Restaurant Review: Amis

Amis

Chester and I have been trying to go out, sans Little B, once a month. We were excited that we were able to plan one of our date nights to coincide with a recent visit from Old Original Big Bridget and Bill (Obviously, I’m still working on a new nickname for my BFF. None of these seem to fit).

I sent Bridget a list of restaurants to choose from for our double date and she ranked Amis, as her first choice. I was pretty excited, because I have been dying for more of Marc Vetri’s signature handmade pasta ever since our visit to his namesake restaurant over the summer. Fortunately, Amis provides the opportunity to do so at a considerably more comfortable price point than Vetri.

Amis is Vetri’s take on a Roman trattoria. As such, the menu is relatively simple and the vibe is pretty casual. The interior of the restaurant, however, was more industrial than homey, with modern, wood and metal furnishings, an open kitchen and dim lighting. I loved the pink vases filled with daisies, that provided pops of color on each table.

While sipping our drinks and snacking on olive oil focaccia bread, we perused the menu to select a few small plates to share. Our server recommended one or two per person, but we erred on the smaller side to save room for pasta and dessert.

The arancini, served in a short rib ragu, was the universal favorite. The inside contained creamy aborrio rice and cheese and was fried to a crispy, but not greasy, golden brown.

The next two appetizers were simple, but solid. I would have eaten the avocado bruschetta with pecornio and pancetta with a spoon, but avoided embarrassing myself and my friends by spreading it on the accompanying toast like a normal person. The third dish, creamy buffalo mozzarella, with sweet persimmons and earthy chestnuts was an unexpected, but pleasant combination of flavors.

Our final dish, the sweetbreads, were a real “miss” for me. I know that many people can’t get past what they are (animal pancreas or thymus), but I have had them before and actually liked them. When they are prepared correctly, they have a mild flavor and soft interior. Unfortunately, Amis’ sweetbreads seemed tough and had a greasy aftertaste, as if they had sat in the frying pan for too long.

That’s okay, though, because it gave me more room to overdose on carbs.

My pappardelle pasta, with guanciale and parsnips, was reminiscent of a carbonara. The cured pig cheek has less salt, but more fat than, pancetta, which is traditionally used in the dish. The fat acted as a substitute for egg, in coating the pasta and lending a rich flavor to the dish.

Bridget chose the bucatini with almond pesto and jalapeno. The heat from the peppers, the creamy sauce and the crunchy almonds worked surprisingly well together. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything like it. Bill had one the evening’s specials–rotini with chicken. I didn’t try it, but it looked delicious.

Chester was torn between an entree and a pasta dish, so he asked the server if the cacio e pepe was available as a smaller pasta course. She ended up bringing us a complimentary, full portion of the dish so that we could all share it. It’s such a basic dish–just pasta, black pepper and pecorino cheese–but the key is getting the balance of the ingredients just right. Too much pepper overpowers the dish and too much cheesy makes it kind of gluey. Amis got it just right.

For those looking for something other than pasta, there is a short list of “secondi” or entree dishes, featuring seafood, steak, pork and lamb. Since he ended up with a smaller pasta portion, Chester also ordered the roasted lamb shoulder. Pan searing gave it a crispy exterior, but kept the inside tender. It was simply seasoned and very tasty.

How we had room for dessert after all that food, I’ll never know. But, I’m glad that we didn’t pass it up!

I chose the semifreddo sundae, which was another example of a seemingly random grouping of ingredients complementing each other perfectly. The semifreddo, with its buttery flavor and mousse-like texture, was topped with salted almonds, a sweet orange marmalade and a slightly bitter chocolate sauce, for an interesting combination of flavors and textures.

If I go back again though, I’m definitely copying Bridget and ordering the belgian waffle. The waffle itself was light and airy and topped with a generous helping of nutella, vanilla semifreddo and hazelnuts. I mean, really. You just can’t go wrong with that combination.

waffle

Stolen from Bridget’s Instagram

Although we had an early reservation, the restaurant filled up rather quickly during our visit. I’m not sure if this is because our visit took place over Valentine’s Day weekend or if it’s always that way on a Saturday night. Either way, service was on point throughout our meal. Our server checked in with us frequently, but allowed us to take our time with each course.

