Ristorante Rinaldi – Roma

Feeling peckish for a late lunch, and dashing off to see the Coliseum, we asked our hotel concierge for a recommendation for a restaurant around the Coliseum (The Boy had to make his annual pilgrimage there.)  The concierge turned up his nose and recommended that we not eat in the immediate vicinity of tourist areas, but, rather, a short walk away.  He recommended Ristorante Rinaldi, a short 15 minute walk away, off a quiet residential street.  Due to its location, its a place that we would have never stumbled across, so we were thankful for the pointer and made our way over in a taxi.
The restaurant is quaint – and yellow.  We walked in, and walked down a flight of stairs into the main dining room.  The hotel had made a reservation for us, but the dining room was fairly empty, save a local family, out for a late lunch with at least 4 generations present, and a few business men lingering over a bottle of wine.  This place is known for its seafood, but, with the Boy’s allergies taken into mind, we were going to avoid that entirely.
I have found all restaurants I have visited in Rome very child friendly.  The Boy is 7 going on 24, and I always ensure I ask if they allow children when making my reservations.  The staff welcomed us with open arms – all smiles and warmth.  We were seated and asked which water we would prefer.  We were asked if we wanted a bread basket – starving, of course, so we insisted it be brought out immediately, which it was.  The menu was examined and orders were placed.  For appetizers, we had:
Smoked Fresh Mozzarella
Insalata Caprese
Smoked Fresh Mozzarella – Rinaldi has quite an extensive selection of fresh mozzarellas on offer, and this was one that was recommended to us as a Roman speciality.  Small mozzarella balls that have been wood smoked so they develop a blackened exterior coating.  Very interesting – texture, taste etc. was spot on.  But, a little too smoky for my liking.  The Boss and the Boy did not partake.
Bresaola – Air dried, salted beef – whats not to like?
Insalata Caprese – The classic Caprese salad – tomatoes and fresh (unsmoked) mozzarella.  Usually, when ordering this app, people tend to attack the cheese and the tomatoes are the leftovers.  Not if they ordered this – I have never had such firm, crisp, sweet and delicious tomatoes……ever.  I mentioned this to the waiter and he was delighted – he said the chef had selects the tomatoes for this dish and would be very happy to know that I had made it a point to compliment his choice.  Amazing tomatoes – I guess thats the beauty of cooking in an area where access to such amazing produce is availably.  Farm to table, at its finest.
For the main courses, we didn’t want to fool around with anything to complicated – simple pastas all around.  We had
Gnocchi Al Gorgonzola
Tonnarelli Cacio & Pepe
Spaghetti with Black Truffles (of course, ordered by her Excellency, The Boss)
Gnocchi Al Gorgonzola – I like chewy pasta.  I like Gorgonzola cheese.  Put them together, and you have this masterpiece.  It was excellent.  I could eat it all day.  Interesting point to note – while speaking with our waiter (we were discussing pasta – making it, cooking it, shaping it) he told us that the Rinaldi’s pasta chef has been with the restaurant for close to 30 years…….and he is Chinese!  Chinese I asked…..in an Italian restaurant????  He said something I completely overlooked – who knows noodles/pasta better than the Chinese?  CHURCH!
Tonnarelli Cacio & Pepe – The Boy wanted Mac and Cheese.  This is fancy Mac and Cheese – Tonnarelli, Pecorino Cheese and a little Pepper – thats it.  It was delicious and he ate it all.
Spaghetti with Black Truffles – This must have been good (I could smell it across the table – Truffle scent makes me happy) because The Boss finished her plate – this never happens!
No desert at Rinaldi – It was time for the Coliseum.  We were surprised by a complimentary plate of oven fresh cookies, dusted with icing sugar.  We had to order coffees to wash these bad boys down!  Perfect ending to a delightful meal.
I have to admit – I read some of the poor review on Trip Advisor when I got back home and was a little surprised.  I found the service to be flawless – speedy, friendly and very accommodating.  The owner and his son were around, and made it a point to stop by the table and share a laugh or two – as good hosts should.  The food was fantastic, the atmosphere very pleasant – it’s hard to ask for more in a restaurant.  This is a top notch establishment, and, unfortunately, with tier 1 restaurants, sometimes staff can be standoffish and arrogant.  But it is my experience, that people in the service industry treat guests in a reciprocal manner to how they are treated.  This is a restaurant where Italian heads of states and captains of industry entertain their guests – where to go when they want an excellent Roman meal.  If you show up in cargo shorts and crocs, expect a frosty welcome – as it should be.  The same would apply if I were to show up to a similar restaurant in NY, LA or London dressed in a similar way – except, they probably wouldn’t let me in at all.  Respect the establishment and be respected back – its really quite simple.
Food – Excellent
Service – Excellent
Atmosphere – Inviting and Welcoming
Fantastic restaurant that I will recommend enthusiastically to my friends.  Loved it.
Till next time!

