We’d been planning a trip to Italy for years. Since we never had a honeymoon, we decided a belated trip could happen if all the stars aligned and the children grew up a bit. I was pessimistic that we could make it happen, but having just returned from 12 days of blissful Italian travels in Tuscany, Florence and Rome, I stand corrected. By far, the best vacation ever.
I know you won’t be surprised when I tell you I had many of the restaurants, slices of pizza, cafés and cups of gelato selected long before we left for our trip. Investing in some pre-planning time before a vacation is invaluable, especially for us foodies. Food & Wine, Fodor’s, Travel & Leisure, as well as many fantastic bloggers provide reliable lists for just about anything you’re looking for. It was fun researching for our trip and I must say, every meal we experienced was fantastic.
Lastly, when you get to your destination, use your hotel’s concierge if they have one. They miraculously were able to make us reservations at places that claimed to not take them, and they got us into places that said they were booked. Interesting how that all works out. Here are just some of our eating highlights through Italy.
Castello Banfi il Borgo – Castello di Poggio alle Mura, snc, 53024 Montalcino Siena
The dining room was so dimly lit I couldn’t get a decent picture of the food, but we loved their Bistecca alla Fiorentina. That’s Tuscan for caveman size grilled steak. Banfi offers a 5 star dining experience where waiters meticulously decant Banfi wines tableside. They offer a menu al la carte, as well as a tasting menu where you can enjoy a different wine with each course. Impeccable service and delicious food set in a fairytale Tuscan castle.
Paoli -Via dei Tavolini, 12r, 50122 Firenze
We loved it here so much that we had dinner there twice! Nestled on a side street in the middle of Florence, Paoli serves a traditional Tuscan menu. Our waiter was adorable and served us both nights. Shaved raw artichoke salad with parmesan and Spaghetti alle Vongole were my favorites. On our second visit our waiter greeted us with a glass of prosecco… very sweet.
Toscani - Via Pietrapiana 11/13R Firenze
We stumbled upon this place for lunch. I was dying for vegetables! Tuscany and Firenze have very meat focused cuisines. I mean really, how much prosciutto can one person eat? According to Alan, a lot… daily… with all 3 meals. Not me. I really enjoyed the grilled vegetable platter, caprese salad and of course, an afternoon glass of Chianti. It’s a very small place that offers a host of traditional items, including prosciutto! Great service and friendly staff topped off our experience.
Although some of the places we enjoyed in Rome were results of my pre-vacation planning, we had an incredible food tour with Katie Parla on our last full day in Rome. Katie is a fellow food blogger, Rome expert and writer for many publications including Bon Appetit and the NY Times. Alan stumbled upon Katie’s app (Katie Parla Rome) while looking for food tours in Italy. In her recent Bon Appetit article she called out my pizza pick from below. Her tour was informative, delicious and fun. She took us around two areas called Prati and Trionfale, and introduced us to the gelato I loved so much (see below). Many more tour options with Katie are available. Check out her site. If you’re interested in learning more about the cuisine of Rome, the history of the city, tasting the food along the way… a Katie Parla tour is a must. Thank you Katie!
Dal Bolognese - Piazza del Popolo, 1-2, 00187 Rome
The restaurant opens promptly at 8:15pm, not a minute before. The service was attentive and our waiter was happy to explain many of the dishes on the menu – saving me time on Google translate. We enjoyed sharing a braised artichoke, insalata puntarella, Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe (spaghetti with cheese and black pepper) and for my entrée, baked cod with tomatoes and grilled polenta. All delicious. You definitely need a reservation here, so plan ahead.
I have to highlight the puntarella salad. Traditionally served with an anchovy dressing, puntarella is from the chicory family. Knowing how much I love anchovies, I couldn’t get enough of this crunchy delicious salad. I’ve read you can replace the puntarella, which I’ve never seen here in the states, with endive. Regardless, pass the anchovy dressing please! Yummy!
Pierluigi - Piazza Dè Ricci, 144, Rome
Can we say Rome celeb hot spot?! Beyond the photos of celebrities dining at Pierluigi streaming on the video screen at the bar, rumor has it that even Obama was there for dinner 2 weeks before us after visiting with the Pope. We picked this place because of a recommendation from a friend and had no idea it was a part of the élite scene. The menu is seafood focused, a nice change from the meat focused Tuscan fare we were eating before. Fresh prawns, Baccala Fritto (fried cod), pasta with cherry tomato and scorpion fish (I swear they said scorpion fish) and red snapper with tomatoes and olives. An awesome wine list and when I said the sazerac was my favorite cocktail, they presented me with one at the bar as we were leaving. What a wonderful dining experience. Reservations are a must. On a side note, the owner of Pierluigi has opened a restaurant in Brooklyn called Antica Pesa.
Hotel de Russie – The Stravinskij Bar -Via del Babuino, 9, 00187 Rome
Bloody Marys, bar snacks and a Nicoise Salad. Actually cocktails anytime of day at this beautiful outdoor bar are fantastic. When you order your drinks they bring you complimentary bar snacks that you can’t help but dive into. Olives, potato chips and in the evening… crostini, bacon wrapped dates, smoked salmon, and more (they change daily). The bloody mary was off the charts and I can never resist a Niçoise salad if it’s on the lunch menu. Definitely stop in the Hotel de Russie for a drink if you get to Rome. The service, food and cocktails were great.
BEST GELATO IN ITALY (In my humble opinion)
Fatamorgana - Multiple locations in Rome
You can find gelato on every corner in Italy, but they are not created equal. There’s gelato that’s made from a paste or powdered mix that’s dumped into a machine and then there’s gelato that’s made with love and only the freshest seasonal raw ingredients. The ingredients list at Fatamorgana is short and simple, as it should be. All organic, gluten-free and delicious. My flavor of choice was Panacea. A mixture of almond milk, fresh mint, ginseng and sugar. Sadly, we found out on our last night in Rome that there was a Fatamorgana around the corner from our hotel. If only we had one more day I could have had many more gelato from Fatamorgana. Check out their website to read more.
Pizzarium -Via della Meloria, 43, 00136 Rome
Just look at it! The pictures say it all! This is a thicker crust pizza. The toppings are crazy good and the crust is perfectly crunchy and salty. No wonder it appears on all the Rome best pizza lists! Slices are cut and weighed, which is nice as it allows you to try small slices of different toppings, rather than committing to one big slice. That’s my kind of eating!
We had so many other fantastic meals, but if I highlighted them all you’d be scrolling through this post for days. Here are a few additional places I should mention:
il Latini - Via dei Palchetti, 6R, 50123 Firenze
Al Moro -Vicolo delle Bollette, 13, 00187 Rome
Romeo - Via Silla, 26, Rome
Panificio Bonci - Via Trionfale, 36, 00195 Rome
Mangiare Bene, Vivere Bene!