I love Italy. I love the warm friendly people, the culture, the history, and of course, the delicious food. Not only is the food amazingly good but it is so affordable! With the exception of 2 restaurants, we didn’t have a bad meal in Italy. We hit a culinary jackpot.
Our first stop was the magical floating city of Venezia …
My friend T. once told me that if vampires exist, they live in Venezia.
We left Venezia the day before Carnevale so we missed the festivities but we experienced something even rarer (?). Do you recognize this iconic Venetian landmark (try picturing it with pigeons and people)? :)
Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square)
Since Venezia was flooded the entire time we were there, we spent much of our time in Arsenale, away from the tourist center of things, dining and shopping with the locals. :) We found out that the city center has the worst food anyway.
Tagliatelle with pesto and chicken (Sottoprova in Venezia)
Penne arrabiatta and papas fritas (Sottoprova in Venezia)
Our second stop was Roma. This may be the most popular tourist attraction in Roma but it pales in comparison to …
… St. Peter’s Basilica. After visiting the Vatican Museums and seeing the Sistine Chapel (which, by the way, was so underwhelming and one of the worst museum experiences I’ve ever had), we almost skipped seeing St. Peter’s Basilica because our brains were suffering from art overload, something we didn’t think was possible! We didn’t anticipate making a 2nd trip to Vatican City but we somehow ended up at St. Peter’s Basilica and are so grateful that we did. St. Peter’s Basilica blew us away! It was drop-to-your-knees awe-inspiring! It was well worth the the 10 mile walk over cobblestones to get there and then climbing 551 steps up to the top of the dome.
On our first night in Roma, we passed by a restaurant on Via del Teatro Pace (near Piazza Navona) where the manager was outside the restaurant trying to entice passersby into his restaurant. A charismatic man, he claimed that Navona Notte was “the best restaurant in Rome” and if we did not like our meal, it would cost only €1. That was quite a bold claim and in the end, he won over our nephew, M. who really wanted “pizza with ham.” Happily, the manager took M. by the hand and led us into the restaurant.
One of the daily specials was a Wild mushroom and white truffle fettucine. I almost didn’t order it because when I asked the waiter, “Quanto costa?” (How much?) He replied, “Trente” (30). It was more than I wanted to pay for dinner since it was still very early in our trip but the promise of truffles and homemade pasta were hard to resist. The dish was out of this world! It ended up costing only €11 (say whaaa??) but it was so sublime that I would have gladly paid €30 for it. My Italian language skills are poor but I am familiar with numbers and I clearly heard “trente,” not “undici.” Regardless, I’m very happy I decided to “splurge.” ;)
After 4 days of overindulging in cold cuts and cheese for breakfast, pasta and pizza for lunch, and more meat and cheese for dinner, we were in great need of fresh vegetables and vegan fare. Eating cheese at every meal was too much, even for D. who loves cheese! Having read about an acclaimed vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Roma, we decided to make our way to Ristorante Arancia Blu. The meal was very good but it was still difficult to get away from the cheese.
Courgette flowers stuffed with potatoes and Pesto (typical sauce of pounded basil, garlic, pine nuts, ewe’s cheese, parmigiano and oil) rolled in crisp rice spaghetti with green beans and mustard sauce
Stuffed courgette (zucchini) flowers were very popular in Roma. I tried to eat as many different versions as I could!
Appetizer: Goat cheese stuffed red onion with butternut squash puree
Parmigiana of artichokes in Parmesan shell with mint pesto
After bidding farewell to Roma, we headed for the medieval walled city of San Gimignano in Siena, Tuscany, to satisfy the medievalist in me. :) What a sight it must have been, to come upon this walled city as a medieval traveler, on a pilgrimage to Vatican City …
So this is what it was like to come upon the walled city of San Gimignano …
San Gimignano is a very well preserved medieval town with extant examples of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Unchanged from the 12th century, the town is currently home to 7700+ inhabitants and parts of it are open to tourists.
