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Travel: Rome, a Multi-layered City of Food

Fresh fish with a big personality at Eataly Roma.

Rome was described to us as lasagna: A meaty, layered ancient city built on top of the ruins of an even older city. Visitors can tour both the above-ground Rome and/or the underground Rome. 

Art—and food—is everywhere. An army of marble statues gaze down from rooftops and Biblical references are chiseled into exterior walls and painted on interior ones. Like frosting on a cake, every older building is embellished with a piping of intricate detail. A reference to food bestowed upon one building, the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, the nickname of the “wedding cake” for its whiteness and lack of a dome. The flat top layer does seem to cry out for a bride and groom topper.

This is a city of naked statues, mostly men, and religious opulence. Who knew the world could produce so much marble? And who knew that marble statues originally were often hidden under a coating of primary colored paint? A great number of statues’ heads were separated from their bodies by early art thieves, a tidbit of information confirmed at the history museum, which was room after room of just marble heads. 

While it’s possible to tour the city without a guide, you’ll miss not only the history, but the asides. For instance, at the famous Colosseum we learned that in addition to gladiator fights, wild animals from Africa and the Middle East were held in cages below the main floor, starved for two days and then let loose for a spectator safari where hunters sought to kill them before the beasts—lions, giraffes and crocodiles, to name a few—got them. The floor of the Colosseum was sand, our guide told us, to soak up all the blood. 

On a day excursion to Pompeii, we saw one of the first fast-food restaurants. The ruins were situated at the point where the stepping stones connected the sidewalks on either side of the road, which was untraveled because it was a conduit for the city’s sewage. Patrons drank watered-down wine and dined on a menu of fish, eggs and soup.

Further down was the town’s brothel where museum-quality frescos served as a menu of available services. Customers pointed to the picture of the service they desired, and afterwards some carved their reviews in the stone walls, much like today’s Yelp reviews, our guide said. 

Just as there’s a Starbucks on every corner in major cities in the U.S., in Rome it’s gelato and tiny cafés serving cappuccinos so rich and frothy it was more dessert than caffeine fix.

All of our meals (and we had three a day), were memorable, but the shrimp and avocado salad and fried octopus at Quinzi & Gabrieli and the spaghetti with clams in Positano on the Amalfi Coast were standouts. Parasole CEO Phil Roberts gave us the Quinzi recommendation for the best seafood in town. We stumbled upon the restaurant early, to be sure we could find it, and disturbed the staff having a preshift meal outside on the patio (everything is charming in Rome). For the fish special, we went with the server’s recommendation from the display, but we weren’t expecting the whole large fish to be served and I had selfishly ordered my own entrée. A touch I liked was the napkins were rolled lengthwise to resemble the tall skinny breadsticks in a glass on the table. 

Like the breadsticks, Italian people tend to be thin, especially the men. One guide explained it was due to their diet of olive oil and stress. I believe it’s the walking in a city built on seven hills. 

Another recommendation from Roberts was Ristorante Giarrosto Toscano (some of you will remember Parasole’s short-lived Italian steakhouse in Eden Prairie with the same name). And while the initial greeting wasn’t all that warm as we were pointed to our table, the service went down hill once they realized we weren’t going to order wine. The food, however, was delicious, especially the complimentary bowl of black olives with tiny slivers of orange peel. 

Servers, if you ever doubt your importance to the dining experience, stop it right now. Even great food can’t make up for rudeness, but an engaging server can make up for bad food. 

Every time I travel I find a certain food to become fixated on. In Costa Rica is was ceviche, in Rome is was prosciutto and melon. I must have had it 10 times and was never served an under-ripe cantaloupe. I also had a lot of lemon gelato, tiramisu, bread and olive oil. I did discover that my version of al dente and Rome’s were off a bit—I like my pasta a little more done.

In Rome there are no calorie counts on menus. Big squares of bread filled with cheese, meat and sometimes lettuce don’t include condiments, and frankly don’t need them. The pizza, of course, was first-rate and even the hotel’s room service was outstanding. The first night we dined in the hotel’s dining room and our leftovers were sent to our room, not as we’d left them at the table, but as a mini meal. After two weeks of eating our hearts out, a couple of nights of room service with a simple vegetable soup was the perfect dinner to accompany our nighttime dose of CNN International, which was consumed with President Trump’s visit to England. 

Once we returned to the Twin Cities we tried to continue the 15,000+-steps a day habit we established in Rome. Back behind a desk, however, it was harder to keep that trip experience alive than to decide where in the Twin Cities our next fabulous meal was coming from.  

The building known as the wedding cake,
near Palatine Hill.

The remains of a fast-food restaurant in

Street performers in Florence were much
classier than in NYC’s Time Square. 

Forget the bakery display case, in Florence it was all about the meat. 


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