Ristorante Agata e Romeo – Michelin Starred Roman Cuisine

Before heading to Rome, we had heard from a couple of different friends that we just had to try a little gem – a gem with a Michelin star.  Agata e Romeo is situated in a pretty dodgy area – this would explain the buzzer on the door – the door stays locked (see picture below)!
The taxi dropped us off – we rang the bell and were ushered in by the manager.  Its a small set up – a very intimate set up.  The open kitchen is in the front of the restaurant and is run by head chef and co-proprietor Agata.  The somelier/manager/order taker is her husband – Romeo.  They are the Agata e Romeo on the storefront.  There was one more waiter and thats it.  There must have been 6 covers in the restaurants while we were there.  Lots of personal attention, lots of fantastic recommendations and lots of smiles.  We were shown the menu and the choice was between going a la carte or taking the tasting menu.   Because The Boss and The Boy can be picky eaters at times, we opted for the former option.  
The Buzzer!
There was no steak on the menu – thank God – else, I would have been unable to resist defaulting to that choice – One thing I noticed from this summer holiday, and all the pictures I took documenting all of my meals, is that I eat a LOT of steak – like an abnormally large quantity.  I’m officially detoxing from red meat for the next 2 weeks!
The Boy said he wasn’t very hungry and wasn’t in the mood for a starter, so the two we ordered were:
  • Cow’s Milk Cheese Flan Served with a Pear Sauce
  • Zucchini Blossoms stuffed with Ricotta Cheese and Safron Sauce with Parmigiano Reggiano
The starters were divine – so simple – prepared with such few ingredients, and every ingredient serving a definite purpose.
Cow’s Cheese Flan – This was served warm, and it was delicate, creamy, fluffy, salty, sweet – a flavour explosion that took a moment to really burst on your tonge.  A slight smear of the balsamic reduction onto the flan added a gorgeous sweet/tart dimension to each bite.
Zucchini Blossoms – We were told to order these, and I am so glad we did.  This isn’t something that would have been on my radar ordinarily – Zucchini Blossoms? Seriously?  Man – these were great.  You had to get through the slightly crunchy blossoms to get to the fresh ricotta.  I felt that the blossoms added more of a textural element to the dish rather than a flavour component – a great very slightly crunchy contrast to the smoothness of the cheese – a little chew, if you will.  The saffron sauce was rich and added a flavour blanket to each bite, wrapping it all together.  Would highly recommend this to anyone who visits.
For the main courses, we ordered:
  • Fresh Mezelune Pasta Stuffed with Buffalo Ricotta and Egplant
  • Spaghetti with Baked Small Tomatoes and Grated Salted Ricotta
  • Rack of Lamb with Aromatic Herbs, Potatoes Flan and Pistachios
Mezelune Pasta Stuffed with Buffalo Ricotta and Eggplant – This was magnificent.  If there could be an example of a chef who could take basic ingredients and elevate them to stardom, this is it.  The pasta had been freshly rolled – the Ricotta was light and yet creamy – the eggplant was mild, but present in every bite and the tomato sauce doing its thing – acting as the acidic ting to the dairy’s creamy yang.  The Boss had ordered this one – I finished it
Spaghetti with Baked Small Tomatoes and Grated Salted Ricotta – Fresh spaghetti, cooked al dente, simple olive oil, oven baked tomatoes that were sweet and tart and delicious.  And, topped off by grated, salted ricotta.  Parmesan, I have had.  Grana Padano, check.  Pecorino, check.  Had all of them on my pasta.  Had never tried grated ricotta, primarily because the only ricotta I had encountered was a very moist cheese made of milk whey.  This was a different type – similar to a ricotta salata – and aged, salted and dried variety of the run of the mill ricotta.  I found it less granular in texture than the traditional cheeses i have mentioned – very creamy, yet salty – very nice.  Pasta was the stage, the baked, intensified tomatoes were the star and the ricotta was the “glittery lights”.  All together, a fantastic production.  Bravo and Encore.
Rack of Lamb with Aromatic Herbs, Potatoes Flan and Pistachios – The lamb was my least favourite entree of the evening.  No offence to the lamb (or the chef), but I can get good lamb and potatoes anywhere.  This was excellent lamb, mind you – perfectly cooked, seasoned and presented.  But it was lamb.  The Boy, because he is as carnivorous as they can possibly come, ordered this, and polished it off.
On to the deserts.  We ordered:
  • Tortino Caldo Al Cioccolato Con Panna e Salsa di Ciccolato (essentially, Chocolate Fondant!!)
  • Il Millefoglie Di Agata (Agata’s Mille Feuille)
Agata’s Mille Feuille – No doubt the signature desert of the restaurant.  If you visit Rome, you should definitely visit this restaurant – if for nothing else than to eat this masterpiece.  This ain’t your neighbourhood Mille Feuille – this is one of the absolute, best deserts I have ever had in MY ENTIRE LIFE!  Again, not too sweet.  Stunning, flaky, crispy, light puff pastry with the most luscious, creamy, decadent custard cream – dusted with confectioner’s sugar.  So simple.  Unreal – look at the picture – its ridiculous.  I didn’t even eat the chocolate leafy thing – so can’t comment.  But this was amazing.  And it didn’t leave you feeling stuffed and ill – light, gently sweet and stunning.
Chocolate Fondant – Excellent.  The cake was moist and airy, the melted chocolate center was warm, gooey, and exactly how you would expect it.  It was semi sweet, and exactly as I would have liked.  Whipped cream, strawberries and chocolate sauce on a blue plate – a little 80’s in terms of presentation, but a solid desert.
This is not a restaurant you go into to gorge on massive portions and be rolled out of the restaurant.  Agata e Romeo is about elevation – elegance – simplicity taken to another level.  Refinement on a plate.  I couldn’t recommend it enough for anyone to visit while in Rome.  I loved it, and our family will be adding this onto our growing list of “must do” restaurants around the World.
Till next time!

