Category Archives: Italian

Dining: Flavio al Velavevodetto | Rome, Italy {Testaccio}

th_peruroma 113If there was one place in Rome that I saw recommended often in the “foodie underground,” it was definitely Flavio al Velavevodetto located in the up-and-coming offal- centric neighborhood of Testaccio. This neighborhood is home to some pretty great things such as Il Birrivendolo craft beer bottle shop, the Testaccio Market, and places like Da Bucatino and Da Felice which specialize in true Roman cuisine. I had read about this place a few times from Elizabeth and Eleonara– both ladies whom I trust when it comes to good, honest food, at agreeable prices.

Our experience at Flavio was lovely. It was a glorious meal which included some of the best fresh-pulled mozzarella and prosciutto of our entire trip and the richest carbonara ever. Was it my favorite carbonara dish? Probably not. But believe me, it was damn good. Eggy, cheesey, salty goodness loaded with pancetta. Comforting and filling, I couldn’t finish my plate. It was a stark contrast to the fresh buffla which was clean on the palate and the mild prosciutto di parma which was lean and earthy.  Prices were criminally low, house wine was decent, and the ambiance was cozy. The stacks of ancient clay from Monte Testaccio were prominently featured in the windows of the space providing an extra special treat for history buffs looking for a peak into yesteryear.

Italians took up a majority of the dining room with a packed lunch crowd which is always a good sign. As with every place I’ve written about in Europe so far, if you know you’ll be heading to Rome, be sure to book your table in advance. Italians take lunch seriously and this is a place you don’t want to miss.

Flavio al Velavevodetto is located at 97 Via de Monte Testaccio, Roma, Italia. 

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Dining: Just in time for Umbrian White Truffles at Spirito di Vino | Montefalco, Italy

My series of entries from my time in Umbria concludes with our last dinner in Montefalco at the award-winning Spirito di Vino. If I could go back in time to the day of our visit, I would change only two things:

-I wouldn’t have over-ordered.
-I would have made arrangements to stay in Montefalco instead of driving back late (in pitch black darkness) to Perugia.

Spirito diVino has got to be one of my most favorite dining destinations in Italy. Why? Because they’ve got a ridiculously solid wine list (boasting hyper-local and natural wines), and their simple farm-to-table cuisine is rustic yet luxurious. Aside from the copious amounts of Paolo Bea’s wine, it was one pasta dish that particularly blew me away. This, my friends, was the BEST pasta dish we had in Italy:

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Handmade pasta with a light truffle cream sauce, generously covered in fresh white truffle shavings. OMG.

Need I say more? Had the meal ended right then and there, I would have been happy as a clam. My error was in thinking that this needed to be a multi-course affair. Once my (still delicious) pork tenderloin came out with a melange of sweet peppers, I began to fade into the depths of too much food & too much wine sleepiness. My couple of bites of the boy’s eggplant dish was cheesy, comforting goodness which also didn’t help in aiding my looming exhaustion from the day’s wandering.

Luckily, dessert helped put the pep back into my spirit. A clever dessert of sorbets and gelato utilizing the shells & bodies of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that lend them their flavors was an almost meta dessert experience. Walnut ice cream made with the walnut meat and then shoved back into the shell, a sweet green bell pepper turned into sorbet and scooped back into it’s body…flavors I wouldn’t have dared to consider as a sweet end to a meal. And on top of that, a small tiramisu because I’m just a sucker for those it seems.

Overall, this intimate meal was a memorable one. And while the prices weren’t as economical as other places we visited on this trip, it surely didn’t break the bank and was worth every penny. Be sure to make advanced reservations, and be patient with the service. Our lovely hostess was also the only waitress of the evening, but with that wine list, who can really complain?
Spirito di Vino is located at Piazza Mustafa 2, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy, 06036. www.spiritodivino.net. 