Small plates range in price from $8 to $14, pastas from $14 to $16 and entrees from $20 to $26. I think this is in line with most restaurants in the neighborhood, but the nice thing about Amis is that dishes are sized pretty well for sharing, so that might be an option if you are budget conscious. You could easily make a meal out of a couple of small plates or a small plate and one of the pastas, too.

Portions were extremely generous and we all left completely satisfied. And, as always, it was wonderful to spend time with great friends, who don’t mind that we’ve turned into old people and like to eat at 5:15.

Restaurant Review: Paradiso

One of the reasons I enjoy this time of the year so much is that there are so many occasions to celebrate, and, hence plenty of excuses to indulge in delicious food. For me, the prime eating season is a two month affair. It kicks off with my birthday in November and winds down on New Year’s Day. By that time, pretty much can’t stand the sight of food and vow to drink only water and eat only yogurt for the entire month of January (a commitment that never seems to last more than two days).

Chester’s birthday falls right in the middle of all of the festivities, so we celebrated with a day out. Since we are officially old, we caught an afternoon showing of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (So good. They have done an amazing job adapting the books for the big screen so far. I can’t remember the last time that two and a half hours flew by so quickly!). After that, we headed to dinner at Paradiso.

passyunk

In front of the Christmas tree on East Passyunk Avenue

Paradiso opened back in 2008, helping to kick of East Passyunk Avenue’s development into a prime dining destination. In a neighborhood that had long been home to restaurants offering the “red gravy” variety of Italian food, Paradiso changed things up quite a bit with it more eclectic dishes. If you have picky eaters in your group, they might be put off by mentions of tripe, chicken livers and wild boar.

Chester opted to start with one of the evening’s specials, escargot. The snails were perfectly prepared, out of their shells, and served in a rich tomato sauce. The sauce was excellent—a little thinner than a traditional marinara, but thicker than a broth–making it the perfect consistency to sop up with bread or the accompanying parmesan crostini. Meanwhile, I chose the octopus salad, with beans and potatoes. I liked that the salad was served warm, with a creamy arugula puree instead of traditional greens. But, it had too much salt and pepper (This may just be a matter of personal preference, however. Since we don’t use a lot of these ingredients when we cook at home, I seem to be hypersensitive to them when we go out).

Our server explained that all of the pastas are homemade and could be ordered as entrees or appetizers. So, we opted to share another one of the evening’s specials, squid ink bucatini, as a pasta course. It was a bit disappointing. Some strands were al dente, while others were almost totally uncooked. And, like the salad, was a just a bit too peppery for my taste. The shrimp that accompanied the dish fared much better. They were fresh and cooked just right—a bit chewy, without being tough—and well-seasoned.

I can rarely pass up risotto when I see it on a menu, so it didn’t take me long to decide on that for an entree. By this point, it was evident that the preparation of the seafood items on the menu is one of Paradiso’s strongest suits. The two large scallops that topped the dish were perfectly caramelized and tender. The risotto itself was creamy and included a generous helping of wild mushrooms and parmesan cheese. It was pretty much perfect. Of course, I also sampled a bit of the pork chop that Chester ordered and it was simply seasoned and tender.

If I hadn’t been so stuffed from the hearty risotto, I would have ordered the pumpkin cheesecake for dessert, as it looked delicious. I was content to finish the meal with a strong cappuccino and biscotti.

Although the staff could not have been nicer, service was a bit bumpy at times. We had three different people ask us what kind of water we wanted when we were first seated and our server gave me the wrong wine. The pacing of the courses was a bit uneven as well. Appetizers arrived rather quickly and the main courses taking forever to come out of the kitchen, which resulted in Chester’s entree being slightly cold by the time it got to us.

I attribute these stumbles (and, perhaps, the previously mentioned lack of attention given to cooking the pasta and seasoning certain dishes) to the fact that the restaurant was hosting two large parties that evening—one in the private room on the second floor, and another, unfortunately, in main dining area.

Now, I can deal with crowded restaurants. In fact, I pretty much expect this to be the case in South Philly (especially on a Saturday night), since most places are very small. But, a group of 20 people who are loud, obnoxious and generally acting like they are the only people in a place, really puts a damper on things for everyone else. Chester and I had trouble hearing each other across the table (and now I sound really old) and I heard several other patrons complain to the server about the noise level as well. I understand that the restaurant wants to maximize its bottom line, but a group of that size really needs its own space.

