Archives for category: Food

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/

Advertisements

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!

Before leaving Madison, I took language lessons from Roberto, an Italian graduate student. Roberto is from Torino (Turin), and in between trying to teach me how to ask for discounts for my children and order food in restaurants, he kept insisting that I had to visit his hometown during the year. That turned out to be great advice!

Torino is the capital of the Piemonte (Piedmont) region of Italy that abuts France and Switzerland. And after Bologne (a city that really captured our hearts and stomachs), I’d rate Torino as a fantastic city that deserves more attention that it receives from tourists. I loved my visit there. The city has style and its own charm– and it felt very different from other cities we visited in Italy. It reminded me that not long ago, the regions of Italy were in fact separate countries, and Torino was the seat of a glamorous one.

Torino is known for industry, especially as home to Fiat and the Italian automobile industry. We saw vestiges of the gracious old style Piemontesi from the city’s powerful years in the 19th century. Torino flourished much later than other major Italian cities, so the look of the buildings, streets, piazzas, and caffés has much more in common with Paris than with Rome. In fact, if Paris had stayed a small city, it might look a lot like Torino. Through our wanderings, we stumbled upon fantastic, highly decorative piazzas that in Paris would house elegant and expensive caffés, but in Torino remained humble neighborhoods. The city also has the grit and cultural diversity of a city now populated by laborers from North Africa.

One aspect of Torino that really stood out for us was what an amazing job the city does with its museums– each one was better than the next. We began with the Egyptian Museum (the largest of its kind in the world outside of Egypt and the second largest including Egypt). The collection was amazing. And because Eli’s class had done a unit on ancient Egypt this year, he was able to add all sorts of interesting facts to our visit. We also went to the newly opened Automobile Museum. This isn’t ordinarily our sort of thing, but we all had a fantastic morning there. The museum not only had an incredible collection of vintage cars and futuristic prototypes, but also put the automobile into historical and cultural context in a way that was accessible and extremely thought provoking. It provided a cultural commentary about post war United States that we had not considered before. (A funny incident at the Car Museum was that we encountered a group of high school students visiting from Istanbul; they and their teacher were so delighted to see a kid in Torino wearing their city’s soccer team jersey that the kids asked if they could pose with Eli and take pictures to show their friends back home.)

We ended with a fun trip to the National Museum of Cinema, housed in the Mole Antonelliana, originally constructed as a synagogue. This place definitely is not a museum in the traditional sense- though it included famous stage sets, contracts from famous actors, original screenplays from famous films, an opportunity for us to insert ourselves into existing movie clips, and a two-story viewing area with chaise lounges where one can watch highlights from famous movies. We enjoyed the special exhibit on the history of Looney Tunes!

Atop the tower of the Museum of Cinema. The view was great, but so was the ride up in the glass elevator!

Nell inserted herself into a film that then played on a large screen over the Museum atrium.

Besides cars, lots of good food stuff came from Torino. . . chocolate in the form of bars or individual pieces was created in Torino (and we had some outstanding examples), vermouth (the herb-and-wine drink that was later married with gin to form the martini) was born here, the Slow Food movement was founded here, as was Lavazza coffee and GROM gelato. So this is one serious food place.

At Bicerin.

One of our favorite caffes was Bicerin (Piazza della Consolata 5), the oldest caffé in the city with continuous operation (since 1763) that has always been owned an operated by women. The caffé is named for the famous beverage it serves—a combination of hot coffee, chocolate, and cream. The bicerin, we were instructed, is not stirred, but sipped so that each layer of liquid stays separate and mixes in the mouth. It was amazing, and just as good as the special chocolate that they serve. My favorite was their cioccolato Ratafia, a dark chocolate bar favored with cherries. If I ever hear of anyone passing through Torino, I will plead with them to bring me back just one bar of Ratafia!

We had some really great meals, each a fun experience.

