Tag Archives: Italia

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: A Day-Trip in Tuscany

tuscany

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: 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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Dining: Trattoria Al Gatto Nero | Burano, Venice, Italy

With complete confidence, I can honestly tell you that our lunch at Trattoria Al Gatto Nero da Ruggero was one of the best meals we had on our recent Italian jaunt. Regarded as one of the best dining options in Venice, this family-owned trattoria is located on the beautiful outer lagoon island of Burano (a post about Burano will be up on here soon).

Specializing in seafood (Burano being an old fisherman’s town and all), Al Gatto Nero boasts incredibly fresh offerings; a majority of which come straight from the lagoon just a few meters away. Reservations are an absolute necessity here, so when I made plans for our Burano day-trip I did a quick search on the web and found what looked like the European version of OpenTable, called MyTable. WARNING: While I received a confirmation e-mail from MyTable, it should be of note that this restaurant DOES NOT work with them and your reservation will not be confirmed. I was in  a bit of a panic when I was told we were not in the books, but we were incredibly fortunate to have walked in right after a cancellation. Max, our host (and grandson to the owner), was very accommodating; handing us glasses of Prosecco to ease our grief. Lesson learned: book directly with Al Gatto Nero to ensure your table!

With the reservation mix-up taken care of, we dove right on into our seafood feast. We ordered the “Experience”-sized mixed seafood appetizer (around 30 euros) and were delighted when not one, not two, but FOUR plates of fresh seafood arrived at our table. I had been dreaming of Al Gatto Nero’s famed razor clams for weeks and they did not disappoint. Fresh scallops in shell, tender cuttlefish and octopus, delicious shrimp, steamed mussels and clams, and creamy baccala mantecato were only part of this comprehensive platter. If the meal had ended there, I would not have been upset.

Thankfully, the feast continued with our two main courses: grilled monkfish for me and fried calamari for the boyfriend. The monkfish was tender, juicy, and had the most amazing grilled flavor; delicate and rich. Unlike any other grilled fish I have ever had. There was no need for any other seasoning, nor lemon juice. Perfect as it was. The handful of calamari that I had stolen off boyfriend’s plate were equally as good– probably the best we’ve ever had with  a light, crisp breading but incredibly tender (not rubbery) interior. As much as we would have loved to have eaten their entire menu, we were getting pretty stuffed. So we finished up our bottle of Prosecco and ended on a sweet note with their delectable homemade Tiramisu and some coffee.

A meal to remember and a must-try for those heading out into the lagoon in search for a uniquely Venetian experience. Trattoria Al Gatto Nero, Fondementa della Giudecca, 88, Burano, Venezia, Italy. 

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Dining: An Impromptu Dinner at Vino Vino | Venice, Italy

I’m going to contradict myself a little here. While I know I emphasized the importance of booking tables in advance when traveling in Italy, our first day in Venice was an exhausting one and we broke the cardinal rule of jet-lag by taking a two-hour long nap late in the afternoon. The original plan was to wander around in search of ciccheti near the Rialto, but having woken up a little later than planned (damn snooze button), we were limited to some impromptu dinner plans.

It had rained quite a bit during our nap and having left our hotel after dark, many of the restaurants and bacari were packed with people trying to stay out of the cold. Following winding streets for a while, I noticed a small sign that read “Aperto | Open” and decided to follow it. The destination: Vino Vino, the intimate wine bar owned by neighboring Antico Martini which has been around since 1720.

Tucked away from plain sight mere meters away from Antico Martini and just steps away from the famous Teatro La Fenice, this intimate little wine bar features a lengthy wine list and a simple menu featuring fresh pasta dishes and a few entrees at a very reasonable price. We chose to sit in the covered heated patio and were the only English speakers around us during our visit. It was dimly lit and romantic. Our waiter was prompt and friendly, and while the meal was simple, after a long day, it really hit the spot. I found comfort in my incredibly tender braised beef cheeks in a red wine sauce, served with fluffy potato puree and my glass of Barbaresco. A decent meal to cap off a say of sight-seeing and time adjusting. Vino Vino, Ponte delle Veste, 2007/A, Venice, Italy. 

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Guide: Getting into and around Venice, Italy

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy; 2012

When flying into Venice’s Marco Polo Airport to begin your Italian vacation, there are a few things I recommend in order to start off your trip right. The first (and in my opinion, the most crucial), is to consider shelling out the extra dough for a private water taxi transfer from the airport to your hotel. When booking your hotel, check to see if they have a private water entrance; or check to see how close they are to a canal– this way, if you’ve got luggage and are coming in from a particularly difficult long-haul flight, then you can get as close to door-to-door service as possible.

