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Eating the Boot: A Grand Tour of Italy


tupac17616
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Haven't had time to give this thread a proper read, but an advance 'thank-you' for your reports: I'm planning a trip to Rome, Sicily, and Ravenna for September, and this thread looks like it'll be rather useful.

Cutting the lemon/the knife/leaves a little cathedral:/alcoves unguessed by the eye/that open acidulous glass/to the light; topazes/riding the droplets,/altars,/aromatic facades. - Ode to a Lemon, Pablo Neruda

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Now, the gelato...

The first stop for gelato in Napoli was Gambrinus, right by Piazza Plebiscito. I had a cone of fior di latte and crema. I know these are kind of the base flavors, but they had practically no taste. The texture was not quite as creamy as gelato should be, either. A bit icy. A weak introduction to gelato in Naples. Another afternoon, I returned to Staturchio, and this time I tried some gelato. A cone of nocciola and crema. The nocciola had a nice roasted hazelnut flavor, the crema tasted almost like skim milk, and that's not a compliment. Worse yet, the gelato was incredibly icy and served way too cold. This was the weakest gelato I've had in Italy so far. Things were quickly brought back to order after dinner that night (hey nothing wrong with having gelato twice in one day!). I stopped by Gay Odin (Via Croce 61) and had a cone of pistacchio and fior di latte. Both were ridiculously creamy. Wonderful flavor. Great texture. The best I had in the area by a long shot.

I also visited Fantasia Gelati on Via Toledo. Cone of fior di panna and pistacchio. Both quite tasty, served at the proper temperature, and nice and creamy. On my day trip to Amalfi, I tried Caffe Royal, based on a recommendation from one of the guidebooks at the hostel I was staying at. Cone of fior di latte alla nutella and vaniglia. Not bad, but not great either. The nutella swirls were quite good. The vanilla was kinda...eh. Ah, and one more place in the area, too. Davide in Sorrento, where I had a cone of pistacchio and fior di latte (does anyone else see a trend here?). This, too, was nothing special. Nothing to make it worth the walk past the countless other gelaterias on the way from wherever you happen to be coming from.

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A few restaurant meals...

La Perla

Via Salita Truglio 5, Amalfi, 089/871440

Probably the best restaurant meal of the trip so far. I started with primo of scialatielli allo scoglio. This was a dish of wonderfully thick, toothsome long noodles with tiny bits of some herb mixed in the dough, served with mussels, clams, and shrimp. When it was brought to the table in a giant seashell, at first I thought it was a little gimmicky, but after one taste, I was sold. Really tasty dish. For my secondo, I had provola in foglie di limone, which is smoked mozzarella that is grilled between large lemon leaves. This is another local specialty, and a delicious one at that. I also ordered a contorno (side dish) of crema di zucca con fagioli. A bit out of season, I would imagine, but really good. The white beans were much more prevalent in the dish than the pumpkin puree, but it was really wonderful on its on, with a chunk of mozzarella, or a chunk of bread. I left stuffed and very happy for around €30.

L'Abate

Piazza Sant'Antonino 24, Sorrento, 081/8072304

I found myself in Sorrento with a group of people from my hostel one evening, it was approaching dinnertime. Always a sucker for the local specialty, I wanted a place serving gnocchi alla sorrentina, while one of the girls was craving canneloni. With those two dishes in mind, we walked around to try and find a place. We just stumbled upon this place, but it ended up working out nicely. I had, of course, a dish of gnochi alla sorrentina, a simple dish of small potato dumplings with tomatoes, mozzarella, a hint of basil and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmigiano on top. The gnocchi were not exactly the soft pillows they should be, but Sorrento is a tourist town, so my expectations were low to begin with. It hit the spot nonetheless. As a side note, though, I should mention that I ordered an antipasto of insalata caprese for the table, and it turned out to be among the best versions of that dish I've ever had. Really wonderfully juicy, fresh tomato slices, milky fresh mozzarella. Just the way it should be. There were smiles all around the table while eating this. (And a good laugh later on, when they realized it wasn't a "gift from the kitchen" like the tasty fresh-tomato-topped flatbread we'd been given to start, but was in fact, a gift from me! I didn't realize I'd been so sneaky in asking the waiter for it, but I'm glad it worked out that way!). Some biscotti to finish off the meal, and I think I was out of there for about €20.

Da Tonino

Via Dentecala 34, Capri Town, 081/8376718

When in Capri, it is hell trying to get away from the loud tourist fray. Luckily, somehow I managed to, and when I did, I found Capri to be a gorgeous, quiet island. This place is a bit of a trek to get to. Or maybe a climb is a better word, actually. From the city center next to the furnicular stop in Capri town, its around a 20-30 minute walk uphill. Not fun at mid-day. Once you get there, though, you certainly appreciate your surroundings if nothing else. All you can hear is birds chirping and a slight ocean breeze whisking through the leaves nearby. Looking around, you see nothing by sea, sky, and green. Regardless of the food, the places already had me in good spirits, as I looked forward to resting my weary legs for a while. When in Capri, it was a given that I would order insalata caprese, so I started with that. I should have known the superfluous shredded carrot clumped in the middle of the plate when it arrived was a bad sign. Not that the dish was bad, I suppose. But just not good. The tomatoes were not fully ripe, they looked like the flavorless white interior, glossy red exterior ones we can find at any supermarket in the US. The mozzarella was not anything special, either. Too firm. Not milky at all. Pretty weak dish overall, but what can ya do? I also ordered a dish of risotto al pescatore, or fisherman's risotto with mussels, clams, and a few tiny shrimp. This was the first risotto I'd had on the trip so far, and it was pretty tasty. The texture was just right, not runny but not dry either. Flavor was pretty good, if a little one-dimensional. Oh, and there was a raw potato on the plate carved into the shape of a flower. Umm, thanks?

Other than an absolutely horrible chunk of bread with chunks of salumi in it from a random shop in Naples, I think that about covers all the non-pizza stuff so far. Next up, the real reason for my visit to Naples...

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Haven't had time to give this thread a proper read, but an advance 'thank-you' for your reports: I'm planning a trip to Rome, Sicily, and Ravenna for September, and this thread looks like it'll be rather useful.

You're quite welcome! I'm eating my way through Rome right now, so hopefully I'll have some good stuff to pass along to you!

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Okay, pizza time. I had A LOT during my time in the Naples area. So here goes nothing.

Sorbillo

Via Tribunali 35?

Okay, I admit it. Even after going to both, I don't fully understand the difference between the two Sorbillo locations, located literally about 20 feet from one another. I felt good about making this my first stop, after the praise that eGullet-er Pizza Napoletana had given it in another thread. Not knowing the difference, I walked into the smaller, four-table pizzeria. Ordered the standard pie by which all pizza places should be done. The pizza margherita. Just tomato, mozzarella, basil, and by far the most important part, the crust. And it was quite delcious here. The crust had a good bit of char on the bottom, and it had those wonderful tiny air pockets in places. The toppings were nice, and in proper proportion to the crust. Not too much cheese or too much sauce. It was paper-thin in the middle, and thus suffered from the tip-drooping syndrome so common among Neapolitan pies for those attempting to cut them into slices. Very nice introduction to Naples pizza, and for €3, not a bad deal for lunch, either.

Il Pizzaioli del Presidente -- Pizzeria e Friggitoria di Ernesto Cacialli

Via Tribunali 120/121, 081/210903

Nothing wrong with a second lunch, right? As I wandered down the block, the lure of a fresh, hot €1 pizza from another one of Naples' lauded pizzerias was too much to pass up. This €1 pizza al forno was just crust and tomato sauce. It was unfortunately lukewarm, but was very tasty nonetheless. The char on the bottom was very nice. The crust was a bit thicker than the one I'd just had at Sorbillo, and it had a chewyness to it that I really liked. The tomato sauce was quite tasty. They also had pizza fritta. Yes, that's right folks. The Adkins-be-damned fried pizza, a Neapolitan specialty. But it wasn't time for that just yet. If I were anywhere near here, I'd probably have one of these €1 pies every day. For better health, of course.

