Tiber River in Rome
This is the seventh and final post in the Spontaneous Weekend Trip to Rome Series. Other posts in this series include: Dal Paino Pizzeria in Rome, Etabli, Il Convivio,Ciuri Ciuri Pasticceria Gelateria Siciliana, Sant'Eustachio Il Caffe, Gelato in Rome, and Roscioli.
Italy is so beautiful.
We all know that it's not just good food that makes a restaurant experience special. A lot of the total experience comes from the neighborhood, the dining space, the service, and the company with whom you are enjoying the meal.
Our last dinner in Rome was special.
Many consider Antico Arco, a warm, elegant, yet relaxed Italian restaurant at the top of a hill in Trastevere, to be one of the most romantic restaurants in Rome.
Yet my fond memories of our evening out at Antico Arco go far beyond just the warm ambiance and excellent food at the restaurant. The entire journey of getting to the restaurant (and back!) was an adventure filled with gorgeous scenery, interesting explorations, and (occasionally), unexpected twists and turns.
Walking, walking, walking
The restaurant was about 4 miles away from our hotel room, so we set out about 1-2 hours before our dinner reservation time, planning on slowly sauntering over there.
Antico Arco sits up a hill in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome. If you've never been to this area, you're in for a real treat. It's located right across the Tiber river, not far from most of the other sites in Rome. The walk across the river is beautiful, and you can even stop by and check out Tiber Island (right in the river!) on your way over.
Once in Trastevere, enjoy the ancient cobblestone roads, colorful buildings, and lively, bustling streets full of restaurants, vendors, and people walking around. The area has tons of character and is super fun to explore just as the sun is setting.
Although the map may show that the restaurant is really close by, don't be fooled! Most of the distance is uphill. The windy pedestrian roads in the Trastevere region are also confusing and not well marked. If it weren't for our trusty iPhone with the downloaded maps and GPS feature, I'm not sure we would have ever found our way to the restaurant.
Speaking of Twists and Turns
In fact, we got lost several times. Paper maps were useless. It really wasn't until Bryan whipped out his iPhone (which, thankfully, still had a map downloaded from back when we had wifi at the hotel) that we got our bearings and started heading up the hill in the right direction.
The path up the hill to the restaurant begins with a series of steps.
After going up about two sets of stairs, you begin to see how far up the hill you have come. Check out the gorgeous views of the city.
The walk is not for the faint of heart. In preparation, I actually wore sneakers for this mini-hike and changed into my nice dress shoes literally right outside the restaurant. Most reviewers online strongly urged people to take a taxi to this restaurant.
Bryan reaching the top
Bryan and I love walking, so we didn't mind climbing the hill at all. But be forewarned, it's not an easy hike, and you very well may be a bit sweaty by the time you reach the top if it's a hot day out.
Entering Antico Arco
It was wonderful to be greeted by this zen-like, warm and inviting door. Bryan was a bit hot from the "hike" and immediately ordered an Italian beer (maybe not something you would typically get at a nice, romantic restaurant, but oh well!).
The menu at Antico Arco has many options. You can order items a la carte. Or, for a better "value", you can try their seven-course tasting menu. What's really cool is that not everyone at the table needs to order the same thing. We initially decided to order one tasting menu and three orders of pasta.
The waiter looked at us like we were crazy, telling us it would be too much heavy food.
He finally convinced one of us to get one pasta and one risotto (a bit lighter) while the other would get the tasting (which also included a pasta dish). We told him we were sharing everything, so they ended up serving the dishes to us serially (sort of like a 7+2 = 9 course tasting menu).
We started with an amuse, the Antico Arco "hamburger". In reality, it was more like a meatball served over bread and topped with a creamy house-made sauce. I don't remember too much about this starter except that it was tasty, but didn't strike me as anything special.
For the first course of the tasting, we had a refreshing Amberjack Tartare with thinly sliced snow pea pods, delicate wisps of ginger, and lemon.
