Don’t ask me why we wound up in Rome for two days (something to do with the goddamn rental car costing as much as a hotel room in the countryside), but I have to say my least favorite city was vaut le voyage this time, and not just for the sight of a highway lined with young, stylish hookers on a Sunday morning as we blasted back to return said goddamn car. In a rare stroke of good luck, we slept in the Aventine, the leafy residential neighborhood, and ate mostly down the hill in Testaccio, the old slaughterhouse area. We’d stayed there on our last trip and found Volpetti, the specialty food shop that makes Dean & Deluca look like Trader Joe’s, and one quick stop had set us back $60. This time our guard was up. When a familiar tempter asked where I was from and then proffered a slice of “drunken cheese” — one washed with amarone — I turned around to see Bob had vanished before we could get seduced again, but I stayed long enough to buy us at least a slice of the just-baked zucchini blossom pizza to go.
The pizza was good, even cold, but lunch around the corner was even better. After checking out the kick-ass Paolo Pellegrin show over in Trastevere, we pushed one tray for two down the Volpetti cafeteria line while an amazingly patient attendant dished up trofie with pesto, extraordinary eggplant parmesan, seafood (all octopus) salad, roasted and marinated zucchini slices and a lovely little half-bottle of white wine. Our eyes were 33 euros bigger than our stomachs, but I wasn’t complaining.
By then we were on a roll. Every morning started with a surfeit of fruit from the buffet at the excellent Aventino (included in the 95-euro room rate, booked through venere.com). The night before we had put up with Vespa din on the sidewalk to eat at “Da Oio” a Casa Mia, where my rigatoni cacio e pepe was perfection and Bob gnawed his Roman-style stewed chicken down to the rosemary- and pepper-infused bone. Lunch was at a sleek businessy restaurant he sussed out in Trastevere called La Ripa: sauteed frutti di mare (mussels and clams in a peppery brodo), super-tender grilled grouper and calamari, and spaghetti with clams. And every afternoon we trekked in the brutal heat to Sant’Eustachio for an espresso granita. Bob would get his plain and order alla panna for me, and we would stand outside in a patch of shade, passing them back and forth for maximum bliss. It was hard to believe I almost died from caffeine withdrawal in Rome, back in the days when I drank tea and the Excelsior Hotel balked at brewing it and I had to medicate myself with Coke. Harder still to believe some people still think St. Peter’s is the only shrine in town.
Volpetti shop, Via Marmorata, 47, Testaccio, 39 (0)6 574 2352.
Volpetti Tavola Calda, Via Alessandro Volta, 8, Testaccio.
“Da Oio” a Casa Mia, Via Galvani, 43/45, Testaccio, 39 (0)6 5782680.
Ripa 12, Via San Francesco a Ripa, 12, Trastevere, 39 (0)6 5809093.
Sant’Eustachio, Piazza S. Eustachio, 82, 39 (0)6 688 0248.
Hotel Aventino, Via S. Domenico, 10, 39 (0)6 570057.