On the whole, though, we enjoyed the food and think that some of the shortcomings are probably not as evident on nights when the restaurant isn’t catering to large groups. Our waitress noted that Sunday nights are generally more low key, and as a bonus, the restaurant is BYOB on that day.

Restaurant Review: Spasso Italian Grill

I first went to Spasso Italian Grill for dinner on the night of my bachelorette party. That was pretty much the only part of that evening that I can clearly remember. My bridesmaids and I did a pretty good job after the fact of piecing together the remainder of the night’s events and they which are both completely hilarious and utterly embarrassing. I’ll spare you all of details.

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Source

Since then, I’ve been back to Spasso several times, and it has become one of the places that I often suggest when people ask me for Italian restaurant recommendations. The restaurant is located on Front Street in Old City, away from the main restaurant rows on Chestnut and 2nd Streets, so if you just might miss it if you are wandering the neighborhood. The atmosphere is more casual and relaxed and the food is not as trendy as other restaurants in the area. But, it definitely fits the bill when you are in the market for traditional Italian food. Sometimes all you want is just a hearty dish of pasta without a lot of frills, right?

The menu features a large selection of both hot and cold antipasti selections, including meat and cheese plates, salads and seafood. The arugula salad ($8) is one of my favorites, because it is so simply prepared—just a heaping pile of the spicy greens, sweet tomatoes, strips of asiago cheese, and a light drizzle of oil and vinegar dressing. The fried calamari ($12) and the grilled polenta with porcini mushrooms ($8) are also solid dishes. I also particularly like the bruschetta that is provided with the bread basket. The bread itself is pretty disappointing for an Italian restaurant and probably would be better if it were served warm, but the concoction of sweet peppers, eggplant, zucchini and garlic takes it up a few notches.

Spasso’s pastas homemade and are among my favorite items on the menu. Everything I’ve tried has been incredibly light and cooked to a perfect al dente. My favorite dishes are the papardelle pasta, with an earthy porcini mushroom sauce ($17), spinach ravioli in a creamy four cheese sauce ($16.50), and the gnocchi ($17). The latter dish is always on the standard menu, accompanied by asparagus, but on my most recent visit this past weekend there was a special with fresh fava beans, served in a springy lemon, truffle and asiago cheese broth.

If you would rather not have a plate full of carbs (in which case, we can’t be friends), you will fine other protein-based entrees on the menu, including traditional favorites like chicken and veal parmigiana ($17 and $19, respectively), strip steak ($25) and salmon ($22). I can’t personally vouch for any of them, since I’m never able to pass up the pasta dishes, but they all look delicious. Just be sure to save room for dessert, like the rich and creamy chocolate mousse cake.

One of the things I like most about Spasso is that it is a great option for larger groups. When I have visited, it’s always been with groups of 5 or more people and the food and service have been consistently good. Portions are generous enough to share and prices are very modest for the neighborhood (appetizers range from $6 to $13; pasta dishes from $13 to $24; and, other entrees from $17 to $25). Other diners must have figured this out as well, because it’s usually full—and a bit noisy—at dinnertime. It is definitely the perfect spot for a family dinner, but maybe not so much for date night.

If you live outside of the city, Spasso has a location in Media, which also serves Sunday brunch.

Restaurant Review: Branzino

Branzino has been a fixture in the Rittenhouse Square area for several years. I pass by frequently, but hadn’t actually visited  prior to last weekend, when I went there for a Sunday dinner with my mom, aunt and Chester. It’s a BYOB, specializing in classic Italian dishes, including homemade pastas, veal and other meat dishes and seafood. Not surprisingly, the signature dish is Branzino, or Mediterranean sea bass. 

We enjoyed bread, still hot from the oven, with flavorful olive oil for dipping, while we looked over the menu. Unable to narrow down appetizer choices, we ended up splitting a few dishes. We all agreed that the tender, lightly grilled tubes of calamari dressed in light mixture of tomato/balsamic vinegar was our favorite, but the mussels, in a spicy tomato broth and the ravioli, with a mixture of ground chicken and veal did not disappoint either (pasta dishes can be served as entrees or as appetizers for $12).