Absolutely horrified that Nell was a vegetarian, and was turning down his offer of house cured prosciutto, the owner of Valenza threw bread at her. Fortunately, she caught it and it was excellent.

At Trattoria Valenza (Via Borgo Dora 39) in the heart of the antiques market, the seemingly inebriated owner, Walter, walked from table to table singing, threw (literally) pieces of bread at us, and kept bringing free samples of different foods to the table for the kids. When there was something we didn’t want, he picked it up with his fingers and ate it himself. The menu was a single piece of paper with a few items handwritten on it. When we ordered, the waiter would tell us they didn’t actually have that item and cross it off our menu with his pen. Finally, we simply asked him what we should order! The food was simple, authentic, and outstanding. It was one of our most enjoyable meals and cost only a fraction of a lunch in Rome. This place oozes authenticity- and it made us feel like time stood still: old clocks on the walls, paintings of every variety covering every inch of wall space, yes, even a little dust as a reminder of times gone by. The house barbera by the carafe was unbeatable, as was the warmth. We felt like we got to sample a bit of the city from the past. . .and it was fun to walk through the Balon market to get there.

We had a very tasty dinner at Trattoria l’oca fola (via drovetti) a typical Piedmontese osteria, where a wonderful assortment of antipasti began arriving at the table even before we ordered. The restaurant’s logo—a goose—pops up on the table, plates, napkins, and all around

Usually a fan of whites down in Lazio, Eli liked the reds in Piemonte and became our official wine taster.

the room. Everything was organic and simple with a local menu that changes daily, and our polenta was perfect.

It turned out that our lunch at Con Calma was on the day that would have been Jenny’s father’s birthday. And we were all especially delighted when a bottle of mineral water arrived bearing a label that we had never seen before—Saint Bernardo. So we felt like Bernie was joining us!

For Mothers’ Day lunch, we booked a table at Con Calma (Strada Comunale del Cartman 59) on the Superga Hill overlooking the city. This rustic restaurant occupies an old, yellow-painted village house and is cosy inside. We were welcomed by Renata, who runs the place and supervises her young staff with a sure hand. . .and who offers kids an opportunity to draw a picture that she then adds to her substantial collection. The food is classically prepared Piedmontese fare – I had three courses that all featured local asparagus. And Nell was happy because it is unusual to see a menu in Italy that notes many dishes that can be altered so as to be vegetarian. The waiters gave Eli a hard time because he was wearing a Juventus jersey and they, surprisingly to us, were not fans of Torino’s champion team. After lunch, Jenny suggested that we take the “short” walk from the restaurant to the Tram that would bring us back down to the city. But this turned out to be our own Olympic event. After a big meal and a bottle of fantastic Nebbiolo, it turned out that Jenny had started us off on what turned out to be a 3 hour uphill hike that included mudslides, walking along a highway, twisted roads, and maybe even cutting through some people’s back yards.

Another meal highlight was a casual and extremely fun dinner that we had in a wine bar. L’acino (via San Domenico) is a small but bustling place with a well-priced and colorful wine list. The food and the desserts were truly outstanding, and the gregarious owner made a point of stopping by our table to chat. I still remember my red peppers with bagna caoda!

Enjoying the native vermouth before dinner.

Our last meal in Torino was at Re Calamaro! “King Calamari “was opened by the great grandson of the guy who came up with the idea of fried calamari. (The story told at the restaurant is that grandpa received a batch of bad squid that couldn’t be served sautéed or grilled, so he decided to deep fry it to mask the poor quality- and people loved it). The restaurant interior is in the shape of a boat, and the calamari is served in large paper cones that fit nicely in the metal cone-holders that accessorize each of the small tables.

We were fortunate to be in Torino the day the city was celebrating their team’s winning the Italian Soccer League. Crowds in Juventus black-and-white went through the city cheering and the team met them in the center of town. It was really festive.

— Seth

Inside Casa Batlló

Before I went to Barcelona, my mom said that I would love it. And, she’s never been so right in my life!

