Category Archives: Italy

When in Rome!

Rome, the home of the Colosseum, Vatican city and also spaghetti carbonara! For this food adventure, I consulted some local food blogs including Parla’s food blog (extremely helpful) but alas, towards the end of my Roman trip I fell a bit ill and was unable to taste everything I wanted. Nevertheless, here is a snapshot to some of my savoury and sweet delights!

Spaghetti served in a creamy sauce with egg, bacon and cheese, more commonly called spaghetti carbonara originated from Rome. I went online looking for the best spaghetti cabonara and came across Trattoria Da Danilo. This restaurant is located not that far east of Central station or the Colosseum. When you enter, it seems quite small but there is actually a hidden downstairs making it quite large. The walls are adorned with awards, photos and professional reviews and this got me extremely excited for my meal.

Spaghetti Carbonara – €10

The spaghetti carbonara has an interesting presentation – it is heaped in a pile in the middle with some crisp bacon balanced on top along with cheese and pepper lining the sides of the plate. The pasta tastes unlike the ones back home in Sydney. It is hand made and slightly thicker but has absorbed all the sauce which is cheesy and creamy with a strong bacon element. The dish is indeed the best spaghetti carbonara I’ve ever had. It is smooth and tasty and the crispy bacon adds some extra texture. Whether or not it is the best in Rome I don’t know, but it sure beats the whole of Sydney. An extremely flavoursome dish and one everyone should grab when in Rome.

Another place where food is abundant is Trastevere, a quirky suburb filled with restaurants, bars and markets (similar to our Surry Hills). After passing a dozen restaurants, we decided to dine at Aristocampo Trastevere. This restaurant had wine bottles hanging off the ceilings and was blasting old school Italian music creating a great atmosphere for tonight’s dinner.

Chicken breast with milk and lemon – €12

Under the Roman specialties this chicken dish caught my eye. Dairy and citrus together? Surely it would curdle in your stomach and taste foul? But my curiosity got the better of me so I tried it of course! The chicken was cooked to a beautiful soft consistency and I haven’t had a meal of just meat in a long time, so it was very welcome. The sauce tasted like a creamy white gravy, but with some lemon tang in the aftertaste. Surprisingly, this combination works for this dish. My only criticism is that it could have used a side of vegetables, but otherwise it’s an interesting dish to try.

Truffle is another ingredient I have seen quite often in Italy. It seems like this expensive mushroom (in Sydney) might not be that expensive in Italy, and I ate quite a bit of it in Florence but unfortunately I forgot to take photos. Fortunately I found it in Rome and am able to give you a review.

Campo de Fiori is a small plaza which is just bustling with food. Lining the edges are many restaurants and within the square are food markets selling fresh produce, drinks and sauces. On top of this, the plaza turns into an open pub at night! During our lunch today, there was live music playing just outside our restaurant and along with the sunny weather created a great atmosphere to enjoy a meal outside.

Fettuccine with truffles – €15

Today I have a fettuccine with truffles from a restaurant called Maranega. Although it does not taste as good as the truffles I had in Florence (it’s more common there than in Rome), the dish was still satisfactory. The fettuccine is thick and chewy but not in a plastic way. Its chewiness is not from being undercooked but rather the pasta’s thicker consistency. The sauce smells extremely fragrant of truffles and there are small bits of mushrooms scattered throughout the dish enhancing the flavours. I don’t think Italians can go wrong when cooking truffles but if you’re ever in Florence, I would highly recommend ordering truffles there over any other Italian city.

For desserts, I intended to do an entire post on gelato but alas my ill stomach decided not to process any gelato on the latter half of my Roman adventure. There is a lot of bad gelato in Rome. The thing is as a tourist, we can’t tell because it’s all pretty good compared to Sydney, but when you’ve had great Italian gelato it’s easy to tell which ones are bad.

Gelato Il Fantasia is a gelato store recommended by Parla’s food blog which helped enlighten me on the few good gelato stores remaining in Rome which still use quality techniques and ingredients rather than sacrificing quality through mass production. With an impressive 54 gelato and 14 sorbet flavours, I couldn’t help but get the large cup so that I could try 5 flavours. Although the scoops are a bit small here and I apologise that they’re all similar colours, I tried the more interesting flavours:

Gelato, 5 scoops – €4

Rice, sesame and chestnut honey
Contains small chewy bits of rice inside and contains sesame flavours and hints of sweet honey. White coloured.

