Trip to Rome, Italy  - July 2005
Eating and drinking in Rome

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Finding good places to eat when you travel can be a bit tricky. Do you just stick around the main tourist areas? Do you just try a place based on how it looks from the outside and the menu? Or do you listen to others recommendations? Well, we did a bit of everything when we went to Rome. So of the places we went to came from the guidebook, some were recommended by connections on the internet etc. This is a summary of meals we enjoyed in Rome :-)

The il Primoli risottoOn the first night we went to eat at a place called Ristorante il Primoli. The restaurant is located just north of Piazza Navona (the location is shown on my Rome Google map). I got a recommendation to this place someone I got in touch with on the net (an American fellow living in Rome…with the nick name ‘Romanus Yankeus’ :-). When we found the street we were not sure that we had found the right place because it was in a dark alley. And when we did find the entrance we thought is was closed because the door was locked. After some window peering, Sea food pasta at Primoliwe were buzzed in and they had a table for us. It is not a large place and it was not crowded, I guess since it is located a bit away from the main tourist area of Piazza Navona. I started out with the “Primoli” risotto which was excellent but different (rich and creamy) compared to other risotto dishes that I have had, and made, in the past - it seemed to have a lot of cheese (parmesan?) in it. Nikki on the other hand started with linguine with shells in a spicy tomato sauce. And as the main meal we had veal and lamb (excellent vegetables) and it was all enjoyed with a bottle of red wine (La luna e I Faló).

Quite a lot to choose from at L’orso 80The next day we met up with a job acquaintance of Nikki’s and he took us out for a drink at Piazza Navona. When in Rome do as the Romans right? So we sat down and had an “aperetivo” together with Olaf. Olaf is actually a Norwegian guy but he lives in Italy so it was nice to get some inside information about Italian life from a Norwegian point of view. The “aperetivo” was Campari with soda mixed with a bit of gin so it was quite a starter :-) While we were enjoying the drink at Piazza Navona Nikki was looking at this guy behind me. She finally came to the conclusion that it was Steve Zahn (you know…the actor from movies like Sahara, National security, Happy Texas, Out of sight etc).Gard and Nikki at L’orso 80 We asked Olaf for a recommendation when it came to dinner and he took us to a place called L’orso 80 located at Via dell'Orso 33 just north of Piazza Navona (see my Rome Google map) (quite close to where we had been the day before). Olaf left us but Nikki and I sat down and the waiter brought in a plate of proscuitto, roasted red peppers, fried rice croquettes (supplì?), roasted eggplant etc. We started eating but then all of a sudden the waiter came back with more! We also had bread, beans in tomato sauce, balls of fresh mozzarella, cauliflower, marinated mushrooms, and slices of melon. We had lots on our table and it was time to taste all the different dishes. But hey, the waiter came back a third time as well and it was now starting to become a bit embarrassing because we had so many plates that the waiter had to stack stuff on top of each other :-) But it was an excellent meal with so many different flavors. This place was very relaxed and cosy. But even if it seemed a bit informal it had seen some famous guests…there was a picture of fellow South African and ex-president Frederik Willem de Klerk eating in the restaurant.

Our surprise starter at Osteria Il ditto e la lunaAfter a long day in the Vatican we decided to try and eat a bit closer to the hotel one day. We had gotten a recommendation from a friend of a friend located in the San Lorenzo area near the Termini. So we decided to just walk there as it didn’t seem too far away. We passed by the front of the Termini and started walking down the left hand side of the huge station. As we got further and further away from the front of the building there were fewer people and in the end we had a sinking feeling that we were the only ones walking in the area. We had a couple of options but we had problems finding the first restaurant so we ended up at a fish place called Osteria Il ditto e la luna located on Via dei Sabelli. The menu was all in Italian…and we don’t speak much Italian :-) In the end I just pointed at something and said “We will share this as a starter” and we also decided to have sea food gnocchi and seafood spaghetti as the main dish. When the starter came we were a bit surprised and at first I told the waiter that it was not what I had ordered (kinda silly when I had no idea what I had pointed at :-). Sea food gnocchi at Osteria Il ditto e la luna But it turned out that I had pointed at raw shrimp, crawfish and oyster. I’m not a great fan of raw fish so it was not the best dish I have had but Nikki enjoyed the intense fresh seafood taste of the oysters. After we were done with the starter it took forever to get the main dish and the glass of red wine that we had bought was not very good either so we were getting a bit annoyed as it had been a long day. So after 1 hour we got the main meal but it was already like 11 pm so we just finished the meal and got out of there. I guess it was the unlucky combination of not knowing what we ordered as a starter, the not so great house wine and the overly relaxed service that made this into not the best dining experience in Rome. It was not worth the 55 € that we had to pay for the meal. And we still had to make our way back to the hotel past the Termini area :-)