That night, I came back for dinner. (Hey, I warned you that I ate a lot of pizza on this trip!). This time I had the pizza fritta, essentially a deep-fried calzone filled with ricotta cheese, prosciutto cotto, mozzarella, tomato and basil. Now this is an indulgence I could get used to. Thank God I don't like any closer to Naples or I might not live to see 30. I wasn't such a fan of the chunks of ham, but the cheese, tomato and basil were very tasty. The crust wasn't soggy, but wasn't super crisp either. A decent introduction to this Neapolitan specialty, but there would eventually be much better pizza fritta on this trip. By the way, the pizza was maybe €3 or €5, something like that.

Pizzeria Di Matteo

Via Tribunali 94, 081/455262

After a fried pizza, what could be more fitting for "dessert" than more fried stuff? Walking by Di Matteo, which the workers at my hostel raved about, I decided there was not room for more pizza (even I have limits), but there was always some room for a little snack. So I had one piece each of four different fried things. An incredibly dry and flavorless arancino, a small fried risotto ball that made me miss Sicily. A piece of melanzana, or eggplant. A panserotto, a smallish stick of fried dough stuffed with mozzarella and tomoto. And one of my favorite treats, a fiore di zucca, or fried zucchini flower. None of the four were particularly tasty, but if you have to get your vegetables in somehow, this is not a bad way to go.

On another evening, I returned here with a large group of people from my hostel. (N.B. -- by "large", I mean literally over 20, which certainly may have affected the pizza-making process). I had pizza alla cocca, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and an egg in the middle of the pie. Very tasty combination, which was not surprising consdering I'm always a sucker for anything with egg in it or on it. I wish they'd thrown the egg on later, though, as the yolk was too solid for my tastes, cooked almost all the way through and not runny at all. The crust had a nice chewiness, but unfortunately, essentially no char. Very disappointing, but again, this could be due to the fact that there were 20 of us, and there is only so much oven heat to go around. I'd certainly try this place again, but the first visit wasn't amazing. As a side note, they misheard my request for fiorilli, the fried zucchini flowers I mentioned above, and instead brought me a plate of friarielli, a sauteed bitter green not unlike broccoli, often served in combination with sausage in various local dishes. Simply served with olive oil, garlic, and hot pepper flakes, this was okay but not great. I can see how it would be good with sausage, though. I'd try it again that way.

Da Michele

Via Cesare Sersale 1/3, 081/5539204

Open since 1870, this is probably the most widely known pizza place in Naples. I'd venture a guess that about 4 out of every 5 people that walked in the door were double-checking their guidebooks to make sure they were in the right place. They are here for a reason. My pizza margherita was good. Very good. The crust, which I think is the most important part, was absolutely phenomenal. Many irregularities in thickness and shape. To me, just the right thickness. Wonderful char. Great pockets of air in places. Really really good. The only downside of the pie was that I found the sauce to be undersalted. I'm not asking for any oregano, pepper, garlic or anything like that. I understand the Neapolitan way is often to use simply tomatoes. But a little salt here would have gone a long way. The cheese, also, was good, and thankfully used sparingly. Very very good pie overall. I'd go back in a heartbeat. Pizza and drink for €5.

Salvo

Largo Arso 10/16, San Giorgio a Cremano (Napoli), 081/275306

I would go to great lengths for great pizza, and in this case, I did. For those without a car, Salvo, in the nearby area close to Portici, is not the most accessible pizzeria to visit. A 30-minute trip on the Circumvesuviana train, followed by maybe a 30-minute walk. But hey, eGullet pizza expert Pizza Napoletana had showered praise on the place, so I figured I would check it out. I was very glad that I did. Pizza margherita, of course. The crust was incredible. Probably the best of the trip. Much like Da Michele, lots of irregularities. Great chewyness. The slightest bit of crispiness, too. The toppings were good quality as well. It didn't seem to be near anything, but if you find yourself in the area, it's a really phenomenal pie.

Brandi

Via Morelli Domenico 11, 081/7643906

The birthplace of pizza margherita, so I had to check it out. For historical reasons, of course. I upgraded the normal pizza margherita to include mozzarella di bufala, buffalo mozzarella, bumping the price up to a ridiculous €9 or something like that. This pie was a wet mess. Really, really oily. Crust was too thick around the edges and too thin in the center. This may be where the pizza margherita started, but it is certainly not where it has been perfected.

Trianon da Ciro

Via P. Colletta 46

After a lot of pizza margheria already, this time I opted for pizza alla marinera, simply crust, tomato sauce, and oregano. This was very, very good. What I thought at first was big-time oversalting turned out to be just an abundance of dried oregano. The crust was really nice. A bit thicker than some of the others, but very nice air pockets, great chewiness, and very good char. I would go back here for sure. Very good dinner for €3.

Sorbillo

Via Tribunali 32, 081/446643

This time I went to the larger, newer looking sitdown place. The pizza margherita was very good. The crust was much thinner, and much, much more crisp than any other I had in Naples. The char was good, the flavor was good, the toppings were good. My personal preference tends towards a bit more chewiness in the crust, but if very crispy thin crust is your thing, this is your place for sure. Pizza and water for €4.40. Not a bad deal at all.

De' Figliole

Via Giudecca Vecchia 39, 081/286721

A very good pizza fritta, this one was filled only with ricotta, tomato and basil. The crust was noticeably better than the fritta at Pizzaiolo del Presidente. More crispy on the edges, and not stretched too thin in the center. For the €2 "small", this made for a wonderful (sizeable) snack.

Gorizia

Via Bernini 31, 081/5782248

Among the thicker crusts I encountered on this trip, this was also one of the smallest. Maybe 7 inches or so in diameter, this pizza margherita was pretty good. Personally, I thought it was too thick. But the char was good. The texture of the crust was chewy but with a slight crunch on the bottom layer. The toppings were tasty. Pretty good overall. €3.

Antica Costa

Corner of VIa della Maddalena and Via Poerio

This was another recommendation from the brilliant list by eGullet member Pizza Napoletana. At 10pm, this place was absolutely hopping. Come to find out, it was for very good reason. The pizza fritta I had here was the best I had on the trip, by a longshot. Absolutely wonderful. The filling was the house specialty, tuna (canned packed in olive oil) and fresh cherry tomatoes. The crust was perfect. That's the only way I can describe it. Magnificently crispy around the edges. Just the right amount of chewiness. Not too thin, not too thick. The filling was very very good as well. I can't wait to go back here. If you have time for only one pizza fritta in Naples, don't even think of going anyplace else. €3.50.

Lombardi

Via Foria 12, 081/456220

This place was recommended by my guidebook, and I had time for one more lunch in Naples, so I figured why not try another pizza place. Bad call. The crust on my pizza margherita was really thick and puffy around the edges, but soggy and thin in the middle. Tons of excess oil. Too much cheese. Too much sauce. Just a mess. Don't bother.

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Roma

What can one say about this city? How can you even begin to do justice to it with words? All I can say is, if you have not been, you must go sometime. See it for yourself. Feel it for yourself. The juxtaposition of imperial antiquity and modern technology is incredible. Look one way and see the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, or the Pantheon, look another and see internet cafes, smart cars and bluetooth headsets. There is an overwhelming list of sights so famous they are practically cliche: St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Palatine Hill, Galleria Borghese, and on and on and on.

Much like New York, Rome has a beautiful energy to it that I find myself quickly swept up in. A few days in the city, and you feel like you are moving with it, breathing with it. I saw the sights, to be sure. But what I loved perhaps even more about the city was the way it felt to take a more random path. Sit in a shady, breezy piazza with little else but a cone of gelato and maybe a drink to sip, watching the free daily theater that is Roman life as it passed you by. Explore a new neighborhood, put away the map, and get lost for a bit. It was in those moments that I saw the real beauty of Rome.

