Dining out in Italy

by Patrice Salezze

Many anniversaries are celebrated over a great meal in a special restaurant. With direct flights from Philadelphia and Newark, it is so easy to spend a long weekend in Rome, Milan or Venice.  The recent addition to high-speed trains allows for quick access to other cities.

In honor of Network Magazine’s second anniversary, we are celebrating by listing our favorite restaurants in Italy that are perfect for any type of celebration.   Whether you are planning a short trip or a longer vacation to Italy there are some important things to know about dining in Italy that is different from here in the states.

Up until a few years ago, restaurant etiquette included ordering multiple courses that included an antipasto, primo (pasta or soup), secondo (meat or fish), cortono (vegetable side) followed by a salad and dessert.  Coffee is served after dessert, not with it.  Dinner is an event, intentionally taking a few hours to complete.  Italians feel that the meal is to be an experience and to spend valuable time with their family or friends.  While the courses are small, it still can be too much for most visitors, and even the younger generation of Italians is making a shift from the traditional style of dining.

You will no longer see a raised eyebrow from your waiter if you don’t follow these old-world traditions, but the crucial rule of restaurant dining is that you should order at least two courses.  That waiter will still expect to order a primo and a secondo or an antipasto followed by a primo or secondo, or a secondo with dessert. Traditionally, a secondo is not a “main course” that would serve as a full meal. It’s a common mistake for tourists to order only a secondo, thinking they’re getting a “main course” complete with side dishes. What they wind up with is one lonely piece of meat.

Gone too are the days when a type of restaurant told you what type of menu it offered. An Osteria used to be a very casual place, similar to a British tavern. It was a place where you could get a quick, inexpensive meal from a limited menu with the option of renting a small room for the night, where the children hung out after school and departed when the men came in after work.    A Trattoria meant you were in a family run eatery, the mother usually was cooking, and the family members served your food.

The simple hearty food was available served on wooden tables without tablecloths. The Ristorante was reserved for special occasions; jacketed waiters served meals from a professional chef in the kitchen offering an extensive menu and table-side cooking.   Now the lines are blurred and include Pizzeria, Enoteca, Baccaro, Café, Pasticceria and Tavola Calda, so it’s important to look at the menu posted outside the entrance.

Eateries are quite used to diners who order courses to split; but, if you’re not so hungry, you might head for a pizzeria or baccaro to sample some quick bites.  There are no ‘doggy bags’ in Italian restaurants.  Italians don’t like leftovers, preferring to cook each meal from scratch.  Only in the past few years have Italians started taking out food from restaurants, pizzerias or grocery stores, but the doggy bag is still a difficult idea for them to grasp.

The most frequent question we get from our villa renters is on tipping.  There are still differences of opinions throughout the travel community, but we asked our people on the ground that included our Italian relatives, owners of villas, tour guides, drivers and restaurant owners and they all came up with the same response:  Italians expect a tip from Americans because it has always been our custom to tip, it has become the barometer of their quality of service. They don’t expect it from Italians or other Nationalities. We tell our guests it is not mandatory, but if you feel you must tip, no more than 10% of the bill.   Before you do tip, check the bottom of your menu for the words servizio incluso that means the service tip is included, and you can then leave a little loose change as an expression of gratitude. Note that it servizio incluso most likely not be on the bill, so you must look for it on the menu.

TIPS = To Insure Proper Service started in 17th-century Taverns of Britain and was embraced by Americans shortly after with much resistance.
Waiter!  The check, please!  It is considered rude for a waiter to give you a check without asking for it.  Many Americans will become frustrated by not getting the check, ruining a perfectly wonderful meal and blaming it on the waiter.  Most restaurants seat only once, your table is yours for the night.

Italians consider it rude to chase you out of their establishment by presenting a check.  When you are ready for your check, just ask the waiter, Il Conto, per favore.  (ill CONto Pear FA vor eh).

