Archives for category: Drink

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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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

In modern Italian, caffè means coffee, the substance, not the name of a place where one goes to drink the substance, which is called a “bar.” In Rome caffè is truly outstanding. I mean that in an any place you go, consistently, over-the-top-never-been-disappointed-even-in-museum-snack-bars-why-can’t-it-always-be-like-this way. Coffee roasters produce blends that can be found here and nowhere else. And coffee is serious business.

Coffee has a long history in Rome and some coffee roasters, who have been in business since the 18th century, are still within a few hundred yards of the Marcus Aurelius column in Piazza Colonna and Pantheon, not far from our apartment. Part of the history here involves using the water from the ancient Roman aqueducts, reputed to be the best for coffee brewing. This water is surprisingly delicious on its own, too. (Rome’s tap water is actually spring water pooled from many sources, is very pure, low in chlorine, and high in minerals—very refreshing on a hot day). So the relationship between Rome and its coffee is like the relationship between New York and its bagels. People are crazy about their coffee here. . . with good reason: it seems to be universally outstanding across the country. And it has been surprising how different the coffee can be even to Italy’s close neighbors. I found coffee in Paris to be simply bad, and coffee in Spain to be utterly undrinkable.

I just learned that the word espresso is short for “espressamente preparato per chi lo richiede,” which means: “expressly prepared for who requests it.” I’ve been resonating with this little bit of information because it is capturing much of what I find so endearing about life in Rome. That is, the appreciation of quality of life, the savoring of pleasures (especially food), and the value of aesthetics in everyday life. Even a brief java pit-stop is a moment to be treasured in a few delectable sips, not mass produced and squirted from a thermos into a paper cup.

This may not be immediately obvious, but you don’t order an “espresso” here. When you order a coffee, you automatically get an espresso, simply called caffè or caffè normale (normal coffee).

We use a hand-operated coffee machine that came with our apartment. I had never seen a machine like this before. And, embarrassingly, when I was first looking at the apartment, I commented to the owner: “oh, how nice, the kitchen has a juicer.” She gave me a perplexed looked, in response, then realized my mistake and told me that the equipment I was looking at was actually a coffee maker. It took us quite a bit of time to master it. In fact, Jenny got seriously injured by it our first week here—the water is under A LOT of pressure and it’s low-tech. But we’ve become adapt at it now and, in fact, our house guests seem to enjoy challenging themselves by asking for a lesson in how to make a cup of coffee on their own. It does provide a feeling of mastery.

Using the hand-operated coffee machine in our kitchen.

Even excellent coffee purchased at a roaster and brewed at home will not be as amazing as a coffee prepared by a professional barista. The Italians have a saying for why this is true. For an outstanding cup of coffee, you need the four M’s: la miscela, la macchina, il macinino, e la mano del banchista  (the right blend of coffees, a professional espresso machine, the proper grinder, and the skilled hands of the barman).

My very favorite place for coffee is Caffè Sant’Eustachio, which is just a block or so behind the Pantheon. I have no idea how they make the coffee here so spectacular, with a crema that is so thick and foamy. And I never will. They use a secret formula that is protected by a screen at the end of the bar so that customers cannot see the hands of the barista as he brews the coffee! The décor of the room dates to 1938 (seemingly unchanged), including an L-shaped stainless steel bar and mosaic floor. The family that owns the shop roasts their own coffee in a small room in the back, using a manually operated wood-burning roaster—and that is not blocked by a screen and fun to watch. Sant’Eustachio has some detractors—it has become an internationally known “scene” and at peak times of the day tourists are packed deep waiting to get to the bar. (It is particularly chaotic because first timers do not know that in Rome, one first queues at the cashier to pay for the coffee, then queues again at the bar to exchange the receipt for a coffee. . .many wait to get to the bar only to learn that they need to start all over again). Sant’Eustachio also serves the coffee slightly sweet (which is the way to have it) unless otherwise requested. . .but that also causes some confusion for novices. But despite the tourists, I always see and hear Romans there, many of them politicians from the Senate building across the street, drinking their coffee. Few things in life are as consistently great as the coffee here. Often, when Jenny or I have had a particularly productive morning of writing, one of us will say, “How about we swing by Sant’Eustachio on our way to. . . [insert some place that is often not necessarily near Sant’Eustachio]”.  What a reward!