Next came a Slow Cooked Duck Leg with tuna sauce and a passion fruit homemade mayonnaise. The duck reminded us of cured or salted meat. It was quite flavorful and worked nicely with the passion fruit mayonnaise.
The next course was one of my favorites, a fresh spring Pea Soup with Squid and Bread Crumbs. The squid added a lovely level of depth and complexity to the soup, and I loved the textural "crunch" from the bread crumbs.
Risotto with Scallops, Pesto, and Lemon was next. I was surprised at the texture of the risotto. It was very al dente, almost to the point of being a little crunchy. The pesto flavor was mild, yet the overall dish was rich and creamy. The toasted almonds added even more crunch to the dish.
Even though Bryan loves "noodles" (think linguini and fettucine), the waiter recommended the Ravioli with Seabass. This homemade ravioli was topped with (again, wispy) onion strings and served with a mild, red tomato sauce. The texture of the ravioli was pretty good, though overall this dish was only OK and did not necessarily blow either of us away. Bryan was sad we didn't order any noodles.
The final pasta dish was Carbonara with Black Truffles. As you know, we had just enjoyed the best carbonara in Rome the day before, so it was going to be interesting to see how this fancier version (with shaved black truffles!) fared.
Though it was very good, Bryan maintained that he still liked the Roscioli carbonara better. This carbonara seemed to be made with dried, not fresh pasta. It was cooked very al dente, again almost to the point where it had a slight crunch. The sauce was cheesier and less "eggy" than the one at Roscioli, though they used very good cheese. The sauce itself had smoky undertones from the guanciale, and overall had very nicely integrated flavors.
It was still an excellent pasta dish. It's just hard when you've had the best just the day before.
For the main dish, we enjoyed Pigeon Breasts with Blackberry Sauce, Vanilla, and Lemon Mashed Potatoes. The pigeon was cooked perfectly - tender, juicy, and very flavorful. It worked well with the berry sauce. The potatoes were surprisingly "lemony", and were plated to looks almost like ice cream. In fact, they were served cold alongside fresh blackberries.
For a mini palate-cleansing cheese course, we enjoyed a couple potato chips, cheese, and a fruit compote.
Bryan, who doesn't like sweets, thought the fruit was too sweet.
For our first dessert, we had a SemiFreddo made with a type of chestnut ice cream and chocolate. The ice cream was very different from most other ice creams I'd had. It was thick and starchy, very much like the Taiwanese taro ice cream that I used to eat as a kid.
The waiter recommended the Cheesecake as his favorite dessert, so we went along with his suggestion. The cream cheese flavor was not as strong, though the raspberry sauce on top was quite intense. I enjoyed the nice vanilla bean cream sauce on top, and Bryan and I both loved the excellent crust.
We had a long walk back home, so we filled up on some Espresso.
Dinners begin late in Rome (most restaurants don't open until 8PM for dinner), so it was pretty much close to 11PM by the time we headed back out to walk to our hotel on Via Veneto. The view of the Tiber River at night is equally stunning, but in a very different way.
The walk home was long but interesting as well. It was nice to "walk off" the big meal we'd just had, and it's fascinating to explore Rome any time of the day.
Everything looks a little bit different, a bit more imposing at night.
Best thing? I caught Gelateria San Crispino right before it closed.
We had a fantastic evening at Antico Arco. The space is warm and inviting, the staff was excellent, and the location is really unique. Although the food was solid, Bryan and I both thought there were other restaurants in Rome (and even New York), whose food we liked better.
Nevertheless, I have absolutely no regrets in coming to Antico Arco. The journey alone was unforgettable, and we still enjoyed ourselves a ton at the restaurant. I loved how they gave us the flexibility to order just one tasting menu, allowing the other person to order other completely different things off the menu. The food is still very, very good and I'm sure you'll have a great time as well if you choose to visit.
Alas, that ends our Spontaneous Weekend in Rome Series. I hope you had fun learning a bit about the incredible food that Italy has to offer. Rome is really an unforgettable place, and I would highly recommend anyone who loves food, history, and walking to visit.
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