Coda alla vaccinara (ox tail stew) at La CampanaOn most evening we made sure we had a few dining options - always a good idea to have plan B. One evening we ended up going to our second option which was La Campana…one of the oldest restaurants in Rome. It is located on Vicolo dell Campana which is located just north of Piazza Navona (see my Rome Google map)…it seems like we got stuck in the same area quite a lot :-) We got a table without any problems and we got a handwritten copy of a menu and it was a bit tricky to read. Lasagne at La CampanaI decided to go for lasagna and Nikki went for a ravioli type in a tomato based sauce. I’m not sure what to say about the lasagna..it tasted just the way lasagna is supposed to taste (in my opinion at least) so it wasn’t a big surprise. As the main course I tried coda alla vaccinara (ox tail stew). I love meat that has been boiled like this and this dish was very tasty. Creme caramel at La CampanaNikki had the seafood risotto (Risotto ai frutti di mare) but it seemed a bit on the dry side. The red wine we had to the meal (Boschetti) was pretty good at least for my choice of dishes :-) And to round it all off I had crème caramel - managed to polish it off before Nikki came back from the ladies. But she doesn’t mind - she’s no fan of the stuff. It seems like more or less every country has it’s own version of this dessert. I guess it is due to the fact that it contains the basic ingredients of cream, egg and sugar. But I still claim that the Norwegian version is one of the best ones…try the “karamellpudding” if you ever come to Norway because it is great. The meal at La Campana cost us about 70 € (including the 20 € bottle of red wine).

Risotto at Tre ScaliniOn the last night (and my birthday) we went to eat at Tre Scalini which is located in the Piazza Navona itself. We didn’t have a problem getting a table and we sat outside and enjoyed the view of the square. It seems like this restaurant “specialize” in tourist because our waiter spoke English pretty well and he also spoke German to the couple at the next table. I started out with a mushroom risotto (yes, I’m hooked on risotto) and it was pretty weird because it tasted exactly like a risotto that you can make from a packet by ‘Toro’ here in Norway. Not sure whether that’s a good thing in that Toro produces an excellent risotto or … :-) Penne arabiata at Tre ScaliniBut the risotto was not bad at all. Nikki had the penne arabiata. As the main dish I had the gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce and that was pretty good to. Nikki had Osso bocco and even though it looked different from the osso bocco that we have made here at home it tasted good - didn’t need salting either. And since it was my birthday we topped it off with desserts. I had to try the tiramisu but that was a bit of a disappointment I’m afraid as I have had much better tiramisus before…it was way too dry. But Nikki had a chocolate bomb with whipped cream on top that was pretty good - pity she didn’t go to the ladies then :-) Nikki's chocolate bomb dessert at Tre ScaliniSo the food was not that bad and the location is good…but there are a few other things that have to be mentioned. When we sat down we got a basket of bread and we didn’t ask for it. On the bill this was a separate fee and I don’t think this was the case at the other places we ate at. We always had a bottle of water with our meals. At Tre Scalini the water was 4 € while it had been about 2 € the other places. And I also think the portions were a bit too big. It might seem strange to complain about that but if you are going for starter and main dish (primi and secondi piatti) the portions shouldn’t be too big. The question is of course if it was worth the 115 €.

And then there is the location. Yes, it is nice to have a view of the Piazza Navona but it also leads to a bit of distraction :-) People would come over many times to try to sell us roses, little flying saucers with blinking lights and so on. We had a view to all the people that were trying to make a living out of selling fake bags, sunglasses, making caricatures etc. The police patrolled the area frequently and some of the people had to pack their fake stuff and art gear together like 20 times.

