese restaurants, but as much as we love Italian food, we were all feeling the effects of sushi deprivation and needed a serious fix. This was it. We all put ourselves in their capable hands and had the chef’s choices, felt fortunate to get one of their three tables, and had such an amazing food experience that we returned two days later for more. The second time Seth had a bowl of raw fish served over rice that was incredible. We wish we could remember what it was called. . . (UPDATE: my friend Sumie confirms that I ate chirashi zushi) .

Izakaya Isse (45 rue de Richelieu) – great eel near the Louvre with a multi-page sake menu of offerings by the glass.

Breizh (109 rue Vielle du Temple) – our favorite of the many creperies we sampled.

Chez Janou (2, rue Roger Verlomme) – neighborhood bistrot extrordinaire. . .try the chocolate mousse.

Jenny: The mountains rising up from beaches

Jumping off the rocks into a pool below a little waterfall.

Eli: Hiking up into the mountains and discovering a cliff and into a river up in the mountains. Jumping off the cliff into the cold mountain river.

Nell: Climbing up really high on the rocks.

The kids climbing rocks on our hike to the waterfall. This pile took them 45 min round trip!

Seth: Visiting Corte and having lunch at the hotel where Inge-Marie worked years ago as a chambermaid. I remember the pool next to the dining patio, where the children swam after lunch and the fantastic Corsican dessert we had. Fiadone—a combination of cheesecake, flan, and lemon soufflé. But not really exactly like any of these things. It is made with a fresh cheese called brocciu and lots of lemon, and served with eau de vie poured on top.

Jenny: Eating citron et sucre crepes while sitting at the beach.

The beach, crepe shack, and mountains behind.

Eli: The amazing crepes and the warm ocean water. The water was warmer than eighty degrees and very shallow near the coast.

Nell: The pool at the house we rented. We played Marco Polo and sharks and minnows.  My dad throwing me in the water.

Seth: Driving in Corsica, up and down the mountains, the narrow roads, the bicyclists right up next to the cars, the sharp curves. And of course, getting stuck on an uphill, dead-end street filled with double-parked cars in Porto Vecchio and having a local guy come down in his nightgown to back our car out for us.

Eli serving his shrimp.

Jenny: Watching the sunset over the mountains while eating great group cooked dinners over our terrace.

Nell prepping her Greek salad.

Eli: Reading up on the terrace. And me and Nell cooking dinner for everyone. We made grilled shrimp and Nell made a Greek salad.

Nell: Listening to a free outdoor concert after dinner in Porto Vecchio

Jenny: Climbing down (and then up) 187 steps carved into the cliffs at Bonifacio. Finding a cave at the bottom and watching Inge-Marie, Jim, Lucia, Nell, and Eli scale the rocks to take a swim in the Mediterranean.

Seth: The Italian chef in Bonifacio who recognized Eli’s Roma soccer jersey and got so excited that she ran to get her camera and take a picture with him. (She also made us a great lunch!).

The ocean below Bonifacio, 187 steps down.

Eli: The restaurant with the great view in Tonnara where we stopped on our way to the airport before leaving. The chef brought Mom her lobster to look at before cooking it.

Nell: Spending time with our friends.