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Thursday, August 27, 2009

When in Rome

Setting aside Metro Manila, La Citta Eterna (the Eternal City) is one of my favorite places on Earth. I am very lucky to be able to visit it more than once. Not only are the sights to behold - where else can you find museums, churches, fountains and architectural delights so concentrated in one place - but the dining experiences can be in multitudes as well.

Romans do love their ristorantes and caffes and you'll get to see them on every street and every few meters in between. With so many to choose from, one can get confused as to where to go. I'm not a seasoned traveller of Italy (although I wish I were) but I've listed down my favorite places for the sheer rhapsody of my experiences in each.

Ristorante L'Arcano
Via dei Pastini ang. via delle Paste, 102
Tel. No. +39 06 6786929

My husband, daughter and I discovered this lovely place while on our way to the Pantheon feeling quite hungry during a rainy lunch hour. The restaurant is located at the 16th-century Palazzo Gabrielli and serves traditional Roman fare.

The restaurant itself is cozy and intimate.

It is one of those rare places in the city where the wait staff can speak English and can understand you as well. Notice that speaking and understanding are entirely two different things. They're very genial and will delicately tell you that they serve their own freshly made pasta and that they prize their meat which come from the Val di Chiana area of Tuscany. But they are most proud of their seafood dishes because of the freshness of their ingredients and that it is really their chef's specialty. Hmm...fresh seafood in the middle of Rome? That's something.

While you can browse through their regular menu, L'Arcano also offers a lunch special everyday. At Euro30, one can get an appetizer of bruschetta with pesto spread and tomatoes, a light salad of greens with balsamic vinaigrette and your main dish (you choose a first or second plate offering). We chose their spaghetti marinara with grilled lobsters, and boy, were we happy with our choice. Not just happy, but SUBLIMELY happy. The freshness of the ingredients hits you to the core at the first tear of the bread, at the crunch of the vegetables, and at the forkful of pasta that meets your taste buds.

In fact, we were misled by the Euro30 price tag. Their servings are generous so that we followed the waiters' suggestion to just split the meal. My husband and I shared this lunch special so that actually, it cost us Euro15/pax. Not bad. My daughter, on the other hand, is a stickler to what is tried and true, so she had her ubiquitous Pizza Margherita, which was equally savory.

The people at L'Arcano were also kind enough to accommodate us with our request to have our coffee at their bookstore next door. This bookstore actually looks like you stepped in the living room of your Roman friend's apartment. It has a couch in the middle with an LCD TV, and books stationed in tableaus with other curios all over the place. It also has a bar for aperitivo hour.

If you're a tourist looking for something homey and elegant at the same time, this is a good place to start.

Di Fronte a . . .
Via della Croce 38
+39 06 6780355

My sister was the one who brought me to this place one fine May day. From what i remember, the place is walking distance from the Piazza Augusto Imeperatore and fashionable Via Condotti.

The name
Di Fronte a . . . literally means "In Front of . . ." which actually refers it being in front of Sergio Vertecchi's cartoleria, who also owns the restaurant.
It has a casual atmosphere and quite a popular place for the locals who make it quite a happening place in the evenings. Their menu offerings are dependent on market availability so you can be sure that your are enjoying the freshest ingredients as well, especially vegetables.

For our lunch, we didn't do as the Romans did and went straight to secondi piatti (second plate). My sister was still feeling full so she only ordered the Salade Nicoise. I had the grilled steak with Mushroom and Black Truffle Sauce while my daughter had the Salmon Steak with Red Peppercorn Sauce. What more can one say except that we had a truly satisfying meal at Euro12-18/pax, my choice being the favorite of the batch. Ample servings prevented me from being a sourpuss at having to share my lunch with my companions. I could barely breathe afterwards when we stepped out into the sunny street. I suppose being doused with a glass of their house red made me amiable.

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