The meat, poultry and seafood options on the menu, all included interesting ingredient combinations. My mom and aunt both ordered veal, which had been pounded into thin filets, but not so much that it became tough and difficult to chew. My mom’s dish was topped with prosciutto, eggplant, prosciutto and fontina cheese, while my aunt’s had artichokes and mushrooms. Chester opted for one of the day’s specials, Linguine di Mare, which overflowed with plump scallops and shrimp and more of those delicious mussels.

I opted for the branzino, figuring that someone had to try the restaurant’s namesake dish. As is the standard way of serving it, the waitress brought it over whole, with the head and skin still on, and then filleted it to remove all of the tiny bones. I had never actually eaten branzino before, and am now a big fan. It’s a bit lighter and a bit milder than standard sea bass. This accompanying sauce was very flavorful, with a great balance of acidity from lemon juice and salt from capers.

Although we were more than satisfied with our meal, we couldn’t pass up dessert. The dense chocolate mousse, set atop of thin disk of sponge cake, was the perfect way to end the meal.

The restaurant looks tiny from the outside, but it actually stretches to the very back of the building and includes an outdoor garden space and a small room off of the main area which would be perfect for a private event. Unlike many BYOBs, Branzino takes credit cards.

I’m sorry that it took me so long to get around to trying Branzino, and would definitely love to make a return trip sooner rather than later.

This Week for Dinner

It’s been awhile since I did one of these posts, and that’s because the last half of June was so crazy busy that we didn’t cook too many meals at home. I figured I would wait until I had a collection of things that somehow resembled a week’s worth of meals, you know?

So, without further adieu, here are some ideas for your upcoming meal plans:

California Grilled Chicken Avocado and Mango Salad

From: Skinnytaste

This is one of my favorite lunchtime salads from Mixto, which is located just down the street from my office. The dressing includes a white balsamic vinegar, which has a very clean, slightly sweet taste so that it doesn’t overpower the flavors of all of the good stuff in this salad.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Roasted Peppers

From: Martha Stewart

This is one of our staple pasta dishes. It’s quick and easy to make (you can use jarred peppers—we like the Cento brand the best—if you don’t want the hassle of roasting your own) and features the cutest pasta shape ever.

Easy Pesto Salmon

From: Cooking Light

You might have some basil growing like a weed in your garden at this time of year (we unfortunately didn’t get around to planting any this year, but maybe you have. If so, come on over, I have a few containers you can fill for us) and making fresh pesto is a great way to use it up. Pesto is one of my favorite complements to salmon. We made a simple side dish with sweet asparagus and yellow zucchini and also tried out one of the new quinoa blends from Near East, our go-to brand for instant rice and couscous. I recommend.

Farfalle with Creamy Wild Mushroom Sauce

From: Cooking Light

Another quick, easy pasta dish. We just used baby portabella mushrooms in this version, because that’s usually what is available in our grocery store, but you can mix and match with other varieties, like crimini, oyster and shiitake if you prefer.

Pulled Barbeque Chicken Sandwiches

From: Chester

It’s been too hot to grill outside, so this is a good way to get your barbeque fix in the comfort of your air conditioned kitchen. There are all kinds of recipes out there for pulled chicken, but here is Chester’s:

  1. Take three chicken breasts (this will make enough for about two people) and give them a dry rub consisting of paprika, coriander, garlic powder, onion powder (1 tablespoon of each), chili powder and cumin (1 teaspoon of each) and salt and pepper (to taste).
  2. Bake the chicken for 30-40 minutes covered in foil, while you make the barbeque sauce. The sauce is tangy, so you may want to make adjustments to it based on your preferences, but the basic recipe is: one can of tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard (2 tablespoons of each), vinegar (2-3 tablespoons of each, depending on how tangy you like your barbeque), brown sugar (1/3 cup at least, adjusted for your preferences on sweetness).
  3. Mix all of the ingredients together and simmer over low heat on the stove until the sauce thickens.
  4. Shred the chicken with a fork and mix with sauce; Serve on toasted rolls with your choice of sides.

Happy Weekend to all! Stay cool!

Night Market Visits the Italian Market

Since Chester and I had such a good time at the Food Trust’s fall Night Market, we marked our calendars as soon as we heard about its plans to visit the Italian Market neighborhood in South Philly. This time our friends Shannon and Dave joined us.

