All Trips End in Rome (Or: Rome Can’t Be Et in a Day)

I’ve been back for a week now (it’s hard to believe, but true) and only now to we come to my final trip post–the last city we visited and arguably the most important: Rome.

Unfortunately, the way our trip worked out we only had an afternoon and a night to experience Rome. Our boat pulled into Civitavecchia in the morning:

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That was my final view from the shipdeck before disembarking and bidding adieu to fellow travelers, crew members and Sidney Poitier. We boarded a mini-bus that took us on the hour and half drive to Rome. Arriving in Rome was exciting: we had brief glimpses of Vatican City (at least the walls) and the Spanish Steps near where our hotel was located.

Once we’d unloaded our luggage and checked in it was decision-making time. Mom knew where she was headed (can anyone guess?) and the stores eagerly awaited her arrival. Dad and Michael deferred to me and I felt a bit overwhelmed. As a New Yorker, I can barely imagine the advice I’d give someone who had only an afternoon and a night to experience the city. Ride one of those double-decker buses? Go visit Times Square? See a Broadway Show?

In other words: it’s never ideal to behave like a tourist when visiting a city of great cultural import, but sometimes time constraints require it. Thus I chose our first destination with only the tiniest bit of self-awareness. “Ok, dad and brother,” I said, “Let’s go to the Coliseum! That’s where they made Gladiator, y’all!”

So off we went to the Coliseum. Here it is from a distance:

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As we approached I felt a bit like the high school freshman surrounded by wisened seniors who attempt to sell you elevator passes and such. There were all sorts of hawkers–“take a picture with a gladiator!” “buy a mini sculpture!”–and one such hawker sold us tickets for a Coliseum tour that would let us cut the main line. As we joined our tour group, the tour guide narrated a bit about ancient Roman times with the help of a creepy Caesar and two sleazy gladiators:

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The narrating went on a bit too long so dad, Michael and I snuck away from the group and toured the Coliseum ourselves. Despite how touristy it was on the outside, I was glad we went once we were inside. The space is charged with ancient import and all the horrors of what went on there–slaves mauled by lions and tigers and elephants in front of jeering crowds (kind of like Iron Chef except iron chefs cook the lions, tigers and elephants)–and I felt like I was communing with history in a very deep way. Then we got hungry and left to meet mom for lunch.

Mom hasn’t been given enough credit in my blog posts for planning all the meals we ate in all the ports you’ve been reading about. I’d say she had a pretty solid track record–especially our lunch in Monaco which I raved about last post–and in Rome she scored again with our lunch at Da Bolognese: (though our dinner would be another story…)

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Da Bolognese was located right near our hotel and near the Spanish Steps where mom had been shopping. There’s an outside patio and then a fun inside space with cool art on the walls. Mom noticed that every table except ours was given parmesan and prosciutto to snack on but the place seemed mostly populated by regulars. Our waiter brought us some bread, some menus and water and soon we ordered. I tried to pick things I wouldn’t eat in America or things that felt authentic Roman to me. So I ordered vitello tontato for my appetizer:

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That’s veal in tuna sauce. I’d had it once before at some restaurant (I can’t remember where) and I was anxious to experience the real thing. Well the real thing tastes like what it is: veal in tuna sauce. The sauce had a grainy texture that I didn’t enjoy but taken as a whole it was a quirky choice that I don’t regret.

OH and here’s a pic of mom and dad so you can see the art on the walls. Isn’t it cool?

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For my entree I had a delicious tortellini that was stuffed with ricotta:

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The filling was flavored with nutmeg and that gave it a savoriness I really enjoyed. Dad had the title dish, linguine bolognese:

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which, as a red meat-lover, left him quite satisfied.

For dessert we shared a disappointing semi-freddo:

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Well mom remembers it as disappointing, I’m sure I liked it but I didn’t eat much because I was saving room for the ultra-famous gelato I would consume at the Trevi fountain.

So after lunch we all walked back towards the steps where we stopped into a cool sculpture store:

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We saw a film crew nearby and we thought they were shooting Mission Impossible: 3 but they weren’t. Mom and dad were ready to go back to the hotel and I, on the other hand, had a mission in mind. Savina, our loyal Italian commenter, suggested that I try the best gelato in Rome near the Trevi fountain at San Crispino. “I’m going for gelato!” I said. “Who’s coming with?”

There was a moment of silence and then Michael agreed to come along. We navigated our way in the hot sun and finally (after much confusion) found the pretty watery sculpture:

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We followed the tradition of throwing two coins over our shoulders: the first to guarantee a return to Rome and the second to make a wish come true. I wished for really good gelato and well… keep reading to see if WISHES COME TRUE AT THE TREVI FOUNTAIN.

As we searched gelato place after gelato place for San Crispino I began to think I wished wrongly: I should’ve wished for directions. Finally, though, we came upon it:

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There was a huge placard with a NYT review outside:

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I don’t remember the words exactly or who wrote it but it basically said there’s no competition for best gelato in Rome, it’s without question San Crispino. So with that knowledge going in we studied our flavor choices and I decided to get the signature flavor: San Crispino gelato which is flavored with honey. Michael, ever the predictable, chose chocolate.

