Eating Out in Rome: Part 2

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(See also Part 1, Eating Out in Rome:  A Primer for the Hungry American Traveler)

So, about all those courses. 

Technically, a multi-course Italian meal may include dishes from all of the following categories:  antipasto, primo piatto, secondo piatto, contorno, insalata, and dolce.  These are the section headings you will find on almost every a la carte menu in Italy.  Some restaurants will further divide the antipasto, primo, and secondo lists into two subsets:  pesce or del mare (fish/of the sea) and carne or della montagna (meat/of the mountain). 

Most people eating out in Rome these days will choose something from two or three of the categories rather than all six.  It's helpful to try to coordinate what will be ordered at your table, so that everyone is ordering from the same categories, but it isn't absolutely necessary.  If one person is ordering an antipasto and a secondo, and the other is ordering a primo and a contorno, the waiter will usually ask if you want the courses served in tandem.  Rarely, you get the server who doesn't offer and will actually bring each course at a different time, making an awkward meal for people who don't order from the same course lists.

Antipasto

Antipasto (literally, before-meal) is traditionally the first course and the first section on the menu.  Most restaurants will offer a sampler plate of their specialty salumi (cured meats of all kinds) and/or formaggi (cheeses).  Often there are fritti, deep-fried tidbits such as sliced veggies, seasoned rice balls, potato croquettes, sausage-stuffed olives, and in Rome, the famous fiori di zucca, zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and a bit of anchovy.  Another Roman favorite is carciofi (artichokes), served either stuffed and oven-braised (alla romana) or pan-fried in olive oil (alla giudia).  Bruschetta (pronounced broo-SKET-ta), a thick slice of bread grilled and topped with olive oil, mozzarella, or tomatoes, often makes a simple, satisfying antipasto. 

Restaurants specializing in seafood will sometimes feature a raw fish carpaccio antipasto, a must-try for sushi lovers.  Other examples of seafood antipasti:  grilled scallops (capesante), smoked salmon (salmone affumicato), marinated seafood (insalata di mare, usually includes baby octopus, squid, and several kinds of shellfish), marinated fresh anchovies (alici, something completely different from the pitiful, salty little pizza toppers most Americans think of when they see the word anchovy), and mixed fried seafood (fritto misto).

Primo Piatto

The primo piatto (first plate) category includes all pasta and risotto dishes and soups.  There is so much more to Italian pasta than just spaghetti bolognese and ravioli!  Every region and even every town seem to have their favorite preparations.  Enumerating and describing popular pasta dishes would fill its own entry, so I'll save that for another time.

Secondo Piatto

The secondo piatto is what we Americans would call the main dish or entree.  Most of the time secondi are fish or meat based, though a very small minority of restaurants do try to offer the odd vegetarian option.  (Vegetarians usually find what they're after in the antipasto, primo, and contorno lists; or in the form of pizza.) 

Steak lovers should give tagliata di manzo a try:  a flavorful steak grilled to order, then sliced and fanned out on the plate, sometimes with a house specialty sauce, often with a green side salad and roasted potatoes, or with fresh arugula (rucola), sweet cherry tomatoes (pacchini), and shavings of parmigiano reggianoFiorentina is the nickname for Tuscan-style steak:  huge, thick cuts that we know as T-Bone and Porterhouse, grilled over wood or charcoal to rare (al sangue) or medium-rare (poco cotto).  Fiorentina is priced by the etto (100 grams, a little less than a quarter pound), and usually there is a minimum order, for example, six etti.  Most restaurants also serve filetto di manzo (beef filet), a better option if you prefer something smaller or cooked more.

Various lamb and veal preparations usually figure somewhat prominently among the secondi.  Saltimbocca (literally, jumps in the mouth) is a very rich combination of boneless veal, prosciutto, and fresh sage cooked in wine and butter.  Lombata di vitello is a wondefully juicy grilled veal loin chop.  Wild boar (cinghiale) dishes appear on many menus in central Italy, and from time to time you find preparations of rabbit (coniglio).  Pork is usually reserved for salumi, but maialino, roast suckling pig, sometimes makes an appearance among the secondi.  Apart from the occasional roast chicken (pollo arrosto), poultry dishes are relatively rare.

