Sunday, June 23, 2013

When in Rome - Culinary Recap: The Eternal City & Beyond

Ciao Italia!
As I sit here on my couch in my pajamas, it's hard to fathom that just last week I stood at the foot of such magnificence, Rome's breathtaking Trevi Fountain - 

Photo: NK 

tour guide, Giulio, made the Fontana di Trevi the first stop on our day tour of Rome. At that early morning hour, the crowds thin, the air ever so slightly cool, nearby rooftops splitting the sunbeams and casting the scene in a dramatic mosaic of light and shadow, this fountain knocked the wind right out of me.   One thing about being awestruck - you just don't see it coming. 

I'm not sure what I was expecting the Trevi to be like. Perhaps its heavy presence in movies and pop culture caused my suspicion that it might be disappointing. Audrey Hepburn's Roman Holiday a more distant memory, I think I may have been envisioning it as it appeared in some cheesy scene from the Kristen Bell box office turkey, When in Rome. But instead, there I was - feeling shocked as I instinctively hung my head to hide the tears welling up in my eyes. I managed to hold myself together long enough to turn my back and throw a coin over my shoulder, offering my wish up as the custom dictates. Maybe it was the energy of the place, the flood of so many people's wishes, hopes, dreams, fears. Or maybe it was the sheer beauty of the fountain - its impressive sculptural qualities, the water, crystal blue-green in the bright sunshine. I don't know. But it sure was something, and this experience was a just the beginning of so many amazing sights to come in a city that truly is ever so Eternal. 

Our voyage was brilliant from start to finish, and was undoubtedly made all the more special by the fact that we had our moms with us enjoying all the breathtaking antiquity and later, the sweeping vistas and turquoise waters of the Amalfi Coast. 

Back on my couch now, I am realizing that my socks don't match. :( 

Today's post will cover our dining and general food experiences in Rome and the Amalfi Coast area, specifically Sorrento and the town of Amalfi. I hope that you find this information helpful, and as always, I wish you happy travels and the chance to one day see the amazing sights that Italy has to offer. 

Understanding the different types of dining establishments in Italy is key to figuring out what types of dishes and ambiance to expect. To learn more, click HERE

Ristorante Matricianella
Recommended Dishes - Classic Carbonara (pictured top left), Eggplant Parmigiana (pictured bottom right), Fettucine con Funghi (mushrooms), and for dessert, they make a mean Affogato.

Delicious Affogato, Photo: NK 

Highlights - This excellent destination for typical Roman Fare was recommended to me by a real life Roman. As such, I had high hopes for it, and Matricianella did not disappoint.

What to know - Matricianella is a true trattoria, and  this festive neighborhood joint is frequented both by tourists and locals. Reservations are advised, but will not necessarily guarantee you access to the outdoor seating. The service was efficient if not a touch brusque (though at times, amusing). All in all, it was a great night. Stroll the nearby Spanish Steps afterwards to work off that pasta!

Buon appetito! 

Speaking of Dessert, there's a reason people come back from Italy raving about Gelato. It's delicious. Bonus Tip - Gelato is lower in both calories and fat as compared to typical American Ice Cream - as if you needed an excuse. If you're looking for ideas on where to go for a cup of this creamy goodness, we can vouch for: 

Highlights - 
Giolitti is a big operation in Rome's historical center that stays bustling late into the night. Not only do they offer innumerable Gelato flavors, but also cookies and other sweets, in addition to some sandwich and savory food options. 

What to Know - 
We found each flavor we tried (Pistachio, Straciatella and Coffee) to be extremely delicious, and the consistency of the Gelato was better than the two other places I had tried during our trip. First, head to the cash register to say what size cup or cone you are looking for, then head to the counter to collect your Gelato!
Photo, NK 

Sweet tooth not satisfied? We must thank our tour guide, Giulio, for introducing us to and encouraging a pit stop at 

Photo: NK 
Highlights - 
Their awning proclaims that Pompi is "The King of Tiramisu." I can't say I have tasted enough of this treat to agree or disagree (it's not really my bag), but I can say that the Tiramisu they turn out is quite delicious. In addition to the "Classico," several other creative varieties are offered. These little cakes come to you neatly wrapped up in handy little cartons. A built in spoon allows you to enjoy Pompi's exceptionally fluffy, light, and flavorful Tiramisu on the go. 