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Dining: Osteria A Priori | Perugia, Italy

th_peruroma 034After the nightmare that was getting into Perugia, it was all uphill from there (literally). The hill-top towns of Umbria lured us in with charm and some of the best meals of our entire trip. But one of the most memorable was here, at Osteria A Priori– right in the heart of Perugia’s historic core. Located within a couple of blocks from our hotel, this little osteria has gotten numerous glowing reviews from professional critics and bloggers alike. But don’t think you’ll be walking into some stuffy, white tablecloth establishment. Osteria A Priori is as down-to-earth as they get. A modest spread of tall wooden tables in the back of a specialty shop (with a smaller private dining room upstairs). The food is all local. Meats, cheeses, and produce from less than 50 kilometers away to compliment the locally produced wine and beer.

Reservations fill up quickly, so book in advance. We witnessed many walk-ins being turned away during our visit– even locals who visit often were told that they were “al completo” for the night and to come back the next day. The menu is simple. Traditional dishes; hearty and lacking fuss. The star of the meal for me was the charcuterie platter which featured delicious salumi and prosciutto with local cheeses, honey, and nuts. The pasta dish was also memorable– served simple with a generous heaping of black truffles and olive oil. Regrettably, I was pretty full by the time my Osso Bucco hit the table. Although it’s melt-in-your-mouth goodness is surely worth noting. I don’t even need to tell you that we skipped dessert. Do yourself a favor and check this place out. If you don’t have time to stay for a meal, at least take advantage of their wonderful selection of beer & wine. A craft beer and natural wine lover’s must-try destination.

Two hours, a bottle of Paolo Bea’s ’06 Rosso de Veo, and too much food later, we stumbled back through Perugia’s back streets in hardly any light and uneven cobblestones (in heels). But my, we were happy.

Osteria a Priori is located at Via dei Priori, 39; Perugia, Italy. 

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Travelogue: Perugia’s World of Chocolate

th_peruroma 018After being warmly greeted into Umbria during our day-time detour to Lake Trasimeno, we arrived into Perugia late in the evening when most of the residents of the historic core had already retired for the night. There was no traffic,no people walking around like we had seen in Florence and Venice. The streets were quiet and the roads, much more difficult to maneuver. We had rented a very small compact car,  and yet one wrong turn got us stuck between two buildings with no way out. How do these Perugians get around in cars? And more importantly, how the hell did that truck in front of squeeze its way through??

Only a local can truly answer these questions–and if anything, “years of practice” would have to suffice. Amid our frustrated cursing, we were subjected to the kindness of a stranger. An old man just happened to walk by and despite the language barrier, was able to help us out. We eventually checked into our hotel and called it a night. Walking to the hotel, we noticed that the shops were closed and many of the roads were blocked off. It turned out,we had not only chosen the wrong time to get into historic Perugia, but also the wrong day. EuroChocolate, one of the largest chocolate festivals in Europe would be taking place that weekend.

EuroChocolate! I had completely forgotten about this. In my quest to hunt down the season’s first white truffles,I had neglected the very thing that has put Perugia on an international map: chocolate! I’m sure you’ve perused the candy aisle of your major grocery store and have seen Perugina Baci’s. Similar to the golden-wrapped Ferrero Rochers, these little guys are hazelnut praline kisses adorned in silver and blue tin foil. Perugina, established in 1907 is one of the most recognizable Italian brands in the world, and is the major sponsor of EuroChocolate; bringing hundreds of vendors into the region once a year.

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To compensate for not being able to attend EuroChocolate this year, we decided to shoot for the next best thing.Thanks to a few recommendations,we made our way to Cioccolateria Augusta. Established in 2000,this small
chocolate shoppe is the ultimate spot for chocolate gelato and truffles.After having worked for Perugina for 25 years, Giordano surely knows a thing or two about high-quality chocolate. Located off the main stretch of retail
shops, nearly directly behind Perugina’s factory and shop, Augusta is a must try. We indulged in the best chocolate-flavored gelatos of our trip and took home some hot cocoa mix at reasonable prices.