I almost forgot the fish!  Italians eat a lot of fish.  Some of my favorite seafood dishes appear on the primo list, like spaghetti con vongole (with clams) and linguine ai frutti di mare.  Fish-based secondi often include grilled, braised or baked fish steaks and filets, such as pescespada alla griglia (grilled swordfish), pescespada alla siciliana (braised with tomatoes, garlic, olives, olive oil, and sometimes capers, pine nuts and sultanas), rombo al forno (turbot or flounder baked under a beautiful layer of thinly sliced potatoes), spigola al cartoccio (sea bass steamed in parchment paper), and branzino al sale (whole Mediterranean sea bream baked within a thick crust of sea salt).  Baccalà, salt cod, is prepared in many different ways, including batter-fried, braised alla siciliana, and pureed with potatoes.

Contorno

Contorni are akin to our side dishes...yet they are often served after the secondo, rather than alongside it.  Common options include roasted potatoes, sauteed greens such as spinach or cicoria greens, fagiolini (green beans), or whatever's in season.  (And by the way, if it's not in season, don't expect it to be served.)  And a warning so you won't be shocked or alarmed:  many vegetable side dishes are cooked, then chilled and served cold, sometimes with a squeeze of lemon juice or a drizzle of olive oil.

Insalata

Insalata...familiar yet different.  Where I come from in the U.S., a salad that is part of a multi-course meal is often the first course.  (I know this isn't true for all Americans.)  In Italy, if you order a salad course, you can expect it to come after the main course.  (Though servers who have encountered a lot of Americans will sometimes offer to bring it earlier, or even just assume that they should.)  Also, just to confuse you a little more, most salads are quite large and can certainly be ordered AS one's main course.  Be aware that the "small side salad" you ask for might turn out to be a huge bowl big enough to share with several people.  Oh, and you know that mixed-up stuff in a bottle (or worse, a little packet of powder) that we know as "Italian dressing?"  No such thing.  In central and southern Italy, salad dressing is simply vinegar (often balsamic) and high-quality olive oil brought to the table for you to add to taste.  It may sound boring at first, but trust me:  it's wonderful.  The quality of the vinegar and oil, not to mention the freshness of the produce, is typically so much better than what we're used to that you'll be delighted. 

Dolce 

Dolce--dessert--shouldn't require too much explanation.  There are lots of standards--tiramisu, creme caramel, creme brulee, millefoglie (flaky puff pastry layered with a cream filling), and various cakes and tarts involving fruit and/or chocolate.  In Rome you commonly find panna cotta (literally cooked cream), a sort of luscious, eggless custard.  For me, sometimes the most satisfying dessert is a bowl of fresh fruit in season, with or without sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, whipped cream or a bit of vanilla ice cream.  My favorites are frutti di bosco (forest fruits, a combination usually including blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and sometimes red currants) and fragoline (tiny wild strawberries).  As mentioned in Part 1 of this "series", coffee is served after dessert, not with it, as we tend to do in the U.S.

Pizza

Wait, you say--What about the pizza?  (Before I forget, let me mention that some restaurants only make pizza at dinnertime, presumably because it's often too damn hot to have the pizza oven fired up all afternoon.)  As for where it fits within the myriad other courses...it doesn't, really.  Often when you see a group of Italians at a restaurant, they appear to have somehow agreed on whether it is a pizza night or a courses night, because everyone at the table will either have pizza, or order a couple of courses.  It's OK to have a small antipasto before the pizza, or a salad or dessert after, but you never see people combining pizza with pasta or with meat or fish main dishes. 

As for the pizza itself, Americans tend to fall into one of two camps:  those who prefer a particular American style, such as "New York", "Chicago", or (heaven forbid) some hideous chain's version; and those who prefer an Italian style--Naples' version with a puffier, softer crust, or Roman style with a very thin, crispy crust.  Some restaurants will offer to make either style, referring to them by crust thickness as alta (high/Naples style) and bassa (low/Roman style). 

Toppings vary, but there are classic combinations seen on almost every menu in Rome:  Margherita (tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil), Napoletana (tomato, mozzarella, black olives and anchovies, and apparently called Romana down in Naples!), and Ercolano or salame piccante (tomato, mozzarella, and thinly sliced spicy salami, akin to what we call "pepperoni" in the U.S.).  In Italy you also find pizzas that are topped with fresh arugula (rucola) after coming out of the oven, a topping that I adore.  And don't assume that every pizza comes with tomato sauce:  if it's not listed in the ingredients, it's not going to be on the pizza. 

