Two weeks ago, Jon and I took my visiting-from-America parents to Rome for the first May bank holiday. We spent four sunny, warm days there, and because my parents aren’t keen on time-consuming, expensive meals, Rome was the perfect destination because of how wonderfully you can eat in its many pizzerias and osterias. Overall, everything we ate was very good, but some places were inevitably better than others, so below is my roundup:
Best of the bunch:
Dal Paino. Located just around the corner from the much-hyped Da Baffetto pizzeria, Dal Paino was a tip from my friend, Emilia, who loves Italy as much as I love France (which is a lot). A little googling revealed that Dal Paino’s owners are related to Da Baffetto’s owners, and when you turn up at Dal Paino, the sign outside even says “recommended by Da Baffetto.” We ate here twice – once because of Emilia’s tip, and again because we tried to eat at Da Baffetto but were scared off by the mile-long queue. The pizzas at Dal Paino are thin crust with a nice char from the wood-fired oven, and the pastas are similarly simple and beautifully-prepared. The rigatoni carbonara and the onion (cipolla) pizza were two of my favorite dishes on the menu. And don’t even think about skipping Dal Paino’s suppli and superlative fiori di zucca fritti, which perfectly balanced anchovy saltiness, creamy ricotta, and vegetal sweetness. A filling meal here with shared starters, generous-portioned mains and modest drinks cost about 15 euros a person.
Forno Campo de’ Fiori. This place is in every guidebook and highly recommended by Tamarind & Thyme in her November 2009 Rome posts. All I can say is: it deserves its fame. Step up to the pizza counter and order slices of whatever’s coming out of the oven. It’s all good. Trust me – I tried it all. The porcini mushroom pizza and the rosemary-scented potato pizza are my favorites, though the garlicky-sweet melanzane (aubergine) is no slacker, either. We ate well here for about 5 euros a person for a ton of pizza. The Forno is split into two buildings, and the sandwiches and cookies sold across the alley from the pizza part are worth a try too, especially the almond-scented pignoli cookies. The hours seemed a bit haphazard here, but luckily we regularly passed through Campo de’ Fiori and caught the place while it was open.
Middle of the Pack.
La Montecarlo. Again, recommended by Tamarind & Thyme. And again, a pizzeria not far from Da Baffeto. (I’ve started thinking of Da Baffetto, Dal Paino and La Montecarlo as “the Pizza Triangle”). La Montecarlo was a perfect lunch spot with tables spilling out into a shady stone alleyway just off the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. The fried appetizers (suppli, fiori di zucca) were alright, but not half as good as the ones at Dal Paino. What was very good, though, were the thin-crust pizzas. The crust at La Montecarlo was slightly more brittle and crispy than at Dal Paino, which my father loved, though I preferred Dal Paino’s slightly-chewier dough. Extra points to La Montecarlo for the old italian ladies who sat at the table next to ours and ate us under the table by ordering huge pasta courses and individual pizzas. Lunch with a few shared fried goodies, a pizza each and sodas totaled 14 euros each.
Antico Forno La Stelletta. Two strengths: (a) its location in the heart of centro storico about a block away from San Luigi dei Francesi church (Caravaggio lovers, alert!) as well as from the apartment we rented in Rome, and (b) its open-7-days-a-week schedule. Additional strengths: its focaccia-based pizzas – chewy, olivey bread topped with, say, an bright-sweet tomato sauce or a garlicky-cheesy broccoli. Less endearing were its somewhat-dry cornetti and pastries.
Bringing up the Rear:
Pizzeria Leonina. I got this tip from Krista’s blog, and you know, the pizza wasn’t awful, but it just really paled in comparison with the other places listed above (especially Forno Campo de’ Fiori). The place serves pizza al taglio, which means you buy the pizza by the rectangular slice. It’s the Roman way. The cheese just seemed extra cheap and greasy here, and the pizza crust lacked the character and flavor that we had at other places. On the (significant) plus side, Pizzeria Leonina sits really close to the Colosseum and Forum, and after walking by several blocks of tourist-trap-looking spots in that area, I can see why Pizzeria Lenonina is such a winner by comparison. The pizza is indeed cheap, with most varieties sold for 12-13 euros per kilo and one kilo being more than enough to feed three hungry people. (100 grams is an etto, by the way).
Ristorante Maccheroni. I had a great time here when I last visited Rome in August 2006. And it’s around the corner from the apartment in Rome we rented this time. So one night, I dragged everyone here for a bit of nostalgia. The service was lovely and we enjoyed our table outdoors in the Piazza delle Coppelle, but the pastas we ordered lacked oomph (and seasoning, now that I think about it). My spaghetti carbonara was a particularly big disappointment. Lots of egg yolk, but where was the meaty saltiness of guanciale? Even after dousing it with salt, it remained a watery, yolky mess. In any event, Piazza delle Coppelle is a lovely little square for you 30-something yuppies (not me, of course), so perhaps drop by for aperitifs and move on when it’s dinnertime. 15 euros a person for shared starters and individual pastas.
Forno Campo de Fiori, Campo de Fiori, 22, 06-688 06 6662
La Montecarlo, Vicolo Savelli, 13, 06 686 1877
Antico Forno La Stelletta, Via della Scrofa 33, 66 880-9909
Pizzeria Leonina, Via Leonina, 84, 06 482 7744
Ristorante Maccheroni, Pizza delle Coppelle, 44, 06 6830 7895