The mixed bag that is eating in Italy

For nearly five weeks during March and April my now fiancé and I traveled through Italy. Looking back on the time we spent, we both agree that the wine, gelato, and espresso were consistently great… and our waistlines agree. Of course every now and again you’d order a liter of table wine which was so-so, but at a 6€ price tag who cares?

However, one consistent problem seemed to be finding a decent moderately priced restaurant in the touristy areas. Tourists seem to all but overrun Rome, Florence, the Amalfi Coast, and most of Southern Tuscany, making reservations at well-known and guidebook reccomended restaurants all but impossible unles you’re planning way ahead.

The first time we visited Rome together in 2012, we ended up at the same (albeit adorable) tourist traps lining the piazzas and walked away sorely disappointed, having just eaten food that was the equivalent of a microwave TV dinner. This time I was determined to find hidden gems where the food is better than the view, as I’ve learned in Italy don’t often occur in the same location.

These are my stories of Italy, not like my usual tales of hiking in a beautiful mountains, hospital visits, or some extreme sport in an exotic country.. but of really enjoying Italy’s culinary delights.

Rome

After thoroughly enjoying drinks at Ai Tre Scalini in Rome’s trendy Monti last time, we returned for a meal. After a bottle of wine, giant plates of mozzerella and arugula, drizzled with truffle honey and healthy portions of secondis we were happy to see our bill for three was less than 50€, San Francisco take note!

Our second night we visited the Lonely Planet reccomended Da Baffetto. Although the interior is bare bones and the service is brusque, the pizza speaks for itself. We loved their pizza so much that we went back on our return trip a few weeks later. 

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Mushroom proscuitto pizza at Da Buffetto.. I have to agree with the guidebooks on this place!

Growing tired of wading through tourists,  we headed to the edgy Pignetto neighborhood for dinner and drinks one night and ended up at Pignetto 41, which we returned to for our Birthday celebration weeks later. Thanks to you Pignetto 41, I now know what real Carbonara tastes like. Boasting an extensive wine list, with barely a bottle over 14€ and primis around 10€, this is a neighborhood gem. When we looked around and didn’t hear any English being spoken, we knew this one was a keeper.

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Cheers to Pignetto 41

On a return trip to Rome, we headed to the ever popular Primo del Pignetto to see what the hype was about. Sadly as it turns out we found that hype was about all there was to it. Overcooked and overpriced pastas, the only rude service experience of our 5 weeks in Italy, in addition to the price tag being the most expensive of our trip left us extremely disappointed.

Florence

Sadly in the two visits to Florence during our 5 weeks in Florence we didn’t do so well.

After trying in vain to go to two highly reccomended neighborhood favorites in San Spirito, we ended up in the line at Gusta Pizza. But thinking anyplace with a line must be good failed us, and we found the pizza just OK.

Another time we tried to get into Trattoria Casalinga and yet again were turned away. After wandering around Oltrarno aimlessly and frustrated we thankfully came upon Antica Porta which we both really enjoyed.

Amalfi Coast

Our first night in Positano was frustrating solely because it was at the end of March before many restaurants and hotels were open. Walking down to the beach after booking a last minute hotel room, we had mixed feelings about the seafood at Chez Black, although the setting and beach front setting was to die for!

The night of our engagement we celebrated with bubbly at a fancy meal at Al Palazzo in the courtyard of the exquisite Hotel Palazzo Murat. While the food was impeccable, the service left a little to be desired. Oh but the ravioli…

The worst

Finally our worst meal of the trip was at an adorable ocean view restaurant in Amalfi, which I won’t name. When I noticed the Chef shoving a plate into the microwave visible from my seat in the dining room, I knew it would be bad. When my plate arrived, three sad half crushed prawns reclined over a lukewarm bed of spaghetti. Boxed macaroni would be tastier.. seriously.

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Fresh fish come in multiple times daily on the Amalfi Coast.. too bad many of these restaurants don't seem to be serving anything fresh

After taking three bites of Pasta Carbonara at Ostia Antica Park Hotel restaurant I pushed my plate away. How can a self-respecting Italian serve this shit? We didn’t expect much from an airport hotel restaurant,  but 30 minutes later while my mom was showering I was forced to vomit out of the window.

I’ve since created a rule in Italy: If its a cutesy restaurant with a fancy interior on a popular piazza with no Italians, skip it for food and just enjoy the espresso and view.

Life is too short to not be Italian, and to not eat great food, drink great wine, and not have several coffee breaks a day. Cheers to you Italy, what a ride!

Next stop: Crash dieting in Morocco?

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