Spring in Roman means carciofi (artichoke) season, and like all things in Italy, they are cooked with gusto, style and in a variety of ways, so you can never tire of them. As I look back over our eating tour of Rome, it’s clear that cariofi played the starring role.
On our first night we ate at Enoteca Antica, a bustling wine bar on Via Della Croce, just a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps. A popular place bustling with locals, who show up to unwind after work, and tourists lucky enough to find it, the place has a fab wine list and a pretty extensive menu.
We’d had a long day of travel and had been drooling over the idea of eating Italian food for days. Faced with a chalkboard chock full of delights, it was hard to know what to order but the artichokes beckoned. Raw artichoke was sliced paper thin, clothed with shaved parmesan, flecked with parsley and brightened with lemon juice and olive oil. Heavenly. I didn’t even know you could eat artichoke raw. Also on the menu was another Roman speciality: thinly sliced, barely cooked beef, with peppers, arugula, and yet more parmesan. The meat was so tender, the flavors so rich. I wondered if this was the inspiration for Philly cheese steaks.
Still full from dinner the night before, we dashed (okay, hauled our taut bellies) through the pouring rain the next day and finding it was an hour close enough to lunch, decided to take a break from our brolly and grab a bite. The closest place was Da Francesco, a typical Roman trattoria. Nothing fancy to look at but good local fare, lively conversation and the usual mix of locals and tourists. We squeezed into a table for two alongside a wall, and were soon joined by a couple of middle-aged Italian men who seemed to know exactly what they wanted to order and were happy to comment on our choices. I was tempted by the artichoke again, drawing happy grunts of support from our neighbors. This time, Carciofi alla Romana, cooked in a more traditional style: steamed, with a few perfectly-cooked, warm potatoes and practically drowning in delicious olive oil. It hit the spot on this damp March day.
Throughout our whirlwind trip, we’d have barely digested the previous meal before being tempted by the next, and throwing all good eating practices to the wind, I decided we should just maximize our access to some of the world’s best food. To experience as many places as we could cram in, we’d eat a dish or two in one ristorante before moving on to another for the next course. The Italians really didn’t seem to mind this approach. One evening we popped into Palatium Enoteca Regionale del Lazio, a stylish but small place serving food exclusively from the Lazio region. I ordered a pork dish worried I’d get something hearty, but was pleasantly surprised by the bite-sized morsels of tender pork loin, wrapped in a crunchy batter, with crispy greens and beautifully presented apple sauce two ways.
The following day, after a tour of the Colloseum and a walk through the Forum, we were ready to rest our feet. We came across Enoteca Nel Cuore Di Roma just a stone’s throw away. This turned out to be a real find, although honestly, it’s hard to imagine having a bad meal in Rome. I had a hearty lentil soup, cooked to perfection with a hint of rosemary and the ever present dusting of parmesan, and Monkey opted for a simple mozzarella and tomato salad. What’s more, the view was unique with Trojan’s Column just outside.
Saving the best ’til the end, we had our last supper at Ristorante del Fico, a place my brother had visited and which he texted me about hourly during our trip, insisting we go. (You must visit their web site. It’s amazing). In fact, the meal was so good that I’m going to dedicate an entire post to the place. Rest assured, carciofi will make a cameo appearance. Arrivederci!