Having lived in Rome (Trastevere) in the early 1970s, the city has never lost its undeniable charm. Sheila and I were thrilled to share our love of this remarkable city with David (Sheila’s brother) and Nancy, David’s wife. Neither of them had ever visited Rome.
Unlike Venice, you can almost never go “wrong” when dining. I suspect that Venetians are worn-out at being exploited by tourists and now seem prone to serve indifferent yet outrageously expensive fare to visitors. Sure, you can still get great food in Venice, but the quality varies radically from restaurant to restaurant.
Rome is different. Delicious pasta and other “goodies” are dispensed almost everywhere. Like any big city, you need to exercise care, but there are ample digital resources to steer you in the “right” direction. Please find a link to a list of the best eating establishments in Rome compiled by the Wine Spectator.
Unfortunately, pizza and gelato have apparently become staples in the Roman diet based on the number of overflowing pizza and gelato “bistros” that have sprung up around the city. Presumably, Romans have the good sense to eat a more balanced diet. I am in no position to judge the eating habits of others since several family members eat cold pizza.
There is something for everyone in Rome. As one who lived here 50 years ago, I found Rome distressingly sad and overrun with tourists. Many of its magnificent buildings are now covered in dreadful graffiti. One bar owner in Trastevere who has served coffee and beer from the same location for three generations said that she had given up re-painting the building because it would be covered again in graffiti within two years. Others undoubtedly have a different reaction to their Roman experience and I would certainly be the last to judge their reaction.
In any event, I would like to highlight several meaningful experiences which left a lasting impression of the Rome I remembered so many years ago:
Haircut and a Shave at a Roman Barber
At the insistence of my wife, I was compelled to get a haircut and a shave. Fortunately, my daughter Abigail found an “age-appropriate” barbershop near her Airbnb apartment.
The barber – in his early seventies – had inherited the barbershop from his father. I was treated to a delightful haircut and shave that must have lasted a good 40 minutes. I am quite sure he was an Opera buff, but there were no arias playing from the radio.
I would like to tell you that we solved the problems of the world, but we both shrugged our shoulders at how the world and our beloved city had changed. Reliving the wonder and joy of Rome in the 70s was delightful. Nostalgia is not overrated.
Montevecchio Restaurant – A Lost Treasure
While strolling through Rome after our family had departed, Sheila and I discovered an unexpected gem for our final meal: Ristorante Montevecchio.
It was early and we would probably have given this restaurant a pass, but a couple of “elderly” ladies chatting nearby advised us that the restaurant served some of the most authentic food in Rome. With mixed emotions, we entered an empty restaurant.
Shortly after we arrived, a mature woman entered the restaurant and sat down behind a desk near a door leading to the kitchen. Based on the obsequiousness of the waiter, it was clear that she was the owner.
I would like to tell you it was among the best meals I have ever eaten, but I would exaggerate. We ate traditional Roman fare (spaghetti alla gricia, aglio olio pepperoncini, saltimbocca, Caprese) – our favorites – and both the pasta and main courses were excellent.
While the quality of the food was very good, we were treated to a dining experience that triggered good memories of “times past.” There were no fireworks, dazzling food specialties or loud music. In short, it was a civilized dining experience. Simplicity is to be revered in this city that has yet not totally succumbed to the barbarians with iPhones.
Babington’s Tea Room
In 2016, we tried to visit Babington’s Tea Room at the bottom of the Spanish Steps and thought it had closed. The Tea Room – established in 1893 – is still there, but they have changed the entrance.
Now, I would hardly recommend an English tea room for anyone visiting Rome, but they have the best lemon cookies I have ever eaten. Back in the seventies, we would walk from Trastevere to the Babington’s to taste these delightful delicacies.
Babington’s unique tea blends are absolutely delicious, but considering the location, the prices are quite steep. Nevertheless, chomping down on lemon icing-covered shortbread cookies brought back fond memories of times past.
While I had a cup of tea at Babington’s with my daughter Abigail (who was born in Rome), the rest of our family was at the nearby Antico Caffe Greco. Equally expensive, I believe Caffe Greco was Mark Twain’s preferred restaurant in Rome.
I have mixed emotions about visiting Rome. Perhaps it is old age, but I found current day Rome somewhat sad. Upon reflection, Rome has survived some 2,000 years and who am I to suggest that it won’t thrive and prosper in ways that I can’t possibly imagine. Found below are highlights of my 2016 visit.
Rick’s Blog Posts – Reflections on Rome