My beloved Roma, my favorite city in the world. The most romantic. Ancient. Chic. Otherworldly. I cherished being back for the third time to Rome (fourth time to Italy) in October for my 10th anniversary. The Renaissance Man and I wandered Roma’s ancient, cobblestone streets from our apartment near the Spanish Steps, near where we stayed on our honeymoon for a month-long exploration through a number of Italy’s fabled regions.
Returning to Rome meant, naturally, we ate well. Ridiculously well. So I must share with you my favorites this trip.
From brilliant and gracious Chef Cristina Bowerman, Michelin-starred Glass Hostaria is one of the more forward thinking and truly unique meals I’ve had anywhere in Italy – or Europe, for that matter. As an Italian native, she spent well over a decade living in the US (including Austin). Besides speaking English perfectly, she clearly possesses a global sense of scope – and fun – in her imaginative dishes (tasting menus run 70 Euros for 4 courses, 90 Euros for 8 smaller courses).
In the heart of the ever-enchanting Trastevere neighborhood, the two-floored, openspace is modern and innovative (pictured above) – the second floor view is best.
One course after another is striking and delicious. Just look at some of the ingredient combinations pictured (dark chocolate and beer filled ravioli dusted in pepper and cacao in a decadent Pecorino sauce, or spaghetti with lime curd, cilantro and Oestra caviar!) These combinations even world travelers who frequent Michelin-starred restaurants have not seen before. It’s hard to only share a few of Bowerman’s wonders, but they are described with photos here.
IL SAN LORENZO
Seafood: I’ve been a fanatic about it my whole life and have eaten some of the best in the world from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. But at sleek, intimate Il San Lorenzo, I had one of my favorite seafood dinners ever. A huge reason for this was the incredible service, humor and wine recommends from the sommelier who attended to us. Sipping wines from Alto Adige (a gorgeous 2010 Borgo del Tiglio Malvasia) or an elegant, tropical 2012 Poppoff Sauvignon Blanc from German producers in Northern Italy, to the complex 2009 Lagrein Reserve, was a pleasure.
But so was eating sea urchin straight from its spiny shell. Raw red shrimp carpaccio splayed artfully across the plate and drizzled in olive oil and orange zest. From Chef Enrico Pierri, who focuses on locally caught seafood, we dined on cod, tuna and amberjack tartare. There were rare Belon oysters, thank you very much. And tortelli filled with spider crab. And sea urchin spaghetti. I could go on. But I’d rather just return again to this slice of Roman seafood heaven.
Coso is bustling and filled with boisterous locals filling up on hearty plates of spaghetti alla carbonara, saltimbocca alla Romana (veal topped with ham and sage, grilled in Marsala wine) and bucatini all’amatriciana. Start with cornmeal fried layers of aubergine (eggplant), Parmesan and basil and savor the affordable wines. Upstairs is particularly fun as you dine on grey and cream-checkered tablecloths. Besides its convenient location between the Spanish Steps and Piazza Colonna, most dishes run under 12 Euro and are big enough to share. This was a great locals’ recommendation.
Antico Arco is not so much about mind-blowing food as it is an idyllic hilltop setting, on Gianicolo hill, near Trastevere.
It makes a lovely lunch spot at one of three small outside tables on a warm day with Vespas speeding by over the hill. I filled up on buffalo mozzarella ($13.50) in a crispy pastry wrapping, accented by salted tuna roe and tomato confit, and raw amberjack tartare ($17) brightened by ginger, lime and fresh artichokes. The house chitarra pasta ($14), laden with Pecorino cheese, black pepper and zucchini blossoms, sounded amazing but was salty and surprisingly bland – I sadly grew weary of the dish a few bites in.
THE JERRY THOMAS PROJECT, Rome
Those of us that have been following this renaissance the past decade plus long ago wearied of passwords and attitude-laden bars. In cities like my own, a well made cocktail with classic ethos is the norm, not the exception, so you expect it without pretension, though I am a big proponent of having elegant places to drink, even ones with reservations.
Thankfully, I wasn’t pressed to give a password at the unmarked door near Chiesa Nuova at The Jerry Thomas Project, Romes first modern-day speakeasy. Nor was there attitude. Bustling but intimate inside, I cozied up on couches set to jazz, the feel being very New York or SF like a gathering for beat poets and writers circa 1950’s (despite the 1920’s speakeasy theme). After visiting Rome multiple times, it’s refreshing to see the cocktail renaissance finally hit my beloved city.