Of course, I managed to take in a few nice culinary treasures there, as well. So without further ado, let me get to that...

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I certainly love my sweets, so I'll start with those...

The first morning, I decided to stop by Caffe Giuliani on Via Volturno just down the block from my hostel. I noticed many of their goods were Sicilian -- cannoli, cassatine, ecc. I asked one of the staff about this and he said that is their specialty, as there aren't as many sweets that are traditionally of the Lazio region that has Rome at its heart. Fair enough. I decided to try a cannolo al pistacchio. Basically, a regular cannolo with probably pistachio paste added to the ricotta filling to make it green. This was really weak. The shell was absolutely terrible. Tasted undercooked and undersalted. The filling wasn't that fresh. Blech. Later that evening after dinner, I made a stop at Tre Scalini in Piazza Navona. Famous for their intensely chocolate tartufo, there was no question what I was there to try. At a ridiculous €10 at an outside table, and even €5 at the bar, they don't come cheap. But, hey, tourist areas. What can ya do? I grabbed one at the bar. Topped with a dollop of whipped cream, and for good reason. This thing is rich. Is it ice cream? Is it cake? Is it both? I don't know, and even judging from the hard texture, frankly I couldn't tell you for sure. Chocolate-lovers might swoon over this, but I don't really count myself in that camp, and while this was tasty it didn't particularly wow me. Amusingly, halfway through eating it, I saw an intense barrage of light flashes outside, only to step out onto the piazza and see that President Berlusconi of Italy was there to get his tartufo fix as well. Funny. Not specifically a sweet snack, per se, but a trip to Sant'Eustachio in the piazza of the same name was a necessity on this trip. You see, I'm not really a coffee guy. But if this place is supposedly so good, I figured I would give it a shot and see if it might change my mind about coffee. Well, it didn't. But it wasn't bad. I had a grancappuccino, which is apparently just a regular cappuccino that they slip some of their house-made crema di caffe into beforehand. Still not sweet enough for me, but as I said, I'm not a coffee guy, so take that criticism with a large grain of salt. Or in this case, sugar.

On one afternoon, with most of city closed due to a specifically-Roman Catholic feast day, I wandered down to the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood to satisfy my sweet tooth. The first stop was at Forno del Ghetto (Via del Portico d'Ottavia 1). This place was mentioned in my guidebook, and the wonderful smell floating down the block, and the doorway jammed with locals seemed to indicate it had led me in the right direction this time. I stepped inside, saw three thing, and ordered one of each. A slice of a ricotta cake with sour-cherry jam, a biscotto con mandorla or almond cookie, and a ridiculously delicious, buttery bar cookie with almonds, pine nuts, raisins, and candied fruit baked in. That last thing was absolutely incredibly. Among the best sweets I've had on the trip. Couldn't tell you what it was called, but I could tell you it was warm, fresh out of the oven, and fabulous. Further down that same block, I visited Dolceroma, which specializes in Austrian sweets. I went there looking for strudel, but alas, they were out. So I had a piece of Marillen Streusel Kuchen, which was basically an apricot crumb cake. Okay, but a little dry. Eh.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still craving the wonderful sweets of Sicily, so on another morning, I decided to try my luck at finding a Sicilian treat in Rome. My guidebook led me to Dagnino, Via V.E. Orlando 75, where I had a regular cannolo. Luckily for me, this one was delicious, and it brought me right back to Palermo. Later that evening after dinner in Trastevere, I was walking along the Tevere and noticed Sora Mirella Caffe near Ponte Cestio. Their specialty is la grattachecca, which is essentially shards of hand-shaved ice with fruit-flavored syrups and often fresh fruit on top of them. I had a cup of grattachecca con mandorla, a really tasty almond-flavored treat. The texture was awesome. Perfectly crunchy, flaky ice that ended up in a partial slush by the time you had worked your way through most of it, leaving a tasty drink for the end. Really nice summertime treat. And as I wandered the banks of the Tevere further, among the many vendors and food carts I saw Pompi, "Il Regno del Tiramisu", which I remembered reading about here on eGullet. My last night in Rome for now, so I figured why not try their famous tiramisu. The verdict? Didn't really do much for me. Honestly, I like my mom's version better. Pompi's was too dry, not a strong enough espresso flavor, not sweet or fluffy enough mascarpone. Not bad, but just not great overall.

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...and some gelato...

My first night in Rome, I stopped by one of the more famous gelato places in Rome. San Crispino, on Via della Panetteria 42, prides themselves on using no artificial flavors or colors in their gelato. Late on a Sunday evening, this place was packed, so I figured I was in the right spot. No cones, here, unfortunately, so I opted a rather smallish "medium" cup for €2.60. Pistacchio (of course) and zabaglione. I certainly support the whole no-artificial-flavors thing, and of course, how else do you get pistachio flavor into pistachio gelato without, well, pistachios? But to my taste, there were way too many in this gelato. Tiny tiny chunks that were in every single bite, affecting the texture in what, to me, was a very bad way. Trying to appreciate the wonderful creaminess of good gelato, you don't want the sandpaper sensation of tiny pistachio pieces on your tongue. The flavor was good, don't get me wrong. But the texture? Not so much. The zabaglione flavor was intensely booze-y, which was nice. Noticeably too-large ice crystals, though, made it too hard, too cold, and not smooth enough. I wasn't too impressed this first time around, but if they are so highly praised, there must be some reason for it. I'd go back at some point and give it another shot.

Later in the week, I stopped by Della Palma on Via della Maddelena 20/23. Walking in the door, I was reminded of Dylan's Candy Bar in New York City. This is not a good thing. Candy everywhere, even in many of the gelato flavors. Bright colors all over the wallas. Kids in every direction. But the place seemed to be highly recommended in one of the guidebooks I was reading at the store (yes, I am too cheap to buy one), so I figured I'd give it a shot. This place had a LOT of flavors. I would guess somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty. When I saw four different types of pistacchio, there was no question what I was going to have. A cone of four flavors -- creama di pistacchio (the usual pistachio you see everywhere), pistacchio croccante (essentially crema with small pistachio chunks), pistacchio di Bronte (larger chunks of the delicious Sicilian pistachios), and stracciatella al pistacchio (crema with bright green streaks of pistachio throughout). Very generous portion. All the flavors were nice and creamy, if perhaps a bit too sweet. I quite liked it overall, and I really liked having different forms of the same flavor in one cone.

Another afternoon while exploring Trastevere, I stopped into La Fonta della Salute (see, gelato IS good for you...the place is called the Fountain of Health!) on Via Cardinale Marmaggi 2. A cone of riso (rice) and pistacchio was quite good. I especially loved the texture of the riso gelato. The slightly chewy cooked grains of rice were awesome. The pistachio was pretty good as well. I would recommend this place if in the area.

Another evening, I hit another very well-known spot for gelato in Rome. Giolitti, on Via Uffici del Vicario 40. Late on a Friday night, this place was PACKED. Crazy packed. I grabbed my receipt from the cashier and happily joined the frenzy, trying to pick flavors from their awesome selection. I ended up going with pistacchio, riso, and marron glace, and for the first time on the trip, opting for panna, or fresh whipped cream, on the top. The dollop of whipped cream was huge and it was getting in the way of the gelato, so I ended up scraping most of it off. The gelato itself was good. The riso was tasty, but the rice grains were too crunchy here, which affected the texture in a bad way. The pistacchio was very tasty. The marron glace had great flavor, but had a bit too much of the grainy mouthfeel I often associate with chestnuts. I would certaily return here, though.