First, let me talk about the hotel. I really liked the system they had to open the door. What they do is: they take your finger and copy your fingerprint. To open the door to your room, you have to put your finger in a little slot. And the good thing was you didn’t have to worry about remembering a key.

Secondly, I want to talk about their breakfast pastries. Almost every morning in Barcelona, we went to this café called Mauri. They had a very famous pastry called ensaïmada de Mallorca. It’s an eggy swirl with powdered sugar on top. I also loved the little rolls filled with manchego cheese and quince paste.

Breakfast ensaïmada!

Something I also loved in Barcelona was the shopping.  My mom was right when she said the whole city was a shopping center.

Speaking about shopping, one of my favorite clothing stores is Spanish. The name of the store is Desigual. I like their clothes because they are very creative and there are no dull clothes.

Also, speaking of creative, let me talk about my most favorite architect, Gaudi.

Casa Batlló from the outside.

I went to see this house he designed, Casa Batlló. The theme was water. Even without knowing that the theme was supposed to be water, you could tell. For example, when you look out the windows, he made it look like you were looking underwater. Or that all the colors in that house were like what you would see in the ocean. There were doorknobs that were swirled to look like seaweed. I would be very happy if I could live in there.

We went hat shopping; the sun was very strong.

Speaking about architecture, they have the most creative architecture in the world! How could I explain? Well, I can tell you that every time I turned around I could see a new amazing building. The buildings were all different from what you’ve ever seen in America or in other places in Europe. My mom and I both felt like the architects who made all the buildings were having fun. They weren’t just doing it for the money; they were doing it to enjoy themselves.

Now, you are probably wondering when I’ll talk about their food. Well, the time has come. Let me tell you a few of the food specialties.

Tapas at El Quim at the Boqueria Market

  1. Their tapas. Their patatas bravas are fried potatoes with a spicy sauce, and sometimes they put mayonnaise on it.
  2. Another tapas is their tomato bread. This is what they do. First, they toast the bread. Then they rub a raw garlic clove on it. Then they take a tomato and squeeze the pulp onto the bread. They usually add olive oil.
  3. I’m just going tell you that we went to a Mexican restaurant and it was AMAZING. That’s one kind of food that I have not had all year. That’s part of why it tasted so good. But the other part was because it just was good!

Grilled sole at El Quim.

Since we’re still talking about food, I’m going to tell you about a really good restaurant. We went to a big market in Barcelona and we went to this little tapas bar where 5 or 6 men own the restaurant and do everything. They are known for their tapas. Their fried eggs are the best I ever had, the rest of my family loved the razor clams (especially my dad), my mom loved the mushrooms, and my brother and my parents all loved the grilled sole. And I loved their plate of beans! After we finished our lunch, my brother bought a fresh lemon popsicle for his dessert. And for my dessert me and my mom bought a box of sliced mango. Oh that mango…

A Gaudi sculpture made out of chocolate

Since I’m still going on and on about that food, I’m going to add one more thing about the food. They had a chocolate museum in Barcelona. And since I LOVE chocolate, we went to the museum. I didn’t really know what to expect for a chocolate museum. But it was really amazing. They had these huge sculptures made out of chocolate. They even had SpongeBob made out of chocolate! And they had gladiators fighting made out of chocolate. Since it was a chocolate museum, the ticket to the museum was a bar of chocolate.

On the funicular with Robert.

Since I started to write a little bit about sightseeing, I will say a little bit more to end this blog post. We met up with our friends Robert and Virginia and we went out to go to lunch at the Miro Museum. After that we took a BIG funicular up a mountain. Then, in the mountain, we went in a castle. After the castle we went to run around. A couple of my favorite parts on that day were:

Late night fantastic dinner with Robert and Virginia.