I will dream about the coffee here when I leave Rome.

One of the ways that Europeans make fun of Italians has to do with the complexity of ordering coffee here. The range of options is staggering—but not novel by coffee standards. I have been keeping a list of the various ways that I have ordered coffee so far. I’ve never actually seen anyone order a decaf. Romans do not believe that a coffee after dinner will interfere with sleep, but they do believe that dairy products will. . .so a cappuccino is only appropriate before lunch. There are no flavored coffees here.

So far, here is how I’ve ordered my coffee (sometimes I just want a normale, but these words are so fun to say in Italian):

Caffè (caffè normale) – just a regular espresso, about an inch high with a nice crema, or foam, on top.

Caffè ristretto or Caffè corto – very strong, concentrated espresso, so named because the water is “restricted” or “short”.

Caffè doppio – double espresso.

Caffè lungo or Caffè alto – espresso with more water, to make it less concentrated, also called a “long” or “tall” espresso.

Caffè corretto – “corrected coffee,” served with a shot of liquor such as cognac or Sambuca. . .or Grappa. (This is one of my favorites).

Cappuccino – espresso with frothed milk.

Caffèlatte – Yes, it is spelled as one word! Espresso with warm milk.

Macchiato – espresso with a little dot of frothed milk on top. (My usual, mid-morning treat).

Latte macchiato – lots of milk with a bit of espresso.

Caffè Americano – watery espresso, like an American cup of coffee, but richer.

Caffè amaro – bitter.

Caffè marochino – espresso with foamed milk and chocolate powder.

Caffè freddo – iced coffee.

Freddo shakerato – cold and shaken with ice and sugar, like a cocktail.

Caffè in vetro – espresso served in a small glass instead of a ceramic cup (so it cools very quickly for a fast drink).

— Seth

We have a love-hate relationship with our little Pavoni.

One corner of the American Embassy

We just finished a terrific, eclectic weekend that really left us feeling like we lived here.

Our weekend began with an invitation by a new friend to see the opening of her art exhibition. This was particularly fun because Kiki’s show was at the American Embassy. The embassy is quite remarkable. It’s huge and consists of several enormous palazzos. Security was impressive. One of our fellow visitors, who’s a journalist, says that it’s probably the most dangerous location in Rome because of the threat of terrorism. We had to show our passports three times just to get in, and we had to be on a list of people who were cleared to enter the embassy a few days earlier.  Once we were through, though, it all felt very American (other than the architecture, which was really astonishingly lovely and very Italian). At the reception afterwards, bad coffee was served from Styrofoam cups. . . We’ve not seen Styrofoam in 3 months! And they served Swiss Miss hot cocoa to go with the Italian pastries. The American Ambassador stopped by to say hello, which was very cool. His conversation focused on 4th of July fireworks—which he introduced to the community at a party he held last summer. It was a very safe and desultory conversation topic. While it was an extremely fun and quirky way to spend a morning, afterwards we went with some of the other guests to get better coffee!

That night, we finally had a chance to try a neighborhood pizzeria that we’ve been eyeing for a while. It is always packed with a line of locals waiting to get in. Going early, we were seated right away. Super thin crust, and cheap. . .and on the same block as our favorite gelato place! The kids were overjoyed and the pizza was fantastic.

At the Ara Pacis.

On Saturday morning, we visited another neighborhood spot, the Ara Pacis museum, which is at the children’s morning bus stop. It’s an altar to peace, commissioned by the Roman senate in 13 BC.  It languished for centuries, literally sunk into the ground, and was rediscovered in the 16th Century, but not fully excavated until the 1930s. Mussolini had a protective structure built for it as part of his scheme to glorify Fascist Italy. In 2006, a new modern structure was designed by Richard Meier to house the Ara Pacis, which is surprisingly intact. Many Romans despise Meier’s building because they find it insensitive to the historical context around the structure. But we all love the expansive glass that reflects the ancient buildings around the museum – the juxtaposition of modern and ancient is really compelling to us.

