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amazing dishes

Because I had already been to Italy once — and because, presumably, the Pantheon, Coloseum and Vatican have not changed since I was there last — sightseeing was not top of my list. Actually, it's never top of my list, but that's thoughts for another post.

Instead, I was focused on food - finding the best prosciutto,  mozzarella, pasta and coffee I could. I had scoped out a few recommendations in advance, but mostly wanted to wander  and eat. Italy, of course, is legendary for its food.

I think it bears mentioning that there is a fair bit of mediocre food in Rome. That's obvious and inevitable, I suppose, but it runs so contrary to the myth that I want to point it out. Not everything is great, or even good. Much of the food, especially in areas close to "the big sights," is mostly designed for tourists more worried about what times the museum closes.

But despite that point, it is still there. Great restaurants, and great dishes. Experiences that really do amaze and wow and satiate your stomach in a complete, holistic and garlicky kind of way.

So I've created a little list, the Best Dishes I Found in a Week of Eating in Rome. This certainly isn't all of it, merely the highlights, but these are the dishes that truly stood out:

An Amazing Antipasti. The first night we ate at a bizarre, hectic and hopping place called La Isla de la Pizza. I'd have pegged it for a tourist trap if we weren't just about the only non-Italians there, and if the food hadn't been so damn good. The prosciutto and mozzarella were the best we had all trip, with the prosciutto being sliced three feet away from us. There was also a croquette formed by filling risotto with mozzarella, shaping it into a ball and deep frying it. I spent the rest of the trip trying to find these two dishes this good again, but failed.






Gnocchi with Smoked Mozzarella and Black Truffles. We were just looking for a place to sit and have a beer, but we ended up with a three-course lunch. The gnocchi was light and the sauce was rich and sweet with truffles and garlic.

Crepe with Fontina Cheese and Pear. For some reason, we had the most trouble with the menu in a little restaurant near our hotel. They wrote things in unfamiliar ways, and our poor attempts at Italian weren't understood. Alas, the food translated fine and this crepe was somehow rich but really light, with the pear more of a subtle hint than the main player.

Roman Pizza. Three things separate pizza in Italy from pizza at home. First, they eat it standing, on the run, or in a restaurant. It's an everyday food, it's homey, it's simple. Second, the crust – better ovens, I would think, give the bottom a thick and chewy crust while leaving the top not over-done. Third, simplicity of toppings: nothing is overdone or greasy. We ate a ton of pizza, in many places, and much of it was fantastic.

Fried Mozzarella & Spinach Salad, with a Caramelized Balsamic Dressing. It's the dressing that really made this dish. The caramelized balsamic was sweet, but with the savory-ness of onion that has been cooked down to nothing. I am determined to find out how this is done.

Tortino Caldo di Cioccolato. It's essentially a light chocolate cake, with a ganache center and a banana puree that was pretty damn amazing. We had this in a sophisticated-looking wine bar that could hold its own anywhere. We had the Vignamaggio Chianti 2003, which might have been the best wine we drank all trip.

Veal Meatballs. These were probably the best meatballs I've ever had – perfectly spiced and with a light tomato sauce. They were also part of the best meal we had in Italy, a menu-less adventure at a family-owned place. When we said we wanted wine, they automatically put a 1.5-liter bottle on the table.


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All Images Copyright 2006 -- Robert Walton