  1. going down the HUGE slides
  2. whispering to each other, from far away, through a sculpture designed for whispering.
  3. The giant ropes course
  4. Jumping on different tires to make different sounds

For the end of this blog post, I will tell you about the aquarium we visited. First of all, it was one of my favorite aquariums because of the shark tunnel. You’re wondering why I liked the shark tunnel so much. Well, one because I love shark tunnels, but the other because when you stepped into the shark tunnel, the floor was moving so you could just stand and watch them. Part of the time a shark came up close to us and followed us all the way to the end of the shark tunnel.

This may be a long blog post, but I’m going to say three more words. I LOVE BARCELONA!

–  Nell

P.S. By the way, you might be wondering what my other two favorite places we visited are, not including Rome. They are: Venice and Corsica

Walking with Virginia.

The chocolate chicken.

Christmas in Rome was a big deal. But Pasqua (Easter) was over the top. Beginning in March, the bakeries and chocolate stores began to fill up with Easter confections and baked goods. Even before that, we discovered that there are special baked goods that lead up into Lent. At Carnevale time, the bakeries are filled with frappe, which is a fried dough strip that is flavored with everything from chocolate to pistachio to citrus (we liked the plain powdered sugar ones). Closer to Easter, the chocolate eggs were so enormous that they took up all available shelf space at many of the gelaterias and pastry shops.

Maria's beaded eggs and doily.

The day before Easter, our wonderful housekeeper Maria arrived laden with treats for us and for the children. She comes from Romania, where they have several Easter –related egg traditions. She made us two types of eggs, one kind covered in beading and the other dyed and hand painted. They were our kids’ first Easter eggs, and they were quite a hit! There was also a huge chocolate Easter chicken along with the requisite chocolate mini-eggs. She also brought Seth a Dracula-themed wooden flask from Romania, and a doily that she’d crocheted for me.  She has promised to teach Nell all her handicrafts (egg-dying, crocheting, etc.).

Easter dinner place-egg

We spent Easter itself at the home of our Rome friends Barbie and Andrew, whose son is one of Eli’s local pals. “Dinner” was an 8-hour feast with gorgeous food and outstanding wines. The place cards were made from the artisanal chocolate eggs that are ubiquitous in the city at Easter.

Clearly, a good time was had by all.

We particularly appreciated that the pre-lunch mimosas were made from fresh-squeezed Sicilian blood oranges. I neglected to take photos of the beautiful food before it was devoured. But I did manage to take a few of the detritus after the feast.

Usually at this time of year we are focused on Passover, and I hadn’t been to an Easter event as an adult. It was interesting to notice the similarities, and the differences (if you haven’t seen this snippet from the Daily Show, check it out). We’ll always remember our first Roman Easter as a time of giving, good food, and, yes, lots of chocolate.

– Jenny

Maria's hand painted eggs.

Awaiting the train to Bologna in Rome's Termini station.

Bologna was high on the list of cities we wanted to visit this year. It is a city known for its food; indeed, many consider the cuisine of Reggio-Emilia to be the best in Italy (high praise indeed)! But it is also known for its red-walled buildings, gothic architecture, the porticos lining the streets (once providing more living space, and now useful in protecting pedestrians from the rain), and the oldest university in continental Europe (founded in 1088 or thereabouts). Despite all of these draws, Bologna is off the tourist beaten path. Like most visitors to Italy, the only part of Bologna I’d seen before was the train station.

The Statue of Neptune in the main square.

So with our Madison friends Jonathan, Stacy, Zach, and Samantha in town for the week, we decided to take an overnight trip together from Rome to explore Bologna. Not only did we want to explore the city and the cuisine, but we thought that the kids would enjoy the chance to ride the Italian trains together. Even better, they’d have a chance to share a hotel room without grownups.

Playing in the piazza.

Bologna totally exceeded our expectations. Indeed, several of us are actively fantasizing about future sabbaticals Bolognese-style. The city has a student presence that provides a great youthful energy. At the same time, it is relatively tourist-free, especially in contrast to Rome during Easter week. And the food was really amazing. While the cuisine is heavily oriented towards meat and our group was largely vegetarian, the cheese and pasta dishes were absolutely stunning, and the vegetables in the market positively glowed.