La Giostra – Dining with Florentine Royals


Visiting La Gisotra is becoming a summer tradition for our family, so it was no surprise that we found ourselves there, again, last week.  What started out as a small experiment in turning a chef’s passion into commercial enterprise, has now become a veritable institution in Florence.  The chef/owner is a Hapsburg Lorena Prince, and the restaurant is managed by his family.  Celeb pictures cover the walls, posing with the management – not necessarily a plus, but something to help pass the time when you are waiting for your table.  Its a small space – 2 dining rooms connected together.  In the 16th century, this space used to be a storage room for the various parts (wooden horses, canopy etc.) that made up the carousel set up in Salvemini Square.  La Giostra actually means The Carousel.  Gotta have a little schooling before the food pics!

We had a reservation, and were seated almost immediately after arriving.  The menu really hadn’t changed since the previous year, with the exception that when we visited in 2013, Tuscany’s weather had been very Truffle friendly, so there were numerous specials relayed to us – all piled high with fresh Truffles.  Unfortunately, we were told that the weather had been unfavourable this year, and truffles were in shortage in the region – so a little less liberal usage should be expected – fair enough.  It was just the three of us – The Boss, the Boy and myself.  We ordered:

  • Beef Carpaccio
  • Burrata Cheese x2 (The Boss has a rule about the sharing of Burrata – she doesn’t!!!)
  • Ravioli with Pecorino Cheese (definitely the go to cheese of this summer’s Italian culinary journey) and Williams Pear
  • Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms
  • 1.5 kg Bistecca Fiorentina served with roast potatoes


Before our order was delivered, we received a complimentary plate of nibbles from the kitchen. Two types of delicious crostini – 1 topped with a tomatoes and the second topped with finely chopped, sautéed chicken liver.  The bread base was crisp and light and the toppings were delicious.  The tomatoes were fresh (you will hear me rave about the tomatoes we had on this trip in later reviews too) and crispy and had a slight drizzle of olive oil and balsamic that just brought out the natural sweetness of the tomatoes, and didn’t overpower at all.  The chicken liver was delicious – very aromatic, rich, smooth and earthy.  Excellent.  Also we had some grilled peppers and eggplant – heavily spiked with balsamic, but fantastic – tart, sweet, soft and smoky.  In the foreground of the picture above, you all see something else – this was entirely forgettable….to the point where I can’t remember whether it was artichoke hearts or something else – it had mayo on it and should have been left off the plate, in my opinion.


The beef carpaccio – I had forgotten how large the serving was, so it was quite a surprise when this massive stainless steel platter (above) was brought to our table.  Too many greens loaded on top for my taste – made it difficult to find the beef, and multiple mini treasure hunts ensued.  Hunting aside, The Boy and I loved this dish – the beef was super fresh tasting, and the perfect bite consisting of the beef, cheese, and rocket trifecta was fantastic.  The beef was so tender that it was melting in your mouth – the saltiness of the cheese and the fruitiness of the olive oil bound the package together – a slight squirt of lemon juice brightened everything up, and put the bow on the package.