There are some pizza topping abominations commonly found in the U.S. that you will NEVER see in Italy, such as BBQ chicken (or any chicken, for that matter), sliced green olives, or anything with pineapple.  And if you remember nothing else, please remember this:  In Italy "pepperone" means bell peppers, often roasted and/or marinated, NOT that spicy salami-type stuff we call "pepperoni" in the U.S.! 

(This is Part 1 of a 2-part series.  Here's Part 2.)

Types of Restaurants

In the U.S., everything from the drive-thru at McDonald’s to the dining room at the Four Seasons is considered a “restaurant.” Italians prefer to make linguistic distinctions between various types of food service establishments, a habit that tends to puzzle visiting Americans. 

A bar is primarily a place for coffee—espresso and espresso-based drinks, at any time of day—and incidentally also serves pastries, sandwiches, and the odd other beverage, including a few alcoholic ones.  But the Italian bar is also much more than just a place for coffee:  it is also a friendly hangout, a regular part of one’s day, a neighborhood institution.  Many people have two favorite bars, one close to home and one near work, where the staff know them and know just how they like their coffee.  Italians usually down their coffee in two or three quick gulps standing at the counter.  Sit-down service is available in most bars, but by law prices for the same food and drink items are significantly higher when served to customers seated at a table vs. standing at the bar.  Incidentally, you may see “American bar” signs; this indicates a place that primarily serves alcohol as  opposed to being the standard (Italian) coffee bar.

A pizzeria is a sit-down establishment that usually offers much more than just made-to-order pizza, though that may be their forte; while pizza al taglio (by the slice) serves only pizza, and the customer chooses from what’s already been made, pays by weight, and usually stands at a counter to eat.  An osteria is typically a casual, neighborhood joint, with a simple menu, regular local customers, cheap house wine and great prices in general.  Trattorias are usually family-owned and run, often focus on local specialities and tend not to be very expensive.  An enoteca can be a wine shop and/or a wine bar, where in addition to many nice options by the glass and by the bottle, you can sample great local salamis, cheeses and other wine-enhancing snacks.  Finally, the ristorante is typically more upscale—and expensive—than any of the above, with an extensive list of wines by the bottle and much more refined service.

That being said, however, it is important to acknowledge that it has become fashionable for high-end restaurants to have names that include “osteria” or “trattoria”.  Perhaps just to confuse us foreigners even more.  J

Types of Meals and Meal Times

Breakfast (prima colazione) is the Italian version of “fast food”, typically just an espresso (caffé) or cappuccino and a simple pastry.  City people heading to work in the morning often take theirs standing at the counter in their favorite bar.  Around mid-morning, many Italians like to take a short break (spuntino) for another coffee and maybe a little snack at—you guessed it—the local bar.  By the way, cappuccino is considered a morning beverage, and no Italian would dream of ordering it after 11:00 a.m.!  It’s OK to order a macchiato later in the day, though:  a shot of espresso with a “spot” of steamed milk.

Lunch (pranzo) is traditionally the big meal of the day throughout Italy, and it used to be customary for people to head home for at least a couple of hours for a family-style mid-day meal.  However, as people in the cities spend more time working and commuting, a typical weekday lunch has for many become either something that they bring from home and eat at the office, a sandwich (panino) at a nearby bar, a slice of pizza al taglio, a visit to a cafeteria-style lunch spot (tavola calda) or, for the lucky ones with money to spend, a nice one- to two-hour sit-down affair with colleagues at a restaurant (or osteria, trattoria, pizzeria) near the office.  In the case of the latter, it is not uncommon to have a little wine with lunch. 

Invariably, the lunch hour begins at 1:00 p.m.  Hence all the bars and restaurants get slammed between 1:15 and 2:30.  If you can, and you’d prefer to avoid the chaos, try showing up at your lunch place a little before 1:00 (bars are open all day, and many sit-down places open at 12:30).

Aperitivo is a tradition from further north, most notably Milan.  It’s not something many Romans do, so there’s no aperitivo rush hour in Rome.  (Perhaps everyone’s too busy with the evening commute.)  It’s essentially what it sounds like, an aperitif:  a cocktail or glass of wine along with a few tasty nibbles to keep you alive until dinner.  You could think of it as akin to the tapas tradition in Spain.  I’m a big fan of aperitivo.  If I thought my wallet and my waistline could tolerate it, I’d do aperitivo every evening.