Strawberry and lemon cream
A custard cream flavour with subtle citrus lemon hints

Sesame and pistachios
There are bits of sesame seed in this flavour. Tastes more of sesame than pistacchio.

Salted peanuts
Like peanut butter but in gelato form, delicious.

Banana and honey yoghurt
Couldn’t taste the yoghurt, seemed to be just banana.

After a while, my gelato scoops all got smooshed together but it still tasted so good. If you get a chance to go to Rome and are unsure of where to eat, try looking up some food blogs. Otherwise, I would highly recommend Trattoria Da Danilo for the spaghetti cabonara Gelato Il Fantasua for gelato. The other two restaurants I visited were good but given that their areas are food areas, it may be worthwhile to do some exploring.

The places I dined at were:

Trattoria Da Danilo
Via Petrarca 13, Rome
Ph: 06 77200111

Aristocampo Trastevere
Via della Lungaretta, 75
Ph: 06 58335530

Maranega
Campo de Fiori 47-48-49, Rome
Ph: 06 68300331

Gelato Il Fantasia
Viale Aventino 59

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Trattoria Mario, Florence, Italy

Upon arriving in Florence, my friend Axel told me about this small restaurant which I had to go to. He said that they had the best food, so good that even Kylie Kwong had written an enthusiastic report about it (she went three times in the week she was here on holiday) and of course I had to check it out.

Mario’s is only a short stroll from the city centre but is hidden on a small quiet street. When you get close however, you will notice a line of people standing outside. Its opening hours are lunch times only, from 11am – 3pm which explains why it is always full. The front window is lined with reviews saying that is it the best place to eat in Florence, along with glowing awards from as early as the 90’s until present on display.

The restaurant itself is quite small; when you enter there is a great familial atmosphere from the busyness and crowd. Tables are packed really close together and are shared with the public. Today we are seated with two Italians travelling from Sienna, an air hostess and pizza chef who make for great company and conversation throughout our meal. The menu is hand written daily with specials pending on produce and is read out to us by the waitress. Dishes are then crossed off as items run out.

Pasta with tomato sauce – €5

My first course is a simple pasta with tomato sauce. Rich and tomatoey, it is covered in a lot of sauce which is exactly what I like. The pasta is made fresh and small sprinkles of cheese on top bring the whole dish together. Simple and delicious.

Tripe, Florentine style – €5.50

I decide to be adventurous with my second course and see an item on the menu which is made in Florentine style, so I order that. I’ve only ever had tripe before Chinese style at Yum Cha, but the Italians do a great version of tripe. Here, it is covered in a strong tomato taste with cheese on top again. Soft and chewy, it goes down easily and I find it not as rubbery as how the Chinese cook it. I quite like the dish but personally find it a bit big or too much tripe in one go – I recommend you share this dish.

Roast pork (€7.50) with additional side of potato chips (€2.50)

My friend orders the roast pork as her main along with some chunky chips. The pork looks quite plain as there isn’t any accompanying sauce or gravy on the plate. When you eat it however, you realise why. The pork is very soft and tender and is seasoned so well that it doesn’t really need any sauce. It is a very juicy and simple dish.

Overall, I’m extremely happy with my meal at Mario’s. All the food I’ve had in Italy has been extremely delicious but this restaurant has been the most affordable in terms of value so far. Not to mention the great atmosphere and fresh food. It’s hard to compare Mario’s with the other restaurants since I’ve only tried a few dishes, but if you’re in Florence looking for affordable tasty food, this is the place to go! But expect to wait for a table – we waited 15 minutes which wasn’t too bad but when we left I heard a customer that had just arrived that they would have to wait for an hour, ouch!

Fiaschetteria – Trattoria Mario
Via Rosina 2, Florence
Ph: 0039 055 299 1397

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Delicious delights hidden between the Venice canals

Venice is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to, if not the most beautiful. It is full of canals and tiny laneway streets (similar to but cooler than Melbourne), and the buildings are all rustic looking and look nicer as they age. But being surrounded by water means that the city is also known for its seafood.

