I’m still sorting through pictures, and trying to decide subjects that might make good blog posts. For example, I’ve now visited Italy twice during the holidays, and so I’ve amassed a huge assortment of nativity scenes, and I’d love to throw the whole lot up into one giant post for you to enjoy. But I wonder, do you want to see nativities in January or February, or would it be better to wait until the start of Advent 2015? At that point, they’ll be so last year, but it might be fun to see them during the proper liturgical season. Thoughts?
First, a view or two from the street. Scenes like this are pretty ubiquitous throughout Rome, and a shop window like this (to me) is really charming:
See those guys standing in a row behind the counter? They are professionals. Italians take things like meat and cheese, as well as waiting tables, very seriously. These are not jobs taken likely. They are professions.
Now, here’s something that may well hold the record for most girthy, and longest, encased meat product:
I love the fact that it sits in a trophy case just inside the front entrance, and people can actually come in and order slices off it.
Two Worthy Dining Recommendations
Readers of this blog know that I don’t make many specific recommendations. But I have visited these places multiple times, and I think they deserve it. One place is great for lunch after visiting St. Peter’s and the Vatican, and the other is great for a special evening meal in the heart of the city.
Perfect for Lunch, Near St. Peters: Graziella & Alberto da Spinosi a S. Pietro, Via del Mascherino, 60-62-64
If you are familiar with Borgo Pio, just a few blocks north of Vatican City (exit Bernini’s colonnades, head north), look for the green awning over this tiny trattoria. Despite its prime location, this place is not tremendously touristy, and I can attest that it is mostly frequented by locals. A lot of priests and sisters eat here. I’ve even seen a few bishops here before.
My priest friend Fr. A suggested this place to me, and told of how during his time studying in Rome, he and his friends would visit on Sundays after mass for Bruschetta alla Romana, which is indeed a sizable lunch on its own. I’ve tried to replicate their bruschetta for him here at home.
The restaurant is run by husband (Alberto) and wife (Graziella), who are friendly, but also somewhat vocal. They, like many Italians, communicate with their hands. Graziella (who runs the kitchen) will likely tell you that you are having Amatriciana, and half the time it will come to the table even if you haven’t ordered it. But if it comes, don’t send it back. Eat it; her version is great.
This time, the weather on Sunday afternoon was warm and sunny, and so I ate outside. The inside is adorned with old photos and memorabilia, and the tables are more crowded, a la family style. I had Spaghetti Vongole-Cozze (clams) and some house white wine:
I’m not normally a big seafood and red sauce kind of guy, but this was really good. I’ve been pleased with nearly everything I’ve ordered here.
For a Special Dinner of Fresh Seafood: Da Cesare, Via Crescenzio, 13 – 00193 Rome
Da Cesare serves a mix of tourists and locals, and generally people are enthusiastic about this place. This past time, I was approached by a retired Italian couple sitting nearby, who simply wanted to know whether I was enjoying my meal, and to tell me that they think Da Cesare is a good restaurant. If you are looking for seafood, this is what you want to see in Rome, and this is what greets you at the entrance of Da Cesare:
You will spend some money on fish here. A lot of the best choices are priced by each 100 grams, so the cost (if you order a whole fish) will be somewhat unknown until the bill arrives. Their prime cuts of beef (the famed Florentine steaks, for example) are priced in a similar way. Proteins are cooked very simply, either pan-fried or grilled.
I love a good seafood risotto, and the one at Da Cesare does not disappoint:
I’ve had this dish here before, and my only quibble this time was that the rice was slightly undercooked. Risotto should certainly be al dente, meaning that each grain should retain its own structure and not form a gloppy mass with the other grains. This risotto needed one more ladleful of stock in order to be perfect, but slightly undercooked is better in my book than overcooked, and it was properly seasoned.
I tried something new at Da Cesare, one of the “second-tier” steaks:
I think the United States produces good beef. We have sort of lost of way with other types of meat, especially poultry, where volume has eclipsed quality and flavor. But trying a steak like this in Italy, you can certainly compare and realize that beef is raised differently there. This steak had a real deep beefy flavor that was augmented by the simple method of cooking over a fire grill. I would be guessing that the more “prime” cut offered at Da Cesare is even more tender, with a little less gristle. But for me, and for the price, this steak was extremely satisfying.
Not a “Wine Snob”? Try the House Wine
I think I know a thing or two about wine, but when traveling in Italy (especially when I am on my own) I am extremely content to order house wines at restaurants. House wines are one of the great bargains in Italian dining. In some places, you can easily spend more on special bottled water, or soda, than the house wine. And unlike American eateries, where house wine is likely to mean something nondescript from a box or plastic bladder, in a decent trattoria great pride is taken in their house wines, and they are served without fuss, usually in a generous little pitcher.
Most importantly, I don’t think I’ve ever ordered a house wine that was not drinkable. Most of the time, the wine is much more than drinkable; the house wine properly compliments the food being served, and is quite enjoyable to drink. And you save a little money.
Where to Stay in Rome: Domus Carmelitana, Casa di Procura S. Alberto – Via Alberico II, 44 – 00193 Roma
When it comes to lodging, the one thing I haven’t done in Rome is stay in a hotel. For the longterm stay, there are some good websites for renting a flat during your stay in Rome. We’ve done this, and it’s a lot of fun to “live like a Roman” for a while, preferably in a neighborhood with some character. The benefit of a flat rental is the kitchen that you can use to prepare some of your own meals.
For a shorter stay, there are a number of monasteries and religious communities that are set up to welcome pilgrims. The Domus Carmelitana is in a perfect location, very near to Castel San Angelo, and within a short walk of Vatican City. In addition to the location, there are a few reasons I prefer this house above others.
First, the rooms are always clean and well appointed (I noticed that this time my room had a security safe, as well as an iron, tv, phone, etc.).
Second, the entrance to the Domus is secured by an iron gate. You ring the bell to be “buzzed” inside. It’s a safe place to stay, in a quiet neighborhood. But unlike a lot of religious houses, where there is a curfew (sometimes as early as 10pm), Domus Carmelitana is staffed around the clock, just like a nice hotel, and there is no curfew to worry about. The staff is extremely courteous, professional, and accommodating. They have helped me with transportation to the airport, directions, dining recommendations.
Third, a lovely breakfast, far more extensive than the typical “continental” fare, is served every morning for all guests. Pastries, cold cuts, cereals, coffee and tea, a variety of juices, yogurt, and so on, are served. Many of the other guests are also pilgrims and it’s fun to go down to the dining room to see who else is visiting Rome.
Finally, the Domus is a very reasonable place to stay, considering the amenities, location, and services offered. Single rooms start just over 100 euros per night. You could easily spend twice or three times that at a conventional hotel. I think it’s a very good value.