Dinner (cena) takes place much later than most Americans are used to (perhaps that’s why I like aperitivo so much).  Most restaurants start serving dinner at 7:30, some as late as 8:00 or even 8:30.  The 7:30 opening time is really for foreigners, because Italians generally don’t start showing up till after 9:00.  In Italy, there is no such thing as “dinner and a movie” or “dinner and a show”.  Dining out IS the evening activity.  Which brings us to...

Service

Many Americans get the impression that restaurant service in Italy isn't good, but this is a misperception based on cultural difference.  In Italy, time is NOT money.  And time spent at the table is by no means ever considered wasted. 

In a bar, tavola calda, or pizza al taglio, especially during the lunch rush hour, the assumption is that customers have chosen the place because they have limited time, and the service is accordingly snappy. 

However, if you opt to go to a sit-down pizzeria, osteria, trattoria, or ristorante, the assumption is that you have come for the pleasure of the food and the company of family and friends—things which deserve to be savored and treasured—not to fill your belly as quickly as possible and move on to more important things.  Good food and good company ARE the important things, and Italians are happy to dedicate time to them.  Hence it would be considered rude if the kitchen sent out courses too quickly, or if the waiter hovered around asking “Can I get you anything else?  Will that be all?  Shall I bring the check?”  Italian customers would think they were being pushed out and be very offended.  Likewise, if the customer appears to be in a rush to get out, the staff will wonder why they bothered to come at all, or worry that they did not enjoy their meal.  In the latter case they will sometimes offer the customer a coffee or digestif on the house, to make up for whatever the problem may have been.  They simply cannot comprehend that you are merely in a hurry.

Accordingly, servers typically do not bring the bill until the customer requests it (Il conto, per favore), and they do not hover around constantly refilling beverages, like their counterparts in the U.S.  If you need something, just gesture to a server or say "Per favore," and they should respond quickly. 

It's also important to understand that there simply is no concept of “turning tables” to get as many customers—and their euros—through as quickly as possible.  (Remember:  Time is NOT money.)  If you have a table for dinner, it is yours for the evening.  (Remember?  Dinner IS the evening.)  This explains why you may show up at a completely empty restaurant at 7:30 p.m. and be told there is no table available.  Everything has been reserved in advance, and they couldn’t ask you to eat in a rush and then get out in a hurry for the party who has reserved your table later.  Some very rare exceptions do exist:  restaurants that do not take reservations at all, and those that are so small that they must have two set seating times each evening (7:00 and 9:30 only) or they will not make enough money to stay in business.

So relax and enjoy your meal, and dump your assumption that a slow meal is somehow a bad thing.  And if this topic interests you, read about Slow Food, an international movement that started in Italy. 

Menus and Order of Service

Many menus are printed in both Italian and English, and servers are generally happy to try to explain dishes to foreign customers.  Almost every restaurant offers a la carte options, though many places also offer fixed-price “tourist menus” (menu turistico—often cheap and rarely wonderful) or, in the more elegant establishments, “tasting menus” (menu degustazione—often wonderful and rarely cheap).  (Another entire post could be dedicated to the various categories of food on an Italian menu; I'll save that for another time.)  Salads and side dishes are often served after the main course.  (And by the way, the only salad dressing is olive oil and balsamic vinegar that you add yourself.)  Coffee is served last, after dessert, not with it. 

Hours and Reservations

Romans tend to eat later than Americans, lunch after l:00 p.m. and dinner at around 9:00 p.m.  Typical service hours are 12:30 to 3:00 p.m. for lunch and 7:30 p.m. to midnight for dinner (though some places start serving dinner as late as 8:00 or even 8:30).  Almost every restaurant is closed one full day per week, and sometimes also another half day (for example, Sunday evening and all day Monday).

Reservations are always advisable, most importantly on Friday and Saturday evenings and at popular establishments.  If you arrive quite early without a reservation, and the restaurant is not fully booked in advance, you may have no trouble getting a table.

Prices and Tipping

In general, prices tend to be similar to those found in other major world cities.  Expect your bill to include a cover charge (pane e coperto) and service charge (servizio); any taxes are included in the prices shown on the menu.  House wine (vino della casa) is always inexpensive and often good.  Bottled wine prices vary significantly but are generally better than American restaurant wine prices.  (There is so much more to say about Italian wine that I'll save it for another post.)  Bottled water is inexpensive.   