If you’re not a seasoned veteran of long (or overnight) flights, this is a great option to help you get your internal clock in check. A private water taxi can be easily found at the main water taxi stand right outside of the arrivals terminal. Just walk up to the counter, state your destination, and grab a ticket that will tell you which dock to walk to. Follow the short path from the airport to the water and you should be all set. The important thing to remember when taking a water taxi is to confirm the price before getting into the boat AND be sure to book at an official taxi stand instead of booking in advance before you arrive into the country. Many travel sites and agents charge commission or a mark up, so it’s best to book direct without any fees. In fact, a good travel agent will tell you to book when you arrive to get you the best rate.

Luckily, there are fixed rates to zones around Venice from the airport to help protect you from sketchy cabbies who “run the meter” or attempt to charge for extra baggage. Considering a private water taxi can accommodate groups up to 2-8 people), there’s no reason to be charged for bags if there are only a small group of you traveling. Aside from the convenience of not having to find a spot on a crowded water bus and the possibility of a direct hotel drop off, another good reason to opt for a private ride is the amazing view of the lagoon and the canals…what better way to welcome you into one of the most romantic places in the world, right? Check out this slideshow for a few photos I snapped while half-awake on our water taxi ride:

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Once settled, stave off that jet-lag and get out on foot. Get lost and go over bridges, find that sense of wanderlust and adventure and get the lay of the land. Use landmarks like St. Mark’s Square or the Rialto Bridge as a guide, since Venice can be an incredibly confusing place. Don’t allow yourself to get frustrated! With some helpful Italian phrases, use of landmarks, and a simple city map, you can navigate without much fuss. Half the fun of being in Venice is the adventure.

After you’ve explore enough on foot to comfortable get yourself to and from your hotel, make use of their vaporetto (water bus) system to branch out into the outer lagoon islands. Good city maps of Venice often have small vaporetto maps ( I recommend this one which is detailed and has major landmarks and spotlights on the outer lagoon islands). While Murano is a popular destination, be sure to make a trip to Burano, which is my number 1 recommendation for an outer lagoon day-trip. Lastly, for a quick tour of the Grand Canal, hop on vaporetto #1 which takes you through the main thoroughfare, find a good seat, and cozy-up to take it all in.

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Back to Reality: Returning from Italy

Burano, Venezia, Italy; 2012

Months of planning, saving, and anticipation culminated in a whirlwind Italian getaway that rekindled my love of the Boot, its people, and of course, their impeccable cuisine. While this was not my first love affair with Italia, it is with fresh “grown up” eyes that I was able to experience it all in a new light.

What made this trip all the more significant than any other visit was that it was the boyfriend’s first time– and after all our exploring, it’s been firmly decided that it would be far from out last. Our roughly 12-day agenda took us on a criss-cross journey to some of the country’s “greatest hits including:Venice-Florence-Perugia-Rome with interludes in the Tuscan countryside and the hill-top towns of Umbria. My love for Piemonte and our dreams of the Amalfi Coast would just have to wait until next time…

When planning this trip, I enlisted the help of friends I have made over the years in order to create an itinerary that would suit both of our travel needs; major sites a first-timer should see and local culture and hip (and delicious) neighborhoods to counter-balance the touristy-ness. It comes as no surprise that asking a local where to go is the best travel resource you can get, but bloggers and expats are also great, reliable sources. Many find comfort in guidebooks, but there is no better guide than a local.

Naturally, there is bound to be overlap between local recs and popular guidebooks. Rick Steves’ actually does know a thing or two about where great cicchetti in Venice is, and virtually every guidebook has recommended the coffee powerhouses of Tazza d’Oro and Sant’Eustachio in Rome. And with the rise of Travel Channel shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, even the hilltop towns like Orvieto and Panzano in Chianti are no longer safe from the hordes of tourist that flock to every tv-documented locale. But it’s a balance between all of these options that should be carefully considered when planning a vacation. My best piece of advice? Take the time for some research, pace yourself, and don’t be afraid to throw all those plans out the window. If you will it, the possibilities of the perfect trip are endless.

In the coming posts, I will be recounting our journey; from pointers on restaurants we particularly enjoyed to ways to get more bang for your buck and keep your sanity among the crowds. I hope to inspire you to go on a trip of your very own, and please, if there is a place you think I *must* try next time around, feel free to let me know!

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