Trattoria Zaza, Florence 07-2012

Around the corner from Trattoria Mario is Zaza. Within this quite busy piazza Mercato Centrale, the food options are plentiful. I generally try to avoid food recommendations from LP and RG, unless I have read online things about them that interest me. My brother really wanted to eat here countering that their recommendation in LP and RG might mean they are actually good and not just full of tourists. I suppose the other thing that deterred me was the enormous sign board menu outside.

Every single other food place in Italy was selected by me so I let him have this one. We trundled there for our final dinner in Florence.

The setting is actually quite nice, with a large outdoor area that is perfect for the July summer evenings. For that reason I didn't even see the inside other than to approach to get a table.

- Insalata Campagnola - salad with proscuitto, pear and cheese;
- Spaghetti allo scoglie;
- Fettuccine alla bolognese;
- Risotto zafferano, zucchine, gamberi e tartufo fresco - saffron risotto with fresh shaved black truffles.

Overall the food was excellent. I can't say that about every place I'm hesitant about, but I was wrong about this one.

Pizzeria Dante, Florence 07-2012

I don't find that much to do in Florence. After visiting David, considering a trip inside Uffizi, seeing the street sculptures and roaming about Ponte Vecchio, there's only really outlet shopping left. Perhaps this will change on my next return after recently reading Dan Brown's Inferno. Crossing over to the other side of the bridges is probably something I should look more into. On this one occasion the journey over had the purpose of eating on the other side. Surprisingly not many places on the main cityside took my interest.

I wanted to eat bistecca alla Fiorentina. On my list Trattoria Sostanza sounded interesting because it had this dish but also a particularly well reputed buttered chicken. Unfortunately it is closed on weekends so I had to look elsewhere.

Trattoria Dante met the criteria for across the bridge, exploration and also reputation for pasta (for my brother) and steak (for me). I was surprised to find the name of the place Pizzeria Dante, although the official title still says ristorante trattoria pizzeria. It's a much more upmarket place than the standard trattorias or pizzerias, so be aware the clientele and setting is quieter.

- bread - we didn't order this but as is Italian restaurant tradition, it was served. Considering the pizzeria reputation, this was exceptional bread. I imagine their pizzas would be fantastic;
- Insalata di mare caldo (calamari, gamberetti) - seafood salad with squid, shrimps;
- Spaghetti ai frutti di mare (calamari, cozze, vongole e gamberetti) - rich with calamari, clams, mussells and shrimps;
- Pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (wild boar sauce);
- Bistecca alla Fiorentina - Tuscan beef T-bone served perfectly seared into rare. The meat was lovely and tender but could have used extra seasoning.

Overall it was a little too much food for two people. But it didn't stop me from having impromptu gelato down the road at La Carraia.

Trattoria Mario, Florence 07-2012

Back in February 2005 I made my first trip to Florence. My mate and I stayed in a cheap twin room in a plaza somewhere. As this was my first overseas trip in years, I left all the planning to my mate and his Lonely Planet. Our accommodation host decided to recommend us a local place to eat - Trattoria Mario. It was on the corner of the same plaza we were staying and seemed quite busy. What impressed us was that we were the only non-Italians that were there (granted this was winter) but I'm certain also because it hadn't been discovered by the internet and others yet. I recall an exceptional pork chop bursting with flavour and grilled goodness, a jovial loud atmosphere and a pretty good pasta ragu.

Fast forward 7 years and I found myself in Florence again. My mate (who wasn't with me) and I often reminisced about this trattoria but neither of us could recall the name nor location. I was actually wandering around looking for Osteria Pepo (which has great reviews online) when I found a familiar face - it was Mario. Memories of the store front, the plaza corner location and the meat inside came flooding back.

What less impressed me was the clientele - all American. The loud accented voices filled the space outside of patrons waiting to go inside. All I could hear was how "awesome" it was, how everything was "awesome" and someone's friend had said it was "awesome" and after finally finishing and coming out it was all "awesome". I thought if it was worth the 20min or so wait amongst this crowd and decided I should pay homage.

The bustle inside had escalated now to loud English voices, the lack of old Italian families, but the familiar sight of huge steaks still remained.

- Penne al ragu - flavoursome simple dish enhanced with parmesan;
- Bistecca di maiale (pork chop) - not as tender as I remember but still juicy and packed with flavour;
- Disossata (boneless beef steak) - served rare (no exceptions, which makes me happy) and nicely charred.

The food is still great. The beef texture was better but the pork flavour was better. Meat remains my friend. Until next time Mario.

Casetta di Trastevere, Rome 07-2012

For the last meal in Rome (before heading off to Florence), the last thing on my list for Trastevere was to try the local cacio e pepe - a pasta dish of cheese and black pepper. The restaurant on my mind was Taverna Trilussa. For some reason it was decided against here, possibly because it is a bit more of a finer dining place and so far the pasta quality locally was so good it didn't seem necessary to pay more.

Casetta di Trastevere was a simple walk past in a plaza of nice seeming restaurants. Once I saw the cacio & pepe on the menu and the excellent prices, the risk was taken to eat here. The pastas for €5-8 didn't seem out of place compared to some of the more expensive tried at other establishments. There were no complaints from my end.

