ASK MR. ITALY June 2006
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Q. My wife and I are traveling to the South of France for 6 days and then to Rome for 5 days this summer, staying near the Spanish Steps. We love good food and wine, but always seem to pick the wrong places. We’re not looking for anything too fancy on this trip, as we want to pack light summer clothes. Any suggestions?
A. I love everything about the South of France, especially the food and wine. But unless you are fluent in French or are with a local…you will need some luck!!! Try to brush up on some French and act like a European as the French really do not like Americans. It is a strange “Catch 22”: if you don’t speak French, they don’t like you, or if you try to speak French but are not very good at it, they don’t like you. But this column is about Italy, right?
Rome is magical in the summer months, but a bit crowded and hot. But staying near the Spanish Steps is perfect. Most of these fashionable streets are offlimits to cars, so you can stroll around at a slow pace and avoid the crowds and traffic.
Right near your hotel is the most famous (and oldest at over 200 years old) coffee bar in Rome, the Antico Caffe’ Greco (Via dei Condotti 86), with a very classical atmosphere, redvelvet chairs and marble tables. All the “fashionistas” stop by for coffee and a pastry while shopping at the boutiques on Via Condotti. Rome’s trendiest cafe and tearoom is perhaps Rosati (Piazza del Popolo 5), including also a dining room upstairs. Rosati is the rendezvous of “literati”, artists, actors, and film directors.
Perhaps the nicest wine bar near the Spanish Steps is ultracool Shaki (Via Mario de Fiori 29/a). The staff is amazingly attractive and the menu offers light fare: great salads and sandwiches but in a contemporary, almost organic style. You can stop by and just have a glass of wine too. If you sit outside, be sure that your table has an umbrella, as the sun is just too strong to sit in. You’ll notice the tourists sit outside in the heat, while the Romans choose the cooler indoor seating.
One of my favorite places for dinner or a long lunch is Romolo (Via di Porta Settimiana 8, Trastevere, Tel: 581 8284). Housed in the former residence of Raphael’s mistress, Romolo is both a dining experience and a piece of history. The restaurant is housed in a 16th century building (in the Trastevere area) and is named after the loveaffair between the artist Raphael and Margherita Luti, a woman who became his model and with whom he fell in love. Margherita was nicknamed ‘la Fornarina’, being the daughter of a baker. You can sample typical Roman specialties and enjoy a wide range of seafood dishes. Try to sit outside in the garden area, where the tables are nestled under candlelit vines and back up to the 2000 yearold Roman wall.
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PÈPE TALK: Most Romans consider Giolitti (Via Uffici del Vicario 40) and Il Gelato di San Crispino (Via Della Panetteria 54) the best gelato places in town. Surely they are very popular yet in some regards to busy for their own good. Near the Trevi Fountain is my favorite place: Valentino’s (Via del Lavatore 96). It is a one man shop run by…Valentino. He is a fun loving Roman character that loves to chat and will treat you like a king, just tell him his gelato is the best!!! Every flavor is made daily on the premises and he has many unusual seasonal creations. Valentino said he was previously in the restaurant and bar business, but this is by far the most fun he has ever had, especially when he sees the joy on the kid’s faces when they eat his gelato. You gotta love the Romans!!!
Rich Pèpe brings to this column his expertise in the Italian food, wine and travel industry. Pèpe is the creator of Pèppoli at Pebble Beach, Little Napoli in CarmelbytheSea, Pèpe Talk Cooking Classes and Vino Pèpe.
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