Rome abounds with fantastic restaurants. Toss a coin over your shoulder (a la Three Coins in a Fountain) and you are liable to hit a decent one. On the other hand, like most cities with an abundance of tourists, there’s no shortage of crap either. This is why it’s imperative you do your homework and don’t settle for the first place with a laminated menu in four languages and a nice view of the coliseum.
The Centro Storico is the “historical center” of Rome and there are literally hundreds of restaurants clustered around the Piazza Navona, Pantheon and Campo di Fiori area. We ended up at Il Fico after pulling out my restaurant list and map and looking for whatever was closest to where we were standing. In truth, that wasn’t Il Fico, but the first place was full without reservations and we moved on, calling Il Fico and asking if they had room.
Il Fico Ristorante
They did, but when we arrived the outside patio area was full. They offered us glasses of Prosecco while we waited for a table. After a few minutes, we took a table inside, choosing food over the wait. There were five of us that night and we ordered a number of antipasti dishes to share and each ordered a pasta for our main course. While most Italians don’t eat pasta for their main course, this was our first night in Rome and we were still getting into the eating groove.
We ordered an octopus salad, mixed grilled vegetables and two types of stuffed zucchini flowers; one breaded and fried, the other, which they called a “terrine”, was not a terrine, but rather just the flowers stuffed and baked (below top right). The battered and fried ones were very good and came with the traditional anchovy tucked inside along with the cheese. I could eat those all day long. We also had an order of eggplant parmesan, which while tasty, wasn’t photogenic, sorry.
My pasta was buccatini all’amatriciana which was a garlicy tomato sauce with guanciale (bacon made from the pig’s cheek). It was excellent but came in a shockingly large portion size. In fact, most of the pastas here were quite generous of portion and everyone was happy with their choice (not because of size, but because of taste). The frutti di mare was beautiful (top photo), the caccio y pepe was very good, as were the house made ravioli and the pasta with mussels (above, bottom right).
I think we had dessert, though because there are no photos, I can’t remember what it was. We had a liter (ok a liter and a half) of the house white wine and it was perfectly drinkable. The service was friendly, if not a bit distracted. It took us almost 45 minutes to pay our check, though we didn’t mind because we were having such fun and good conversation (my travel companion’s college roommate now lives in Milan and had come down for the day to meet up with us). To his credit, when the waiter realized he had forgotten us, he brought us all complimentary glasses of Lemoncello. Dinner for five was approx. 95€
Il Fico Ristorante, Via di Monte Giordano, 49. Tel:06 6875568, www.ilfico.com
Hostaria Da Nerone
Hostaria da Nerone is the type of place you really want to take the time to search out if you want to eat near the Coliseum. Sure, you can sit at an outdoor cafe and gaze up at the wonderous monument, but not only will you pay a hefty price for the privilege, you will be sitting with hoards of package bus tourists and the quality of the food is questionable. This restaurant sits on a leafy, tree lined street about a block north of the Colosseum. An extra bonus is that it’s only another block from the famous San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter’s in Chains) Church which houses Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses (stunning).
We started with a bottle of Rose, perfect for the hot, humid weather we were experiencing, a couple of artichokes alla romana and a salad. The restaurant has a large anti-pasti bar and had we been paying better attention, we would have ordered a plate off of that. My understanding of how anti-pasti bars work in Italy is that one is given a plate and you can put on it what you want, but there’s no going back for seconds. I would have liked to try their marinated eggplant, white anchovies, and just about everything else there. The artichokes were delicious.
We each ordered a pasta; fresh fettucine with mushrooms, spaghetti alla vongole (with clams), canneloni al forno, and a special mixed plate for me with a little lasagna, gnocchi, and a single large ravioli. All were excellent and my friend Jessica would not even share a bite of the vongole it was so good. We had two desserts, a “cheesecake” and an unremarkable “tiramisu” served in a glass cup. Skip dessert and go somewhere for gelato.
This is clearly a family run place with Mom, Dad, and grown Son running the floor. They’ve been there since 1929 and while it is located by one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions, it still feels like a neighborhood place. The son who waited on us was very friendly and jovial. Lunch for 4, including a 13 € bottle of wine, bottled water, and 10% service was 99€
Hostaria da Nerone, Via Delle Terme di Tito, 96. Tel:06 4187952
For more on my trip to Rome, please check out my travelogues at www.wired2theworld.com
Also check out WanderFood Wednesdays at Wanderlust and Lipstick