The raised tomb of a famous law professor.

With a local guide, Daniela, we spent the first afternoon wandering the city focusing on the architecture, the university, and the food. The university’s classic area of strength was law and medicine. In the original building of the university, we saw hundreds of plaques on the walls and ceilings depicting the family crests of student attendees – including students from as far away as Germany and Poland. We also toured the original anatomy teaching studio, which still has the marble table used for demonstrative dissections. Outside, we saw statues of famous professors (including Dr. Galvani, for whom the galvanic skin response was named). We also saw raised sarcophagi honoring the most famous professors (usually of law). A little different that what we are used to as academics these days, especially in the United States.

Tasting aged balsamic vinegars.

The food culture is really interesting. We had a tasting of aged balsamic vinegars and learned about different varieties of parmaggiano cheese. Alas, none of us eat the mortadella salami that is famous in Bologna. But we made up for that with the pastas. Indeed, they were the richest we’ve had in Italy; the cooking tends to use butter rather than olive oil, and is particularly filling.

For our first lunch, we ate at Trattoria Gianni, which our guide Daniela had recommended. It’s on a tiny side street off the main piazza. On the blackboard showing the dishes of the day, we spied gnocchi di zucca (pumpkin). Half of us ordered it… and a few minutes later, it was erased from the board. We worried that that meant they had run out before filling our order, and were delighted by the steaming bowls that emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later. Others enjoyed rich cheese ravioli, and we all shared fantastic desserts – the strawberries are in season and are unbelievable, and Eli declared the creme caramel to be the best he’d ever had (high praise indeed – though we’ll see what he thinks after we visit Barcelona later this month). After our coffees, we were served a house-made blueberry digestivo (after-meal drink, which the Italians believe promotes digestion; I’m not so sure). We practically had to roll out the door to go on our tour.

Bakery window, with a local speciality: Torta di riso (rice cake)

Our dinner was at ‘da Cesari, a restaurant beloved by locals and foodies in Bologna. The menu consists of the waiter listing the items that were prepared that day. A menu is limited and meat-oriented, but this is perhaps due to that fact that the chef exclusively uses produce from the “Umberto Cesari” farm and the offerings change daily. But the kitchen prepared for us a sampling of vegetarian starters and pasta dishes for us to share. Seth thought that the food was excellent, and offered an authentic sampling of the local cuisine and wine. But I was unhappy with the slow pace of the service. We enjoyed many games while waiting for our food, including am amusing few rounds of the game “telephone” — made all the more entertaining against the din of a small, bustling Italian restaurant!

At Trattoria del Rosso.

Fortunately, our final meal the next day was perfect. Our lunch restaurant was recommended by Eli’s teacher in Rome, whose daughter attends university in Bologna. Trattoria del Rosso is the oldest restaurant in Bologna and it is named Rosso after the red walls of the buildings of the city. More gnocchi and raviolis were happily consumed, along with bacalao (stewed cod), salads, polenta fritta e Squaquerone (fried polenta with a local fresh cheese), and gelato at a nearby stand to follow.

While dining around Bologna we also enjoyed some truly wonderful bottles of a local favorite wine. Sangiovese is a medium bodied red with a fruity flavour that is produced nearby. Seth also embarked on a successful mission to find a wedge of 60-month-old Parmigiano-Reggiano. After much inquiry, he found a small shop, the Casa delle Forma, on via Oberdam. The small store consisted only of long dark wooden shelves holding huge wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano, with a variety of different ages for sale.

We rolled onto the train filled with the tastes and sights of Bologna. It is a truly underrated city, and I, for one, hope to spend lots of time there in the future.

– Jenny

 

Trattoria da Gianni

Via Clavature, 18

Tel 39 051 22 94 34

Trattoria Del Rosso

Via Augusto Righi 30

Tel 39 051 236730

Da Cesari

Via de’ Carbonesi, 8
051 237710

Gaby enjoying fresh OJ (spremuta) made with Sicilian blood oranges.