It is customary to round the bill up to the next even figure as a tip, usually up to no more than 5% of the total bill.  Staff do not expect—nor should they “fish for”—the typical American restaurant tip of 15% of the bill.  In fact, many Italians consider it rude to leave such an “extravagant” tip!  Servers get real salaries, and they are not just amateurs biding their time in the hope of moving on to some other career.  They are professionals, and this is their career.

Tips for Eaters

This is how you order and pay at a bar (and also in some gelaterias).  Tell the person at the register what you want (just enough information so that they will know what to charge), and pay for it.  Take the receipt the cashier gives you over to the food counter, place it on the counter in front of a server, and tell them what you want (now you can add details).  He or she will often tear or retain the receipt so that it can’t be used again.  If you’re at a bar getting coffee it’s customary to include a 5 or 10 cent tip as you place your receipt on the counter.

And this is how you order and pay for pizza al taglio, or at any place where you pay for food by weight.  Go to the food counter first.  Point out to the server what you would like and indicate how much.  They will weight your food and give you a slip of paper called a scontrino, which shows how much you must pay.  Take the scontrino to the cashier and pay.  The cashier gives you a different slip of paper, the receipt (ricevuto).  Take this back to the server you ordered from and exchange it for your food, now nicely heated/packaged/prepared however you requested.

How to ask for take-away/carry-out/to-go:  “Porto via.”  This is to be used only at bars and for pizza al taglio, never at sit-down establishments.  (There are a few exceptions, VERY few.)

Do not EVER ask for a “doggie bag” or the equivalent.  To suggest that you would give the chef’s food to a dog is extremely insulting; to suggest that it is food to be tossed in the fridge and microwaved later only slightly less so.

Speaking of dogs, Italians LOVE dogs.  They take them EVERYWHERE, yes even into casual restaurants.  Shocking, I know, but I’ve found that I can accept it as long as the animal is so small, quiet, odorless, and well-behaved that it’s hard to even notice it’s there.

And speaking of small, quiet, odorless and well-behaved, most Italian children are very good in restaurants.  They learn when very young that mealtime is to be enjoyed and respected, whether at home or in public.  By comparison, American kids often appear to be brutes.  Not your kids, of course.

When you order pizza in a sit-down restaurant, each person gets their own pizza—even the little kids.  Pizza arrives at the table uncut:  you are expected to eat it with a knife and fork.  Apparently pizza and beer are inseparable, as Italians invariably drink beer when they eat pizza in a restaurant.  Who knew?

You say fettuci-nee, I say fettucci-nay.  Italians say -nay, and for some reason they get really annoyed when foreigners say -nee.  Reprogram yourself to say fettucci-nay before you arrive in Italy, and you will impress everyone!

Italians don’t use a spoon to help twirl spaghetti around their fork.  Some restaurants offer spoons to obvious foreigners.  Once while we were sitting at an outside table at a restaurant, a kooky old Italian lady who was walking by grabbed my mother-in-law’s fork, started twirling it against the plate, and said “Facciamo cosi!” (We do it this way!)  True story.

Not every pasta dish should be topped with cheese.  If the waiter brings grated cheese to the table along with your pasta dish, this usually means that it's recommended for the dish.  For example, any past al ragu (with tomato-meat sauce) should be delivered with grated parmiggiano on the side.  If you're a cheese fiend, it can't hurt to ask for the parmiggiano for non-seafood pastas.  But if you order any pasta with seafood, such as spaghetti con vongole or linguine ai frutti di mare, cheese will not be delivered automatically, and requesting it will bring protestations.  For us Americans, with our "the customer is always right" culture, having a waiter argue with you can come as a shock.  But Italians know Italian food, and they are sincerely trying to help you have the best meal possible.  Trust your server's recommendations.  If given a choice, you can always respond, "Come lo chef consiglia" (As the chef recommends), and be certain that you'll be getting the most authentic/traditional option.  (You also get brownie points with the staff when you use this phrase; they appreciate the opportunity to be the expert!)

