As my 4-month long abroad adventure came to an end, I couldn’t bare the fact of coming home without experiencing the country whose cuisine has truly stolen my heart: Italy. My first true love and role model on the Food Network was Giada DeLaurentiis and I am proud to say I consider pizza a separate food group. With a five day trip through Rome, Florence and Venice, I prepared my stomach for the culinary ride of a lifetime, and was by no means disappointed.
I call this post “Better Late Than Never” because it has been almost a month since I began my journey, and have had time to move back to Cleveland, settle in for two weeks, and move to New York City for the summer. I find it completely ironic that as I type this blog post I eat my delicious leftovers of linguine with pesto and shrimp from Mario Batali’s Italian megastore, Eataly. But I digress…
My friend Rachel and I arrived in Rome late Friday night and were ravenous. We stopped at the closest restaurant to our hotel and devoured our sub-par pasta and caprese salads. I wasn’t discouraged, though, because I knew my Wallpaper Guide would come in handy the rest of the weekend. On Saturday for lunch, we utilized the guide and went to Cul de Sac, right off Piazza Navona. It is a “hole in the wall” type of restaurant known for their wine selection and greek salad. Rachel and I shared this famous greek salad and pasta siciliana. A gentleman sitting across from us was eating the pasta and it looked so good that we just had to order it. The salad was full of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and onions, with a beautiful block of feta cheese resting on top. It was perfectly dressed and seasoned, and I’m pretty sure Greece doesn’t even make them that well. The pasta was cooked as it should be: al-dente. The sauce was sweet and full of tomatoes and roasted eggplant, and the sprinkling of cheese on top added the perfect amount of saltiness and creaminess. I asked the waiter for a wine recommendation and he brought out a wonderful crisp, and not-too-sweet white wine that I now consider my favorite. I am not a huge fan of white wine, but this was an exception.
Moving on to dinner. I was recommended to go to Tony’s by a friend, as being known for having the best- and only- chicken parmesan in Rome. Tony’s is a classic Italian restaurant: friendly waiters, Italian music, red checkered table cloths, crispy bread. Again, Rachel and I shared. This time it was mussels and chicken parm. When the waiter brought out the chicken I was wondering if there was even any chicken in it, because the plate looks like a massive sheet of melted, bubbly cheese and marinara sauce. Once we dug in, however, we found the juicy, succulent, crispy chicken, and devoured it. The mussels were easily the freshest mussels I’ve ever had. They were in a salty, buttery sauce, and there was plenty to soak my crusty bread in.
After dinner we ventured over to Trevi Fountain, not only to see the falls in the moonlight but also to experience what I would consider the world’s greatest gelato. Il Gelato di San Crispino is tucked away a few blocks past the fountain, but it is completely worth the treck, and the ignorance of all the other gelato shops right on the Piazza di Fontana di Trevi. San Crispino prides itself on using all natural ingredients and on having truly unique flavors. I had pear sorbet and basil gelato and I do not regret my decision. The icy pear sorbet tasted just like a fresh, juicy pear is supposed to taste; probably better. And the creamy basil gelato was the perfect counterpart, not too basil-y but just the right balance of sweet and savory. I am only so lucky that Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream makes a similar Riesling poached pear flavored ice cream, because San Crispino turned me into an addict.
The next day I was led to another restaurant recommended by Wallpaper Guides: Obika. Obika is a mozzarella bar that showcases all different types of mozzarella in the freshest, purest ways. The must-have at Obika is mozzarella with accompaniments. You can choose from four different types of Mozzarella di Bufula Campana with over 10 different accompaniments. We ordered the Burrata cheese with DOP Proscuitto. The cheese was so creamy and actually quite loose. It was silky and sweet and the paring with the salty ham worked very well. We also ordered an arugula salad with sweet, juicy cantaloupe, crisp apples, crunchy radish and salty pecorino romano cheese. Finally, the holy grail of cheese pizzas: Formaggi Morbidi with gorgonzola, stracchino, ricotta and buffalo mozzarella cheeses. This was by far the cheesiest pizza I have ever had, but the different flavors, potencies and textures worked beautifully together. My favorite part was the dollops of mozzarella cheese, because you could literally spread it over your entire slice and extra crust! Like cream cheese for Italians. This was my favorite meal of the entire week.
We took the train to Florence and had just two short days to explore. My favorite part was the Mercato San Lorenzo, as it was a giant market full of produce, italian specialties, hams, cheeses, and pastries. Rachel and I ate our weight in cheese and salami samples, and only left with two mini canoli and a package of black truffle salami- another one of my favorite “meals” of the trip. We had some classic Italian food- eggplant parmesan, gnocchi, black truffle pizza, and gelato- every single day of the entire trip- but I altogether enjoyed Rome more. Here is a pastry counter from the market:
We arrived in cloudy, rainy Venice for only a short 24 hours, but realized that it was plenty of time. Our food, while still delicious, didn’t stand up to the previous two cities, and definitely did not photograph as well. We had a wonderful seafood spaghetti with a whole lobster, which was very fresh and very messy, and squid ink risotto and pesto spaghetti. I refused to leave Italy without having classic tiramisu, which was photo-worthy and delicious.
We also stumbled upon Grom, which is supposed to be one of the best gelato shops in all of Italy. Lucky for me, there are a few locations in New York City as well!
We left Italy with sore feet, full memory cards and even fuller stomachs. I am so glad to have finally experienced Italy and all its glory, and am looking forward to having more amazing Italian meals this summer, courtesy of Mario Batali!