During my last day in Rome, I visited Fiocco di Neve on Via del Pantheon 51, another place I found in my guidebook. Not having seen much since leaving Palermo, I was excited to see panino di gelato on the menu. A literal ice cream sandwich between the halves of a sweet briche roll. Sounded good to me. Instead of pulling a fresh brioche roll (God bless the Sicilians), this lady pulled an individually-wrapped roll out of plastic. Doh! Then, the gelato flavors: the usual pistacchio, along with riso and zabaglione, supposedly their two specialties. Weak weak weak. The gelato was not that tasty. The brioche was terrible. The €4.50 price tag was steep considering the skimpy scoops (yes, they used scoops not spades here...no good). Not worth it at all.

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...pizza, pizza...

Getting my first "pizza" in Rome was an interesting experience. Very tired and hungry after seeing the Roman Forum, I stopped into Gran Gaffe Cavour, Via Cavour 288/290, for a bite to eat. Pizza caprese looked nice. A fairly thick square slab of focaccia topped with fresh tomato slices and mozzarella. The bartender asked if I wanted it warm, so he put it on the griddle for a few minutes to heat it through. This made the bottom pleasantly crispy while the rest of the crust was warm, soft and slightly chewy. The tomato slices were fairly tasty, although the mozzarella was not that great. Having just that one slice, and a small bottle of water, I nearly had a heart attack when the cashier asked for €8.50. I couldn't believe it. I was absolutely convinced I'd seen her manually change the price on the register to screw me over because they could tell I spoke Engligh (my Italian was apparently a little slow). I was so pissed off you would not believe. Not really having anything to say or do, I just had to suck it up and pay that ridiculuous tourist-B.S. price and move on. Grr.

I made sure my next pizza experience in Rome would be at someplace good. After shopping a bit at the market, I needed to look no further than the Antino Forno Campo de' Fiori on Vicolo Gallo 14. This place is very well-known and rightfully so. I had a pizza farcita con fichi e prosciutto, or stuffed pizza bianca with a layer of warm figs and prosciutto inside. Incredible. Really, really delicious. Salty. Sweet. Warm. Crunchy. Just a perfect flavor combination. On another afternoon, I returned to Antico Forno Campo de' Fiori once again, this time for something more simple. Their two specialties are pizza bianca and pizza rossa, a thin crust with either just olive oil and salt (bianca) or tomato sauce (rossa). I had a piece of each. Both were still warm from the oven. The rossa was good, but the bianca was great. Both very thin, crispy in some places and chewy in others. The salt of the bianca really gave that one the edge for me. Really tasty.

Just a few blocks from the Campo de' Fiori, I checked out Antico Forno Marco Roscioli on Via dei Chiavari 34 another afternoon. I opted for a simple piece of pizza bianca from here. Not particularly outstanding. A bit too chewy. Good flavor, but unfortunately no longer warm. Overall, I'd say it was good but not great. Perhaps it's all in the timing of getting a warm piece.

Wandering through Trastevere, I went to the famous Dar Poeta on Vicolo del Bologna one evening. Here I had a pizza con fiori di zucca, alici, e mozzarella, an ultra-thin, crispy crust topped with zucchini flowers, anchovy, and fresh mozzarella. The toppings were tasty, if a little bit too stingy with the fiori di zucca and alici. The crust, though, was definitely not my thing. The moisture of the mozzarella was the only thing keeping from being a dry mess. The crust itself had practically no flavor to me. No char. No chewiness. Only crunch after bland crunch. Like I said, the toppings were okay, but good toppings do not a good pizza make. For dessert, I had a calzone filled with nutella and ricotta. Hard to go wrong with this combination, of course, and this was tasty. But again, the crust... Just not good.

Earlier that evening, after a glass of wine in that same neighborhood, I decided I'd grab a pre-dinner snack at La Renella (Via del Moro 16), which smelled absolutely heavenly as I walked down the block. A slice of pizza con fiori di zucca, alici, e mozzarella was very good here. The crust was nicely chewy, although the texture was probably affected a bit when they re-heated my slice for a few minutes. The toppings were flavorful. I would definitely try this place again sometime, and in fact, opt for it over Dar Poeta anyday when in that neighborhood.

My last pizza stop in Rome was at Acchiapafantasmi ("Ghostbusters") on Via del Cappellari 66. Recommended in my guidebook, the owners are the place are Calabrese, so much of the menu leans that direction. I figured the namesake pizza was a safe choice, so I ordered the pizza Acchiapafantasmi with marinated porcini mushrooms, tuna and a few uesless olives on a bed of mozzarella. I really hated the toppings. The mushrooms tasted almost pickled. The tuna was okay on its own, but did not work with the cheese or the other toppings. Terrible flavor combo. I ended up scraping most of it off, and eating the thin, overly crispy, unremarkable crust. Oh, and this is a regular restaurant as well, so the pizza prices reflect that. This was, I believe, €9. Don't bother.

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...markets and food shops...

A foodie's visit to Rome would not be complete without a trip to the Campo de' Fiori, so before I even arrived, I had decided one night I would find a place to cook the things I'd bought in the market that morning. A nasty, decripit old hostel I stayed in one night was just the ticket -- they had a kitchen! So that morning I headed down to the Campo de' Fiori to shop. I love fiori di zucca, zucchini flowers, so I immediately bought a beautiful orange-tipped bouquet for and decided I had to work that into the dinner somehow. €1. From the next stall, I grabbed some pomodorini, a basket of tiny sweet little tomatoes for €2. Moving right along, I bought some dried kiwi, one of my favorite dried fruits and not the easiest one to find. And I had to have some figs to cap off the fig & prosciutto pizza I'd just had at Antico Forno Campo de' Fiori a few minutes before, so I bought three fichi freschi to munch on as I shopped.

With dinner ideas still churning in my head, I stopped into Ruggero, Campo de' Fiori 1/2, for some meat and cheese. I wanted a local salame and local cheese to go with the pasta I'd decided I'd make that night. The guy offered spianata romana, an oval-shaped, slightly spicy salame, as well as capra ucollo and ricotta di pecora cheeses. The former, which I intended to grate on the pasta dish, was too mild for what I had in mind. I needed something saltier. The ricotta di pecora was very fresh and quite tasty. About a year ago, I discovered a snack I've come back to again and again and again. Dried kiwi with the freshest ricotta you can find. It is a match made in heaven. That combination provided a sweet ending to my lunch, and was a tasty way to tide myself over until dinner. Oh, and dinner that night, by the way, was simply a dish of pasta called molle ("springs") with the fiori di zucca, pomodorini, spianata romana and capra ucollo. Nothing spectacular, but there is always something wonderfully therapeutic about cooking, even when (if not especially when) on vacation.

One morning, I wanted to head down to Sant'Eustachio for a cappuccino. Somehow, though, the same bus I'd taken the day before to go to that area ended up going toward San Pietro instead. That took long enough that I figured what the hell, I'll just hop out and explore a bit. Realing I was close to Via Cola di Rienzo, I remembered reading about a pair of gourmet food stores right beside one another on that street. So that was the new plan. The first stop was Franchi, on Via Cola di Rienzo 200. This shop was absolutely full of take-out prepared foods. Pasta, meat, fish, vegetables, sandwiches, you name it. Unfortunately, none of this stuff really appealed to me, but luckily, they had a pretty nice meat and cheese selection as well. I asked the gentleman helping me to give me some type of local salumi and some type of local cheese for a snack. His recommendations were caciotta del principe, a semi-soft mild but tasty cheese , and salsiccia di suino e cinghiale, a few links of dried pork-and-wild-boar sausage. Oh, and I added asked for an arancino con sugo di carne, the tasty fried risotto balls filled with meat ragu. At this shop, they were known as suppli, so perhaps that is a regional thing, although I thought suppli al telefono is the full name, but that only referred to those stuffed with mozzarella and the telephone-wire texture the melted cheese has as you pull it apart. Who knows. Anyhoo, the arancino, or supplo, I guess in this case, was not very good. Pretty dry, though the ragu was pretty tasty. The cheese I quite liked, and the sausage I liked as well, though not in conjunction with the cheese. Maybe a piece of bread. Something to tone it down a little. It was strongly spiced and smoky, much like beef jerky.