If you find you can’t honor reservations, please call so they can offer it to another guest.  Their livelihood depends on it.

The following restaurants range from small family run inexpensive places to elegant 5-star dining, all suitable for celebrating a special occasion.

Il Bacaro – this is one of Rome’s most romantic restaurants, small and cozy located on a little alleyway.  A creative menu will make it one of your not to be missed places. On a beautiful summer night, opt for the vine covered terrace, candle lit in and out.  Via degli Spagnoli, 27 +39 06 687 2554
La Pergola – the best restaurant in Rome, by the famous German chef Heinz Beck. Elegant and extraordinary it is located in the Cavalieri hotel offering the most incredible view of the city.

Antico Arco offers the best dishes from around the 20 regions of Italy with a contemporary flair. They have an extensive wine list and always changing by the restaurant’s own sommelier.  Piazzale Aurelio 7, this restaurant is in the quiet residential area called Gianocola.    Reservations a must +39 06 581 5274

Baby –   the ‘offspring’ of the famous Amalfi coast Dal Alfonso 1890 holds up to the expectations of this world-renowned restaurant as well as the steep prices.  Chef/owner Alfonso and his son Ernesto comes up from the Amalfi coast at least one day a week to plan menus and overseeing the restaurant.    Vial Uiisee Aldrovandi, 15

Trattoria Sostanza – One of Florence’s best, this trattoria has been around since 1869 before Italy was unified.  You will be sitting among Florentines any day of the week.  They serve the perfect Bistecca Fiorentina the right way. Or try the chicken with butter and the artichoke tart.  Via del Porcellana, 25 +39 055 212691

Ristorante Cibréo and Trattoria Cibréo – choose from the elegant and more expensive ristorante or the casual trattoria.  The food comes out of the trattoria’s kitchen and walked over to the ristorante. The difference is the menu at the trattoria is smaller and less expensive.  One of Italy’s best restaurants.  Ristorante via dei Macci 118r, Trattoria Via de Macci 112r +39 055 234 1100

Enotecca Pinchiorri has the highest Michelin star rating, and is fit for a king down to the Renaissance palace dining room. They offer the best of Florence, Tuscan and Italian cuisine and the largest wine list in Italy.  Via Ghibellina 87,   +39 055 242 777

Ristorante Quadri – two stories above the famous coffee house on the Piazza San Marco, book far in advance to reserve one of the couple of tables that look down over what Napoleon called Europe’s living room. The owner of the famed Le Calandre restaurant is in charge of the kitchen, serving food that has a complexity not normally associated with the simplicity of Italian cuisine.  For more traditional Venetian cuisine and lower prices, the abcQuadri on the ground floor is also a special treat. No matter you dine at one of their restaurants, make sure you end your first night at the café tables outside with a nightcap while you listen to the orchestra.   Piazza san Marco 121

Osteria Boccadoro – in a quiet neighborhood with little foot traffic you will find this charming, elegant restaurant right on the edge of a campo (piazza in Venetian).  Request an outside table in the warmer months for a beautiful and romantic setting. Campo Widman, Cannaregio district +39 041 521 1021

Trattoria alla Rivetta –  For years it was the lunch spot for neighboring merchants and gondoliers before reaching all the guide books.  For an exceptional experience call Patrice at Papavero Villa Rentals for the name of her favorite waiter who will make you feel like a native.  Salizada San Provol, +39 041 528 7302

In 2016 Osteria Francescana was named the number one restaurant in the world.   In 2017 it came in second but still holds the number one position as the best restaurant in Europe.   This Michelin three-star osteria is in the culinary capital of Italy, the Emilia Romagna region, known for Bolognese sauce (just call it ragu in Bologna), Prosciutto, parmagiano cheese, and the true balsamic vinegar.  The Getting a table here is harder than getting tickets to Hamilton, the reservation book opens three months out and you can reserve on line.  Via Stella, 22 Modena

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