Finding the very best dish in Rome is a Sisyphean task. Seriously. Roman food is well represented, and rightfully so – old school, new style, street food, Michelin – all over the city, and lately, there is always something new popping up so searching for “the best” is an endless journey. A great restaurant in Rome is an always-changing sum of mood, weather, ambition, expectations, patience, hankering, quality, location, ambience and a few more inexplicables that are relevant often only in that particular moment.
With that in mind, I don’t look for the Best, I’m looking for an experience and a surprise, like the perfect plate of puntarelle, a surprise sanguinella (blood orange) gelato or a satisfying sandwich, exactly why I jumped to the task when Alexandra Romanoff of OneMoreDish asked me to create a food itinerary for day trip to Rome.
8 hours, 6 meals and 2 Desserts
Full disclosure.Alexandra is an old friend. We’ve been eating together since she lived in Rome a few years back where I quickly understood her vibe on food- a dedication to experiencing as much as possible. She’s a flyweight with the voracity of a T-Rex, and the more I hang out with her, the more I come to think of her a gastronomic John Anderton/Minority Report, preemptively envisioning dishes, snacks, restaurants, and that one more dish days before the table is set. And Alexandra is OneMoreDish, a fabulous and intrepid food-centric Instagram profile that has been featured in ExtraCrispy, TastingTable, MeatPacking District, Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, Maxim, amnewyork, Refinery29 and more. For her upcoming visit, I lined up favorite food groups – pizza, pasta, panini and gelato for a day out in Rome.
Alexandra only has eyes for eating as much as possible, so I focused on efficiency. Conveniently for us, my backyard at Campo de’ Fiori is the perfect place to start any food quest, a central HQ to walk to all corners of Aurelian’s Rome. Our journey took us to stand-up and sit-down spots in Campo, Trevi, Trastevere and Testaccio, and back, each no more than a 30-minute light strut from my home base. Grouped by food genre (so you can pick and choose at your fancy), here’s where, why and what we ate:
La Renella A serendipitous blast from the past. Long ago, when I lived in Trastevere, I ate a slice of pizza al taglio from Renella everyday, vowing it was the best. I evenutally moved out of Trastevere and moved on to other forni and panifici, forgetting about my beloved Renella. Thanks to our spur of the moment food tour, we short cut through Trastevere’s Piazza Trilussa, I found myself walking up via del Moro and enveloped in that mesmerizing freshly baked pizza aroma. My recall kicked in and Renella became our surprise stop: a slice of pizza rossa (light tomato sauce) with roasted peppers, a smattering of parsley and flakes of fior di latte cheese, which we took to go, enjoying it as we crossed Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.
Baffetto 2 Alexandra asked for something light, easy and near by. Easy enough, pizza romana at Baffetto 2. With so much talk about “the best pizza” in Rome and waxing poetic on flour, I’ve lost track of where I’m supposed to eat pizza. Instead, I stick with old faithful Baffetto 2, a no-frills neighborhood pizzeria. We’ve known the pizzaiolo for a few years and he knows so we like our pizzas extra thin and crispy, so we are never disappointed. And it constantly stands up to the Bellardini Test, a centuries-old method of assessing dough quality and consistency by holding out a slice out horizontal to see how well and long its holds out [tried and true pefected by Ettore Bellardini of Antiqua Tours ]. Our choice for the quest was an extra crispy pizza bianca (white pizza- cheese with no tomato sauce) and fiori di zucca, zucchini followers with no anchovies (Alexandra’s preference, not mine).
And of course, I am going to mention Antico Forno Roscioli, pretty much everyone’s go-to spot for pizza al taglio, by the slice and weight.
Volpetti Alexandra is a New Yorker, which means she has at least one top notch alimentari/ salumeria (delicatessen) in her rolodex…. for every city. For Romans, the alimentari is usually sottocasa, (just below the house) or within close walking distance. While she lived in Rome, her alimentari was Volpetti, a historic salumeria in Testaccio, slightly out of my comfort zone but worth the walk. Alexandra customized a prosciutto crudo, mozzarella and pickled artichokes on pizza bread sandwich with a dash of balsamic vinegar.
Roscioli Salumeria Everybody loves Roscioli, the Campo de’ Fiori institution. Over the years, its name alone has become synonymous with Rome and its food scene as the not-to-miss salumeria. Roscioli’s popularity means advance booking, usually means a week or more ahead of time, or fall in line with the pedestrian-traffic-stopping queue on via dei Giubbonari. And with good reason: the pastas are to die for. We snuck in seat at Roscioli’s nextdoor caffe (ask for the restaurant menu) and ordered light, choosing caciopepe instead of its award-winning carbonara. For those who have never tasted caciopepe, it is the ideal comfort food which Roscioli does it to perfection- freshly cracked black and red pepper, piquant pecorino and fresh pasta.
Luciano Cucina You knew this was going to be on the list, because I won’t let anyone leave Rome without tasting my favorite pasta dish. At this point in life, the only person who I trust to make it is Chef Luciano Monosilio of his Campo de’ Fiori outpost Luciano Cucina. Luciano is a rockstar and magician. His carbonara is perfectly balanced with pecorino and parmigiano cheese, egg yellows, and guanciale smoked and grilled separately.
Al Moro Okay, I lied. I also love spaghetti al moro, a piquant twist on carbonara that makes me think of yesteryear dinners with my great aunts, and Jonathan Gold, the LA Times food critic who once dined at Al Moro for 10 days in a row. I have a routine at Al Moro- carbonara followed by a freshly made zabaglione with melted dark chocolate, but this time happenstance placed a dish of ovoli, those seasonal, crimson-lined mushrooms that Julius Caesar loved, served thinly sliced with shards of grovière, on our table.
Corona I love Corona, my tiny neighborhoood gelateria (near Largo Argentina) that often is overlooked with all of those overly artisanal ice cream shops populating the city. The shop is simple, no bells and whistles, just a dozen flavors. Each season and micro-season, owner Alesandro creates new and unique flavors like marron glacè, along with the old staples including stracciatella and cioccolato al latte. Our choice was a triple scoop of lamponi banane (raspberry banana), cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate) and sesamo (sesame), a bizarre and extraordinarily satisfying combination.
Fatamorgana is one of those gelateria that has about at least twenty artisanal flavors at any given time, but the difference is that MariaAgnese’s recipes are all natural. Recent unforgettable tastes are wasabi cioccolato, black garlic, lavender, and peanut. Fatamorgana is the place if you are looking for variety and unique flavors. Alexandra loves Fatamorgana in Trastevere and there several locations around the Eternal City as well as an outpost in Studio City, Los Angeles.