.... All Roads Lead to… Rigatoni.
I just returned from two golden weeks in Rome where I had some of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten, drank gloriously of the 2007 Tuscan Chiantis, gawked at life-like sculpture, and rubbed shoulders with 2,000-year-old cultural artifacts.
How good was the trip?
Well, for a brief spell last week, napaman thought of uprooting his life, selling the farmhouse and moving to Italy… to become… romaman! The city does that to you.
I suppose Paris does this to visitors, too, as does London. But these cities don’t have pasta like Rome, which is the clincher for me.
The secrets of a sensational trip to Rome:
1. Stay in Rome the entire time.
Forget the guidebook nonsense about including side trips (Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, etc.) when you go to Rome.
There is enough art, enough culture, a sufficiency of Roman ruins and enough great restaurants to spend two weeks in Rome and never get bored or find yourself retracing your steps.
2. Stay in one hotel the entire time.
Want to have a GREAT holiday? Stay in ONE place the whole time.
Don’t move around, and only unpack once.
We found a sensational site, www.tablethotels.com, created by designers and architects, which has a Relais et Chateaux sensibility. Tablet.com will help you find accommodation in cities around the world, but in Rome, it was like having a personal assistant.
Tip: Join Tablet Plus, which for $200 a year secures a membership with all kinds of bonuses, inducing free hotel upgrades, and free WIFI.
In Italy, where they charge for WIFI by law (talk about a powerful telecommunication lobby!), our Tablet Plus upgrade, saved us way more than $200 in WIFI charges alone, as well as scoring us an upgrade to a suite at no extra charge.
We stayed at Hotel Fortyseven, (via Luigi Petroselli 47) which also gets a positive thumbs-up recommendation from napaman. The hotel is central to everything; within walking distance of every major site except perhaps Villa Borghese and the Borghese Gardens; the rooms are clean, modern, and the concierge team is first-rate, able to book restaurants, get taxis, and resolve small matters in a moment.
3. Do not rent a car.
The great thing about Rome is that you can walk just about everywhere.
Spanish Steps? Fountain of Trevi? Roman Forum? The Colosseum? The Vatican? Sistine Chapel? They’re all within walking distance of a central hotel like Hotel Fortyseven.
Most days, we walked seven to eight miles, walking off the previous evening’s carbo-load of sensational pasta.
It is easy to eat pasta two times a day in Rome. What is so fun about the pasta here is that Rome has several of its own shapes of pasta, most with which I was not familiar.
This would include a somewhat wavy, long, extruded noodle called tonnarelli, which is tossed with butter, pecorino cheese and freshly ground black pepper to make the simple, yet delicious, dish called tonnarelli cacio e pepe.
Lazio, the province in which Rome is located, and of which it is the capital city, is sheep-heavy, so locals consume much more pecorino here than they do Parmigiano-Reggiano, the cow’s milk cheese of Emilia-Romana.
The single best version of tonnarelli cacio e pepe, which I had in Rome was at a restaurant called (depending on your guidebook) Felice, or Da Felice, or even De Felice. But it’s located at via Mastro Giorgio 29, if this’ll help you find it.
Other food must-tries in Rome
Rome is ground zero for artichokes (when in season) and there is a constantly waged battle over which is better – carciofi alla romana (braised with garlic, mint and parsley, then drizzled with olive oil), or carciofi alla giudia, or Jewish-style artichokes, which are essentially deep-fried.
We have a love for Bolognese cooking; Emilia-Romana, the provincial home of Bologna, Parma, Modena, and Ferrara probably produces the best food in Italy. So when we learned that there is a restaurant serving Bolognese cuisine in Rome, we made a beeline for it.
The food is so good, so authentic, and so memorable at Dal Bolognese (Piazza del Popolo 1) that we actually ate here twice, ordering the IDENTICAL dishes a second time:
+ Brodo with tortellini
+ Taglionlini with Bolognese sauce (absolutely authentic sauce, tasting as though there might be ground pork, maybe some mortadella and/or liver in the effort)
+ Bolito misto - a plate of boiled, mixed meats, served with a stunning salsa verde and a version of mostarda di Cremona, a spicy-sweet compote of glazed whole candied fruits.
Or, to put these dishes in picture-speak:
For sheer “do as they do in Rome” pleasure, include a visit to Perilli (via Marmorata 39), a family restaurant, which has been serving casareccia fare to locals since 1911.
The windows are frosted to keep prying eyes out; anyone passing would otherwise gawk at the food or the guests (Federico Fellini was a regular).
There is a series of appetizer plates to choose from; the pasta carbonara is exquisite, and the Romans at your next table are as likely to have the latest iPhone as you!
