Rome Trip - Food and Wine

Spent the past week in the Eternal City enjoying beautiful cool sunny weather, readily accessible tourist attractions and molto cibo e vini. Here’s a long overly wordy account, which will hopefully be of some use to future visitors.

With my wife wrapping up a conference, our first night was at the Rome Cavalieri. Great (“over the top”) if you can afford it. The rest of the nights were spent at the Rome Boutique Hotel in the Via Veneto area. Nice location for mass trans, observing what remains of the Dolce Vita, walking to Villa Borghese and the Trevi Fountain. A quirky accommodation, nice, clean and comfortable. It’s an older 5 story building with various offices on different floors. The front doorway is very anonymous with a small name tag among a dozen others. The hotel occupies the 4th floor. Nice sized room with a firm bed. The staff was remarkably gracious with most speaking decent English or patiently wading through my poor Italian. A respectable room service breakfast included every morning. Recommended.

My wine goal for the week was primarily to explore new wines, traditional varieties, local (when possible), well prepared local cuisine and recommended food/wine pairings. Happily, several restaurants and wine bars met or exceeded expectations.

Within hours of arriving at the lofty Rome Cavalieri, the pretension had me wanting more humble environs. I strolled down to Vatican City where Pizzarium offered the first sputino. It’s a small hole in the wall Pizza al Taglio place where you eat standing if the handful of seats are occupied. Some of the best looking pizza I saw all week. $10 for a single200g rectangular slice isn’t cheap but the quality was excellent. Went for the anchovy and green onion…earning an approving nod from the local next to me in line. Impressively fresh little fishies. Worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Popped my head in to Enoteca Constantini and found them closed from 2 - 4pm. I was looking for a decent glass so headed up to Settembrini in the Prati. Slightly modern feel. Comfortable. Helpful service with a small well prepped list by the glass. Not a destination but a decent stop for a bicchiere.

Just before the trip, I was told there’s no bad food in Rome. Happy hour proved that wrong. 3 busloads of conference attendees shed their suits and ties (mostly) and piled in to the Perfect Bun near Piazza Navona. If you want a fancy frat party with no concern for food/wine quality…this might be your place. The buffet bar food ranged from awful to unremarkable.

My wife and I cut out early, strolled a few yards and popped in to Casa Bleve. The front is a very high end wine shop with one of the finest selections in Rome. The grand open dining room behind the shop was surprisingly spacious and formal. There was a very well heeled dinner clientele and we were the only Americans. The food was excellent (delicious salumi), market driven and the recommended by-the-glass pairings were remarkably tasty and insightful, starting with an earthy appealing red sparkling Nerello Mascarese. Very accommodating staff and service. Quite reasonable at 115 euros for two.

We were able to get reservations for every meal by calling just a few hours in advance. I don’t think this is the case in the summer. The restaurants really appreciated reservations and I recommend them for all dinners at a minimum. During peak season, reservations would probably be best for every sit-down meal.

Trimani wine bar for lunch the next day, northeast of Piazza Repubblica. Very well appointed shop with the winebar around the corner. The service at the shop was indifferent, but improved at the lunch table. Excellent eclectic glass offerings with a strong list, tasty lunch with few foreigners. Very worthwhile stop although the word is that some of the shop prices could use some pencil sharpening.

Trattoria Cadorna for dinner, northeast of Piazza Repubblica. Homey low key feel for basic Roman fare that’s easy on the wallet. Not a wine destination although the house red was serviceable. Solid quality. Our first dose of tourist discrimination as only fluent Italians seemed to wind up at the tables in the main room. Back room corner for us, along with a German couple, despite the reservation. In fairness, I’m sure many of these restaurants are sick of tourists by November and need to foster local business during the off-season. Fantastic gelato around the corner at Il Caruso along with amazing cheeses at nearby Casa Latticini.

Broke up the touristy day at the Vatican with lunch at Enoteca Constantini at Piazza Cavour. Kind of surreal experience. The shop looked interesting and still gets local praise, but there’s something old and dusty about the whole front of the house. Old wooden bar, lots of wrought iron. Can’t imagine the temp control in the shop is adequate. The restaurant in the rear is surprisingly if not weirdly modern. With only one other Japanese couple at the entire lunch, I was very worried. Luckily, the food was fine as were the wines by the glass. Large strong wine list.

Modestly priced local cuisine for dinner at Casa Coppelle near Piazza Navona. Nice decor, popular with a young attractive staff. A few of whom were a little too self-assured. They goofed my wife’s salad (wrong plate) without an apology. The food was solid and tasty. Wine’s by the glass were spotty. This is NOT a wine destination. I described the wine types/styles I enjoy and was served a decent Allegrini followed by a horribly over-oaked Cesanese (catchy name of “Camelot”). My complaints drew out the 28 year old Somm, who proceeded to tell me how good the Camelot really is and how he’d visited the producer himself. Is there an Italian word for “spoof”?

The next day included meals at 2 Wine Bars: lunch at Cul de Sac (Piazza Navona) and dinner at Roscioli (Campo dei Fiori). Both deserve very strong recommendations. Cul de Sac was cramped, hopping and fun. Excellent food and wine. I thought the American discrimination was flaring up at Roscioli as we found ourselves in the basement wine cellar. Not to fear…we were seated next to a local gastronome and his wife. Excellent experience and an impressive winelist, although their food and wine prices aren’t quite as competitive as they could be.

After a morning in Ancient Rome, we hit Enoteca Cavour for lunch. The decor seemed a touch tired but the food and wines were solid if not exciting. We had a preoccupied server offset by her co-worker’s sharpness, fluent in 4 languages (that I heard) with solid wine skills. Nice place to stop if you’re in the neighborhood.

