Friday, June 14, 2013

Win a Copy of Chow Italy: Rome 2013 from Goodreads

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Chow Italy by Christina Baglivi Tinglof

Chow Italy

by Christina Baglivi Tinglof

Giveaway ends July 12, 2013.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Getting to Know Trattoria dell'Omo in Rome

restaurant sign: Trattoria dell'Omo, Rome
Like most small eateries in Rome, Trattoria dell'Omo is a family-run affair. Owner Giuseppe Dell'Omo, the patriarch, opened this charming restaurant just two block from Termini Station back in October 1960. "My father wanted to offer train conductors the opportunity to have a hot meal on their way to and from the central station," explains son Antonio Dell'Omo. "After my sister and I grew up, we joined the family business, too." Today, Dell'Omo's mother, Maria, still works the kitchen while he and his father tend to the dining room serving customers.

Although the restaurant has undergone updates and minor renovations in its 50+ years, the homey atmosphere remains. Warm and comfortable, dell'Omo feels just like your grandma's house. The front dining room (a second dining room is in the back) is long and narrow with high vaulted ceilings, tables dressed with white linen cloths neatly lining the perimeter. In the center of the room is a large meat slicer with two enormous smoked hams always hanging overhead, a visual tease that the prosciutto is a perfect antipasto to start your meal here. Or, if you prefer, peruse the small antipasti buffet for the likes of savory stuffed peppers, grilled eggplant, marinated artichokes or fresh mussels anointed with marinara sauce.
dining room inside Trattoria dell'Omo in Rome
Homey atmosphere at Trattoria dell'Omo.

When it's time to move on to your primi course, however, dell'Omo deliciously delivers. "My mother still prepares many types of homemade pasta in the true Italian tradition," Antonio says, "such as ravioli, tortellini with meat and fettuccine." The kitchen serves up other Roman favorites, too, such as pasta alla amatriciana, rigatoni gricia, carbonara, and even zozzana, a little-known regional pasta specialty of sausage and mushrooms tossed in a delicate cream sauce.

The secondi, or second course offerings at dell'Omo rival the first with lamb either roasted (al forno) or grilled (scottadito), as well as favorite standards like trippa al sugo, coda alla vaccinara, and saltimbocca alla romana. (Their ossobuco served with mash potatoes is my personal favorite.)

antipasti buffet at Trattoria dell'Omo in Rome
"What else can I say?" Antonio asks. "We are deeply Italian and our kitchen is not affected by the fact that many tourists come to eat with us." It's true; their menu is translated into four languages to cater to the dozens of foreigners who step through their door each day. Their dining room is always crowded with a mixture of locals as well as vacationers fresh from Termini Station seeking an authentic meal. "We just try to focus on preparing the typical dishes of our beautiful Rome," he says. And if you're looking for the real-deal, dell'Omo is it.

Trattoria dell'Omo
Via Vicenza, 18
Telephone: +39 06 490 411
Closed Sunday
Trattoria dell'Omo's website
The family also runs the nearby Hotel Viennese.

View Larger Map

Trattoria dell'Omo is one of 80 trattorie and osterie featured in Chow Italy: Eat Well, Spend Less (Rome 2013).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Chow Italy: Rome Now Available in Paperback!

Chow Italy: Eat Well, Spend Less (Rome 2013) is now available in paperback. The guide lists more than 80 traditional Roman eateries, those unassuming mom-and-pop trattorie, and makes a perfect companion for travelers seeking an authentic culinary adventure without breaking the bank. You can order through or through the CreateSpace eStore.

The paperback edition is the same great guide as the Kindle edition but with an added bonus: twenty printed maps to help guide you.

map of streets near Roman Coliseum
One of twenty maps in Chow Italy guiding you to inexpensive but authentic Roman trattorie.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Trattoria alla Rampa: A Hidden Gem in Venice

Determined not to share our table with fellow American tourists, we are on the prowl again for an out-of-the-way Venetian dining spot that only locals know. Today, we investigate establishments on Via Garibaldi, a wide walkway perpendicular to the city's eastern tip, near the Maritime Museum.

We arrive at Garibaldi near noon, just as the daily farmers' market is winding down. The shoppers are still out in full force, talking on the street corners, their straw baskets brimming with fresh produce.

On a hunch, we follow a group of fish vendors who seem to be in need of liquid refreshments, hoping they'll lead us to a culinary treasure. Sure enough, when they reach the end of the boulevard, they head for a crowded bar. I squint to read the sign painted faintly above the narrow doorway: Trattoria all Rampa.

