Dining in Rome: Rooftop Restaurants and Special Occasions

Refined Rooftop Dining from Rome’s Hotel 47

In the first installment of “Ask the Italy Expert,” a feature in which I ask Italy travel specialists to help me answer reader inquiries, Stefania Troiani of Rome Shopping Guide about outlet shopping and pastry shops in Rome. This week’s questions are also about Rome and eating. What can I say…? Those are two topics I get asked about the most!

So, I called in another Rome expert. This time it is Erica Firpo behind the gorgeous travel blog Moscerina, to which she has been posting anecdotes about life in Rome since 2005. If you follow Italy travel news on Twitter, you may know Erica as @moscerina or @NG_Rome. The “NG” in the latter stands for Nile Guides, for which Erica is the local expert in Rome. After contacting Erica, I also learned that she wrote the Rome Little Black Book, a dining and entertainment guide for the Eternal City. Once again, I knew I had called on the right Italy expert for the job!

Following are the questions submitted by real Italofile readers and Erica’s expert advice.

Question 1: Rooftop Restaurants
Hi, Melanie! Can you recommend the best restaurants in Rome? Non- touristy and relaxing? ;). I am looking for a client. I’m not sure where she is staying, she has not set a budget- just wants great food and nice atmosphere- any rooftop restaurants with views maybe? Thanks, Laura

Rooftop restaurants in Rome are almost always, as a rule of thumb, atop hotels, which can mean they are touristy and perhaps a little too stuffy. Since a Roman sunset is a sight not to be missed, my advice would be to have a champagne toast on a rooftop– St. George Hotel (panorama of all the domes of Rome), Hotel Raphael (above Piazza Navona), Grand Hotel de la Minerve (view of the Pantheon’s dome), or Forty-Seven Hotel (looking toward the Tiber to the Temple of Fortunus), and then make your way around the neighborhood to a fabulous dinner. My favorite restaurants? Santa Lucia and San Teodoro — both are nestled in piazzas, away from the hubbub, and have delicious menus. Santa Lucia’s specialty is fish, while San Teodoro is creative interpretation of Roman cuisine.

(I also recommended San Teodoro in this post about Restaurants Near the Roman Forum.)

Question 2: Special Occasion Restaurants in Rome
Hi, Melanie. I wonder if you can help please. It will be my daughter’s 21st birthday on the 15th July. As a surprise, we are looking to take her (and her sister who is 26) to Rome for a few days. On her actual birthday, I would like to go to a nice restaurant (but maybe somewhere that’s more fun than posh) and as part of that, I would like to arrange a special birthday cake (which they would bring at the end of the meal). Would it be possible to arrange something like this in Rome and have it booked in advance? Any ideas appreciated! Thanks, Linda

Most restaurants will ask that you choose from their desserts, or if desiring a cake, choose from their pastry chef of choice. Casina Valadier, which may be more posh than fun, has an excellent pastry designer whose cakes are fantasies in marzipan. La Pergola‘s pastry chef is perhaps Rome’s most creative: his chocolate creations are unique to the world. [La Pergola is also Rome’s most coveted restaurant with 3 Michelin stars for cuisine, service, and price.] For a fun evening of eating (and less taxing on the wallet), Felice a Testaccio has excellent Roman cuisine and a fun, hip atmosphere. I just asked about birthday cakes since I’ll be celebrating there- the chef suggested a pick from his desserts, and order one in advance especially for the evening.

Laura and Linda, I hope these answers will help you plan the perfect Roman holidays for your client and your daughters. Thank you so much, Erica, for your extremely useful answers.

If you’d like to submit a question or if you are an Italy expert who’d like to offer some advice, contact me. Hopefully, we can collaborate on the next installment of Ask the Italy Expert!

Photo © 47hotel.com

Rome’s Best Trattoria? You decide…

Choice Tables – A Debate Over the Best Roman Trattoria -NYTimes.com

How could I possibly let this headline from the New York Times pass me by? Apparently, the global recession has led Italians to rediscover their local trattoria. And where better than Rome to start the debate?

The problem with trattorie is that there are so many, so I hardly remember the name of my favorites. I do recall loving one local in the San Giovanni area around the corner from my flat. The best part is that my 7 year old charge (I was an au pair at the time) ordered a mezzo porzione of the spaghetti con vongole (yep..Italian kids eat clams!). I can’t remember what I ate (amatriciana, maybe?), but I do remember finding it charming that the trattoria was so accommodating to the little girl. Can’t find too many places like that anymore.

So, what’s your favorite tratt in Rome? Or, do you have a favorite in another city? I’m sure you do, so comment away!

Foreign Food Ban in Italy

Now I love Italian food as much as the next person. But, a ban on foreign food in some municipalities and regions is, in my opinion, a kind of gastronomic racism (as described by Italian chef Vittorio Castellani).

I learned of the foreign food ban in such towns as Lucca from the Hugging the Coast blog. There, Doug DuCap provides links to information about this food flap from the Chicago Sun Times and the Lega Nord, the Italian political party that is behind much of this.