The location made for a nice mix of vendors, including long-time Italian Market occupants, such as Villa di Roma and DiBruno Brothers, as well as the trendy, new food trucks. The event was set up primarily along Washington Avenue, between 9th and 11th Streets, which made it feel a lot less crowded than the comparatively narrow streets at the Chinatown event. Since it was a pretty warm night, the extra room to move around was most welcome.

One of the first vendors we came upon was the Sweetbox Cupcake Truck. By the time I got to that truck on my last visit, they were almost sold out. So, Shannon and I decided to eat dessert first. The moist chocolate cake topped with creamy peanut butter icing was the perfect way to start our evening.

Then, it was on to real food.

First up was Tashan, which was offering veggie samosas, buttered chicken and mango lassi. The chicken was my favorite because it reminded me of one of my favorite dishes from Sitar India. I know Sitar is a buffet and Tashan is more of a fine dining establishment, but that chicken is one of my favorite things ever, so that’s pretty high praise, I think.

Next up was Royal Tavern. Their sliders, which I had heard a lot about, did not disappoint either. Although there was a major flare up on their grill which caused a fairly long wait time for our burgers, it was worth it. The meat was cooked to perfection and very juicy. Toppings included crispy bacon, caramelized onions, pickled hot peppers, smoky gouda cheese for an interesting and somewhat spicy flavor combination.

These were easily my two favorite stops of the night, and I’ll definitely be paying a visit to their brick and mortar locations soon. Although I was pretty full by that point, I couldn’t resist making a final stop at the Smoke Truck, because they had mac and cheese. It was just okay—I should know that mass quantities of make and cheese don’t keep very well. It was a bit soggy, but I really could only stomach a few bites of it anyway. And, although Chester had already had a pork sandwich from Esposito’s, he tried the truck’s pulled pork sandwich, which is prepared Carolina style, with vinegar and lots of spice. I would definitely give this truck another try, though, on an occasion when I’m not already close to a food coma.

Not pictured are the empanadas from Cuba Libre, tacos from Cantina los Caballitos, and meatball sandwich and gnocchi from Villa di Roma that Shannon and Dave sampled. I try not to annoy my friends too much by shoving my iPhone at them when they are trying to eat, you know?

One vendor that I had been curious about but that we didn’t stop at was the Ka’Chi Truck, which specializes in Korean food. It had one of the longest lines throughout the night (aside from the lines for beer), so I’ll assume it must be pretty good. I will definitely need to keep my eye out for it around the city.

We definitely left stuffed after eating pretty heavy food on a summer night. The Night Market was a good time, once again, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it turns up next!

This Week for Dinner

Hope that everyone had a great weekend!

I spent part of mine in New York with my BFF, our moms and my aunt, for belated birthday/Mother’s Day celebrations. We saw the revival of Evita, which has always been one of my favorite musicals. Evita was one of the first shows I had ever seen way, way back in the day and was part of the reason that I grew up preferring show tunes over most other kinds of music. Yes, I am a dork.

Anyway, as we get back to the work week, here are a few ideas for your upcoming meal plans:

Prosciutto, Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Sandwich

The chicken, tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich is one of my favorite menu items from Cosi and one that we recreate frequently at home. We wanted something quick on the day we made these sandwiches, so we substituted prosciutto for the chicken. No cooking required.

Southwestern Stuffed Peppers

From: Simply Love Food

This was one of my favorite Pinterest finds to date. These are made with ground turkey and full of veggies, so they are hearty and healthy at the same time. We substituted yellow zucchini for the corn, since I only enjoy my corn on the cob.

Rigatoni with Roasted Sausage and Broccoli

From: Real Simple

I love roasted broccoli, so this recipe immediately jumped out at me. This was my first time trying a Real Simple recipe, and it actually was pretty simple to make. I added some garlic to the roasting part of the process (we rarely cook without garlic) and that enhanced the flavors a bit more.

Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs

From: Real Simple

An additional gold star for Real Simple this week. These meatballs were very light and had a nice flavor without needing to be drowned in the teriyaki sauce. We omitted the sugar snap peas, because they are gross. Next time, I would probably double the amount of shelled edamame or add another kind of vegetable to compensate for this.