"Bingo!" I say as we push our way inside. We squeeze past the long deli counter and two enormous jugs of wine, then duck under a staircase to get into the dining area. The room, nothing more than a converted storage space, has no windows and only a dozen paper-covered tables, but no camera-clad tourists. (Well, maybe two but we don't count!)

The door to the tiny kitchen is open, exposing a hair-netted signora moving quickly from pot to pan. She smiles as we take our seats. Our waitress brings a half carafe of the house wine, a snappy dry white Verduzzo made just a few miles outside of Venice.
map of Trattoria alla Rampa, Venice

The spaghetti con tonno with fresh chunks of albacore tuna and moist with fruity olive oil is a dynamic duo as is the spaghetti con carne with tender pieces of braised beef in a lip-smacking tomato sauce. Pasta and risotto dishes change daily but be on the lookout for the sublime risotto di peoci alla veneta simmered in a salty fish broth and decorated with sweet, succulent mussels.

We move on to our secondi, fegato alla veneziana, liver and onions. This precisely executed recipe is a popular dish in Venice and infinitely better than what I ate as a child! Super thin slices of calf's liver are gently stewed in butter as not to dry out. The onions are sautéed separately and then added on top before serving. We also enjoy a simple scampi alla veneziana, fresh prawns dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.

Only a few stands are open in the outdoor market when we emerge nearly two hours later. That's good because we're so full, we don't want to look at any more least not until dinnertime.

Trattoria alla Rampa
Castello, 1135
Telephone: +39 365 649 0277
Lunch only; closed Sunday

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Six Things You Should Never Say While Dining in Italy

1. "Don't you have any American coffee?"
I would never have believed it unless I heard it with my own ears but there I was dining in a small Roman restaurant near the Pantheon when someone with a booming Southern accent asked, "Don't you have any American coffee?" I raised my head just high enough to see the waiter's bewildered look as he shook his head slowly. No, Italians don't drink American coffee. They drink cappuccino or espresso in the morning. During the afternoon or after the evening meal, it's always espresso, never cappuccino.

2. "Where's the breakfast menu?"
Italians start their day with light fare: either a cup of espresso or cappuccino and a cornetti (similar to our croissant). You will not find bacon and eggs, omelettes, pancakes or waffles on any restaurant menu. Save your appetite for lunch when Italians sit down for a long and leisurely three-course meal.
A copy of the book Chow Italy

3. "May I have some butter with this bread?"
Yes, a basket of bread will be placed on your table but unlike here in the US, it won't include little cubes of butter. You see, Italian bread is so good butter isn't needed. In fact, butter is rarely used even in cooking, at least anywhere south of Milan.

4. "I'd love a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs or some chicken parmigiana."
Delicious? Yes. Italian? Not so much. These two quintessential dishes are Italian-American. You will find polpette, Italian meatballs, on restaurant menus. They'll arrive at your table in a small bowl bathed in marinara sauce.

5. "May I make a reservation for 5 p.m?"
After that big mid-day meal and subsequent siesta, Italians head back to work and won't close up shop until 7 p.m. Therefore, most restaurants open later. If you want to eat with tourists, head to the neighborhood eatery early. If you want to eat with the locals, make your reservation at 8 p.m., the earliest.

6. "May I have a doggie-bag?"
It doesn't exist. If you can't finish your meal, just push your plate away, and leave it at that.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Getting to Know Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa in Rome

red checkered table cloths on Roman restaurant table
Outside dining.
Where can you cross paths with ancient Rome while enjoying some of the city's best traditional cuisine at the same time? At Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa, a charming little eatery located just down the street from the Pantheon in the heart of Rome's historic center. "Our family has been in the restaurant business since the 1950s," explains Sandro Spoletini, the osteria's affable host. Sandro's father, Remo, began the family's dining dynasty as a waiter when he was only 16 years old. By the 1970s, he was managing a number of Roman restaurants. He soon launched a tavola calda, and then finally in 2004, opened Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa. He still overseas the eatery today, passing on his passion for the business he loves to all his children.

ancient Roman agrippa baths
Dine downstairs in the ancient Agrippa baths.
Snatch a table outside along quiet cobblestone side streets or inside in the small, contemporary dining room. Or, better yet, ask for a table downstairs in the basement dining room where ancient Rome awaits. You see, the osteria was built directly over the remains of the Agrippa thermal baths, part of the great Roman bathing complexes dating back to 29 B.C. The Spoletini family discovered that they were literally sitting on this important piece of Roman history purely by accident. "In 2006, during some maintenance work in the basement," Spoletini explains, "we had the immense pleasure bringing to light the only place where you can see these ancient baths." The family restored the room back to its original grandeur complete with the primitive bricks walls and exposed archways. Guests can dine right near the ancient frigidarium, or large cold pool that was used to close the pores after bathers had spent time in the caldarium, or hot plunge bath, but visitors who happened to be in the neighborhood may also take a peek during the osteria's regular business hours.