Last week, two families of friends from Madison, Wisconsin, came to visit us. One family was Ruth and Gaby, who arrived on a Wednesday. And the second family was Stacy, Jonathan, Zach, and Samantha, who arrived on Saturday.

For the first two nights that Gaby was here, Eli was on an overnight field trip with his class. You can read his blog post about it. This is what we did the first two days that Gaby came to visit. The first night, we made dinner for Ruth and Gaby on the terrace, and then brought them to one of our favorite gelato places, named Il Gelato. That means: “The Gelato”. Then the next day, I went to school, and my mom and dad gave Ruth and Gaby a tour to the Pantheon, Campo de’ Fiori, and they took them to Alberto Pica for more gelato. That night, we took them to a restaurant called Orso 80, where what most food writers say is you should just order their appetizers (antipasti) for the meal. Here are some things they brought: cauliflower, zucchini, beans with a red sauce, potatoes, the best melon in the world, roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, and a plate with celery marinated with cubes of parmigiano cheese. For dessert, me and Gaby had fresh frutti di bosco (which means fruits of the forest, like raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries).

Outside Il Gelato with everyone.

The next day, I stayed home because I was sick. My mom took Ruth and Gaby to see the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, and the Forum. Then later that day, Eli came home from his school trip. That night, Eli, Gaby, Ruth, and Dad went to a restaurant called Dal Pollarolo 1936 in our neighborhood. It’s one of Eli’s favorite restaurants because it has both good pizza, good pasta, and good roasted chicken, and it’s been there since 1936. I had to stay home and my mom offered to stay home with me.

Can you find us in the crowd at the Spanish Steps?

The next day, Samantha, Zach, Jonathan, and Stacy arrived in the morning. We served them a huge lunch on the terrace. My dad was slaving in the kitchen to prepare the lunch. Then after lunch we went to Il Gelato (again), because we like to always take our visitors there for their first gelato in Rome. Then we walked to the Spanish Steps and did a Where’s Waldo photo with all the tourists in the background. Then we went to the Villa Borghese, a huge park at the top of the Spanish Steps. We watched the rollerbladers do tricks. Then we went home for a few reasons.

The rollerblader went under the rope on the right doing a split. You can see us gasping while we watch.

For dinner that night, we went to this place called Baffetto 2. It’s known for its AMAZING pizza. In Italy, when they bring you your pizza they don’t cut it. So the grownups were all rushing around helping us cut our pizzas and some waiters helped us, too.

At the Sicilian restaurant.

The next day, Sunday, Ruth and Gaby took a train to Florence. And we took S, J, Z, and S to a Sicilian restaurant that is OUT OF THIS WORLD. And when I say out of this world, I really mean it. After we finished our lunch at the Sicilian place, we went to the Cat Sanctuary at Largo Argentina, because we thought Samantha would like to see cats because she LOVES animals. And seriously, she really loves animals. In the cat sanctuary, we saw a blind cat. All the cats wander around in the Roman ruins. They are free to go wherever they want. That night we had the best pasta from the fresh pasta store with the best pesto sauce for dinner at our house.

A few of the hundreds of cats at the Largo Argentina cat sanctuary.

On Monday, it turned out I had an ear infection so I had to stay home, again. My dad stayed home with me. My mom took our guests to join a tour in the Jewish Ghetto. The Roman Jews have a very old and very interesting history and culture, and they got to hear all about the tour-guide’s own family and how they survived World War 2. They then had lunch at a famous Roman Jewish restaurant called Sora Margerita, where they got to try Roman fried artichokes; Gaby particularly loved them. They had gelato at Alberto Pica. Zachary loves coffee and he really liked the coffee gelato.

More gelato, anyone?