Tea drinkers, prepare to be frustrated.  Some places don’t serve tea at all, and many of the ones that do serve rather awful brands.  When you go to a bar with friends who will be drinking coffee, the barrista almost invariably makes the coffee first, then moves on to your tea.  That means that by the time the tea is steeped, sugared, stirred and cooled just enough to be ready to drink without hurting yourself, your friends have been peering into the bottoms of their empty demitasse cups for 5 minutes already and are beginning to talk about the ancient middle eastern art of reading coffee grounds.  It’s a little better when you’re all sitting down at a table together, because usually the waiter will try to bring all the after-meal drinks at the same time.  True story:  Once I ordered tea following Sunday lunch in a trattoria, and an old guy came out the kitchen demanding “Qui é chiesto il te?” (Who ordered the tea?)  I waved and said “Io” (I), and the guy came over and gave me a disgusted look, shaking his head at me as if to say, “What is wrong with you?!”  (I know what you’re thinking:  "When in Rome…"  And believe me, I love Italian coffee and would drink it if I could, but any type of coffee does terrible things to my insides.)

Italians think it's odd to go to a gelateria and order only one flavor of ice cream.  The typical gelato order includes two or three flavors piled into one cup or cone.

Agata e Romeo

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:: Rome : Esquilino
Perhaps Agata e Romeo is resting on its Michelin-starred laurels.  The service was excellent and the food more than acceptable, but for the price we paid I expected more.  The table was constantly covered in special treats, like five kinds of homemade breads, or inventive miniature pastries.  But the actual courses we ordered -- antipasti, primi, and secondi -- were lackluster.  Che peccato!

Agata e Romeo    €€€

Via Carlo Alberto, 45 (00185)  Google Map
Tel. 06-687-5287
www.agataeromeo.it

Sangallo

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:: Rome : Navona-Pantheon
Sangallo is now one of my very favorite restaurants in Rome, and here's why.  Your evening here includes a delightful seven-course tasting menu, four seemingly bottomless glasses of accompanying wines, exceptional service, elegant yet comfortable ambiance, and that attention to detail and quality that you have come to expect from the family-run restaurant in Italy.  All for €75.  (And if you don't want the wine, you can have all of the above for only €55.)  Just order the menu degustazione, then sit back and let Sangallo make your evening fantastic.

Sangallo    €€

Vicolo della Vaccarella, 11/a (00186)  Google Map
Tel. 06-686-5549
www.ristorantesangallo.com

L'Improviste

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:: Paris
When we arrived at L'improviste, we could see a lovely four-top set for three right by the door -- the only unoccupied table left in the restaurant.  The headwaiter (manager? wish we had gotten his name) met us at the door, and I mentioned we had a reservation under my name.  He spoke English with us right off the bat.  "Miller?" he said, and then, "Oh, Miller -- it's you!"  "Oui!" I replied.

Enoteca Al Brindisi

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:: Ferrara
Enoteca al Brindisi, located in a spot that has been serving up la cucina ferrarese since at least 1435, claims to be l’osteria più antica nell mondo. (Another interesting historical note: Copernicus apparently lived in the upstairs apartment while studying at the local university.) Kevin and I sat right across the table from one another, and, oddly, it was almost as if we were at two totally different restaurants. He ordered one of the fixed price menus, the "tradizionale,” which included a local wine matched to each course; while I ordered a la carte and took a (non-local) wine recommendation from our waiter. My meal was to die for, while Kevin’s meal was...forgettable. Neither of us cared too much for the ferrarese specialty salamina da sugo, essentially salami boiled in water for 5 hours and then served thinly sliced. The waiter told us that one of the local wines Kevin tried “nasce qui e muore qui” – in other words, no one outside of Ferrara drinks it. We thought there was good reason for this. I, on the other hand, enjoyed a totally delightful plate of cappellacci di zucca, little “hats” stuffed with pumpkin and tossed in melted butter and fresh sage, accompanied by a knockout Sicilian white wine, “Bidis” by Valle Dell’Acate (a blend of chardonnay and inzolia grapes). I would definitely go back to Al Brindisi – being sure to stick with la carta and to avoid those very...interesting local wines.

Enoteca Al Brindisi
Via degli Adelardi, 11, Ferrara
Tel. 0532-209-142
www.albrindisi.com

Caffé Concerto

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:: Modena
Lunch buffet = INCREDIBILE!!! Also, here we were very happily introduced to a modenese specialty:  gnoccho fritto. It’s like eating a cloud...a tasty little pocket of heaven. Mmmmmmm.... Open Daily.