What to Know - Again, head first to the cashier and place your order and pay. Then pick up your treat from behind the counter. We enjoyed the Classic and Pistachio (pictured) flavors. 
Fun Fact - the literal translation of Tiramisu is "pick me up." 

I dolci di Nonna Vincenza, Photo: NK 

Last but not least, we happened upon a beautiful and expansive pastry and sweet shop called I dolci di Nonna Vincenza. The shop, near the Campo de' Fiori area, is a lovely place to just browse or even pick up some souvenir candies to bring home. 

They also sell typical Italian Pastries and elaborate cakes. 

Marzipan, Photo: NK

The staff was exceptionally welcoming and the beautiful Marzipan they sell was absolutely delicious. 

I was partial to the little Marzipan Artichoke!

Of course there will be lots more sweets to talk about once we get to the Amalfi area, but before we leave Rome, here are some additional

Dishes worthy of an Honorable Mention:

The Penne Arrabiata at Casa Coppelle was spicy, excellent perfection. Though the restaurant's ambiance was some of the best we experienced, some of our meals were just a bit spotty. I do, however, recommend this dish. 

Penne Arrabiata at Nino, Photo: NK

I didn't think it would be possible to top but the Penne Arrabiata at Nino Ristorante, located a few blocks from the Spanish Steps, was fantastic. 

We actually had a superb meal at Nino, a restaurant focusing on Tuscan fare that has an old fashioned ambiance similar to Peter Luger (grumpy waiters included!), for those of you who are familiar with the famous NY Based Steakhouse. The Marinated Eggplant was also a standout - check out my version HERE.  

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe with Zucchini
Photo: NK 

Our Roman tour guide brought us to lunch at one of his neighborhood haunts, a charming restaurant with a nice outdoor space called 
Pinsa e Buoi dei...

Here, we enjoyed several different types of pizza and my mother had a delicious dish of Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe with Zucchini that I happily helped her finish - this was my favorite Cacio e Pepe  (Pasta with Cheese and Pepper) of the trip. 

Amatriciana at Trilussa, Photo: NK
Finally, ordering Pasta Amatriciana is an absolute must when in Rome. Taverna Trilussa in Rome's vibrant, though gritty, Trastavere area (think the East Village on Saturday night) offered a notable version of this  dish from the Lazio region. Classic Amatriciana sauce incorporates salty, smokey Guanciale (pork cheek similar to Pancetta) in a tomato based sauce. OH yes. 

Fun twist - Trilussa serves their pastas it in your very own pot and tosses them tableside. We had a pretty good meal here with a few ups and downs, but it was clear by the number of locals in attendance that the hip and in the know seem to enjoy this place. I liked the true taverna ambiance complete with Prosciutto hanging from the ceiling, and the boisterous energy of the local patrons. 

Though terribly sad to leave Rome, we headed to Termini Station and hopped a speed train to Naples where we were then driven about 45 minutes to beautiful town of Sorrento that would serve as our home base for the next few days. From there, we visited the towns of Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello (our favorite). I hope you enjoy some of the highlights!  

The Amalfi Coast is pretty stunning.  

Overlooking Positano, Photo: NK 

Beautiful Tomatoes and Amalfi Lemons, Photo: NK 
Still, there's always that pressing question: what does this region have to offer me food-wise? 

The answer - The Amalfi area abounds with the most spectacular Produce (hands down the best Tomatoes I have ever had), 

giant Amalfi Lemons so sweet you can bite them, 

and finally, 

amazingly fresh Seafood.  

Now, let's mangia. 

La Tavernetta, Marina di Puolo Location (Just outside of Sorrento Center)
Vesuvius in the distance, La Tavernetta, Marina di Puolo, Photo: NK 
What to Know - This casual seaside restaurant in the quaint Marina di Puolo is slightly off the beaten path but so worth a visit. Family owned and run, there is another main location of La Tavernetta in Sorrento Town, but this sister restaurant, just about 15 minutes away, offers sea views and a free shuttle service to and from dinner.

Comically, said "shuttle" ended up being a tiny four door coupe driven by a jovial Italian woman who spoke little English and who, shall we say, had a lead foot. I don't know if this is the case all the time, or just during the beginning of the season when we visited, but despite the less than luxurious ride, our trip was totally worth it. 

