Ah Rome. I first came to this Eternal City at the age of 18 with my parents. They were dropping me off to my first year in college, which I spent in Florence. Yes, it was as magical as it sounds. I recommend all college students travel and study abroad. I feel it made me much more fearless, though my parents probably wished I exercised more caution. We spent a couple of days in Rome and I just remember being in awe. Being a fun-sized lady, even back then, . I can't ever describe what it's like to see these churches and buildings. It was a level of majestic beyond this world.
My other fond memory of Rome is getting to be present and speak at the canonization of St. Alphonsa, the first Malayalee Saint. This was during the time of Pope Benedict XVI and yes I did get to sit near him. I did wave and I'd like to think he saw it, but who knows.
Last summer, I got to spend part of my honeymoon in Rome. Le husband had never been to Europe and I was excited to go to such a special city to me and create memories with him. We got to discover a whole new side of Rome because this time I wasn't a broke college kid sharing a kebab with Kathleen, my roommate. I got to eat at real restaurants!
Also got to stay at a real hotel. We chose the Gigli d'Oro, http://www.giglidorosuite.com/en/, a boutique hotel situated near Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. The staff was really helpful and there are only 6 rooms in total. The booking included breakfast, something I recommend when travelling in Europe. Europeans don't eat heavy breakfast and it is difficult to find hot breakfast, such as eggs. We loved it and Le Husband upgraded us as a surprise (very romantic that guy).
Obviously, this is was an Ammachic trip so the main itinerary revolved around food and art. Luckily, I'm married to a foodie architect, so our interests are clearly aligned. Only spot we differ is desserts.
Here are the spots we ate, with what I recommend from there:
L'Orso 80: This was right around the corner from our hotel. After a 15 hour flight from India, our somewhat friendly, definitely confused, cab driver dropped us off near this restaurant rather than in front of our hotel. A blessing in disguise. Dragging our luggage across the cobblestone (this is an old city folks, one would say ancient) and looking like refugees, I immediately spotted this place and proclaimed it as our dinner spot. Why you ask? Here is a trick I learned while travelling: always look at the patrons of a restaurant. If they look like tourists, especially American ones (just look out for a baseball cap or gym shoes), don't go in. Here, the patrons were definitely all Italian; women with blonde hair and white pants, men in navy and white ensembles, and all with a fierce tan definitely screams Italiano.We had the tagliata di bue, which is a Roman variation of stracchetti and it is paper thin shreds of steak sautéed quickly with arugula and mushrooms, grigliata mista di pesce, a mixed seafood grill with freshly grilled fish, shrimp, and calimari, and the most Roman dish of all: carbonara. It is also budget friendly, which is always a plus when you are looking to gorge. It was fresh, it was straightforward, and it is the best benvenuto a Italia for your tummy.
Ristorante Arlu: After hours wandering through the labyrinth that is the Museo Vaticano and the Sistine Chapel, overwhelmed by beauty and starving, we headed over here after reading many favorable foodie reviews. It was right next to St. Peter's Basilica. Though we had a bit of a wait, it lived up to its reputation. We shared a seared tuna dish, a carbonara, and a saltimbocca alla romana, which is veal wrapped in pancetta with sage. We finished up with a panna cotta drizzled with chocolate syrup. Panna cotta is one of the few desserts I can bear because it isn't very sweet. I ate around the chocolate since I'm not a fan (I know it's weird) and of course, indulged with a latte (me) and cappuccino (Le Husband) because when in Rome. It was a really cute spot and its family run with a female chef and her daughters work alongside, a rarity in Italy, so definitely give it a visit.
Ristorante Il Piccolo Mondo: This was our last meal in Italia and boy, was it incredible. We had wandered in Villa Borghese, a vast park near the famous Via Veneto earlier in the day. Via Veneto is Rome's most glamorous street, where, in the 50s and 60s, one could see Humphrey Bogart or Elizabeth Taylor. Now, its high end shops and occasionally you will see the famed couturier Valentino Garavani and his partner Giancarlo Giametti (fun fact, this street is where they first met). The restaurant's name means the little world restaurant and it did seem like its own world. It was right off Via Veneto and you climb down and enter into a very refined, what can only be described as, a wine cellar. And the food. We had lamb chops and a chicken dish I had never seen before. The lamb was so flavorful, with a perfect balsamic vinegar based sauce. The chicken seemed to have been braised and served in this crispy bread bowl. A dish where you can eat the plate it was served on is my kinda dish. It was the perfect sendoff and worthy of your patronage.