I’ll never forget my first visit to Rome, during a sultry summer weekend almost seven years ago. I’m not sure what disappointed me most: the masses of tourists crowding the monuments, or the horrible food I ate at almost every turn. I hadn’t done my homework , you see, hadn’t researched any good addresses. And I paid the price with soggy pizza and carbonara studded with chunks of scrambled egg.
Over the years, I made a few other trips to the Eternal City — non-eating trips, if you can believe it — which left me pining for Rome’s storied cuisine. Well, I’m pleased to report that during my visit last week, I finally ended my bad luck dining streak. Fourth time’s the charm? Actually, it turns out Elizabeth Minchilli’s fantastic Eat Rome app, stuffed full of all the tips and addresses that a food lover could ever want, was the charm.
My publisher, 66thand2nd, invited me to Rome to promote the Italian edition of Kitchen Chinese. In between book presentations with a series of articulate and beautiful food writers (all of whom had me quaking in my ballet flats) my editor promised me food. Lots and lots of food.
There were deep fried snacks at Remo, reputedly Rome’s finest pizzeria: suppli, which are balls of risotto stuffed with a stretchy cord of melted mozzarella, anchovy-stuffed courgette blossoms, and bruschetta. The pizza was whisper thin with a lightly charred crust, and everyone around me — Italians, all of them — ate it with their hands. I could feel the entire republic of France reeling in horror as I did the same.
Then there was the stuff I ate (or drank) on the run, like this perfectly chewy-crunchy pizza bianca from the Forno at Campo de’ Fiori, still warm from the oven.
Or gelato from Fata Morgana, which offered unusual flavors like cinnamon stick and apple, and banana and black sesame (both a touch too sweet).
Coffee from Sant’ Eustachio — even their decaf is delicious, pure, with a creamy froth (of coffee) and not even a hint of acidity. How do they do it?
Even more pizza, this time from Pizzarium, whose exotic combinations of toppings made me regret being a single eater.
And wine — a light, fruity Tyrolean red — at Il Vinaietto, a plain-Jane, neighborhood enoteca.
Then there was the meal I ate at Piperno, simple and perfect with its fried artichokes, salad of bitter puntarelle and anchovies, and soupy pasta e ceci (photo above) that featured velvety chick peas against the toothy bite of thin, homemade noodles. It was drizzled with olive oil so fragrantly sharp and delicious that I wanted to bathe in it.
Perilli’s renowned carbonara (photo left) achieved textbook textures: al dente rigatoni and crisped, browned guanciale like I’ve never seen before. Alas, an overzealous hand with the salt made the dish almost inedible. The vaccinara, oxtail cooked in tomato sauce (photo right), was superb, however, with a rich, haunting meatiness achieved by slow braising.
My favorite meal of the trip has the worst photographs — isn’t that always the case? It doesn’t look like much, but sharp, peppery, pecorino bite of this cacio e pepe, which I ate at the almost unpronounceable (to me) Flavio al Velavevodetto, will stick with me for a very, very long time.
At least, that is, until my next trip to Rome. Because now that I’ve cracked the city’s dining scene, I’m planning another visit very soon, fork in hand.