Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Travel: Where to eat in Rome

Travel Guide: Where to eat in Rome

I absolutely love visiting Rome. It has become one of my favourite European stops. In fact, on my last trip to Italy, Rome was my home base. I came back to the city four different times and each time - I fell in love a little more. Why? 

Rome is a hub for:

  • architecture
  • history
  • culture
  • food
It has a little bit of everything and therefore in my opinion, has something for everyone. 

As you know, I'm an extreme foodie so I enjoyed tasting my way through one of the best known food capitals of the world. Today I'm sharing my top spots in Rome for grabbing an appetizer, meal and dessert. These are my must hits and the next time I  go back these spots are without a doubt, the three places I plan to revisit.

Where to go?

Appetizers and Drinks - Obica Mozzarella Bar

For appetizers and drinks in between meals, I love the spot Obica Mozzarella Bar in Campo Dei Fiore. In Naples the statement "Obica" means "Here it is!" and the restaurant prides itself for serving fresh foods that are made right in front of you (the actual mozza bar where the cheese is prepared for serving is open-concept and an interesting sight to see). 

Obica is very close (walkable) to the Pantheon so if you are looking for a place to relax after a long day of sightseeing, make a stop here. The square itself is so charming and full of flower merchants and even some street entertainment. 

The plaza is a tourist attraction, but this restaurant is one case where you can eat in a prime piazza and not worry about it being a tourist trap. In Campo Dei Fiori, you will find young locals hanging out and I loved it for people watching. I've dined at Obica twice and both times the food was delicious. The restaurant is in a perfect location to get a much needed respite during your busy sightseeing schedule. 

Tip: Get a table outside on the patio for the ultimate in people watching and ambience

My picks

You're in Rome, so get a glass of wine. The Roman specialty is "Nero D'Avola" and it is a delicious, inexpensive light red. (When I miss Roma I buy a bottle of this to drink with some tasty antipasti). 

You're in Rome's (maybe even the world's) first mozzarella bar, so you can't leave without trying the house specialty. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP is the best mozza in the world - made from the creamiest milk of the water buffalo. You need to eat this artisinal cheese to know what I'm saying -it's a must.

I suggest trying it in the Caprese Salad which is one of the best I've ever tasted. The cheese is so fresh and soft I can literally almost taste it now. I also ordered the "Antipasto Obica"  which was a plate of salami with cheese, crostini, olives and artichokes - delish! On another visit, I indulged in a plate of pasta with a ground lamb sauce - it was amazing.

Dinner - Hosteria Grappolo D'Oro

I should preface this by saying that whenever I think of the food at Hosteria Grappolo D'Oro I literally smile. But it's not just the food. It's the Italian hospitality and the warmth of home cooking. 

After a very disappointing first meal in Rome near the Spanish Steps I was determined never to eat like a tourist again.

I asked the server at the tourist trap restaurant where he eats and he gave me the business card of the restaurant he used to work at - Hosteria Grappolo D'Oro. That is a travel moment I will never forget. It was as if I was Charlie Bucket getting the famed Golden Ticket. I was sure not to lose that business card. 

The next day, we walked literal miles from the Colosseum to around the area of Campo Dei Fiori in search of our foodie pot of gold. (If you're doing this too, grab some delicious and juicy fruit from a street vendor as you walk along )

We finally arrived...only to find out that the restaurant was closed for an afternoon break. No! Luckily, they directed us to Obica, mentioned above and obviously that turned out really well.

When we came back for dinner, it was worth the wait and the miles. It was simply outstanding.

We were seated outside on the patio, which we enjoyed, but dining inside is just as enjoyable here. The patrons are loud, Italian speaking and there to have a good time. It's an affordable family style restaurant (appetizers start at 6 Euro and mains start at 16 Euro) with a lot of character and charm.

Tip: When travelling in Rome, check the restaurant timings first as many family run spots close for a few hours in the mid afternoon. 

We were attended to by the owner of the restaurant, Simone, who is just a gem of a host. He oversees the creation of every single dish. He was so gracious to us and made the experience such a memorable one. He guided us through the menu and I was in literal pasta heaven when I tasted his rendition of the classic Spaghetti alla Carbonara (spaghetti with egg sauce, bacon and pecorino cheese). 

I literally came to this restaurant twice more during my time in Rome - once to share the experience with some friends and once on my last night as I wanted assurance of the perfect last dinner in Rome. Each time I was treated like a family member coming back for a visit.

I have almost explored the entire menu and can without a doubt say that literally everything is slow cooked. Each dish is made with the freshest, local, seasonal ingredients and the utmost integrity. This is the type of place where you come to sit back, relax and enjoy the heavenly flavours slowly and course by course. 

I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who is visiting Rome and looking for a unique family style dining experience. If you want the food to taste like a family recipe passed down from generation to generation, go here -and if you happen to go in, please say hello to Simone for me!

My Picks

As I mentioned above, you have to try the house made Carbonara. You can literally go in, blindfold yourself and have Simone pick everything from your wine to your dessert. I'd be willing to bet you'd walk out completely happy. 

Everything I've eaten here has always been delectable but here are my top recommendations for unique dishes:
  • Parmigiana di zucchine (zucchini parmigiana with bufala mozzarella and roasted cherry tomatoes)
  • Polpette di ricotta e melanzane (aubergine rolls with ricotta cheese, tomatoes, basil)
  • Semifreddo di pistacchio (pistacchio parfait with chocolate sauce)
Trust me when I say if you leave without the Semifreddo Pistacchio you will miss out on dessert divinity - it's a super soft, creamy melt in your mouth gelato.

So if you are in Rome, please dine here and then tell me about it so I can re-live the memory,  vicariously through your adventure.

Tip: Check out my tips on How not to eat like a tourist to avoid any tourist trap restaurants during your European travels

Gelato - La Romana

You cannot go to Rome and not have the ultimate gelato experience. So my pick for best gelato is La Romana. A bit away from the main attractions, this happened to be near the Bed and Breakfast I stayed at. It's not far from the Colosseum by subway (about 20 minutes) but trust me it is worth it for the sheer pleasure of eating some of their exquisite gelato.

I experienced La Romana on my first night in Rome - selecting it for the convenience factor as it was on the same street as my B and B. Afterwards, nothing was the same. 

I was hard pressed to find a creamier, more decadent, melt-in-your-mouth gelato in Rome. When I decided to look it up, I found La Romana is Trip Advisor's number one rated spot to eat in Rome. It's no wonder I couldn't find better gelato anywhere. 

La Romana has been around since 1947 and it family owned and operated and is now run by the founder's sons Ivano and Massimiliano Zucchi. The brothers got involved at a young age and were originally paid to help out with the family business in ice cream cones!

Their father's passion for quality ice cream has definitely been passed down. Their recipes have stayed the same for the last 60 years and they only use the freshest ingredients - organic milk, cream, fresh eggs and all natural flavours. Believe me - you can taste the difference. 

I loved the ambience and the fact that this was a local, after date or dinner hot-spot and was literally packed until late into the night.

My Picks

Pick your favourite flavour and I'm sure you will be a happy camper. My ultimate was the Crema di Nocciola al Cacao (hazelnut and chocolate ice cream) but they also have other interesting flavours like ricotta and organic caramelized figs, or pear scented with ginger. While they are own for their gelato, don't hesitate to try their other delicious pastries and desserts.

Tip: Get there early. In order to maintain the product's freshness, La Romana only makes a certain amount of each flavour per day so once its out- its out!

Hope you enjoy your visit to Rome and if you do try any of my recommendations - I would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy travels!

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