After the museum, we walked to da Gino, the trattoria where we went for our anniversary in July. It was the first time we’ve gotten into a decent restaurant without a reservation because our waiter remembered us – a milestone! Mario gets a kick out of Eli and Nell, and ushered us to a table in the busy lunchtime crowd. A Roman family, who are clearly regulars, introduced us to the eponymous Gino, chatted with the kids in Italian, and the dad kept tugging on Nell’s pig tail. Jenny had their cacio e pepe, which is a Roman specialty. It’s sort of their version of Mac n’ cheese, except that the pasta is homemade and the cheese is a sheep Pecorino Romano.

That evening, we got a babysitter and schlepped across the city to the kids’ school for a cocktail party for new parents. We are not in the Madison Public Schools any more! It was an elegant affair, held on the school playground but with catering tents, nice wines, beautifully presented food, and well-dressed servers. We enjoyed chatting with the other new parents. The highlight was that the teachers were there as well, and we enjoyed talking with many of them – they are a very interesting and well-traveled group, as one might expect from the staff at an international school! We even met a teacher from Northern Wisconsin who was very entertained to see Eli’s Packers jersey at school! (They had a ceremony where all of the new children introduced themselves to the other children at the school, and the former Wisconsinite thought “That kid can’t possibly be wearing a Packers’ jersey”). Her husband used to work for University of Wisconsin – Extension. Nell’s choir director also grew up in Green Bay. Small world!

Next, we headed back to our neighborhood for an event we’d been eagerly anticipating: a fundraiser party at our favorite gelato place, organized by our favorite local food blogger! The theme was savory gelato apperativi – the gelato flavors were red pepper, salty peanut, and pistachio – served with celery, chips, and prosecco! The gelato was great. But even better was having a chance to finally learn the name of the gentleman who serves our kids gelato almost every day (Rocco), and meeting blogger Katie Parla and several other food bloggers in town.

Lunch, in view of ancient garbage!

On Sunday, we decided, with some trepidation, to check out Rome’s largest flea market, at Porta Portense. We’ve been curious about it, but we’ve also read that it’s very crowded, is frequented by pickpocketers, etc. We are glad we went, only so we don’t ever have to go again! It was super hot, the merchandise was shoddy at best, and the crowds were intense. Eli tried to practice bargaining (without success, but he picked up a few ideas for next time). We were relieved to escape to a café across the river to Testacchio, a very hip area that was once the meatpacking center of the city. We had lunch at a fantastic little restaurant that backs onto the ancient garbage mounds of the city (with windows onto the hill where we could see layers of broken crockery dating from who knows when). Nell had her standard cacio e pepe—it was a little on the spicier side (they didn’t hold back for her) and she found she liked it a lot. Eli had a gorgeous plate of fried squid and anchovies that he said were the best he’d had so far. Seth had a beautifully prepared and perfectly seasoned dish of cod and fresh spinach ravioli—and we topped it all off with super sweet fresh pineapple. We voted to go back to Flavio al Velavevodetto (via di Monte Testaccio) even though we’ll never go back to the flea market. While we were in the neighborhood we picked up fantastic pizza a taglio for dinner at 00100, and made our way home via Metro.

Later that afternoon, we indulged the need to go see a movie on a hot afternoon. The kids didn’t want to see a movie that was entirely in Italian. So we compromised with  Glee: The Concert Movie in 3D. Sitting in a movie theater filled with Italian teenagers watching this bit of Americana was a total blast. The parts of the movie that consisted of fan commentary were all in Italian, so we couldn’t really follow them, which was probably just as well.  But we all loved hearing the familiar songs – it was great to experience something so familiar after weeks where everything feels so new. We sang all the way home on the Metro.

–       Jenny and Seth

PS The highlight of the Glee movie was the cameo by the little boy who is obsessed with Blaine the Warbler; if you watch Glee, and even if you don’t, this kid is amazing (though I wonder about his parents)