Heading right next door, I stopped into Castroni, on Via Cola di Rienzo 196. This store specializes in imported goods, and they had stuff from everywhere. All the regions of Italy, Germany, Spain, United States, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Greece just to name a few that I saw. I wasn't really searching for tortilla chips or nori that day, so I left empty-handed. Interesting store to check out, though.

One afternoon later in the week, I decided to check out a place that my guidebook claims has the "highest-quality meats and specializes in aged cheeses from small producers." So off to the neighborhood of Testaccio I was, in search of Volpetti, on Via Marmorata 47. I really, really liked this store. They had me from hello. Hello, welcome to Volpetti, and excuse me while I set down this fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza bianca right in front of your nose, that is. I may not have been very hungry at that point, but I'm also not an idiot. I'd asked the guy for a slice before he's even had a chance to put it down. He laughed, cut me a nice sized chunk, and it was time to mangia, mangia. But what is even better than hot bread? Why, hot bread with a great cheese and tasty meat to go along with it, of course. I hurried over to the counter, immediately spied sfilacciata, and my mind was made up. This gift from the gods is half cream, half strands of milky fresh mozzarella cheese. Elsewhere I'd seen it referred to as stracciatella, but frankly, they can call it whatever the hell they want here, because it's incredible. I also asked the man for 50g of whatever his favorite local salame was, and he offered up some really wonderful salame toscano with course chunks of black pepper throughout. What these three simple ingredients made was not a sandwich. It was a religious experience. It cost me a mere €5 and was eaten hastily on the first stoop I spotted on an empty side street, but was probably the single best thing I've eaten on the trip so far. Just delicious. After I was done, I walked back inside the store to thank the guy who'd helped me out, and then I decided I should take something for the road, so I grabbed a chunk of ultra-aged parmigiano-reggiano from November 2002, and I was off. I will definitely return to this store the next time I am in Rome. No question about that.

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a few restaurant meals...

'Gusto Osteria

Via della Frezza 16, 06/3226273

Not having done any research here on eGullet for Rome food ideas, I wasn't really sure where I would go the first evening. But, my guidebook mentioned that this place had cicheti, the Venetian snacks that I suppose are much like Spanish tapas (never been to Venice, or Spain for that matter, so couldn't tell ya). A few glasses of wine, a bite of this, a bite of that -- that kind of light meal was sounding very good that night. Well, you see, I'm sure cicheti can be light, but perhaps not when you order ten of them... :cool: Glancing across the massive menu of cicheti, which cost probably an average of €2 each, are available only inside in the bar area, and correspond to every dish that is on the not-as-cheap Osteria menu in English outside, I was a bit overwhelmed. Then I saw the giro di dieci cicheti, a sampling of 10 different dishes from differnt sections of the menu, and the search was over. (My waiter kindly warned me that the other option for 20 was too much for one person. I'm not sure he understood who he was dealing with, but I decided to trust him anyway. :wink:). Oh, and did I mention the price? €14. Beautiful. And I had (1) fiore di zucca ripieni di ricotta e crema d'alici (2) mozzarella panata (3) alice fritto (4) arancino alla siciliana (5) spaghetti alle vongole veraci (6) rigatoni all'amatriciana (7) pappardelle alla puttanesca (8) insalata di polpo e patate (9) insalata di fagiolini tonno e patate (10) insalata di finocchi e gamberi agli agrumi. In other words (1) stuffed zucchini flower (2) fried mozzarella (3) friend anchovy (4) fried risotto ball (5) spaghetti with tiny clams (6) rigatoni with tomatoes, pancetta and onion (7) pappardelle with capers, olives, and tomatoes (8) octopus and potato salad (9) beans, tuna, and potato salad (10) salad of raw shrimp with fennel in a citrus sauce. Without going dish by dish, I'd just say that overall, I quite enjoyed everything. The shrimp and fennel salad, in particular, was a knockout. So far on this trip, raw shrimp has not steered me wrong. The only downside was that all ten dishes were brought out at once, but my guess is that this is meant to share, not meant for one person to have all to him/herself. I had planned to have a few different wines, but as I was working on a glass of white wine -- Thurgao from Trentino, I believe, which was boring and didn't really do much for me -- I was caught off guard by my table being flooded with plates, and didn't bother to do order any more. How is one wine supposed to suit ten different foods? Not gonna happen. Anyway, after polishing the 10 dishes off, I was pleasantly full, or at least my closest approximation thereof (I can sort of eat endlessly...). Waiter was right. Twenty would have been overkill. Tanto. The service is a bit absentminded, but the food is pretty good, their wine list is huge, and this is just a fun way to eat. I'll definitely be back.

Grappolo d'Oro Zampano

Piazza della Cancelleria 80, 06/6897080

Another place recommended in my guidebook, I walked by to check out the menu, liked it, and decided to return later that evening to try it out. It's just a block away from the Campo de' Fiori, so I figured the location was good (if, in fact, the chef happens to be one of the five actual Romans who shop at that market). The menu is an eclectic, somewhat creative mish-mash of regional Italian cuisine, with some tried and true Roman traditional dishes sprinkled throughout. I started with the millefoglie di burrata e acciughe, paper-thin layers of phyllo dough with milky-fresh burrata cheese and incredibly salty anchovies in between. Overall, pretty tasty, but I think it would have benefitted from another flavor joining the party, as the dish didn't really come together as well as I thought it might. By the end, I'd eaten away all the phyllo and anchovy, and I was just enjoying the burrata by itself. Gotta love that cheese. I had another antipasto, which really boggled my waitress' mind when I ordered it, so they ended up bringing it at the same time as the millefoglie. God forbid that I screw up the traditional order of the Italian meal. The flan di fave e percorino, fava bean and pecorino cheese custard, was not a big success. The texture was too coarse, I was hoping it would have been smoother, lighter. Also, I thought, overly salted. The pecorino provides enough salinity on its own, but the fava banes themselves had also apparently been salted, which was a bit overwhelming. All previous wrongs were forgotten, though, with the next dish. Tonarelli cacio e pepe. Just pasta, cheese and black pepper, but this was as deliciously simple as one always hopes these straightforward and traditional dishes will be. Definitely among the best dishes I enjoyed in Rome. I think this meal was somewhere around €30, by the way.

Cul de Sac

Piazza Pasquino 73, 06/68801094

After enjoying 'Gusto so much, I decided to try another wine bar for dinner that evening. This one, which I believe has been mentioned here on eGullet, I also ran across in my guidebook. Their menu looked to have basic traditional Roman cooking for the most part, with a few eclectic additions. Kind of the exact opposite of Grappolo d'Oro the night before. I started with rigatoni all'amatriciana. As one who prefers this dish to be made with bucatini, the long, hollow noodles instead, it boggles the mind to observe the ubiquity of rigatoni. It's just not the same, if you ask me. Luckily, though, the guanciale, cured pork jowl, was cut in thick chunks essentiallly like lardons, and was quite tasty. Much more so than at 'Gusto two nights prior, when eating this, you knew it wasn't just tomato sauce with a few token pieces of guanciale. This tasted downright porky, which I liked. Keeping things light, as I always do, I then had trippa alla romana. Yes, tripe stewed in tomato sauce. Just right for that warm summer evening. Well, perhaps not. This was pretty tasty, although a bit tiresome as you keep eating it, since it's pretty much a one-trick pony flavorwise. I left probably 1/3 of it behind, as it was just too much. Ah, and I also ordered a contorno, or side dish, of verdure di stagione. Literal translation: vegetables of the season. Actual translation: very well cooked, nay, obliterated vegetables. This was, I think, red cabbage and some sort of green stuff, but honesly, they'd been cooked so long that your guess is as good as mine. But hey, at least I got my veggies in, right? :raz: The damage for this meal was around €24.

