If you haven’t been able to tell by now, we derive the greatest pleasure in life from two things: traveling to amazing places, and eating amazing food. And if you’re a traveler or a foodie, there’s really nowhere better in the world than Italy.
We took our honeymoon as a two-week AirBnB tour of Italy, starting in Venice and ending in Rome (obviously with some spectacular places in between — we’ll tell you all about them soon!). Each region had its particular specialty of course, but Rome is a cosmopolitan centre with a spectacularly diverse menu.
Because we did AirBnB, we always stocked up on snacks and breakfast foods we could cook at home. This saved us a ton of money. In each city, we would locate a grocery store, pick up some essentials (eggs, bacon, milk, coffee, bread, fruit and veg, cheese), and keep those on hand in our flat. A typical day would start out with breakfast, a walk around to see some sites, and a mental note of some nearby restaurants that looked like they had good menus. From there, we could head back home, do a little research on the restaurants, make our reservations, then have lunch and a quick nap.
Doing it this way gave us plenty of exercise, time to see everything there is to see, and find great places to eat. We would sometimes spot places for lunch, or look online for things close to attractions we planned to visit. On occasion, if we’d had a long day, we might even tuck in with some pasta made at home and an early night reviewing the next day’s adventures.
If we had one piece of advice for your anyone traveling to Rome, it’s this: make a reservation. It’s incredibly difficult to walk into any decent restaurant at dinner time and just get seated. Yes, they have McDonald’s there. But that’s not why you’re there, is it?
Most of our favourite spots were in the area close to where we were staying on Via Nazionale (Rione i Monti). This is close to the Colosseum and San Martino, and boasts some of the best shopping we found on our whole trip.
It’s also home to some spectacular food experiences.
Restaurant: La Carbonara
La Carbonara came highly recommended by some friends of ours, and it certainly lived up to its reputation. We showed up as a walk-in at 8 p.m. (no reservation), and it was a gamble. The place was packed. However, they did have a table for two we could have IF we could finish by 9:15.
No problem. We’re up for a challenge.
La Carbonara is a small place with a sort of local pub atmosphere. Over the years guests have written on the walls, and the artwork is kitchy as well. It’s all brick and dark wood and plaster. But the real star is the service! Our waiter — who had a smile very reminiscent of James Franco — was spectacularly helpful, and was only too happy to make some fresh pasta recommendations. The menu is an assortment of combinations, so it does take a little thinking to work through.
Steve’s choice was a thick noodly thing with oxtail in a pomodoro sauce. Amanda’s was a lighter pasta with a pistachio sauce. Both were out of this world, and we immediately agreed to make another reservation for our last night in Rome.
Dessert was a lemon curd tart that was absolutely delicious. Anyone who says desserts in Italy aren’t very good hasn’t actually been to Italy! This was, hands down, the best meal we had from beginning to end in the whole two weeks there!
Takeaway: Zizzi Pizza
Zizzi Pizza is a snug, out-of-the-way artisan pizzeria in Piazza San Martino ai Monti. This was one of our rare lunches out, since we were a teensy bit later than usual getting started in the morning. It’s a tight space to eat in, as it’s not really a restaurant; more of a takeout counter with a few seats and tables for waiting. Still, the diner-like quality of the space was such that we felt compelled to sit with our Basilichito (soda) and Meanbrea lager and chat with the young lady at the counter.
The pizzas are fantastic, of course. Like, off the charts fantastic. Served by the rather significant portion, we shared a margherita and a seasonal vegetable. This is a spot you have to hit if you’re in the Rioni i Monti area. You won’t be disappointed.
Restaurant: L’asino D’oro
Having learned our lesson at La Carbonara, we made a reservation the second night at L’asino D’oro (aka, The Golden Ass).
L’asino D’oro is much trendier and more modern than La Carbonara. It seems more upscale, even though the prices are comparable. And it’s definitely more contemporary, but isn’t obnoxious or uncomfortable. In fact, the staff was extremely friendly and service was once again spectacular.
The meal started with an hors d’oeuvre of mushroom soup (served in a shot glass) and a bruschetta with ricotta and cucumber. Light, but unassuming…much less than an appetizer, really, but appreciated as a quick starter to the meal. Steve ordered the pappardelle con sugo di agnello al buione (pappardelle with a dark lamb sauce). Amanda had the paglia e fiene (literally straw and hay) with roasted tomato and mint.
To say this meal was phenomenal would be a total understatement. But the real star of the show was the dessert trio. Picture, if you will, eggnog budino with sage and saffron, chocolate crema with mint and ginger, and a Bavarese of ricotta with pistachio, meringues, and raspberry.
The desserts were so good, we begged a reservation for the following night just for dessert. Our minds were blown!
Pasticeria: Ciuri Ciuri
Breakfast for us is usually something on the meaty side. In fact, our usual breakfast was eggs, speck (since bacon as we know it isn’t a thing in Italy), and sliced tomatoes with cheese. In Italy, breakfast is more like what you’d see at a high tea. Tons of pastries, sweets, and cream-filled reasons to go to confession.
But, when in Rome…
Ciuri Ciuri is a pasticeria (pastry shop) that came highly recommended as a place for breakfast. The pastries come in a mindboggling assortment, and all looked incredible. The service is a bit confusing, mind you: you place your order and pay at the front, then they tell the staff upstairs to make your capuccino. Then you go and get it yourself. It’s a cross between a pastry counter, diner, and fast food pickup. The pastries really were incredible. The capuccinos were a little on the small side, but delicious and rich nonetheless. If anybody does coffee the right way, it’s the Italians!
Gelateria: Fatamorgana Monti
If you go to Italy and don’t plan on having some gelato, you might as well turn around and go home.
There are gelaterie on every corner in some areas, but some of these are chains and you might be disappointed (as if any ice cream is ever truly disappointing). In those shops, the gelato selections have extremely bright, vibrant colours that look amazing in the display. That’s your first clue that they’re probably not hand-made, but are brought in by truck from a central factory. They’re made to be enticing, but they’re not overly convincing.
The real shops, we’re told, have selections with more muted colours. They use real ingredients, and the result is a purer, richer flavour. They’re less sparkly, but taste like a million bucks.
And that’s precisely why we ended up at the gelateria Fatamorgana Monti. It came highly recommended, and with good reason. While we do enjoy sticking with more basic flavours, including our perennial favourite pistachio, Fatamorgana has a wonderfully eclectic mix of cold creamy treats. Some of these included wine and cherry, pear and cheese, and tobacco.
We didn’t venture to the tobacco. But wine + gelato? Yeah…we went there. There was also a great medley called “Snow White” that combined cream, raspberry, and Tahitian vanilla. Simply the coolest spot to grab a cold treat, tucked away in the Piazza degli Zingari.