Caffé Concerto
Piazza Grande, Modena
Tel. 059-222-232
www.caffeconcertomodena.it

Trattoria Gianni

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:: Bologna
Traditional yet classy, special yet affordable, frequented by foreigners and locals alike, and run by the charming Giorgio, Michele and Barbara. Delicious, delicious, and delicious. I don’t know what else to say. Just go. You will understand. For dinner reservations, be sure to call before 3 p.m. Closed Sunday evening and all day Monday.

Trattoria Gianni
Via Clavature, 18, Bologna
Tel. 051-229-434

Trattoria Da Danio

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:: Bologna
A casual, economical, friendly neighborhood joint where you can eat very well, very reasonably.  Highly recommended. Open Daily.

Trattoria Da Danio
Via San Felice, 50a, Bologna
Tel. 051-555-202

Incrocio Montegrappa

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:: Bologna
A midscale neighborhood restaurant with an extensive menu; however, once we tried the pizzas we were hooked! The “Gustosa” pizza, a house specialty, is comprised of mozzarella, gorgonzola, nuts, and speck, and it is divine (specktacular, if you will). The house wine is a simple Prosecco (well-suited, we thought, to the pizza – though we have learned that Italians never drink wine with pizza, only beer!); there are other wine options by the bottle. If you go the pizza route, you can expect a very reasonable bill for a fantastic meal. If you opt for a multicourse meal, do expect to pay a bit more. Closed Tuesdays.

Incrocio Montegrappa
Via Montegrappa, 7/d, Bologna
Tel. 051-224-871

Il Caffé Bazar

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:: Bologna
This actually isn’t a café at all but an excellent wine and gourmet goodies shop. We found the selection of Italian wines to be outstanding.

Il Caffé Bazar
Via Guerrazzi, 8, Bologna
Tel. 051-228-454

Franco Rossi

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:: Bologna
A bit more upscale than the other Bologna restaurants listed here, but by no means extravagant. A little plate of handmade breads and crackers awaits each guest. A member of the very gracious staff comes immediately to pour your complimentary aperitivo. We enjoyed scrumptious food and an excellent wine recommendation to accompany our meal (Giovanni Puiatti Pinot Grigio 2006). The antipasto plate of culatello and fresh fig was plate-lickingly good (though I did manage to resist committing this brutta figura act!). Their tagliatelle al ragù was my favorite among the three different versions I tried in Bologna. (If you are a John Grisham fan, you might be interested to know that Franco Rossi is mentioned favorably in The Broker.)

Franco Rossi
Via Goito, 3, Bologna
Tel. 051-238-818

Caffé Zamboni

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:: Bologna
Caffé Zamboni offers a very satisfying self-service “brunch” buffet (a.k.a. tavola fredda) at lunch time. I had their excellent, really creamy gelato no less than three times in one week.

Caffé Zamboni
Via Zamboni, 6, Bologna
Tel. 051-587-7916

Bar Calice

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:: Bologna
Far more than the traditional Italian bar. Many reasonably-priced wines by the glass, a nice selection of salads, friendly staff. The bar itself is tiny; go on a nice day and relax at one of the many outdoor tables on Via Clavature.

Bar Calice
Via Clavature 13a, Bologna

Taverna Trilussa Trastevere

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:: Rome : Trastevere
Our experience here was shockingly bad. I ordered a bottle of Collio Bianco, and the waiter brought out instead a bottle of Tocai Friulano. I like Tocai Friulano, but I had specifically asked for something else, so I pointed this out to the waiter. He informed me that the bottle he had brought was a white wine from Collio. Indeed, I could see that it was a white wine from Collio, I replied, but I had ordered a specific wine, and this was not it! After finally being served the correct wine, we attempted to order some antipasti. The same surly waiter tried to tell us that we could not order what we were asking for, because it was only available as part of the set tasting menu. Incredulous, I pointed out the items we wanted on the a la carte section of the menu. Well, he replied, that may be, but these were old menus, and therefore the prices were incorrect. Why, I asked, were we given "old" menus (they looked brand new), and what was the "new" price??? In the end we did get the antipasti, but not without a level of hassle that I have not experienced in any other restaurant in Italy. By the end of the evening I could say that the food was good and the garden setting lovely, but the service so soured our experience there that we will never go back.

Taverna Trilussa Trastevere    €€

Via del Politeama 23-25 (00153)  Google Map
Tel. 06-581-8918