I’m just returning from 5 glorious days in Rome. While I’ve visited the city >20 times, I’ve always stayed in a hotel, eaten out all of my meals, and used free time for seeing the major sights. This time I wanted my stay to be completely different.
My main objective for this visit was to see Roma via the culinary eyes of someone who lives there. First thing was to pass up a hotel and opt for a more authentic experience of becoming a Roman. I was fortunate to snag a marvelous apartment on one of my favorite squares in all of Italy, Piazza Margana. This charming little piazza, right in the center of Rome, is devoid of tourists...one has to wander down alley-ways to reach it. I did not know until I arrived at the apartment that it was owned by the CEO of Benetton. Its walls were filled with gorgeous works of art, a fortune of silver tea and coffee service was displayed on the antique marble-stopped table, and hand-cut crystal wine glasses beckoned us.
Piazza Margana apartment rental
The next days I spent seeking out gastronomic spots…from outdoor markets, to upscale food and wine emporiums…all with the intent of gathering ingredients for our dinners. Here are my don’t miss places, listed in no particular order:
- Campo Fiori outdoor market offered a huge array of fresh porcini muchrooms (which I used to make an exquisite pasta with a drizzling of truffle oil). Nearly every stall at the market also offered dried porcini mushrooms in a wide assortment of quantity, as well as quality. I snagged several pounds to bring home in my suitcase. Vendors here sold pasta in every size, shape and color (including the green, white & red of the Italian flag.) One of Rome’s better bakers is also located here at number 22 on the square.
Edible art at the outdoor market
- Sant’ Eustachio coffee house. You don’t have to rent an apartment to zero in on this place. Long a favorite stop of mine for a “pick me up,” this place is not only a charmer, but it offers the best coffee in the city. First, they roast their beans in a wood-burning oven. Those in-the-know, however, say that it’s the water from an underground spring nearby that makes Sant’ Eustachio numero uno. All I know, it that it’s simply the best. (BTW---for a real splurge, try their granita d’café…an icy slush topped with decadent whipped crème). The shop is located next to the church of Sant’ Eustachio, 2 minutes walk from the Pantheon, 5 minutes walk from Piazza Navona. This was the best 1.5 Euro I spent this trip in Italy. Pay inside at the cashier, and belly your way up to the bar. Or, sit outside for 5 Euro…but all the action with locals is definitely inside.
- Tre Scalini’s Tartufo. Speaking of Piazza Navona, that brings me to the next don’t miss. If you’ve been to Rome, chances are that you’ve had a “Tartufo” at Tre Scalani on the Navonna square. While Tre Scalini is a restaurant, I usually opt to go into their take-out bar and grab a Tartufo, a fabulous rich concoction that I call “death by chocolate.” Can’t think of a better way to kick the bucket. This over-the-top, dense chocolate ice-cream dessert, is a mere 5 Euros in the bar, 10 Euros at the restaurant’s sidewalk café. It’s still as good (if not better than) the first one I had in 1976.
and covered with bittersweet chocolate
- Eataly. This upscale, gourmet food emporium opened in Rome a couple of years ago. Eataly started in Torino and there are now Eatalys in every major city in Italy, New York (opened by Mario Batali and Joe Bastanovich), along with places like Tokyo. Eataly rocks. I spent over 1.5 hours in the place and could have spent more. It’s located in Rome’s former downtown airline bus terminal and offers 4 floors of gourmet bliss. My favorite sections are its immense book area which seemingly has every Italian cookbook ever published…most in English, but some strictly in Italian. This section also boasts a full array of Italian foodie magazines (their versions of Gourmet, Bon Appetite, Food & Wine). Their pizza section offers without a doubt, the best pizza I’ve ever eaten…and that’s saying something. Both the Torino and Rome Eataly knocked it out of the park with their tasty pizzas---the perfect amount of crunch and killer flavors from the wood used in their ovens. Another fave section is their houseware area…I bought several Christmas gifts here, including some for myself! This place dazzles.
- Vinando Wine Bar. Last, and in no way least, this one was one of my favorite meals over the last few years in Italy. I had eaten dinner here 5 or 6 years ago…I still remember the stunning lamb dish had that had been prepared in white wine. While it wasn’t on the menu this time around, the dish I ordered was equally fab. A ubiquitous fry of calamari and shrimps was nothing short of sublime. My girlfriend ordered the grilled lamb and it was top notch in every way. While service is lacking, the table out on the square, along with the food quality and superb wine list, made up for it. An added bonus was that our quite handsome apartment was in the former palace above--- 2 flights up…and we heard not even a whisper of the wine bar even though the floor to ceiling windows remained open while we were there. Magic at its best. Definitely reserve & if the weather is nice, book an outdoor table.
Vinando is off the beaten track but in the epicenter of Rome
Not on my don’t miss list is a place I visited, one of the supposed “shrines” of Roman Deli’s, Volpetti. Located in the Testaccio section of southern Rome, it had long been on my list, but because of its distance from the center I had never made it. This year it was at the top of my list for visiting. I was disappointed. While the staff were super helpful, the place was small and prices felt astronomic. On the morning of my visit, it was filled with Americans…all paying 3-4 times the price for dried porcini mushrooms of the same quality that I had purchased the same day at the Campo Fiori market. Also, Eataly’s deli had a much larger selection of everything and it looked far fresher and more inviting than Volpetti. Maybe I just hit it on an off day? I don’t think so.
Living like a Roman definitely had its benefits. If you need information on how to rent an apartment in Rome, please contact me at dunn@WineKnowsTravel.com.