When they all got home, Gaby and Ruth got ready to leave Rome which was sad for us. Then that night, our parents all went out to dinner at Al Duello, which is one of their favorite restaurants. We had a sitter that was a student. Her name is Jordan. My dad made a special pasta for our dinner that was a Lecce recipe. It was basically really good pasta with tomatoes that were kind of smooshed, just like in Puglia. We had fresh strawberries that are in season here.

Boys in front of a great bakery, Forno Campo de' Fiori

On Tuesday, finally I went to school. Our visitors went to see the Forum and Coloseum and Palatine Hill and Circo Massimo. Right when I got home from school, they got home and we went to a Sicilian gelato place in our neighborhood. There were two flavors that everyone really liked. One was chocolate orange and one was After Eight, which was mint ice cream with chunks of chocolate.  When we got home the kids [Samantha, Zach, Eli, and I] were practicing for doing a show for everybody. It was an improv comedy show, with jokes, dancing, singing, and everything.

On Wednesday and Thursday we took the train to see Bologna, which we will tell about in one of the next blog posts.

Stacy and Jonathan enjoying the pizza a taglio at Roscioli.

Friday was our friends’ last day in Rome. Luckily it was Easter break so we could have the day with them. We called it Stacy’s Day of Desserts because Stacy had missed dessert two nights in a row and was having her last day in Rome.  In the morning, we strolled to a bakery and then a coffee place and then an ice cream place and a chocolate place, and then another bakery. We all tried a little bit of everything. For lunch, we went to the best pizza rosso and pizza bianca place in rome: Roscioli. We ate standing up at the counter. We tried to have gelato at a new Sicilian bakery but their freezer was broken, so we had gelato at the Gelateria de la Teatro which was excellent. Then we met up with another family. There was a 15 year old girl, Aliza, and there was an 11 year old boy named Zach. They live in Princeton, and my mom knows their mom from work. They were on vacation in Rome. We played soccer all together in the Villa Borghese park. Unfortunately a soccer ball hit my face but otherwise it was fun.

Girls out on the town.

That night, for our friends’ last dinner in Rome, we went to our favorite non-pizza place in Rome: da Gino. Unfortunately, the nicest waiter in the whole world, who we have every single time we went to da Gino, apparently only works for lunch now. But still the food was good. Me and Samantha had the exact same dinner. First we shared a caprese salad, which is tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Then we both had this good dish called cacio e pepe, which is a long pasta with cheese sauce and pepper, and for dessert we both had mousse al cioccolato, which is a chocolate mousse.

And Samantha and I wore matching scarves, a slightly different color but the same design.

On Saturday we said goodbye to each other and they left. It was a pleasure for both families to stay and I’m looking forward to seeing them again in Madison, and all of you too.

– Nell (and a little help from Jenny)

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.

You are probably all waiting to hear about my birthday.

I have three parts to talk about.

1. My birthday day and dinner

2. My special day with Mom and Dad

3. My birthday party

First let me talk about my actual birthday. We went ice skating at an inside ice skating rink. My family always notices that Italians do not like to get into a straight line when they are doing things- for example going to a movie theatre or getting on an airplane. Well, the same thing happened on the ice rink. Everyone went in different directions. We even saw kids lying down on the ice rink and trying to make snow angels while other people skated around them. There was a giant penguin that came around to skate with kids and a photographer that took pictures of kids with the penguin. They got a picture of the penguin with me. In Madison, in winter, we go ice skating every single week. But we have not done it in a year, so when we went ice skating in Rome, we were TOTALLY out of practice. My ankles were really killing me by the end. Me and my brother had a lot of bad falls, also because we were not used to having skates with a pick at the end. But they played very good music and I had a GREAT cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) at the ice skating rink.

[By the way, hot chocolate here is not like in the United States. Instead of hot milk with chocolate stirred or melted into it, it is like a giant melted chocolate bar.]

ice skating in Rome.