La Tavernetta serves absolutely great seafood (which is so obviously fresh off the day boat), along with extremely well executed traditional trattoria fare and Pizzas. The menu offers much variety and dishes are all unfussy, letting the freshness of the produce and fish really take center stage. As an added bonus, this place is heavily frequented by locals, and it has a secluded feel to it that is really quite calming (especially after a white-knuckle ride!). Sit back, relax, and enjoy the sun setting over Vesuvio in the distance.  

Photo: NK 

Recommended Dishes - Everything. There was not a dish we did not enjoy. My Seafood Mixed Grill (bottom right) and Paccheri with Clams, Mussels, and Squid was to die (bottom left). My husband's Gnocchi alla Sorrentina was light and fluffy, and the Pizza Margherita that we shared was delicious - it was a real Margherita, complete with fresh Basil (which was curiously missing from all of the other Margherita's we ordered on the the trip)! As my mom-in-law will tell you, and I must agree, it just isn't Margherita without the Basil. Finally, La Tavernetta's Caprese Salad (top left) was the best we had in Rome or Sorrento. Heavenly Buffalo Mozzarella and outrageously ripe Tomatoes made this dish stand out from the pack. YUM 

Ristorante Bagni Delfino, Sorrento, Marina Grande 
Photo: NK 
What to Know - This place is a gem. Beautifully nestled in the busy Marina Grande, Il Delfino serves up excellent, fresh seafood in a casual yet chicly designed nautical setting. The restaurant is within a short, picturesque, yet steep walk from the town center (about 10 minutes). Wear flat shoes to navigate the sometimes unevenly cobbled streets and stairs. Outdoor seating is available but views of the bay are gorgeous from most tables. 

Recommended Dishes - Our Zuppa di Mussels (Cozze) were some of the best we've ever had, and the lemony Mixed Seafood Salad (right) was the stuff of dreams. Our mothers ordered Whole Sea Bass which was filleted tableside, simply flavored, and super fresh. My Linguine with White Clam Sauce (Vongole) was superb, though I am still partial to my own more broth-driven version (theirs was more Olive Oil based). 

Linguine with Clams at Il Delfino, Photo: NK 

Andrea Pansa Pasticceria, Town of Amalfi
Photo: NK 
Andrea Pansa is a beautiful pastry shop in the center of the Town of Amalfi. In business since 1830 (!), we dropped in to try a famous regional type of Sfogliatelle called Sfogliatelle Santa Rosa. Said to have originated in a convent, this version is unlike traditional Sfogliatelle in that it is filled with Cream rather than Ricotta, and includes Cherries. Look at it on the bottom left - delicious and majestic! Also try Delizie al Limone (bottom right) - another stellar sweet of the region that includes light sponge cake that is filled with Lemon Custard. 

Ok, that about does it for now. I hope you've enjoyed our Italian Culinary Roundup and that we've provided some helpful tips, or at least some cooking inspiration. 

Special Thanks - 
To our Moms - for sharing this wonderful adventure with us.

To True Italia - Our Travel Agent/Concierge Company. I highly recommend them and we've used their services twice both in Greece and Italy. Check out True Italia for a totally gorgeous and stress free vacation (they aren't paying me to say this). 

As a note, we stayed at the following hotels - the Sofitel Villa Borghese in Rome, and the Bellevue Syrene in Sorrento - I would recommend both to anyone. 
To Italy - for many great memories and, as always, endless culinary inspiration. 

Breathtaking Bernini Altar at St. Peter's Basilica, Photo: NK 
Rome, The Tevere Photo: NK 

The Pantheon, Photo: NK 
Rome by Night, near the Spanish Steps. Photo: NK 

The Colosseum, Photo: NK 
Aqueduct near the Appian Way, Photo: NK  
Ceiling in the Vatican Museum,  Photo: NK
Approaching Sorrento, Photo: NK 
Sunset Over Marina Grande, Sorrento. Photo: NK 
View from the Amalfi Drive, Photo: NK
Cloister of Paradise, Cathedral of Amalfi, Amalfi Town - Photo: NK 
Lemons! Photo: NK 
The Beautiful Town of Ravello, Photo: NK


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