One thing about Venetian restaurants is that they’re all delicious – all Italian restaurants seem to be able to produce good food. The food offerings are also relatively similar at each restaurant. You have the usual pizzas, pastas and risottos but at Venice there is a larger seafood offering on their menus. So this post will outline some of the dishes I’ve eaten which you can find at most restaurants.

Black Ink Squid with Polenta – €16

Probably one of the more interesting dishes and definitely not for the faint hearted, this dish is jet black. The colour comes from squid ink, but fear not, it’s not poisonous nor does it smell like a whiteboard marker. Underneath the ink is a serving of fresh squid – it is a bit chewy and cooked without much flavours other than a slight cheesy flavour. I’ve chosen the dish to be served with polenta which is meant to be an Italian specialty, however I find the polenta a bit boring and bland tasting even when covered in sauce. This dish can also be served as a spaghetti or risotto which is what I would highly recommend over polenta. Just a warning, the ink will give your teeth and lips a black tinge after eating but this fades shortly.

The following dish I found at Rossopomodoro, a very large restaurant boasting locations and multiple large European and International cities. Despite the restaurant spanning a huge area, there were lines the night before as well as when we went for lunch. The service was also very slow and we waited a while for a table and ages before a waiter was free to take our order. However, there is a fantastic selection of food at great prices so if you don’t mind a long wait, this is the place to go.

Fru Fru (three seasons oval pizza) – €9

The pizza I ordered was called Fru Fru and is basically three types of pizza in one. On the handmade pizza base sits the flavours margherita, goats cheese and ham, and mushroom. Despite the one hour wait since arriving for our table, order and service, the pizza was served fresh and hot from the over and was absolutely delicious! Each flavour tasted exactly spot on like their descriptions, but my personal favourite was the goats cheese which went well with the ham. The pizza base is also fluffy and the crust also tasty just by itself.

Peschella (peach flavoured sparking red wine) – €3.80

With my pizza I ordered a drink a Peschella, which I think they should definitely introduce in Australia. Made in Italy, this drink is a fizzy fruity red wine (imagine Sangria in soft drink wine) except with hints of peach enveloped throughout. Absolutely delicious!

Spaghetti with mixed fish – €16

A dish you will find at almost every restaurant is spaghetti with some sort of seafood. This time I have chosen mixed fish to get a variety and it includes calamari, clams, mussels, scampi and squid – a beautiful selection. The sauce is a tomato based sauce and tastes strongly of seafood chowder which goes well with the spaghetti. For this price, I think I’ve received quite a generous amount of seafood and I was extremely happy with this dish. Add some cracked pepper and I’d happily gobble up this dish every single night.

Risotto with scampi – €20

My friend had never tried risotto before (crazy right?!) and I finally convinced her to give it a go! In Venice, risotto is usually quoted as the price per person and is served as a minimum two people, however the waiter said since there was another table that also wanted the risotto the kitchen could do three servings and hence we could order just one. This risotto is made with a cream based stock with lots of butter and scampi scattered throughout. There is also a large scampi plopped on top which we have to peel but thankfully the rest are already chopped up. The scampi is soft and soaks up all the risotto juices and this dish is definitely one of the better risottos I’ve ever had. I’ve now managed to convert my friend and boy was she fortunate to have such a delicious dish to burst her risotto cherry.

Linguine with lobster – €18.90

By the time I had this meal, it was my last day in Venice and I wanted to try spider crab which I saw at the first restaurant I visited but regrettably did not order. Regardless, I opted for another type of seafood I hadn’t tried here yet, lobster. Cooked in a tomato based sauce, half a small lobster and claw is hidden within my linguine along with small chunks of meat scattered throughout. The dish has a strong lobster taste but I find that the lobster is a bit small, and I much prefer spaghetti over linguine. Although still a well cooked dish, I think in Venice for a similar price you’re better off ordering other types of seafood (mixed, clams, cuttlefish, scampi) where you will get more value for your money since the servings of lobster are quite small.

Within Venice, I dined at the following restaurants:

Ristorante Pizzeria Marco Polo
Castello S. Lio 5571, 30122 Venice
Ph: 0415235018

Trattoria Ai Leoncini
S. Marco 352-372, Venice
Ph: +390412960810
leoncini@ristorantipiccin.it

Rossopomodoro
Calle San Marco 403, 30124 Venice
Ph: 05604491216

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