Later in the afternoon, our “passeggiata” took us to the Spanish Steps. The area was mobbed. Looking for an afternoon glass or two, Palatium was overfilled. Antica Enoteca fit the bill. Decent bichierre selection. Not a destination but worth popping in if nearby.

Dinner at Il Sanlorenzo. Wow. Top notch fish. Fantastically fresh and diverse. There’s a great balance between modern haute cuisine and local flavors. Great service. Outstanding winelist. Some of the by-the-glass pairings could’ve featured less international grape varieties, but that’s a minor quibble. Yes it’s fancy and pricey, but so worth it to offset the traditional Roman fare. Excellent tasting menu.

A trip to the catacombs took us near Testaccio for lunch at Felica a Testaccio. Modernish feel. A little discriminatory at first but the staff warmed as the place filled with locals. Probably the best quality Roman fare of the trip with a fun tableside mixing prep of Cacio e Pepe. Decent house wine and a respectable short list.

We were looking for something near the hotel for dinner so we tried Palatium. Modern decor. Very intriguing local wine offerings, for those willing to explore. Good food. Fun scene.

After a morning at the National Museum, my wife wanted Pizza. Very near our hotel in the Via Veneto neighborhood was Pizzeria San Marco. The name is nothing like the restaurant. Very large open modern space seating approx 200. Almost every seat filled with incredibly well dressed business types or ladies who lunch. Very decent affordable pizza, efficient service. Not a destination but if you want a glass of wine, pizza and a comfortable seat…it certainly works.

Final dinner was Glass Hostaria in Trastavere. I believe it has a Michelin star which it definitely deserves. Very modern decor with high end not quite fusion nouvelle cuisine. Market driven preparations. Outstanding service. Deep, diverse and eclectic wine list. Excellent wines by the glass with a skilled Somm. This and the Il Sanlorenzo were unquestionably our two finest meals of the trip.

Two restaurants we missed are a little further afield to the north: Il Ceppo and Acquolina. Both were given high recommendations by both diners and restaurant workers. We walked by Al Bric, and the buzz is that it’s on the decline. It looked tired.

Café Eustachio was mobbed. The coffee is good but the place was simply overflowing with tourists. Best to keep your eyes on the locals (easier in the off season) for coffee.

For wine shopping, it’s worth the cab or long bus ride out to Enoteca Rocchi past the Villa Borghese. We were ably assisted by a young Dutch woman who spoke excellent English and had an impressive knowledge of local wines. Very competitive pricing. Also a solid plug for Enoteca del Frate near the Vatican. Very strong selection and knowledge with a woman (possibly an owner) who was willing to indulge my butchered Italian to learn my tastes and interest. IMHO the treasures in these shops lies in the local wines and local knowledge. Still, if it’s high end bottles you want, they both deliver.

A week in Rome and there’s still so much more to see, eat and drink.

Ciao.

RT

Ciao Richard!

Thank you for posting a trip report. I was going to search the forum for the latest Rome wine shop recommendations and remembered about your earlier post inquiring about restaurants in Rome and saw that you had posted a nice trip report.

We’ll be in Rome in about 3-weeks time and have made a dinner reservation at Casa Bleve. Based on your trip report, it looks like a good decision on our part.

Also, now, I may have to reconsider my decision of not including Trattoria Cadorna in our meal plan. I’m not that bothered by the tourist discrimination thing as long as we get served the same good food and get the same good service as the locals do. Perhaps, I should fit it in in one of our lunch stops.

You mentioned about the uncompetitive prices at Roscioli. We will be a large group of 14, composed of family members from other parts of the world who decided to do a family reunion in Rome during the holidays. Some of the members pressed us to ensure that their saved-up college student budgets will be well spent at eating establishments where we will get the best bang for our bucks. I had made a lunch reservations for the group at Roscioli, and have not been there in many years, and was wondering if you think our lunch will be better spent elsewhere.

Good to read about your good experience at Cul de Sac. It’s my favorite wine bar in Rome and that’s where I had made arrangement to meet up with local friends, from other Italian cities.

I’ve been looking for a nice lunch stop in Testaccio as my go to at Perilli is closed during the holidays. Felicia a Testaccio was half-heartedly recommended to me by the owner of Perilli when I called. Your post did not seem to have that “highly endorsed” tone to it.

I had noted down and Google-mapped both Enoteca Rocchi and Enoteca del Fratte. Rocchi has a nice, very robust, online wine list with some good pricing, but unfortunately I couldn’t make out if they had included the vintages in the list. I’ll definitely find time to stray away from the family group in order to pay these wine shops a visit.

Cheers.
Ramon

Ramon, glad you found the write-up useful.

A lunch stop at Trattoria Cadorna will ease the strain on your wallet. Basic rib-sticking Roman fare. Definitely pop in to Latticini and Il Caruso around the corner.

14 is quite a group to squeeze in to Roscioli. I expect you’ll be seated in the cellar too. Roscioli’s food quality is unquestionable and it’s worthwhile studying/discussing the deli counter selections (probably only possible at lunch). It won’t be “cheap” but it’s excellent. Cul de Sac offers better value IMHO. I’d be shocked if they could fit 14 people together.

I do recommend Felice a Testaccio. Not a wine geek destination (the list seemed basic but respectable). The food quality (and prices) are a step-up from Trattoria Cadorna, but still offering fine value. Enjoyed the nearby central market as well as popping in to Volpetti (specialty foods).

Have a great trip.

RT