This is the second post in the Spontaneous Weekend Trip to Rome Series. Other posts in this series include: Dal Paino Pizzeria in Rome
When you only have a weekend in Rome, you're pretty strapped on the number of meals available to you, especially dinners. We flew in on a Friday afternoon, and were leaving early Monday morning.
That means we only had three dinners.
So I strategized - big time.
I scoured websites, travel books, and forums. I asked friends and coworkers who had visited Italy for recommendations. I made a spreadsheet of potential restaurants, listing pros, cons, and summarizing reviews.
Then, after all that research, I narrowed down my list to places that
1) Consistently received rave reviews from multiple sources
2) Were "walkable" (walkable meaning within 5 miles) from our hotel on Via Veneto
3) Served Bryan's favorite foods (yes, pasta, pasta, and more pasta!)
It's true - my method most likely won't unearth the best hidden finds or hot new spots. But hey, when you only have a weekend, you don't want to take chances. I knew that the restaurants I chose would be tried-and-true awesome, approved by scores of people before me.
So on Friday night, after a frustratingly long flight (yes, our plane had mechanical problems and we had to sit inside the plane for 2 hours to wait for them to fix it), we settled into the first of our three dinners, at Etabli, a cozy wine bar, cafe, and restaurant tucked behind a bustling, tourist-laden square.
A few blocks west of the famous Piazza Navona (which seemed to be the central hub of most of our dining escapades), Etabli is popular with locals and tourists alike. Because it functions as a cafe, wine bar and restaurant (depending on the time of day), it's open all day, making it a great place for lunch, pre-dinner drink, dinner, or post-dinner drink.
The staff is very friendly, and everyone we met spoke excellent English. The waiter was even able to describe various wines to us, and recommended a lovely bottle of Sicilian wine.
We started with some bread, which was delicious. Do you know they virtually never serve it with butter or olive oil? Or bread plates, for that matter? Not sure if it's just a Roman thing, or whether we actually invented the dip-your-bread-in-olive-oil thing as a starter in the US.
Because we were in Rome, we decided to try at least some Roman style dishes. One dish we saw everywhere was the traditional Roman style artichoke, Carciofi Alla Romana. Preparation involves cutting off most of the hard, inedible leaves and cooking the remaining artichoke heart + stem in garlic and herbs.
The artichoke we had did retain a few hard petals, but overall the rest of the dish was soft and tender (almost mushy). The dish was a bit oily, but came with a lovely flavorful dipping sauce.
We absolutely loved our antipasto, which included a fantastically gorgeous Burrata in the center (mozzarella with cream inside). The burrata was accompanied by grilled vegetables, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed tomatoes, and olives. Everything was good, though cheese seriously stood out.
Bucatini Alla Amatriciana
Similarly, the pasta was incredible. Pasta alla amatriciana has a gorgeous, flavorful sauce made from guanciale (smoked pork jowls or cheeks, sort of like bacon), tomatoes, and garlic. It's so simple, yet when executed well, it's simply divine.
Here, the homemade bucatini had a fantastic, al dente texture, and the guanciale was simpling amazing. It was crispy, thick cut, and had a wonderfully deep smoky flavor. The Parmesan cone was also a cute, decorative (and delicious!) addition. We absolutely loved this dish.
The other pasta dish we got, which consisted of (more) guanciale along with broccoli rabe, was also fantastic. Because this one had an oil-based sauce (instead of a tomato-based sauce), the pasta was even more al dente, which I loved.
It was hard to choose a favorite, they were both so good.
We shared a secondi (main entree), which was a stuffed squid. At this point, I was so full I could only taste a bite of this one. It was well executed and nicely flavored, but it didn't stand out to me the way the pastas did. Perhaps I was already too full and my tastebuds were tired. In any event, we ate about half but really couldn't fit any more food at that point.
Except for dessert, of course.
"You have to at least try one dessert, for the sake of your readers!"
Bryan, always looking out for you guys. So we ordered a tiramisu upon the recommendation of the waiter. This tiramisu was less cake-y than the ones I've seen in the US. It's almost like a parfait inside of a glass. It was good, though nothing mind shattering compared to even the ones I've had Stateside.
Wine bar section of the restaurant
Overall, we loved Etabli. The the ambiance is warm and cozy, the pastas are fantastic, and the food is very, very good. The menu leans toward Mediterranean and seafood, although there are plenty of traditional Roman dishes (such as the pastas) from which to choose. The pastas were probably our favorite, though I still can't stop thinking about that burrata.
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