Italian ice cream
It is hard to choose at Gelateria della PalmaBefore I went to Milan and Venice a couple of years back I was not really aware of the fact that Italians are also into ice cream. But we got the taste of it on that trip and in Rome you can also find lots of different ice cream shops. The right word is Gelato by the way and it’s a lot creamier in consistency compared to what I’m used to from back home. By recommendation we first of all found our way to Gelateria della Palma located just north of Pantheon via della Maddalena 20. This place had a pretty amazing selection of different flavors. One page mentioned that they had like 100 flavors and I’m not sure it was that many…but there should be something to satisfy every taste bud :-) The place was a bit crowded when we were there…some had trouble making up their minds which flavor to take and some didn’t realize that they had to go to the counter first and pay and then come to pick up the ice cream. But when we got the ice cream is was very good…the only problem is that there is so many flavors to go through and so few days in Rome :-)

We also went to a place called Oasi which is also located near Pantheon. Pass the coffee shop Tazza d’oro on your left hand side and you will find this tiny gelateria on the left hand side - if you get to the main road you’ve come too far! The selection is not as varied as Gelateria della Palma but the gelato was good. We also enjoyed had gelato at many different locations in Rome and generally I have to say that the gelato is excellent and it is a great way to cool down in the summer heat. Nikki still prefers the ones in Milan and especially Venice.

Coffee
The espresso was strong in Rome :-)Italians are not only known for the gelato…they are also quite addicted to coffee. I have also gotten a bit hooked on coffee in the last couple of years so I was looking forward to testing out the Italian selection. There are lots of coffee shops around Rome and the traditional way is to come in, pay at the cashier, go to the counter and get your coffee (an espresso) and drink this standing. Many places also have an option to sit down and order your coffee but be aware that this brings up the price considerably. There was a place right next to our hotel near Termini called Nori and we went there quite a lot of times. They had very good and strong espresso…I followed the example of some Italians and I drank it with a bit of sugar in it. Nikki stuck to cappuccino most mornings.

The famous coffee shop Tazza d'oroOne of the most famous coffe shops is maybe Tazza d’Oro. The first time we went in there I wanted to try out an espresso so I said “caffe”, as you are supposed to. But then he asked “freddo?”. He caught me off guard and I couldn’t remember what freddo meant so I said “Sure, why not” :-) Well, for all of you that don’t know Italian freddo means cold and when I got to the counter that is what I got…a shot glass of ice cold coffee! We did try the hot espresso later on and it was good. I also recommend trying the ice coffee (no, not the caffe freddo). The ice coffee seemed to be crushed ice mixed with concentrated coffee and then topped with whipped cream..it is called granita di caffè. Sounds a bit strange but it was very tasty.

We also went to the place called Sant Eustachio Il caffè and tried the espresso there. As we sat outside it was a lot more expensive compared to e.g. Nori and I didn’t really think that it was much better. But it was nice to sit down and relax after a day of walking and watch people walk by on Piazza Sant'Eustachio. We paid about 6 € for a cappuccino and an espresso.

They had a great pizza at Forno Campo De FioriWe did of course have pizza a couple of times in Rome. The best one we had was when walking around in the Campo di Fiori area. We came to Piazza Campo di Fiori and we saw a lot of people walking around with something that looked like a hot sandwich. We followed the trail of people and we found Forno Campo di Fiori. “The sandwiches” were pieces of pizza put together and just wrapped in paper. They kept on bringing out fresh and baking hot pizzas all the time (really long pizzas by the way) and we just indicated how big our piece should be and then you paid by the weight of the pizza. It was basically a pizza margarita (tomato and cheese) but it was very good. We paid about 3 € for a piece that Nikki and I shared. The strawberries that we bought on the piazza for dessert was actually more expensive (about 3.5 €)

Fontanella del facchino (the porter) dating back to 1590It was quite hot when we went to Rome and I guess we had from 30 to 35 degrees Celsius (85 to 95 Fahrenheit). You can buy water in bottles in small grocery stores around Rome (like Spar) and you can get it for like 0.5 € for a 2 liter bottle. But another option is of course just to have a bottle with you that you can fill up as you go along. There are many, many drinking fountains around Rome and the water didn’t taste all that bad. The water fountains are also quite ideal for cooling of…it is always nice to splash some cold water in the face when you have been walking around for a while :-)

There are thousands of places to eat around Rome and the trick is of course to find the places that are worth visiting :-) Taste is a very subjective thing and I guess food that we enjoyed maybe not be to everybody’s taste. But I hope that this has given some sort of indication to what Rome has to offer.

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