Till next time!

The Week for Dinner

Happy Friday, all!

Here are a few ideas for you, if you’ll be doing some menu planning or heading to the grocery store over the next couple of days:

Pasta Salad with Goat Cheese and Arugula

From: Martha Stewart

Cold pasta salads are a good summer dinner staple. This wasn’t my favorite of the recipes I’ve tried. It was missing a little something and I’m thinking that grilled chicken or another vegetable (maybe tomatoes) could enhance the flavors. Still, this was the perfect light option for dinner after our massive brunch at Cochon last Sunday.

Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce

From: Back to Her Roots

This isn’t a blog I read regularly, but I came across this recipe on Pinterest, and was sold by the quick prep time. We used  chicken instead of shrimp, which meant that 15 minute estimation went out the window. We would probably use a bit less spinach next time because our generous handful of the green stuff ended up soaking up a lot of the sauce. The creaminess and taste of the Greek yogurt was a bit hard to detect, but, it was still very tasty overall. I would probably make it again and try more of the recipes from this blog.

Fish Tacos

From: Chester

Someday, I’ll get Chester to write all of his recipes all down, but this is fairly simple: you need a firm, white fish (he’s used cod in the past, but switched it up for flounder this time), cole slaw mix with pineapple chunks added in, and guacamole. Fill a taco shell with all of your ingredients and add few squeezes of lime, to taste. Although nothing beats homemade guac, if you are looking for a shortcut, I highly recommend Wholly Guacamole. It tastes just like what you would made yourself.

As a side note, if you are a fan of fish tacos, Cooking Light has some great suggestions right now that I hope to try soon!

Curried Pork and Mango Stirfry

From: Cooking Light

There are a lot of great flavors in this dish—it’s a bit on the spicy side, but a sweet mango was a nice balance to that. Since, I’m not a fan of snow peas we used green beans, which gave a nice bit of crunch, instead, and I’m thinking a green pepper could also be good.

Anyway, hope you are doing something fun to kick-off the weekend right now. Speaking for myself, there’s a Friends marathon on Nick-at-Nite right now, and it’s kind of making my day.

On the Road: More from Rome

We arrived home on Sunday evening and have been slowly getting back into the swing of things after a whirlwind two weeks in Italy. As you can probably tell if you’ve been reading for the past couple of weeks, our days were pretty full (In fact, I got to check off 33 places in my copy of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I should be finished in no time!). Since I was posting from a cell phone while I was away, I tried to kept things short  since the tiny keyboard and I are not really friends. But, I have a lot more to say, especially about the most important element of this trip: the food!

So, here we go, starting with our five days in Rome.

As I mentioned previously, this was my second visit to Rome and while I was excited for the opportunity to see all of the sights again, what I was most looking forward to as we stepped off the plane was the pizza.

I’ve heard many theories about why the pizza in Italy is so amazing. Some people say it’s the water and flour that are used for the dough. Others swear that it’s the bricks that are used to construct the ovens. One thing that I noticed is that the tomatoes in Italy are not very acidic, so that makes for a very mild tasting sauce that doesn’t overpower the other flavors of the dough, the buffalo mozzarella and the toppings.

Whatever the reason, it really must be something that you can only find “over there” because I’ve yet to have any other pizza that even comes close to what I’ve had in Rome, where it’s wafer-thin, crispy and cooked in a wood burning oven. And, since it is sometimes larger than the plate it’s served on, it definitely requires a knife and fork.

Pictured below are two of the classic combinations—the Margherita and the Capricciosa, which translates roughly to “everything in the house” and thus features a pretty random assortment of toppings.

I imagine you can’t go wrong with any pizzeria that you come across, but two that we really enjoyed were Porta Castello (where we snapped the photo) and Dal Pollarollo.

Oh wait. There was one other thing I was looking forward to as I stepped off the plane: gelato.

You know how there’s at least one Starbucks on every block in Philly? Well, that’s kind of how it is with the gelato shops in Italy. And, everyone seems to be eating it—locals and tourists alike—at all hours of the day.

