I often worry that I don't get out as much as I should. I love my cozy little office and am very happy typing away for hours. Once I do actually make it out the door, it takes even more effort to pull me out of my neighborhood. But when people find out where I live - in the Monti neighborhood in Rome - they start to understand my level of contentment. Although everyone thinks their neighborhood is the best, I know that many Romans have serious Monti-envy.
If you don't know it, Monti is the tiny neighborhood in Rome, tucked into the area between Via Cavour and Via Nazionale. Although Monti is not 'on the way' to anywhere, it is very centrally located. There are no big streets running through it, just around it. So it not only feels like a neighborhood, it is one in every sense of the word. When I moved here twenty years ago there were still a lot of artisans renting ground floor spaces. While many have had to leave, forced out by high rent, there are a handful left. And the stores and restaurants that have replaced them have given Monti a new - yet still authentic - feel. Small boutiques, antique stores and new restaurants make this one of the most comfortable, yet exciting, neighborhoods to explore.
In my next few blog posts I'll share my Monti with you.
Today: Where to Eat.
As many of you know my favorite restaurant in Rome just happens to be in my neighborhood. Taverna dei Fori Imperiali (Via Madonna dei Monti 19) is our local joint, but is also one of the best family-run, old-fashioned restaurants in town. A step-up from a trattoria, Taverna produces traditional dishes, but puts their own spin on things. Their ravioli aren't just stuffed with ricotta, but with creamy buratta. The secret ingredient in the meatloaf is pistacchios. Don't bother looking at the menu, but listen to Aldo tell you about the daily specials. When things settle down, Alessio (the father) will probably come out from the kitchen to visit a bit. (if he has on a particularly snazzy apron, it may be one of the ones my mother gave him). Try to save room for dessert, which usually includes gooey apple strudel with a side of zabione. Make sure you reserve. Not only have I written about it several times, but so has Frank Bruni, who I brought here a few years ago. The place is always full.
Taverna Romana (Via Madonna dei Monti 79) is as famous for it's ultra spicy penne all'arabiata as it is for it's ever-cranky owners, Tonnino and Lucia. We used to go here all the time, but since they don't take reservations and there is always a waiting line of tourists, we just gave up. Very old fashioned style trattoria, but since Lucia doesn't cook anymore, it's not quite as good as it used to be. No credit cards. (UPDATE: Sadly Tonino has passed away and Lucia has sold the place to the owners of Cavour 313. It still feels the same, but the food has changed a bit).
Urbana 47 is newish to the neighborhood,(Via Urbana 47). The space is fantastic, very comfortable and shabby chic. They were one of the first 'Zero Kilometer' (locavore) restaurants to open in Rome, and get their goods from the same place that delivers my organic vegetables every week. The menu changes seasonally and is not large, but always great. Instead of traditional first and second courses, you can usually make do with one course, which usually comes with a side vegetable. If you can, come here for their extremely affordable (8euros) buffet lunch. UPDATE: October 2010 They no longer do the affordable lunch. They've changed it to a ill-thought-out, expensive, limited menu.
One of the only 'fancy' restaurants in Monti is F.I.S.H. (Via dei Serpenti 16) As you can imagine, it serves...fish. Equipped with a sushi chef, this is where fusion first came to Monti. It still is non-traditional, but extremely good. Expensive (fish always is in Rome). But worth the splurge.
Cavour 313 is Rome’s “historic” wine bar.(Via Cavour 131) History in this case meaning the 1970’s. This was one of the first non-traditional restaurants to open in Rome, with the emphasis on the wine as much as on the food. The great thing about Cavour, is that you can decide to have a full meal – wonderful soups! – or just munch on cheese and salamis. Very cozy atmosphere, more for winter. The daily specials are written on the blackboard.
Lately I've been going to Il Piadinieria (Via Boschetto 98). Although it's part of a franchise, it's a great one. The Piadine (flat breads) are fresh, and each sandwich is made to order. My daughters love this place, and so do I.
Want a slice of pizza to take into the piazza and eat? Pizzeria Leonina (Via Leonina 64) has changed hands a few times, but the original recipes seem to have stayed. Some of the best pizza a taglio in Rome. My favorite is still the potato pizza, although the burrina - fresh spicy tomatoes - is a close runner up.
Oddly enough Monti has always been heavy on ethnic restaurants, and I'm not sure why. One of the first Japanese restaurants to open in Rome, Hasekura, is in Monti. (Via dei Serpenti 27). It is excellent. Just on the border of the neighborhood is Doozo, an art gallery/Japanese restaurant. (Via Palermo51) I love going here in the summer since they have a hidden garden in the back. Daruma Sushi, (Via dei Serpenti 1), is the fast food version of sushi. Not bad for take out.
Monti has four Indian restaurants! Maharaja, Il Guru, Mother India and Sitar. I won't review them all (since this is a positive post). The best, in my opinion, is Sitar (Via Cavour 256) . Anu, the owner, is a charming hostess, and the food is excellent. My favorite is the Ginger Chicken, a new addition not even on the menu yet. If you aren't quite sure what to order, Anu is happy to help.
Pizzeria alle Carette (Via Madonna dei Monti 95) is where we go for pizza at least once a week. The massive wood burning oven turns out crispy thin pizzas. In winter I usually get the Brocoletti with Sausage. For a less cheesey alternative they will make a Marinara with any topping: onions, mushroom, broccoletti. In the summer try to get one of the outdoor tables in the back.
All Roman's have their favorite bars, where they go for coffee or a quick snack. I almost always head to Er Baretto (Via Boschetto 132.) They are known for their wonderfully prepared cappucinos (with the foam artfully decorated) but also have a good selection of sandwiches and salads. The outside tables are even better now that Via Boschetto has limited traffic, and the wooden tables inside are a cozy place to hang out and - if you are so inclined - check your email (they have wifi).
On nice days my friend Sienna and I head to 'the bar in the piazza.' A word about the Piazzetta: A gorgeous piazza, the center of Monti, the square is blessed with a stately Della Porta fountain. Surrounding the piazza are three bars and one restaurant. The best bar is Bottega del Cafe, and is where I go. Great for a outdoor breakfast, but just as good for lunch, cocktail or dinner. The piazza is so beautiful and the Bottega del Cafe so well situated, that it has become quite a scene and is sometimes hard to get a table. But the food is good, especially if you want a light lunch. (About those other bars in the Piazza? I hate saying bad things about anyone, but...I never go to them.)
And, finally, ice cream. Sadly, none of the truly great ice cream places in Rome are in Monti. But, we make do with the very good Gelatone (Via dei Serpenti 28). While they aren't artisan ice creamers by any means, the ice cream is really really good. I usually play it safe and get Nutella since....well, you can't go wrong with nutella, can you?
Next week: Where to food shop in Monti.
UPDATE DECEMBER 2012: So much has changed since I first wrote this post in 2010. For a complete and up to date listing of all that's good to eat in Monti, please see my app, Eat Rome