I adore Rome. Where else you can encounter ancient ruins down the street from the Missoni store, a celebrity pizzaiolo in the shadow of the Vatican, and casual beauty where even the neighborhood convenience store drips with jasmine vines?
We came to Italy to celebrate a friend’s wedding on the Amalfi Coast (more on that later), but first we had to spend a couple days in the Eternal City.
This was my third time in Rome and D’s first, so our two day/ two night stay included a full sweep of all the major sites, some quieter neighborhood spots, plus lots of time for wandering.
If you have two days, I’d recommend a combination of these three groups.
GROUP 1: The Biggies - Colosseum, Roman Forum/Palatine Hill, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Vatican. These are must-see destinations for the first-timer. Warning: there will be LINES, particularly at the Vatican and Colosseum.
GROUP 2: The On-the-Ways - Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese. These are also special, but if you’re short on time, you can probably do without. Chances are, you’ll be in those neighborhoods anyway, so you can stop by.
GROUP 3: The Wanderables - My favorite part of any trip: discovering where locals really live, work, and of course--eat. Trastevere is boho yet refined, a neighborhood that twinkles with charm. Testaccio is laid-back and home to satisfying, unpretentious restaurants. And Prati! What it lacks in elegance, it makes up for in the best pizza on the planet.
Here are some picks from Group 3.
Mercato di Campagna Amica Circo Massimo
Rome is not as compact as NYC, but you really should walk everywhere because there are surprises around every corner. Case in point: this buzzing farmer's market just down the street from our hotel. That porchetta was our first bite in Rome and it was just what we needed to awaken our airport-dulled appetites.
Beyond the Iced Coffee
Yes, I know all about your nitro coffee and cold brew. But when it's hot, the Italians know where it's at. I first fell in love with the shakerato in 2009, when I was in Puglia for a spell. I've since ordered it at every top Italian coffee shop in NYC (Eataly, Tarallucci e Vino, and... Blue Bottle) and no one gets close. A shakerato **must** be foamy on top. Don't ask me how it works -- the ingredients are only ice, espresso, and simple syrup -- but it's magic, like a hyper caffeinated root beer float. Shakerato above is from Sant'Eustachio.
And I know you're in Italy for the gelato ... I get it! But save room for another creamy cold treat: the granita. Consider: icy shards of espresso, scoops of barely-sweetened cream, and a generous drizzle of chocolate. Like all Italian coffee, you don't take this to-go. You stop and enjoy it. Granita above is from Bar del Cappuccino.
Flavio al Velavevodetto
I almost never repeat anything. Books, movies, restaurants, recipes. Life is too short, the list of options is long. Why dwell on one thing? Well, for one, because some things are really, really good.
We loved Flavio al Velavevodetto the first night. The food wasn't anything we hadn't seen before -- caponata, zucchini with mint and garlic, ricotta ravioli, meatballs -- and yet each dish was dialed into a different, more delicious register. The ravioli dough was daringly al dente, the ricotta wet and milky, the tomatoes somehow deep and bright and sweet all at once. Flavio has been a foodie fav ever since Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement, sang its praises.
And so I buried my FOMO and went to the same place for dinner, two nights in a row.
Reader, it was worth it. (Shown above: roasted padrón peppers, escarole with capers and raisins, fettuccine with green beans, pesto and potatoes, beef rollatini, tiramisu)
But man cannot live on vegetables, pasta, and espresso alone. There must be pizza.
I first learned about Pizzarium from my friend Pam Yung, who did a pop-up collab with Bonci just one week before my trip. Pam is a breadmaking goddess who has earned well-deserved acclaim for her desserts and bread program at her restaurant, Semilla. Her partner (in life and business) José Ramírez-Ruiz is a vegetable-whisperer. Any place that hosts these two is a place I'm sure to like.
And boy, did I.
Pizza is a multi-faceted thing. And I am but one small person in a giant universe. But from my POV, this is the best pizza in the world.
Gabriele Bonci uses natural sourdough starters (one that dates back to WWI), resulting in the platonic ideal of pizza crust. I always thought I liked thin crust, but what's infinitely better is a crust of medium height, airy and elastic inside and crackling and crisp on the bottom. Imagine the lift and depth of a sourdough, the crunch of a cracker, and the savory je ne sais quoi of a baguette.
And that's just the dough.
Pizzarium serves up to 20 different flavor combinations a day. Lucky for you, the pizza is al taglio, or by the kilo. You can sample a little sliver of tomato, sweet onion and Pecorino ... or squash blossoms and ricotta ... or tiles of potato ... or tuna and arugula ... or broccolini and mortadella ... or ...
I overheard one woman say, "I could die here." Same, sister.
And, oh yeah!
There's another reason I was in Italy -- I have a book coming out this week! (same book, different language). Check it out here. Vita Segreta di Una Gourmet hits stores June 23.
Next up... part two of our vacation ... the Amalfi Coast. (sneak peeks on my Instagram)
At a Glance
Where to stay:
I picked this hotel because it was sandwiched between the Colosseum (touristy), Palatine Hill (serene) and Testaccio (neighborhoody). The airy, spacious hotel is in a former convent, and like many things in Rome, is a pleasing blend of new and old.
Via di S. Teodoro, 48, 00186 Roma, Italy
Where to eat:
Flavio al Velavevodetto
Via di Monte Testaccio, 97, 00153 Roma, Italy
Where to caffeinate:
Piazza Sant'Eustachio 82, 00186 Rome, Italy
Yes, I know this place is touristy, but it only got that way because the coffee is so good
Bar del Cappuccino
Via Arenula, 50, 00186 Rome, Italy
Totally unassuming (even ugly), but serves a memorable, perfect cappuccino