Giolitti, located near the Pantheon, has been around since 1900 making it the oldest ice cream store in Rome. If you go, chances are it will be packed with people and they won’t be organized into any kind of orderly line. So, make sure to pay at the little desk when you first walk in the door, jostle for your place in front of the cases and decide on your flavor combination from the seemingly endless options so you’ll be ready to place your order as soon as one of the servers behind the counter catches your eye. Resist the urge to turn around and head to the place two doors down. Giolitti is one of the best places anywhere to get your gelato fix, if you ask me. The gelato is smooth and creamy, but not too dense or too sweet.

As much as I would have loved to eat pizza and gelato for the duration of the trip, we did venture to other places. The Trastevere neighborhood seemed to be quite the restaurant hotspot and we had two of my favorite dinners of the trip there.

L’Invincible is a wine bar that features simple dishes that make the most of fresh, seasonal ingredients. First course options included triangles of buffalo mozzarella lightly fried and stacked together, for more sophisticated, grown-up version of grilled cheese sandwich. Another highlight was the creamed pea appetizer, topped with a poached egg and fresh ricotta cheese. I also really enjoyed the Bucatini All’Amatriciana, a classic dish featuring thick spaghetti, topped with a spicy tomato sauce that gets a bit of heartiness from bits of pork that are simmered in the sauce. Even the bread was homemade and included interesting flavors such as apricot and chestnut. and the service was very friendly.

Antico Arco offers more contemporary takes on traditional dishes. My favorite dish was the lasagna. Instead of traditional lasagna noodles the layers were comprised of thin slices of potato, layered with asparagus and guinea fowl and topped with a bechamel sauce. I had never had guinea fowl before, but it was rich and flavorful in a way that reminded me of braised short ribs. I also tried the amber jack filet, which is a fish that is kind of a cross between halibut (in texture and flavor) and tuna (in that it is a darker meat). It was paired with a flavorful fennel sauce and accompanied by thinly sliced zucchini that was simply dressed in olive oil and sauce. Chester really enjoyed the pea soup, which included rings of tender squid and the lamb tenderloin wrapped in a crunchy, herb crust. A rich chocolate soufflé cake with vanilla ice cream and a light ricotta mousse with dark cherry sauce were the perfect desserts to finish the meal with.

Of course, food is not the only reason to visit Rome, and there are enough museums, churches and ancient sites to keep you busy for several weeks. You can find some ideas about things to see and do in the Eternal City here, here and here.

I’m slowly working my way though the photos I took on the trip, and here are some of my favorites from Rome.

Trevi Fountain

Castel Sant'Angelo

Spanish Steps

Piazza Navona

Pantheon

On the Road: Florence and Bologna

Yesterday, we took the train from Rome to Florence. I have to say that I am a huge fan of train travel over here. You get an assigned seat, the trains are super fast and they leave and arrive exactly on time.

After we dropped our bags at the hotel, we spent some time just wandering, and I pointed out a lot of jewelry that Chester could buy me in the expensive stores that line the winding streets. We also visited the Uffizi Gallery, which holds the art collection of the Medici family. The collection mostly consists of religious art (I am officially on Baby Jesus overload at this point) but also includes several more well known paintings such as The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.

It’s truly a beautiful city and I doubt that my cell phone photos will do it justice, but here are just a couple:

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Ponte Vecchio

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Duomo

Today, we took another short train ride to Bologna, 30 minutes from Florence. It’s a really charming city, with lots of arcaded passageways, medieval architecture and good shopping. Our guidebook described it as one of Italy’s hidden gems, and I guess it must be, because it was not at all packed with tourists.

What makes this city pretty amazing is the food, though, and that’s the main reason we wanted to visit (are you shocked?). Among other things, Bologna is the birthplace of tortellini, Bolognese sauce, and mortadella.

We sampled everything we could, starting with a stop at Tamburini, which has been selling meats, cheeses and other delicacies since 1932:

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Clockwise from the top: Bresaola (dried beef), Prosciutto, Mortadella, Provolone, and Fontina cheese; Salami in the center

We had lunch at Osteria dei Poeti, a restaurant off the beaten path. The meat filled tortellini were not as thick as the versions of this pasta I’ve had here at home and the broth was flavorful without being too salty. A couple of spoonfuls of Pecorino Romano enhanced the flavor. The tagliatelle featured a hearty ragu, which stood up well to the slightly chewy pasty.

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Oh, and in case you were wondering, they have Dr. Seuss over here:

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Ciao for now!