So, you like Burrata, and think you have had some good versions of it.  My friends, let me tell you – When you eat the Burrata they serve at La Giostra, you will realise that the great Burrata you rave about to your friends is, in reality, little more than a good quality plate of run of the mill buffalo mozzarella.  Look above – this mammoth size portion comes in a GRAVY BOAT (well, not really a gravy boat – but it looks like one).  There is very little firm outer layer of mozzarella, and LOTS of the delicious, creamy, luscious cream/mozzarella duo in that boat. It was served with a fig jam, some honey, and some blood orange segments.  As I had mentioned, The Boss doesn’t share Burrata, so we had two of these jumbo sized bad boys between the three of us.  Look at the creaminess of the Burrata (below) – it’s literally one of the best things I have eaten….ever.


On to the next one….


Ravioli with Pecorino Cheese and Williams Pear – This is  one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, and it is marvellous.  Fresh pasta, obviously, stuffed with cheese and pear puree, served with a cheese/butter sauce.  Simple. Elegant. The pasty had a nice chew to it, which I love.  The sweetness of the pear complimented the saltiness of the Pecorino – everything came together beautifully – truly delicious. Although a stand alone dish, we used it as something for the table – to peck on – because thats how we roll – literally – we rolled out.


Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms – The Boss’s favourite.  I didn’t try it, but she was raving about it.



The  pièce de résistance – The Bistecca.  The traditional T Bone / Porterhouse steak cooked over charcoal to a perfect medium rare – we had to put in a request for it to be cooked to medium, as The Boy and I were sharing, and he can’t take medium rare……yet.  This was amazing – as typical with this cut of meat, we got both the strip steak from side 1 of the T bone and the tenderloin from the other side.  The meat was grilled over high heat – quickly, and seasoned simply with olive oil and salt.  It was fantastic, and we were unable to finish the entire steak.  We both sat back with our hands on our tummies, though – satisfied, completely.

Another magnificent meal, at La Giostra.  one thing to note, though.  This place is getting a LOT of coverage on sites like Trip Advisor etc., making it very popular with the tourists – some of whom are loud and obnoxious to start with, and get increasingly so as the vino flows.  Being tourists ourselves, its silly to point fingers at others in the same boat, but I really have little tolerance for such boorish behaviour.

In our case, we happened to be seated near some very loud and obnoxious people.  One party in particular, was most fascinating – lets call them party A.  They were very inebriated, and proceeded to get louder and louder as the evening progressed – F bombs were flying, regardless of who was sitting around them, waitresses were being harassed, bottles were being knocked over and raucous laughter abounded – kinda like a drunken tavern scene from Game of Thrones, minus Tyrion, the armour and dragons – also missing was knowing that the scene would end soon.   Enter Party B – a young couple in Italy for a week to celebrate their anniversary – she was a school teacher, off for the summer (teaching elementary school I believe) and he was an accountant.  They live in Manhattan.  All of this information….and more….was obtained by the interview that Party B was subject to by Party A – once it was established that they lived on the same continent.  Through further due diligence, it was determined that a member of Party A had actually been to Manhattan at some point in their life – this resulted in Party A dragging chairs over to Party B’s table and joining the dinner for two.  Party A lectured Party B (and the rest of us seated in close proximity) on US foreign policy and the supremacy of the “American Military Machine”, conspiracy theories, the backwardness of various countries of the world, Watermelon vs. Cotton Candy jelly beans, and how awesome it was that perfect strangers could meet for dinner at a restaurant in Florence.   Party B, by this time, wanted to jump off the bridge.  There were many interesting points made/allegations flung/and conspiracy theories offered – and one exchange with the waiter, I happened to document.  It went as follows:

Waiter:  Sir, would you like desert

Party A: You better believe it, man, but my Italian is crap so you gotta help me with the menu because i don’t know what the F it says.  

As my friend RM used to say – Quel Class.

Anyhow – back to the food.  Amazing Amazing Amazing.  Love everything we have tried so far that comes out of the question.  The service has always been excellent and everyone has been very welcoming.  Its hard to find fault with anything here – we love La Giostra and will continue to visit when we are in town and will also continue to recommend it to our friends.   If you find yourself in Florence, make sure you try and save an evening for a dinner with the Royals.  You will walk out stuffed and smiling – as it should be.   Truly La Dolce Vita.

Till next time!