It’s true, so much of Italian cuisine has been influenced from the outside. Just look at the cuisine of Liguria, largely influenced by traders from Asia and the Middle East who long ago docked in Genoa. Or consider the food of Sicily, which includes northern African cous cous as part of its repertoire.

I’m curious…I bet there are some great foreign restaurants in Italy as well as many celebrated “Italian” restaurants that find gastronomic inspiration from other countries. If you have any recommendations, please comment at the end of this post.

Touring the Venice Lagoon by Pénichette

While browsing the web recently, I happened upon Emmanuelle Jary’s excellent primer on touring the Venice Lagoon on ViaMichelin (full disclosure: I have written for Michelin Travel Guides). But what, I wondered, was a pénichette? Turns out that it is a small barge-like houseboat – just the perfect type of transportation for getting around the city of canals on a mini-tour.

The word “pénichette” is a registered trademark, perhaps owned by the company Locaboat, whose photos are used throughout the Michelin article and which runs several tours of the Venice Lagoon. You can choose one- to two-week excursions, and travel from the base at Chioggia to points such as Treviso, Padova, and the Venetian islands. According to Locaboat, pénichettes are ideal for family or group travel and those “which bear the ‘R’ label are boats which have been updated with the latest low-pollution, high performance equipment.” So, your trip to Venice can be eco-friendly, too.

While you’re out and about, consider following Jary and Michelin’s suggestions for dining out or ordering in (listed at the bottom of the article) from some of the great restaurants in Venice. I’m salivating for the potato risotto and cuttlefish polenta from Do Farai right now…

Photo © Via Michelin

Italy Summer Article Round-Up 2008

Lots of Italy-related articles this time of year. So, here goes:

New York Times
Wandering Beyond Classic Rome (The Frugal Traveler Does Europe on a Budget)
On Venice’s Grand Canal in a Kayak
Prescription Med (Ischia)

Los Angeles Times
Exploring Rome’s Famous Seven Hills
Budget Travel in Rome
10 Books and Movies to Prep for a Trip to Rome
Italy: At Home in Rome

National Geographic Traveler
Rome Photo Gallery (Part of NGT’s Authentic Rome feature for the July/August 2008 issue)
Shopping: Roman Gold

The Washington Post
Smart Mouth: His Palermo Restaurant Is Popular, But It’s No Mob Scene
My Verona

Travel Postcard: 48 Hours in Ferrara, Italy

Naples (FL) Daily News
From the Ground Up: Part-Time Naples Couple Found Their Italian Villa a Full-Time Restoration Job Over Two Years (Brindisi, Puglia)

The Guardian (UK)
The Amalfi Coast On a Budget
Caught in the Spell of San Pietro (Sardinia)
Hidden Gems (Sibillini Mountains, Le Marche)
Little Po Peep (Emilia-Romagna)
Flying Visit: Venice
A Greener Way to Umbria’s Capital

Sydney Morning Herald
How to Shop Up an Appetite (Milan)
Night in Italian Prison Promises Gourmet Fare (Tuscany)
Master of the House (Palladio in Venice)
Holiday in Harmony with Gregorian Monks (Tuscany)
A Bloodbath, Italian Style (Florence)

Rome’s Best Pizza

A Roman Pizzaiolo At Work

Think you know the best place in Rome to get a slice (or pizza al taglio, as it were)? Fodor’s Travel Wire recently listed their five favorite pizza joints in the Eternal City and detailed some of the specialties of the Italian pizza table, including the cappriciosa and the margherita. The post fails to mention, however, how much fun Italians have with their pizza, piling on eggplant, asparagus, or a fried egg depending on the season or the craving. We’re partial to “lo studente,” a carb-heavy pizza with sliced, roasted potatoes meant to satisfy the student’s hunger and budget. When in Rome…

Dining Near the Forum

I recently received an e-mail from an Unofficial Guide reader asking about the best places to dine near the Roman Forum. The Forum “complex,” which includes the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Colosseum, and Trajan’s Market (and, to a lesser extent, the Capitoline and the Vittoriano) is ultimately a tourist area. So, as like in other cities, the best restaurants are rarely concentrated where tourists tread.

However, exploring the lanes around the Forum can yield some fine food. The very first restaurant I thought of when she mentioned she was looking for a nice place to celebrate near the Forum is San Teodoro. It is listed in the UGCI and is just sandwiched in the area between the Forum and the Circus Maximus. It doesn’t overlook the Forum per se, but it does have an elegant atmosphere. Two other recommendations in that area are Ai Tre Scalini (via SS. Quattro 30 (near Colosseum); 06-709-6309; Closed Mon.) and Alvaro al Circo Massimo (via dei Cerchi 53; 06-678-6112; Closed Mon.).

Ancient Rome admirers may also want to consider L’Archeologia, a restaurant on the Appian Way that DOES provide views of ruins. Please note that I’ve never eaten here – it’s on my list! – but I’ve heard good things.

I would love to hear from others with tips on Forum-area dining. Please add your comments below.

Photo © Ramiro Sànchez-Crespo