Monday, April 9, 2012
One of the most frequent questions I get - on my apps Eat Rome and Eat Florence, on this blog and over at Chowhound where I give free advice - is where can a vegetarian get a good meal? While many ask expecting an answer that’s a short list of my favorite ‘vegetarian’ restaurants, I give a different kind of answer: Almost anywhere.
Italy is a pretty vegetarian-friendly kind of place. Remember, this is home to the Mediterranean diet, where veggies - and other non meat things like cheese and legumes - make up the bottom part of the pyramid. So go into almost any tratttoria or ristorante and you will find tons of vegetarian-friendly first and second course options.
The Italian vegetarian smorgasbord used to be even easier. Until recently most simple Italian restaurants in Rome used to have quite a broad selection of antipasti displayed on a long table as you entered. Marinated peppers, sauteed zucchini, stewed artichokes as well as seafood salads and small white orbs of mozzarella were displayed in platters as a multicolored mosaic that offered any vegetarian (or not) a meal in itself.
Sadly, and for reasons I assume are part economic and part health-inspector-rules-induced, these deliciously meatless buffets have been fading out. That said, there are still a few hold outs that continue to shine.
Nerone, an old fashioned nothing-special-kind-of-place, is one of my favorites. Yes, the pastas and second courses are great. And yes, the location - with outside tables looking right at the Colosseum - is beyond breathtaking. But what do I really go for? The antipasti.
My friend Monica was in town last week, and even though she is definitely not a vegetarian, like a lot of Americans when it came time for lunch she expressed a craving for “just a salad, or maybe a plate of vegetables.” We headed straight for Nerone.
I’ll say right up front, there isn’t any grand innovation or creativity here. What there is are seasonal vegetables, cooked in a few different ways, served without fanfare. Grilled peppers simply dressed with oil and a bit of garlic; fried eggplant, breaded and drizzled with a light tomato sauce; pan fried zucchini rounds dressed with vinegar and mint; artichokes, stewed till they became like silk.
Nerone’s buffet is not ‘help yourself.’ Waiters will either prepare a plate of ‘misti’ for you, or else make your way in the back room and point to what looks good. If you are feeling like a bit of protein mozzarella, tiny anchovies, seafood salad and frittata are there too.
A plate of veggies, a basket of crusty bread and a half liter of the house Frascati and you won’t be asking me where to find the nearest ‘vegetarian’ restaurant any more, will you?
Via Terme di Tito 96