For a sweet pick-me up in the afternoon or in lieu of a morning cappuccino,  dive into a thick European-style hot chocolate at Sandri. This pasticceria has been serving Perugia continuously since 1860…1860!! We started our mornings at this historic spot on the chic Corso Vannucci and walked right up to the counter. Their hot chocolate is dense so don’t forget to ask for some pana (whipped cream). You order first, indulge at the counter, then pay the nice lady at the antique cash register. Inexpensive, but no less luxurious.

Lastly, if you *must* visit Perugina, you may do so just a few steps away from Sandri. Load up on some gifts for friends and if you’re in the mood, tour their factory. For me though, a stroll through town with gelato from Augusta or a coffee break at Sandri was all I needed.

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Travelogue: An Umbrian Detour to Lake Trasimeno

th_UmbriaWednesdayCanon 009We had every intention of waking up early and soaking in a little bit more of Florence before driving into the next part of our vacation in Umbria. But you know how it goes…you eat a heavy meal, get drunk off of too many glasses of red wine, grappa, and some sort of military spirit you’ve never even heard of…and then all of a sudden, your 7am wake up call became more like 10am and your plans of making it into Orvieto for lunch on your way to Assisi disappear out of thin air.

Not to be the sort that gets down on a shift in the plan, we leisurely ate our breakfast, took one more look at the river, and even did some light shopping by the Ponte Vecchio before hopping in the car to leave Tuscany. The game plan had turned into an “eat lunch wherever we see something good,” sort of thing and we decided that our ambitious Umbrian day-trip would have to do without one piece of the puzzle. As we drove on the autostrada blasting an Italian Top 40s cover of the international Korean hit “Gangnam Style,” we noticed a beautiful body of water in the distance.

It was Lake Trasimeno and we had entered Umbria. I had read about Lake Trasimeno while doing research for our trip, so I was familiar with the ancient town of Castiglione del Lago close by. As we hesitated and drove past it, we instead pulled off to get a view of the water and instead stumbled upon Passignano sul Trasimeno;  a dainty lakeside town that was quiet but had an assortment of restaurants and small hotels. The vibe here was casual– almost like a lazy beach town. And so we parked the car, surveyed our dining options, and popped into this cute little place called Ristorante Luciano.

I won’t lie. The reason why this place won over the others was that the building itself was just so endearing. The decor was vintage-looking and there was a charm about it that drew us in. Luckily, they were still seating late lunch (around 2pm) and were able to accommodate us. Making the most of this impromptu lake trip, we ordered a bottle of sparkling white wine and sat next to a big open window over-looking the water. Continue reading

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Travelogue: Exploring Florence’s Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo

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One of my favorite pass times is visiting local markets when I travel. It’s something my mother and I did growing up– searching for local food at farmers markets and bargaining at eclectic flea markets. Growing up in California with a mom like mine meant that I appreciated waking up at the earliest hours of my Sunday morning if it meant getting the first crack at the season’s bounties. So when planning our trip to Italy, I knew that heading into markets as often as possible would be a must. Not only do you get a sense of the local culture at these markets, but you get to taste your way through their specialties and dive into every day life.

The Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo is one of these must-visit markets. It’s history dates back to the 1870s during the brief time when Florence was named the capital of what was then the Kingdom of Italy. Many of the vendors within the Mercato Centrale have had long-time ties to the market including one of my personal favorites, Nerbone. I am filled with sheer delight as I make my way through the labyrinth of produce vendors, butchers, and specialty stalls selling fine quality olive oils, wine, and truffles. Our visit in October meant that the season for white truffles had arrived and so I spent an obligatory few moments lingering near the luxurious tuber.