At an unassuming fast food joint in San Gimignano, Pizzeria ibiga snc di bigazzi cristina e filippo, I had the best pizza slice ever! (and D. enjoyed the panino too!)
Proscuitto and mozarrella panino and a caffe Americano
Zucchine e tartufo (zucchini and black truffle pizza)
Ahhh, Firenze! I couldn’t wait to visit Firenze, the heart of the Italian Renaissance, birthplace of the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri, and home of the Medici Family. Upon arrival in Firenze, I could feel the history and age of the city come alive. I could only describe it as walking back in time.
Is there anything that says Firenze more than Duomo and Brunelleschi’s dome? I didn’t think so!
Some people get excited about meeting their favorite rock star or Hollywood celebrity but I get excited about history. I don’t often get moonstruck but as a great admirer of the Medici Family, I felt giddy and excited at the prospect of visiting Firenze. I surprised myself!
Portraits of the Medici Family on a ceiling fresco at the Uffizi Gallery
We had some excellent meals in Firenze. Tuscan specialties such as ribollita, panzanella, pasta e fagioli, pollo alla fiorentina were the order of the day but the dish that stood out for me was pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (paparadelle with wild boar sauce).
Our first excellent meal was at the Trattoria La Madia. The complimentary bread was so simply delicious that it deserved its own photo.
Even the bread was excellent
Take a note of this extra virgin olive oil that even D. liked! It was hands-down, the best olive oil we’ve ever tasted! It also deserved its own photo. :)
Excellent olive oil
I was quite happy with just bread and olive oil but then the pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale arrived and it. was. soooo. good! It’s a toss-up for the best pasta dish ever: I can’t decide if I liked the Wild mushroom and white truffle fettucine (in Roma) or the Paparadelle in a wild boar sauce better! I would gladly eat both again in a heartbeat!
Pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (Paparadelle with wild boar sauce)
Ricetta Risotto ai carciofi (artichoke risotto)
On our 2nd night in Firenze, we saw signs for Ristorante Pizzeria Lorenzo De’ Medici. Being the moonstruck Medici fan that I am, how could I pass up eating in a restaurant that bears the name of the Lorenzo the Magnificent? ;) Like the restaurant in Roma, we were lured in by a friendly waiter. This guy claimed they had “the best pizza in Firenze.”
Lombardi pizza (proscuitto topped with fresh arugula, burrata, cherry tomatoes, Parmesan, drizzled with olive oil)
Guess what? This was the best pizza that D. had during our Italy trip! :) The spaghetti alle vongole wasn’t bad either and I was also happy to finally get some seafood.
Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams)
I can’t get over how delicious the pasta is in Italy. It’s all handmade and the quality is so far superior to dried pasta. My palate has been forever spoiled because there is no pasta at home that can rival what we enjoyed in Italy (except maybe hand pulled Chinese noodles!). Even though we were starting to feel the effects of too much meat, cheese, carbs, I decided I had to taste one more pasta dish on our last day in Italy. We headed to the Brown Sugar Lounge Bar on Piazza di San Firenze for lunch. Most restaurants serve sandwiches or pizza for lunch so we had to find a full service sit-down restaurant to find pasta.
Gnocchi in a gorgonzola sauce
You may have noticed a distinct lack of vegetables in many of the dishes we ate. This tagliatelle was an exception.
Tagliatelle with fresh vegetables sauce
On our final evening in Italy, Good Fortune was smiling upon us because we found Impressione Chongqing, a Sichuan restaurant on Via Sant Antonino. I was very impressed with the young Chinese wait staff who could not only converse in Mandarin and Italian, but also in English!
Spicy boiled fish
Sauteed Italian green beans
This meal was just what the doctor ordered and it was also one of the best Sichuan meals we’d ever had! Not as spicy as some restaurants but the flavors were very good and I liked the local produce. Therefore, I was very sad to learn that the restaurant has just closed down! :(
Outside our hotel window in Firenze
There ends our culinary adventure in Italy! Be sure to check out my post on gelatos and other dolci.
Buon appetito and arrivederci!