One of the great dishes of Rome is puntarella, a chicory salad splashed with an anchovy/balsamico dressing that brings the greens to life. The version at Perilli is memorable.
In the old Jewish quarter, visit Sora Margherita (Piazza delle Cinque Scole 30), a neighborhood restaurant since 1927. It is quirky for two reasons: there is no sign out front to announce its presence, and secondly, you can only dine here if you are a member of the Sora Margherita Associazone Culturale. (It costs nothing to join and everyone who signs dines!). The food is cheap, cheerful and the room is a hoot:
Roscioli (Via dei Guibbonari 21) is a great restaurant, a great wine store, a great retail food outlet. No visit to Rome is complete without at least one dinner here. Maybe two.
They make their own bread (possibly the best in Italy), their wine list is stocked from a nearby underground cellar (which napaman had the privilege to tour) and the menu selections so compelling, you just want to tell your waiter, “One of everything!”
Choose from three different aged Spanish cured hams (jamon)… choose from six different aged prosciutto… choose from salamis, culatello, and fiocco and other cured meats, which are made from free-range, heirloom pigs. Oh, the list goes on, and we’re still only on the appetizers.
Aficionados will tell you that Roscioli’s carbonara is the best in Rome. I cannot deny that it may be. But it may also qualify for World’s Best.
Organic egg yolks are tossed with aged guanciale, aged, farm-specific pecorino, and pepper from Sarawak.
Near the Pantheon there is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Enoteca Corsi (via del Gesu 87), where locals eat lunch. Period.
It is chaotic, quirky, wonderful and not open for dinner.
De rigueur: Go to the retail wine store next door (part of the same family operation), select a 13-18 Euro bottle of killer wine (I love their Chianti selection), and ask them to transport it to your table. The add-on cost to enjoy the wine for lunch is 2 Euros over the shelf price. You can drink like a king here on a court jester’s income.
The fare is fun; this is not yuppified, or cerebralized cuisine. It is just well made, fairly priced food. And sometimes, a meal is just that.
Okay, ‘Nuff about the food. There are sights to see in Rome and rather than go head-to-head with Rick Steves, rating top attractions, or telling you the hours of operation, or giving you the address, let me offer this shorthand version:
As a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s 33,000 words’ worth of my favorite things in Rome:
Vatican. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
Head here for the Bernini sculptures, including Apollo and Daphne.
They don't permit photos, so the ones here are "borrowed."
For all my life, I never understood sculpture, always preferring paintings to sculpture. But my visit to VIlla Borghese was a true game-changer, opening my eyes to what sculptors can achieve.
I am talking about Bernini (1598 - 1680). There are a number of his works on permanent display here. I stood transfixed before his "Apollo & Daphne," which depicts the chaste nymph being changed into a laurel tree as she tries to flee from the God Apollo. It is totally open-jaw, drooling, stare-time when you are in the presence of this sculpture. You can't believe anyone could ever chisel this setting out of a block of cold marble. It is so life like, so real.
The thing about Bernini is this: he freezes people in their tracks the way modern movie makers freeze a subject, then do a 360-tour of the frozen image (as in the Matrix). But Bernini did it 400 years ago and in marble, not with CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). Bernini makes the marble skin of a subject dimple the way real skin reacts to pressure; he gets the eyes, he gets the energy, he imbues the marble with virtual life-force.
I stood before Apollo & Daphne, and before Bernini's marble statue of David, who is set to fling his sling at Goliath, with my mouth agape. It was like hearing - and understanding - opera for the first time; I got the same spine-tingling chill one gets when hearing Pavarotti perform Nessun Dorma from Turandot, or Ch' ella me creda from Girl of the Golden West - unforgettable.
And a few incidental shots, which I happened to snap and like:
And finally, a note about Federico Polidori
While walking the back alleys near the Pantheon, I came upon Federico Polidori's small leather shop. I subsequently found out that Forbes described Federico as "Rome's premier leather artisan for 30 years."
I asked Federico, who is used to making one-of-a-kind leather bags, holsters for guns, quirky personalized briefcases, to make me a leather and canvass tote bag for use back home.
He has designed one-of leather goods for muckraker and author Carl Bernstein, and half-an-hour after I picked up my leather and canvass tote, Julia Roberts dashed into Federico's place to order a bag. It's that kind of place.
Here Federico and Roberta, his wife, display the bag which Federico made for me over the course of a week.
To contact Federico, email to: email@example.com
His artisanal leather shop is at Via Pie di Marmo 7-8, Rome. Tel: 06-67-97-191.