Now, let's get to the food! The kitchen focuses on traditional Roman dishes. "Our specialties follow the seasons," says Spoletini. "In the winter, we concentrate on meat dishes, combining them with fresh mushrooms, truffles or artichokes," he says. The results are robust classics such as tagliata di manzo tartufata, tender sirloin dressed with truffle sauce, a steak-lovers dream, saltimbocca alla romana, tender veal cutlets topped with Italian prosciutto and fresh sage, or grilled lamb chops. "Yet in the summer," he adds, "we offer our customers lighter fare such as a variety of seafood dishes." (Think spaghetti with lobster! Freshly grilled fish!)

But man does not live by meat alone, does he? He needs pasta, too! Gnocchi alla romana, those delicate little semolina dumplings topped with butter and grated parmigiano cheese, tonnarelli cacio e pepe, pasta with a simple pairing of cheese and pepper and Rome's favorite comfort food, or ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and walnuts--they're all homemade and stunningly delicious. The osteria also offers pizza and a wonderful selection of wines from Lazio's finest vineyards.

Come to see the baths; stay for some authentic Roman cuisine. "The scene is full of ancient charm and the perfect frame for an evening in our restaurant," Spoletini says.

Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa
Via dei Cestari, 38
Telephone: +39 06 4549 4117
Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa website
Google map

Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa is just one of 80 trattorie and osterie featured in Chow Italy: Eat Well, Spend Less (Rome 2013).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Should I Tip in Italy?

Like many twenty-somethings heading to Italy for the first time, I was broke. No tour groups or a suitcase on wheels for me. No, no. I was a backpacker who made my own way and slept in questionable one-star pensioni. Although I wanted to save money, I didn't skimp on my meals, however. I wanted to eat my way through the country, sampling all of Italy's regional specialties—ribollita in Florence, carbonara in Rome, scampi in Venice. To save money, I headed to mom-and-pop trattorie were I ate well for just a few Euro (although back in my day, it was lire). Yet as an American I was used to tipping 15 percent and I did so religiously. That is until I began to notice that the locals weren't doing the same. When they paid their bill and their change arrived on a little black tray, I couldn't help but notice that they'd scoop up every last cent and head out the door. No tip!

1000 lire bill 200 lire coin
"What gives?" I thought.

When I arrived in Bologna, I became friendly with the desk clerk at the pensione where I was staying so I decided to ask. "Italians are not big tippers," he said. Waiters get paid a decent salary in Italy and receive government-sponsored health benefits, not like it is in the United States where waiters get less than minimum wage and no health coverage. Then why, I asked, do some restaurants add a servizio or service charge to the bill? "Restaurants in large tourist centers add the service charge because they know that Americans are used to paying it."

Hmmmm. Makes sense. Digging a little deeper, though, I've come up with these tips from various experts on Italian travel.

Sara Rosso over at Ms Adventures in Italy, insists tourists should not, she repeats, should not tip in Italy. In facts, she says, Italians are beginning to expect tips solely because foreigners can't keep their hands in their pockets! But she adds, most Italians will round up their bill to the nearest Euro.

Jessica Spiegel from Why Go Italy agrees. She says the standard 15 to 20 percent tip that most Americans leave just doesn't exist in Italy. Like Rosso, she says that most Italians will leave a few coins on the table or round up their bill.

Katie Parla from the popular food site, Parla Food, confirms that servizio is common in tourist destinations, and that it "makes her blood boil" when a waiter approaches her table to announce when service is not included on the bill. It's a trick, a way to squeeze more money from tourists. But, Parla adds, it's a good idea to leave a Euro or two, in cash, per diner on the table when you leave.

Apparently Mark Zuckerberg is getting the no-tipping message. While on his honeymoon in Rome, he allegedly didn't leave one at a restaurant, prompting the owner to post the billionaire's bill online in protest. As a good reporter, author Sean O'Neill wanted to know the truth behind tipping in Italy and asked top travel specialist, Brian Dore, his opinion. The co-owner of Concierge in Umbria takes a bit more lenient approach, however, saying that when dining in a good, sit-down restaurant, Americans should leave ten percent.

The debate rages on.