Some of my best restaurant meals have no doubt been in Italy where rich olive oil, sharp Parmesan, fragrant tomatoes and of course, wonderful wine win me over every time. This was my second trip to Rome not counting a high school trip from which I can only recall developing a serious obsession with bacio gelato and sneaking bottles of wine into our hotel room. My first real trip to Rome was in 2004 with my partner, Ryan. We had just finished a whole year apart between Bristol, England and New York and planned an epic reunion at the airport in Milan where we would take the second leg of our flight to Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Little did I know, he had missed his flight from England and I spent the entire second flight crying my eyes out. Despite the rocky start, our week in Rome was magical. My best food memory from that trip was lunch at Alfredo e Ada on Via Banchi Nuovi 14. We stumbled upon this tiny restaurant after seeing the Pope outside of St. Peter’s (no joke, he comes out every Wednesday!) We sat down at our table, the only one left, and watched as our neighbor asked an old woman in English if he could see a menu. Raising both hands from the elbow, fingers turned up and pressed together, she said in a booming voice “la nonna is the menu.” From there the fun began with classic, straight-forward pasta with red sauce cooked to perfection, thinly sliced veal chops and carafes of house white wine, all brought to our table without a single word. We walked out laughing, drunk off of two carafes and the pure pleasure of knowing that we would never forget that meal.
Eight years later we returned to Rome with my parents and 3-month-old daughter. We were coming off of a week south of Brindisi where you’d be hard pressed to find meat on the menu and dry fields of olives and figs are ripe for the picking. We rented an apartment in Piazza Magdalena just a few steps from the Pantheon and woke each morning to the sound of food delivery trucks making their way through narrow streets to offload the day’s fare to our local restaurants. That and the sound of our baby letting us know that 7am was the appropriate time to hit the streets. Three meals really stood out this time around, all lunches. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all my food memories in Rome were lunches. When travelling in a country with great food and weather like Italy, we tend to really go for it at lunch, leaving full, buzzed, and ready for a nap, a strong coffee, or both.
For classic Italian, we enjoyed a relaxing outdoor lunch at Paris in Trastevere on Piazza S. Calisto. A huge fan of thick pasta fagole soup, I really enjoyed their version made with chickpeas and homemade broken spaghetti. We also enjoyed the carciofi alla guida or Jewish fried artichokes, and warm porcini mushrooms which happened to be in season. Our next memorable meal was at a more modern place called Salumeria Roscioli on Via dei Glubbonari, 21.A mix between a restaurant and salumeria specializing in prosciutto and fresh mozzarella, they’ve managed to create a wonderfully intimate atmosphere. For starters they brought out an assortment of breads and four mounds of homemade ricotta drizzled with olive oil and black pepper. They were light and creamy and I kept dipping my knife all the way through dessert. Their burrata or cream filled mozzarella was clearly their specialty, as were the pastas and olive oil cured vegetables. The highlight however was the plate of billowing prosciutto.
Finally, we were intrigued to try the restaurant at ‘Gusto on Piazza Augusto Imperatore, 9. Made up of a collection of restaurants, a wine bar, cheese shop, rotisserie, pizzeria, and kitchen store, ‘Gusto felt similar to Mario Batali’s Italian food lover’s mecca Eataly in New York, though his true inspiration evidently lives in Torino. They evidently also have a food website, Gazzetta Gastronomica. Easily translatable into English, it’s a fun read. We tried the ristorante, an attractive upstairs layout that was surprisingly quiet at 1pm. We enjoyed deep fried zucchini flowers filled with creamy ricotta and truffle oil, a fish carpaccio served on black slate for extra drama, and a tower of fried eggplant, tomato and mozzarella over a red pepper puree. Shopping for kitchen gadgets downstairs was a great way to end to meal, though I’m sure the desserts were delicious.
Note: While Alfredo e Ada don’t have a website, I was happy to see that the restaurant is still alive and well with great reviews. I was especially pleased to see it featured on Delicious Baby, a travel website with city guides specifically geared towards families with small children.