- Gnocchi allo scoglio (with sea fruits);
- Spaghetti al cartoccio (in foil with clams, mussels, squid, shrimp);
- Rigatoni cacio & pepe (with pecorino cheese & black pepper) - served on a delicious burnt cheese bowel and added to the dishes simple delicious cheese flavour dotted with pepper.

Trattoria La Fraschetta, Rome 07-2012

One of the joys of having spare time in Rome and staying in Trastevere is the option of wandering through the backstreets. Not only do you find many restaurants that English Google is yet to, there are also many delis selling fresh and dried ingredients, a few shops to visit, and otherwise a lazy time in peace.

La Fraschetta is apparently a good place to eat gnocchi. Gnocchi Thursday is a thing in Rome and so my intention was to come here for that. Gnocchi used to be my pasta of choice when I was young (about 10 years ago) because it seemed the best value, the most filling, great fun to chew, and there were no packets of this dried pasta in Safeway.

Sure enough on this evening the gnocchi was being served, and the dense little chunks were soft with the faintest al dente bite that I don't associate usually with Western-style gnocchi. I'm not sure I still like it more than traditional stranded pasta, but for a Thursday tradition I can easily made exceptions for this quality.

Capo de Fero, Rome 07-2012

In one of the slightly quieter piazzas of Trastevere lies a few (three I think) restaurants very close together. Two are next to each other and another is smaller and closeby on another wall of the piazza. Without knowing any of them, each looked reasonable and even though it was July, it was refreshing to find these all with Italians dining and barely any audible English.

Capo de Fero had the extra appeal of stating "cucina marinara" considering every meal in Rome (outside of a pizzeria) consisted of seafood pasta.

- Bucatini all'amatriciana (with bacon, pecorino cheese & chilli) - you can see the hole running through the pasta typical of bucatini;
- Spaghetti alla pescatora (with seafood);
- Spaghetti alle vongole veraci (with clams).

I actually had this place on my list for amatriciana and also coda alla vaccinara (oxtail in tomato sauce) but seemed to forget the oxtail once I arrived. Next time.

Ristorante da Cencia, Rome 07-2012

A restaurant in the streets of Trastevere that was a chance occurrence. I wanted Hostaria La Botticella but unfortunately they were full. This place had typical fare which was quite good. Doesn't the lasagne look special?

- Rockmelon & proscuittio;
- Gnocchi;
- Lasagne.

Fish Market, Rome 07-2012

The best place to stay in Rome is Trastevere. The only other reasonable option is near the main train station if you need to be conveniently located, but otherwise Trastevere is much more quiet in the evenings and perfect for dinner amongst more locals than tourists.

The accommodation host decided to recommend a new restaurant that only opened in May of that year. He specifically mentioned that it was as local as you could get at that time, as no tourists nor English websites had yet discovered and mentioned it. I suppose knowing a local can occasionally be helpful.

After arriving early, the outdoor seating soon filled with Italians. The all-Italian menu took only a small amount of deciphering and then the food started coming. I think the people around us were amazed two average sized guys could eat (or at least would order) so much food. I think this dawned upon us when the 2 fishburgers arrived and the lovely two people sitting on the table next to us moved their table over so our food could spill onto it. Thanks ladies!

- Cartocci calamari - fried small pieces in a cone;
- Ceviche de pescado;
- Steamed mussels;
- Steamed crab;
- Fishburger;
- Kebab of grilled calamari, prawn, red & yellow peppers, zucchini.

The large trays of fresh seafood expertly being cut and prepared sets this place apart from every other food place I saw in Rome.

Eataly, Rome 07-2012

There is an Eataly in New York that I intended to, but never made it to. On the evening that my friends went, I ended up at the truly remarkable Eleven Madison Park.

When I discovered there was another in Rome, my excitement was quickly diminished once I realised where it actually was. I shouldn't have been surprised considering an enormous department store-type supermarket couldn't exact be near the centre of tourist Rome. It is a long walk south. I could only recommend it after doing it myself with a planned stopover at 00100 in Testaccio.

Once inside though, it is a thing of beauty. There are firstly cooking instruments and appliances. I picked up a branded carry bag, some oven mitts and a nice cheese knife set. Then you proceed to walk around and up several floors past the cheese, the meats, the fish, the charcuterie, the pasta stations and more.

Naturally there are some cooking stations of which the pasta ones looked best. They are a little expensive compared to what you can get in Rome, and perhaps most disappointingly they use dried packet pasta instead of the fresh stuff made nearby. It's still worth the trip.

Sofia, Rome 07-2012

After the vast amounts of casual trattorias, there had to be one "finer" dining experience mixed in. Funnily enough it shares a name with one of Melbourne's least fine Italian family restaurants. I'm not overly ashamed to admit it is one of the classic favourite places for my brother and myself from 10 years ago, with the enormous serves of pasta misto and double sized containers of gelato takeaway.

Rome's Sofia is a far cry different.

- Tartare di tonno agli agrumi e erba cipollina (tuna tartare with grapefruit and chives);
- Tagliatelle fresche alla fantasia di mare (fresh tagliatelle with fruits of the sea);
- Risotto agli agrumi e pesce spada curato (cured swordfish & grapefruit risotto).