Matricianella

2/4 Via del Leone, 06/6832100

I remembered seeing this place mentioned here on eGullet, and it sounded the ideal typical Roman trattoria. I started with fritto romano: animelle e cervello d'abacchio, e zucchini and added a single fiore di zucca to that order as well. Friend baby lamb sweetbreads and brains? What could be bad about that? And with the zucchini strips and the stuffed zucchini flower (with fresh mozzarella), I was getting my serving of vegetables at the same time. Sounds like a balanced meal already. This was absolutely fantastic. All of it. The sweetbreads and brains were cooked perfectly. Creamy-smooth and velvety, they could make an offal-eater out of absolutely anyone, I guarantee it. Delicate, but at the same time oh so flavorful. The batter on everything was much like tempura. Wonderfully crispy, not the least bit soggy. Did I mention this dish was really really really good? Well, it was. But alas, one can't live on brains and sweetbreads alone. There are also intestines to be had, after all. In this case, in Rigatoni con Pajata. Pajata, according to my good friends Wikipedia are the intestines of a calf fed only on its mother's milk. "The intestines are cleaned, but the milk is left inside. When cooked, it coagulates and creates a sort of thick, creamy, cheese-like sauce." Interesting, eh? This, I'm guessing is probably more of a winter thing, so I probably was immediately pegged as a tourist at this point, but what can ya do? This was a traditional Roman dish that I'd not had in the US, so I figured I would give it a shot. Pretty tasty, actually. I like the texture of the intestines. I was expecting more of a rubberiness or chewiness, but it was actually fairly, I don't know, meaty? The tomato sauce it was stewed in had a nice kick of red-pepper spice, which I liked. I'm not sure anything can ever knock spaghetti alla carbonara of its pedestal as my favorite traditionally Roman dish, but I was glad to have tried this. This meal was €24 all included.

Osteria Le Mani in Pasta

Via dei Genovesi 37, 06/5816017

Wandering through Trastevere one evening, I decided to give this place a shot. A friend of mine whose taste in food and wine I trust a lot recommended this place after a friend had recommended it to her, so I was excited to try it out. Although some of the dried pasta selections were calling out to me, I'm wasn't going to go to a place called Le Mani in Pasta and not have some pasta that had been made con le mani, ya know? So I went for tagliolini alla gricia, which is a traditional Roman dish pasta preparation I'd not sampled on the trip. Essentially all'amatriciana without the tomatoes, this dish tasted of porky guanciale and white wine, as it should. The texture of the pasta was pretty good, if a bit firmer and more chewy than I typically prefer fresh noodles to be. I then moved on to a secondo of abbachio scottadito. Three of four thin pieces of grilled lamb, heart and all. Cooked well-done, which for lamb, especially, is no good. This made it pretty dry and chewy. It was well-seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and a splash of fresh lemon juice helped brighten it up a bit, but I didn't really enjoy this dish. There were lots of reasonably-priced pastas on the menu that were appealing, though, so I wouldn't be opposed to giving it another shot sometime. This meal was €25.

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well, sounds like you had a great time and i'm salivating waiting for my next chance to go to napoli and palermo. I was waiting for you to show up at the pub, it would have been fun to talk to a real life egulleteer.

too bad you didn't make it to the vittorio emanuelle market, next time perhaps. also, i got a good laugh about the suppli from Franchi. i've eaten there on a few occasions and the food is always good (expensive). so last time i decided to try their suppli, touted as made in the house, turned out to be really disappointing for me as well. i'm not sure why everyone is so crazy about the place, i would never go there except for the fact that they have cheddar cheese, most of the time. i guess i'm spoiled with my cheap, neighborhood places within walking distance.

san crispino is also pretty average to me, so don't feel bad cause everyone else swears it's a gift from god herself. but i'm rather surprised that you didn't find roman gelato to be outstanding. as for the panna, it's crap and i don't ever let them put it anywhere near my gelato. no flavor ever. once i made whipped cream for an italian, he was shocked by how good it was.

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well, sounds like you had a great time and i'm salivating waiting for my next chance to go to napoli and palermo.  I was waiting for you to show up at the pub, it would have been fun to talk to a real life egulleteer.

  too bad you didn't make it to the vittorio emanuelle market, next time perhaps.  also, i got a good laugh about the suppli from Franchi.  i've eaten there on a few occasions and the food is always good (expensive). so last time i decided to try their suppli, touted as made in the house, turned out to be really disappointing for me as well.  i'm not sure why everyone is so crazy about the place, i would never go there except for the fact that they have cheddar cheese, most of the time.  i guess i'm spoiled with my cheap, neighborhood places within walking distance.

san crispino is also pretty average to me, so don't feel bad cause everyone else swears it's a gift from god herself.  but i'm rather surprised that you didn't find roman gelato to be outstanding.  as for the panna, it's crap and i don't ever let them put it anywhere near my gelato.  no flavor ever.  once i made whipped cream for an italian, he was shocked by how good it was.

Oh, I definitely had a wonderful time in Rome, and I can't wait to go back. Of the cities I've been to so far, it is definitely the one in which I could most easily imagine living. Really a great place.

Yeah, overall, I wasn't too crazy about Franchi. Now, Volpetti on the other hand...

I think I must've just missed the right places for gelato in Rome. San Crispino was a bit underwhelming. Giolitti, though, I quite enjoyed. That was definitely my favorite in Rome. I wanted to check out the place you mentioned in an older thread that you'd been going to weekly/daily or something like that, but could never remember the name or location when I was out and about! Next time.

Sorry I didn't make it out to the pub. I meant to stop by on Saturday night, but the day took me elsewhere, as I'll talk a bit about below.

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a special evening in Rome

As I'm going along on this trip, everyone seems to be asking me what it's like traveling alone. Truth be told, I wasn't really sure what it would be like. But I dove in head first nonetheless, and haven't looked back yet. It's been quite a ride, and the stops I've enjoyed the most have definintely been the unexpected ones. My last Saturday night in Rome, for example. I'd gotten an e-mail a few days before from a good friend of mine, saying a great friend of his lives in Rome, is passionate about food and wine, and sets up travel packages for destinations all around the world (check it out HERE). That's one hell of a combo, if you ask me. So, I was finally able to get in touch with her later in that week, and we decided that we'd meet up for a glass of wine somewhere with her boyfriend. After spending the afternoon around Piazza del Popolo and seeing an amazing exhibit of various working machines designed by Leonardo da Vinci (highly recommended for those who will be in Rome in the near future), I headed back to Termini to meet them. It was only a short walk to Trimani on Via Goito 20, a very well-stocked enoteca and wine bar. The three of us shared a bottle of a Sicilian white wine whose name I can't seem to remember (something starting with a C), but it was good. Both she and her boyfriend are really incredible people, and it didn't take long until I was right at home. I guess good wine and good conversation will do that pretty quickly. Before I knew it, the bottle was done, and they had very kindly invited me back to their apartment for dinner, and I very gladly accepted. The menu that night was to be Moroccan. But as we walked to the bus stop, her boyfriend remembered I had mentioned wanting to have a certain Roman specialty I'd not yet had in the city. He is Italian, with family just a few kilometers outside of Rome. And, clearly, when a Roman offers to make you spaghetti alla carbonara, you happily accept. Immediately. We stopped at their local market for some guanciale, pecorino romano, and eggs, components of that wonderful Roman dish. Back at the apartment, the cooking began. He had the dish down to a science. I won't say his what his method was (don't worry, your secret is safe!), but I will say it was delicious. This was after some tasty antipasti, and before her very tasty Moroccan chicken & chickpea dish, a wonderful macedonia made from fruits from his family's property and wine, wine, wine. Oh and a lovely dark grappa top to cap things off. Time often flies in good company, and this was no exception. Before I knew it, it was pushing 1am and time for me to head back to the hostel. But what an evening. And what great fortune it was to meet such wonderful new friends. Lucky me.