While the market attracts many tourists day in and day out, this is still very much a locals market. Lines form at the top of lunch hour at some of the more popular food stalls dishing out traditional tripe dishes and other offally good treats that may take the unaccustomed foreigner by surprise. and there are even a few purveyors who will have trouble understanding English. For the most part, enjoying this market comes with relative ease. Most stalls have someone who can understand some English and if you’ve got a simple phrase book handy, you can easily shop to your heart’s content. Take some time to peruse the cheap goods lined up in the outdoor market, too. While it may not look like much, you can find some pretty great Italian leather goods here and bargaining them down 10-25% isn’t considered rude– it’s part of the game.

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Travelogue: A Day-Trip in Tuscany

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If there is one piece of advice that I can give you when touring Tuscany, it’s to rent a car (or at least a private driver to tote you from scenic town to scenic town). While it’s not my favorite wine producing region in Italy, Tuscany has a multitude of amazing things to offer the food & wine-centric traveler. A hub for centuries-old vineyards, olive oil producers, and some of the best food in the world, a day-trip through the Tuscan country-side makes for the best addition to your trips to Florence.

Using Florence as a home base, we recently rented a car to take us to our dinner reservations in Panzano. Since we weren’t looking to winery hop until reaching La Strada del Sagrantino in Umbria, we by-passed many beautiful wineries and made a bee-line to Greve in Chianti where we indulged in economical wine tasting at Le Cantine before heading to nearby Panzano for dinner.

Le Cantine, established in 1893, is a great alternative to those looking to get a taste of Tuscany without having to go through the process of drunkenly hopping from one wine producer to another. The process is simple. Buy a wine card that gets you a glass and mosey on over to one of their Enomatic tasting machines, individually priced and calibrated to provide you with a precise tasting pour. Harboring good relations with many of the region’s top producers, you won’t miss a beat here and will instead, have the benefit of finding the wine that best suits you while comfortably enjoying their beautiful tasting room. In addition to good wine at good prices, Le Cantine also offers light fare from Antica Macelleria Falorni, another premier butcher that has been serving the community since 1729 and is located less than a mile away. The meat board we got featured amazing salami and prosciutto of the highest quality and local bread.

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Dining: Perfect mid-day breaks at Procacci | Florence, Italy

th_TuscanyTuesdayCanon 034In an alternate universe, I am Florentine. I am the wife of a wealthy someone-or-other who doesn’t want me to break a nail working a “real job,” but instead indulges me in my passion to live by my pen; leaving me to myself most days while he does whatever it is he does to maintain our small fortune so that I can spend my days in cafes drinking wine, eating what I please, and getting “inspired.”

If this alternate universe were real, I’d practically live at Procacci. But since this isn’t my reality, it’s rare visits to this beautiful wine bar that will have to suffice. Procacci is located on a fancy stretch of fashion real estate– neighboring appointment-only designer boutiques and artisan retailers. It’s been around since 1885 and has a reputation a mile long with only two newer outlets in Vienna and Singapore. Despite the modern times, somehow, they manage to maintain a certain enchantment about them. Luxurious yet unpretentious. The kind of bar you want to imagine seeing Hemingway in.

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The interior is vintage-chic. Dark wood counters, ceilings high with shelves of fine wines and locally made products, small cafe tables lined up in a single row along a mirrored wall. Very Parisian…but you know, Italian. Their most popular product? Panino Tartufato, or truffled finger sandwiches. Imagine spending a leisurely afternoon here with a robust glass of Barolo and several platefuls of these dainty panini stuffed with truffle butter, smoked salmon, salumi, and the like. The prices are surprising; clocking in at under 2 euro each, you can fill up with an easy lunch or mid-day snack for under $20 euro for two people. Are these sandwiches all they’re cracked up to be? Absolutely. Order at the counter, pay when you’re done, and drift off into happy land as you day-dream your alternate reality. Procacci, via de Tornabuoni, 65R, Florence, Italy. 