I even drank mezcal in Rome! (You know it’s universal when…) I enjoyed the Mex Man (15 Euro), a blend of Illegal Mezcal Anejo, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, agave syrup, house coffee-cacao bitters and a smoked cherry. They also have an absinthe fountain and do a nice twist on a classic Daiquiri, the Kaffir Daiquiri (10 Euro), mixing Havana Club 3 year rum, lime and kaffir lime-infused simple syrup.
There’s a few more cocktail bars that have popped up even since my fall visit, per The Spirits Business. I will check some of these out next time.
OPEN BALADIN ROMA
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Open Baladin is craft beer/beer geek heaven. Engaged and passionate service made us feel welcome to linger, sample beers, get locals tips for food and learn about a beer festival happening that very weekend we were there: EurHop! Beer Festival.
Baladin was started by a food/drink writer, so I already have a soft spot. And I’ve been drinking beers from Baladin’s breweries from San Francisco’s Healthy Spirits for a few years now.
Here at their Rome bar, they have over 40 Italian beers on draft and another 100 by the bottle. Since the Renaissance Man and I love Italian beers and the mark-up can often be so high when exported at home, it was a delight to order them cheaply here and to sample more. On draft, we loved bright, floral Borgo Duchessa, made with farro grain; the dry, bitter, tropical notes of Extraomnes ZEST; and I especially was drawn to the nutty, sweet, layered tones of Birrifico Ducato L’Ultima Luna, cask-aged with amarone wine.
Roscioli is classic Rome and a place I could return to again and again just for a slice of their daily Roman-style pizza… ah, that rosemary, onion and cheese white pizza with idyllic crust. Perfection.
It’s also a fantastic take-out source (there are a few standup tables inside and one outside) for baked goods, breads, cheeses, meats and wines.
BOCCIONE Il Forno del Ghetto, Via del Portico dOttavia 1, phone: +39 066878637
There’s no sign and it’s closet-sized but as soon as you enter the heart of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto and see the gesticulating Jewish Roman women pushing their way around each other for baked goods, you’ll know you’ve found Boccione, also known as the The Kosher bakery.” Be prepared to be aggressive and push your way in. There’s no descriptions or signs for food so unless you speak Italian, pick something and point.
The ricotta and sour cherry pie (torta di ricotta e visciole) makes me sigh with happiness: fluffy ricotta in blackened, nearly caramelized (you’ll know it by the charred outer layer). I also love the ricotta and chocolate chips version.
Cinnamon almond biscotti and the fruitcake-like pizza ebraica draw crowds, but I go for the torta di ricotta, grab an espresso elsewhere and reflect on the intense cultural experience I’ve had. P.S. it’s cash only.
GELATERIA del TEATRO
One cannot be in Italy without partaking in the incomparable joys of gelato. For me, morning, noon and night sounds about right and I eat as much as I can stand. Il Gelato di San Crispino has grown into a mini-chain since I first fell in love with it over a decade ago, but I still enjoyed revisiting this gelato haven.
Every visit there’s a standout – or a few. This visit it was Gelateria del Teatro, near the Piazza Navona, that left the biggest impression. The side courtyard is certainly part of the charm (pictured right). But it’s all about the fantastic, unusual flavors and a storefront window where one can watch ice cream being made daily in the laboratorio, the window lined with ingredients like Sicilian pistachios or lemons from Amalfi.
Standouts include their popular raspberry sage, pear caramel, Sicilian wine cream, and my favorite: cheese and cherry (like cream cheese with sour-sweet cherries).
Since 1938, Sant’Eustachio is quintessential Roma coffee and it’s an ideal remembrance to bring back a bag or two of house-roasted beans… plus they are just around the corner from the Pantheon, my favorite building in all of Rome (one that gives me chills every time I see it).
Standing at the counter drinking an espresso, or better yet, a shakerato, espresso and simple syrup shaken on ice with their little red machine, is, for me, a necessary Rome experience.
Thanks to my friend Steven Liles for turning me on to this gem, which, just like Sant’Eustachio, is mere steps from the Pantheon. In fact, Tazza d’Oro is within view of it.
Since 1946, owner Mario Fiocchetto has brought South American beans direct from growers to this charmingly dated, bustling shop.
Besides making beautiful espresso, cappuccino and all the necessary Italian iterations, they are famous for their espresso granita. Though there’s too much whipped cream piled on there for me (pictured above), the granita itself is perfection: robust, icy, sparkling, beautiful.