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Re-charghing the batteries in Umbria...

Fresh off a week-long stay in the energetic city of Rome, a few days in a quieter setting sounded like the perfect change of pace. An incredibly generous offer from the lovely Judith Klinger, who you may know as hathor here on eGullet, and her husband Jeff to come stay with them for a few days would have been idiotic to turn down. Monday afternoon I hopped on the train to Umbertide, the nearest stop to their village of Montone. Perched on a hill, their town commands a phenomenal view. This is the beautiful countryside setting you so often hope for, but so rarely find. Tall, green cypress trees. Contrasting green and brown fields. Crops as far as the eye can see. Seemingly endless patches of sunflowers. Really breathtaking. The town, walled off from most car traffic, is so idyllic that it is a bit surreal. We shared Negronis and Prosecco in the piazza before heading back to Judith and Jeff's home for dinner. Spaghetti cacio e pepe, roast chicken, salad, four wonderful kinds of homemade sorbetto for dessert. Wonderful wines, in particular a ridiculously aromatic Rosso dell'Umbria 2002 Adanti, which is certainly among the best I've tasted on the trip. Two of their good friends were also over for dinner, and the company was as good as the food, which is to say, wonderful. A great welcome to Montone.

The next day was a lazy one. I did essentially nothing, except have more of Judith's great food and catch up on eGullet in the afternoon. Lunch was eaten on the roof, with a perfect breeze and great views as we enjoyed sausages baked with potatoes and chicory, a salad of fresh tomato and cucumber chunks, and a dish of fried peppers. Dinner was canneloni, a contorno of sauteed zucchini, tomatoes, onion, garlic and raisins, fried shrimp and some roasted red peppers sott'olio.

Wednesday, after getting an early start at the weekly market in Umbertide, and grabbing a panino of wonderfully crisp-skinned porchetta (yes, for breakfast), I took a quick day trip to Perugia. I thought the city just had a good vibe to it in general. Not a place with a whole laundry list of tourist options, so it is that much easier to sit back, relax, and enjoy the city itself. I wandered through a few museums and the duomo, had the obligatory Peugina chocolate-hazelnut bacio, or kiss, and just generally wandered the streets aimlessly. Lunch was at a place called Dal Mi' Cocco (Corso Garibaldi 12, 075/5732511), where the daily-chaning menu offered an antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, dolce, and vin santo for a whopping €13. The antipasto was simply three strips of a focaccia-like bread, one with onions, one with tomatoes, and one plain. And when I say plain, I mean it. In Umbria (and, as it turns out, Tuscany), unsalted bread is the rule, not the exception. To say it's not my cup of tea is an understatement. Personally, I find it vile, comparable to eating a sponge. But hey, don't take my word for it. :raz: The primi (yep, turned out there were two that day) were quite tasty. The menu mentioned that Wednesday the primo was i birbanti. I didn't know then, and still don't know now, what that is, but I think I know what I had. Short, fat, hand-rolled noodles I took to be stringozzi with a very simple, very tasty, tomato & basil sauce, and a dish of maltagliati ("poorly cut") were served with another red sauce of tomato, onion, way too much pecorino, and maybe a little pancetta. I think the flavor could have been greatly improved by more pancetta and less pecorino, as some type of fat might have helped cut through the overwhelming saltiness. I should mention, though, that each of the two primi were served in dishes big enough to two. If you come here, come hungry. The secondo was billo ripieno. I have no idea what billo means, but it sure tasted like turkey (tacchino, to me) stuffed with turkey sausage. The contorno was potatoes roasted with rosemary, and was good. Dessert was a surprisingly fairly moist yellow cake and a little shot of vin santo, the fortified sweet wine. For €13, you don't expect fireworks. But overall, I was pretty impressed, and for the price, I imagine it's hard to beat.

Dinner back in Montone that evening was Spaghetti alle vongole, a phenomenal melanzana parmigiana, eggplant parmigiano from the Piemonte region of Italy (I've gotta get that recipe, hathor!) that is eaten at room temperature, a plate of fresh sliced tomatoes drizzled with Umbrian olive oil, and a simple green salad. To say that Judith and Jeff know how to entertain is an understatement. Their food and wine sent a group of about 10 of us that evening into culinary bliss.

On a side note, not to plug shamelessly, but when they open their restaurant in Montone in a few weeks, I highly, highly recommend you check it out. I know I certainly will.

Thursday, I made a day trip to Assisi. This city is beautiful, no doubt, but considerably more touristed than Perugia, and I think that interferes a bit with figuring out the real character of the place, if that makes any sense. Lunch was a quick panino from a salumeria near San Rufino, then I made the sight-seeing rounds. I found many of the churches in Assisi, including San Francesco, to be a little less ornate and grand than many I'd seen on the trip so far, but I guess that's fitting given the saint's focus on simplicity and humility. This was also the first time I'd seen so many relics on display: sandals, tunics, etc. Pretty interesting. In the afternoon, I stopped at a pasticceria called Sensi , Corso Mazzini 14, to try a rocciata assisana, essentially a strudel filled with fresh and dried fruits. Pretty tasty, and the selection at that pasticceria was very nice.

Dinner that night was at a local trattoria in Montone, where I had a tasty dish of gnocchi tartufati. Even with the less potent summer truffles (which, by the way, seem to be everywhere in Umbria: in the cheeses, meats, pasta, sweets, and even the grappa), this was a tasty dish. Luckily, before I headed to my next destination on Friday, there was time for one more lunch with Judith and Jeff. Spaghetti with tiny shrimp, a five-nut pesto, garlic and crushed red pepper was delicious. Some of the left-over Piemontese eggplant parmigiano was as good as I'd remembered. A salad of tomato and lettuce. And one prefectly ripe peach for dessert. A great send-off.

I could not have asked for better hosts during my time in Umbria. Judith and Jeff are both great people. So incredibly nice and accomodating. Any eGulllet-ers (or anyone for that matter) traveling in the area would be remiss not to stop by and make their acquaintance!

Early that afternoon, it was off to the next stop...

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Siena

What a lovely city. From the moment I arrived, I loved the feel of it. Having unfortunately missed a train connection in Perugia due to delays, I arrived two hours later than I'd anticipated. Pushing 9pm already, I hadn't figured out where I would sleep that night just yet, but I knew one thing for sure. I was hungry! My first stop (baggage in hand) was at

La Taverna di San Giuseppe

Via Dupre 132, 0577/42286

A place my guidebook claimed would be a bit off the normal tourist-beaten path. As I waited for a table, I struck up conversation with a girl visiting from South Carolina, and I ended up joining her, her mother, and her mother's friend for dinner. I started with an antipasto Tocano consisting of two types of local salame, two types of local pecorino, truffle honey, and, at my request, an addition of some prosciutto di cinta senese and a crostone with porcini mushrooms. The cinta senese is a local breed of pig that at one time was nearing extinction, and I think has only recently become availanle again. They are easily recognized by their unique white stripe that stands out against their black bodies like a belt (it's cool...Google it). The meats, cheeses and mushrooms were good, but frankly, the prosciutto rendered everything else pretty much unnecessary. It was quite good. Then I had an incredibly tasty dish of gnocchi con fonduta di pecorino e tartufi, pillowy dumplings with a creamy pecorino cheese fondue underneath it and topped with slices of summer truffle. Aromatic and very flavorful. I can only imagine this dish with the more potent winter truffles. As a side note, it pays off quite nicely to dine with people with smaller appetites. :biggrin: I ended up having nice sized pieces of two secondi, a rare and juicy beef fillet with truffles, and another fillet with scamorza cheese, arugula, and tomatoes. Both quite good. All this was enjoyed with a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino, which I enjoyed. Dessert at this place is not to be missed, either. I had peaches that had been poached in Brunello di Montalcino wine and were served with gelato di crema. Peaches and cream, Italian style. Incredible. Hands down, the best dessert I've had in a long, long time. I also tried a bit of meringue topped with fresh strawberries and fior di panna gelato, and a chocolate pudding served with macerated cherries. Everything was quite good. With all of that food, we got out of there for about €40 each. Definitely one of the better meals I've had the entire trip.