“Would you like whipped cream?” asked the gelato purveyor.

“Sure,” I answered for both of us. Here she is slathering that whipped cream on:

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And here’s a very bright flashy picture of our gelato up close:

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We dug in greedily and enjoyed the best Rome had to offer. Funny enough my gelato reminded me of the gelato I had at Il Labortorio de Gelato in New York. If you recall, when I reviewed Il Laborotorio I said I was disappointed–the flavors were way too subtle. The San Crispino gelato was educational in that it too was subtle but somehow that subtlety worked in its favor. A simple honey flavor allowed me to appreciate the creaminess and richness of the gelato at hand; and I really did scrape that cup clean. Now that I’ve seen the light I need to return to Il Laborotorio here in New York with my newfound vision. Thanks Savina for the suggestion!

Now don’t think me piggish but after baking in the hot sun on the walk back from the Trevi Fountain, I had trouble resisting the Italian peach waiting for me on the table in our hotel room.

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I was alone in the room because Michael and dad discovered a crowd outside our hotel downstairs waiting for Bono who, apparently, was staying there too. I think it speaks well of my food dedication that I chose an Italian peach over Bono. (For the record, he never showed up.) And boy did I make a good decision: that peach was honestly the best peach I ever bit into ever.

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The juice literally poured out of my mouth on to the floor that peach was so packed with freshness and flavor and ripeness. Amazing how the simplest things–an unadorned peach–can bring as much pleasure as the most complex dish at the most highfalutin restaurant.

And speaking of highfalutin restaurants, it’s time to discuss our dinner in Rome. Now you have to understand the context: of all the feedback I got regarding my trip to Europe, the one city everyone was so eager to share their suggestions for was Rome. I had about three pages of restaurant names from you readers alone PLUS I printed out suggestions from Babbo’s website AND a thread I started on eGullet. I had about 70 restaurants I was aware of where we could have dined and yet I deffered to my mother who’d been such a champion picker of restaurants throughout the trip. The restaurant she picked for our final meal in Rome, for the entire trip, was at a posh hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps called the Hotel Eden.

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Mom and dad had eaten there the last time they were in Rome and dad remembered it for its panoramic view of the city. Mom said, “It’s really beautiful, you’re going to love it.”

The name of the restaurant was La Terrazza dell’Eden. Here’s a poster:

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We rode an elevator up and we were greeted by congenial hosts in black tuxedos. We told them we wanted a drink at the bar first and they let us sit in a room with couches and a charismatic piano player. As we sat, I looked around us and saw very few people. In the other room, where the dining room was, rigid older people ate very slowly from pristine plates. I suddenly felt myself overwhelmed as a sense of dread pushed its way up my spine: were we spending our final meal in Rome, our only dinner in Rome, at what seemed to be–the more I considered it–a high class version of a tourist trap?

Mom asked me what was wrong and I said nothing but she could tell I wasn’t happy. I was thinking of all the places people had suggested–the “fifth quarter” entrails Mario Batali savored at his favorite Roman restaurant, the pizza bianca Amanda Hesser raves about–what were we doing here?!

But then I remembered the New York City comparison I made earlier in this post: how could you expect, really, to eat Rome in a day? How could you eat New York in a day? It’s impossible. You did the best you could and this is a nice restaurant. Look at the view. Isn’t it pretty? Now go enjoy the food.

We were sat in a room where other Americans like us (and maybe a few locals) studied the oversized menus kindly translated into English. And despite my disappointment at the generic quality of the room, I was glad to see an appetizer I’d wanted to try while in Rome: “zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta and ‘taleggio’ cheese, black olives, and cherry tomatoes.”

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And these were truly excellent and, as you can see, beautiful. So what was I complaining about? Well my entree wasn’t that fantastic: “Veal in a crust of lentils with champagne sauce.”

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Nice presentation, yes, but it didn’t have that rustic Roman quality I longed for. And the dessert platter, while pretty, didn’t really wow any of us.

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I don’t mean this pejoratively, but it was all a little too French for a Roman feast—that last picture could’ve been taken at Jean-Georges. As you can tell, this wasn’t my ideal last meal—(“Are you still recovering from ‘The Last Supper?'” joked dad on the cab ride back)–but maybe it was perfect in that it’s the best reason ever to return to Rome. As a food-lover, I came close enough to Roman cuisine to know that it’s something I want to experience in depth. Plus, dad was right–the view was pretty awesome. Here’s mom and dad with the sun setting behind them:

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I’d like to thank them for a terrific trip—one I’ll be sure never to forget. (Especially because it’s so heavily documented, now, on my blog!) For those of you who’ve been overwhelmed by all these travel posts, good news: they’re done! Hope you’ve enjoyed my weeklong breakdown of our journey. Regular New York blogging shall commence tomorrow evening. Until then, ciao!

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