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Dining: Ristorante del Fagioli | Florence, Italy

th_TuscanyTuesdayCanon 022We recently dined at Ristorante del Fagioli based on the recommendation of several Florentine blogger friends who praised their rustic Tuscan cuisine and great prices. There was a heavy down-pour on our first night in Florence, so after considering our options, we found it best to try this place which was only a couple of blocks away from our hotel overlooking the Arno. Modestly tucked between small local shops away from the main stretch of high-end boutiques and restaurants, del Fagioli is the type of place you go to when you’re in need of a warm atmosphere and comforting home-style food.

It’s one of those places that feels out of a movie; Chianti bottles hanging from the walls in their signature straw baskets, a dining room mixed with actual Italians harmoniously dining among curious travelers. A no-fuss handwritten menu featuring some of the region’s most popular dishes (yes, including bistecca alla Florentina) at a fraction of the cost of most other neighboring joints.

There was a charm about the place. It was like we’d been there before. Weary from a long day out and about in the rain, we mistakenly (perhaps fortunately) let our stomachs order instead of our brains. And while we both agreed that we ordered entirely too much food, everything was delicious and was expediently brought to our table without much lag in their uber-friendly service.

We started off with a crostini appetizer topped with none other than silky melt-in-your-mouth fatty lardo and rosemary; local bread grilled just enough to give the lardo a bit of warmth. We followed it up with two pasta dishes: rigatoni in a rich veal ragu for him and the most amazing and simple tortelli, freshly made and stuffed with ricotta and lemon in a bright tomato sauce. Every bite of my dish was perfect; the cheese’s richness cut with a nice balance of acidity. At this point in the meal and halfway through our bottle of wine, I was just about ready to roll over and go to bed. But then the entrees came. Involtini for him and a plate of Bollito Misto (mixed boiled meats) with a side of fagioli (white Tuscan beans, their namesake). As we tried to eat as much of these dishes as we could, we had over-estimated our hunger. His dish was dense, rich,and comforting; mine being a complete protein on protein fest. The meat was tender and savory; the beans, petite and plump– delicately flavored with local olive oil and a simple dusting of salt and pepper.

This is the meal you want after a long day. When it’s a little chilly and you want to feel warm from the inside out. If in Florence and looking for a good hearty meal at low prices, del Fagioli’s got what you need. Reservations are highly recommended. Ristorante del Fagioli, Corso Tintori 47R, Florence, Italy. 

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Dining: Nerbone | Florence, Italy

After a few glorious days in Venice, it was time to move onto the next city on our schedule: Florence. Our time in Florence was going to be limited, but as we hopped off of our morning train and checked-in to our hotel, I had one thing on my mind. That one thing, was lunch from the legendary Nerbone in the Mercato Centrale, San Lorenzo. Da Nerbone has been a Florentine institution since the 1800s, serving up comforting fare at honest prices. Their specialties are their very inexpensive sandwiches made on rustic rolls and filled with incredibly tender meat. While they offer a small menu of other simple Tuscan staples, it’s their sandwiches that bring in the large crowds of both locals and tourists alike.

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Boyfriend and I indulged in three different panini including their porchetta (which was lean but flavorful), bollito (boiled beef), and their famous lampredotto panino. Lampredotto is a popular Florentine street food and it is not for the weak of heart. If you’re familiar with tripe, lampredotto is just another step in the offally good equation (being a cow’s fourth and final stomach). While this type of sandwich filling may not sound too appealing to the average American, when in Florence, it is definitely worth a try. Besides, who’s to argue with long-standing tradition in a country known for a multitude of delicious food, right?

We planned our morning just right– getting to the Mercato Centrale around 11:30 before any major lines formed in front of Nerbone. Before long, there was a large group of businessmen getting in line for a quick, inexpensive lunch break. Be prepared to eat standing up as dining tables in this market are incredibly hard to come by. Worst case scenario, do as we did; set up shop on the outer stairs of the market and take in the atmosphere of the bustling market shoppers if you can’t find any empty counter space. Just don’t forget the salsa verde which is made with fresh green herbs– it goes great on everything. Stretch those Euros and satisfy your belly with the ultimate Florentine lunch on a shoestring budget.

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