Later that day we had dinner. Our friends Sue and Lou were visiting from Wisconsin and I invited them to join my birthday dinner with us. By the way, Lou is very fashionable and she chose a little purse for my birthday. It looks like a little rose made out of brown leather. And you also hold it unusually. You have a strap and you slip it through your hand.  I really love it. Now back to the dinner. I chose my favorite restaurant in Rome, Da Gino. There is a really nice waiter that we always have, his name is Mario.

By the way, the day before my birthday, me and my dad walked to Gino so that I could make the reservation in person by myself. While we walked, I practiced what I wanted to say in Italian. I said Posso fare una prenotazione per la cena di domani sera, è il mio compleanno, which means May I make a reservation for dinner tomorrow night, it is my birthday. Remember that for later in this blog post because I will come back to it.

I ordered cacio e pepe which is a fresh pasta dish with a goat cheese sauce and A LOT of pepper. It is a special dish of Rome. The waiters are usually surprised when I order it because they think it is too spicy for kids so they ask if they shouldn’t put the pepper in it. But I like the pepper in it. And now for my dessert! I ordered a mousse al cioccolato (chocolate mousse). And when they brought it, I got a big surprise. They turned off the lights in the restaurant, and they had a candle in my dessert, and everyone in the restaurant sang happy birthday to me. That is why I told you to remember the story about my making the dinner reservation. The woman who made my reservation remembered that I told them it was my birthday. Lou said that I had a funny expression on my face when everyone in the restaurant started singing because I was so surprised. It was probably the most fun night I have had in my life.

Mom, Lou, Sue, and Dad at dinner. Photo Credit- me

The next week is when I had a day off from school to spend with my Mom and Dad. In the morning we walked to a neighborhood called Prati because they had a party store there and I wanted to get party favors for my birthday party. It was a very small store but they had a lot of cool stuff. Then we stopped at a mercato (farmers market) to get things for dinner. By the way, I was planning on making dinner that night. Then we stopped at a chocolate shop that was also part of the party favors for my birthday. Then we went to this fancy bathrobe store that my dad was raving about because they were having a sale. Unfortunately, it was closed. (But fortunately, we came another time and I got an amazingly soft bathrobe- but back to my story).

Me and Eli with our favorite waiter, Mario

We were planning that after we had lunch we would go to the MAXXI, which is a modern art museum. We went to a Sicilian restaurant– which was GREAT by the way. The two reasons why we chose that Sicilian restaurant was because 1. it was near the MAXXI and 2. because I am interested in visiting Sicilly. The inside of the restauarnt was all bright yellow and green. Even everywhere you looked, there was something beautiful to see. There were paintings on the wall, beautiful ceramic dishes with beautiful designs, even the sink in the bathroom had a beautiful design, and the floors had cool tiles. For lunch I had an amazing plate of grilled calimari and zucchini. It was a huge plate, but I loved it. The dessert was even better. They had a dessert which was perfect for me. You should all know that I love chocolate. It was a little ball of dark chocolate ice cream, covered with a thin crisp layer of chocolate, and then a thick, warm layer of fudge covering it. We want to bring Eli back to the restaurant. But guess what? We spent such a long time eating our lunch that we didn’t have time to go to the museum because we had to meet Eli at the school bus. So we are going to go another time. (the restaurant is Siciliainbocca on Via Flaminia, 390. . .near Ponte Milvio).

When we got home I wanted to make dinner for everyone myself. I made an Israeli salad (which is like a greek salad but without the lettuce, because I like the vegetables but don’t really like lettuce). And I made spaghetti al limone (pasta with lemon). My dad and I went to a fancy Mexican chocolate shop near our house and got a piece of chocolate for each of us to have for dessert. I had really wanted to have a chocolate with raspberry. I saw a chocolate that looked really pretty and when I asked the owner what kind it was, he said “cioccolato lampone” which was just what I wanted.

My chocolate mousse and my purse from Sue and Lou

This story is long, and I need a break. So I will write about my birthday party later.

–  Nell