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.
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, 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.
8 hours, 8 spots
Since Alexandra's flight arrived four hours late and she only had eyes for eating as much as possible, 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. And walk we did, 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 whatever your fancy), here's where, why and what we ate:
Stop No. 4 La Renella Our fourth stop of the day turned out to be a serendipitous blast from the past. Long ago, when I lived in the neighborhood, I ate a slice of pizza al taglio from Renella everyday, vowing it was the best. And then I moved out and moved on to other forni and panifici, forgetting about my beloved Renella. Thanks to Alexandra insisting 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.
Stop No. 3 Baffetto 2 For our third stop, following gelato and a bowl of pasta, we knew we wanted something light, easy and near - pizza romana at Baffetto 2. With so much talk about "the best pizza" in Rome and flour this and that, I've lost track and 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).
Location: Campo de' Fiori.
Stop No. 2 Roscioli Everybody loves Roscioli. Over the years, it has become the Name in the Rome food scene and one of those not-to-miss salumeria. Its popularity means you have to book in advance, and in the summer time, that 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. Since it was our second stop of the day (and we had to book a seat at Roscioli's nextdoor caffe), we decided to order light, choosing caciopepe instead of its award-winning carbonara. For those who have not yet tasted caciopepe, it is the ideal comfort food of pepper, cheese and pasta and Roscioli does it to perfection- freshly cracked black and red pepper, piquant pecorino and fresh pasta.
Location: Campo de' Fiori
Stop No. 7Pipero You knew this was going to be on the list, and I deliberately put this further down in the line up following our walk home from Testaccio. Alexandra needed to eat carbonara and, at this point, the only person who I will swear by for my favorite dish is Chef Luciano Monosilio of Pipero. Luciano is a rockstar and magician. His carbonara is perfectly balanced with pecorino and parmigiano cheese, egg yellows, and guanciale smoked and grilled separately. And Pipero the restaurant is like no other- gorgeous, high ceiling space with Flos lamps and design chairs. What I love best are the tables spaced just enough apart from each other that you can't accidentally eavesdrop, and I feel like the carbonara is all mine.
Location: Campo de' Fiori/Chiesa Nuova
Stop No 8 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 deliberately listed Al Moro as our last stop, leaving our one more dish up to chance and assuming it would be the zabaglione with melted dark chocolate. I was wrong. Happenstance would place a dish of ovoli, those seasonal, crimson-lined mushrooms that Julius Caesar loved, served thinly sliced with shards of grovière, on our table.
Stop No. 6 Volpetti One of the reasons I love that Alexandra is because we share an obsession for customizing the day's sandwich, so I knew that one of our stops would have to be an alimentari/ salumeria (delicatessen). Every Roman and New Yorker has at least one favorite alimentari in her rolodex, and in Rome, it's usually sottocasa, located just below the house or within close walking distance. During the time that Alessandra lived in Rome, her sandwich was Volpetti, a historic salumeria which ranks pretty high on my list though it's a slight hike out of my comfort zone since I'm within a five minute walk to both Ruggeri and Roscioli. I figured a Volpetti sandwich designed by Alexandra was worth the walk to Testaccio. Her creation: prosciutto crudo, mozzarella and artichokes picked in olive oil with a dash of balsamic vinegar on pizza bread.
Stop No. 1 Corona, Alexandra's plane was so late it was past lunch time by the time she arrived at my house, but even with the delay we still had to wait before getting our seat at Roscioli, so our first stop was Corona, my quiet local gelateria that never fails me. With each season and with each of the owner's whims, there are new and unique flavors, along with the old staples like 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. For those looking for flavors, Corona is a simple gelateria with limited flavors, each perfect.
Location: Largo Argentina
Stop No. 5 Fatamorgana is one of those gelateria that has about a billion artisanal flavors, which means for my out-of-focus eyes, I have a hard time and just opt for any variation of dark chocolate. Last time, I had the wasabi cioccolato, this time, I was following a pizza and pasta binge with Alexandra so we kept to plain chocolate. In my opinion, Fatamorgana is the place to come if you want to taste variety and unique flavors (hello, peanut!), but the chocolates are too creamy for me.