On another note, going door-to-door searching for a hotel or hostel room in Siena at 1am is not recommended. It ain't easy. I got very lucky to finally land a place at around 130am, but basically everything was either full or closed. Yikes.

The next day, I did some sightseeing. The duomo, which I have dubbed the "beetlejuice cathedral", for its crazy black-and-white stripes. Santa Maria della Scala, a former hospital which now houses different art exhibits, was very cool as well. The Piazza del Campo, the main piazza in Siena, is phenomenal also. Shell-shaped, I haven't seen anything like it. Breakfast that morning was at

Nannini

Via Banchi di Sopra 24, 0577/236009

In a city with no shortage of pasticcerie, this place is a standout. I loved this place. The first morning, I had a cappuccino, and then sampled one of each of their specialties. Ricciarelli, coarse almond-paste soft cookies that I quite liked. Cantucci, almond biscotti often served along with vin santo for dessert. Not the best biscotti I've ever had. Cavalucci, thicker round cookies with candied fruit, nuts, honey and who knows what else. I found these to be, surprisinly, a bit dry. Then the Siena regional specialty you see in essentially every store here, panforte. A dense, round cake with all sorts of sweet stuff in it: -- almonds, citrus zest, hazelnuts, honey, candied fruit, spices, etc. They have several types, and the first one I tried was panforte margherita, apparently a less-spiced version prepared for Queen Margherita a long time ago. This I absolutely loved, and eventually found to be my favorite among the bunch. On other visits, I also tried the panpepato, a darker caramel version of the same thing, pan di siena fichi e noci, a fig-and-walnut version, and torta al marzipane, a version topped with a layer of crystalline-sweet marzipan. That one was a bit of sweet overkill, and neither of the other two quite lived up to the margherita, either. Oh, one more thing. Another morning, I had a bigne allo zabajone, a little cream-puff filled with custard. Kind of disappointing. And at another branch of the same name, Nannini Bar, if I remember right, I had some gelato. A cone of panforte margherita and ricciarelli flavors. The texture was a little gritty, probably from tiny bits of each of those treats. I quite like them on their own, but they didn't translate so well into tasty gelato. Ah well. I would certainly come back to Nannini again, though, as overall, I liked it very much.

Lunch later that day was at Sapori Antichi, Via Delle Terme 41. I beg you not to go here. I had to do a double-take when the guy said "nove e cinquanta", €9.50 for a panino of salame toscano and pecorino stagionato, and a wedge of some type of prosciutto-and-cheese bread. That's a rip-off, I don't care how good it is. And frankly, it wasn't very good.

After sifting through the Michelin and Gambero Rosso Low-Cost guides, dinner was decided...

Antica Trattoria Papei

Piazza del Mercato 6, 0577/280894

Listed as a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin guide and with a positive description in the Gambero Rosso, I figured I would check it out. 930pm, on a Saturday, and this place was hopping. There weren't many tables to go around, so they asked if it was okay to seat me with another guy there dining solo. Turns out, he was a Cornell grad who has worked in NYC for the past 4 years, and is now taking Italian language courses in Bologna. Interesante. Anyhoo, we decided to split a bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which turned out to be surprisingly sort of disappointing. But I was glad to try a wine that was new to me, and one that is very important for this region. For antipasti, we shared plates of formaggi misti and antipasto misto toscano. The former was a plate of probably 3 or 4 kinds of cheese, from parmiggiano-reggiano to pecorino to gorgonzola. The antipasto toscano was one crostino con milza, or spleen, one crostino con fegatini, chicken livers, one bruschetta with tomatoes, and some salame and prosciutto. All were tasty, with my favorite probably being the salame. Then I moved on to a bowl of ribollita, a traditional hearty Tuscan soup thickened with bread, beans, tomatoes, cabbage, and I wasn't really sure what else. This was quite good, and so thick it could be eaten (and for that matter, was eaten), with a fork. Too full dessert that evening, and the half of the bottle of wine cost about as much as the food, but I was out of there for €30. Certainly, drinking the house wine instead, one could have quite a feast here for not much money at all. I don't recall anything on the menu being more than about €12. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to going back here sometime.

The next day, yesterday, it was off to Florence, where I am now. If my initial very positive impression of this city is any indication, I may be here for a bit. But who knows where the next few days and weeks will take me. We shall see! Until next time...

Edited by tupac17616 (log)
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Ah, our pilgrim has surfaced!! :biggrin:

I was starting to worry about you when then were no eG posts!!

Sounds like the hostel situation in Sienna wasn't so much fun, but you survived.

Glad you had some fun, and relaxed while visiting. Sestine (the ricotta lady says hello to you. Saluti!)

And now your in that jewel of a city, Firenze. Keep eating and have a wonderful time!

P.S. In case anyone is wondering....Tupac is skinny!! :laugh::laugh::laugh:

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alas, i forgot to mention a good gelato place in Perugia...

Alunni, Ponte San Giovanni, Perugia, 075/393827

Just about a block away from the Ponte San Giovanni train station in Perugia, this was a great way to pass the time between trains after I missed the first connection. I had a cone of fior di latte and arancia-carota (orange-carrot), and both were very good, especially the orange-carrot. Nice, creamy texture, served niether too cold and hard nor too warm and melty. Definitely recommended if you find yourself enduring a long, boring wait for a train.

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sorry to miss you in Florence but I am in the USA.. Santa Barbara!

do look at my dining guide online.

Several people have recently recommended La Galleria

http://www.ristorantelagalleria.it/

I also recommend Fabio Picchi's Teatro del Sale for lunch.

there is a 5 euro membership fee.. but lunch is cheap ( 17euro) buffet...

watching the kitchen.. is a blast!

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sorry to miss you in Florence but I am in the USA.. Santa Barbara!

do look at my dining guide online.

Several people have recently recommended La Galleria

http://www.ristorantelagalleria.it/

I also recommend Fabio Picchi's Teatro del Sale for lunch.

there is a 5 euro membership fee.. but lunch is cheap ( 17euro) buffet...

watching the kitchen.. is a blast!

Oh, wonderful. Santa Barbara is a lovely place. Have a great time!

I've alreay taken advantage of your dining guide online. It's been a great resource. I've already checked out several from your list: Gelateria Carabe, Rivoire, Nerbone, Forno di Ivana Bruschi, Tavola Calda da Rocco, Cibreo Trattoria, Vestri, Procacci, Grom, I Fratellini, Robiglio, and Le volpi e l'Uva. Tonight I'm heading to Il Latini. Tomorrow, I think lunch will be at Fiaschetteria-Trattoria Mario, followed by gelato at either Perche No or Le Carrozza. I've also been very curious about Teatro del Sale, since I really enjoyed Cibreino. I wonder if trying for a Saturday night spot is an impossible task. Hmm.

It's too bad you're not in Florence... I would've bought you a bottle of wine by now. I owe you one for all the great recommendations! :biggrin:

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I prefer lunch at the Teatro, dinner is filled with Florentines that don't know how to line up at a buffet table and it is dinner and a show...sometime very strange avantgarde stuff as Fabio's new wife is an actress..

stop by the site.

here it the link

this saturday is his wife, Maria Cassi acting.

I think music is more international!

lunch is less crowded and a blast!

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