Dining while traveling can create memories forever, even for something as simple as Italian fare. One crunchy bite of carciofi alla giudia recalls the fried artichokes in Rome’s Jewish ghetto; every sliced bistecca alla fiorentina suggests vast and verdant rural Tuscan estates and, a selection of cicchetti—bite-size Venetian appetizers—offers the chance to taste the sea. In Italy, where restaurants range from traditional to gastronomic, they are both a sensual delight and a cultural immersion. Here are some dining recommendations for Rome, Florence, Verona and Venice.
Andrea Antonini, 2021’s Best Young Chef, interprets Modern Roman cuisine at Imàgo, which has held a Michelin star since 2008. At Hotel Hassler’s panoramic rooftop restaurant, guests dine elegantly with views of historic architectural landmarks.(Note: The seventh-floor terrace bar is reserved exclusively for hotel guests, who can sip cocktails while admiring the monument to Victor Emmanuel II.)
A fireplace and stone arches set the stage at Renato e Luisa, a traditional trattoria near Campo di Fiore, where Renato creates the feast and son Marco pours Banfi Toscana and serves house-made breads, caprino balls with honey and cheese, crispy potato cubes, sautéed stuffed zucchini blossoms, sushi-style mozzarella with pistacchio cream; caccio e pepe, bucatini Amatriciana and yummy eggplant rollatini.
Ristorante al 34, near the Piazza di Spagna at the foot of the Spanish Steps, has been open since 1968. Nicola Casalini’s Roman specialties appear on an à la carte and fixed menu: Fiore di zucca (fried squash blossoms), burrata, lasagna, salume (cured meats), or saltimbocca (veal, prosciutto di Parma, sage and wine served atop spinach). We chose trionfo di carciofi (artichokes four ways: alla Romana (a sweet, slow braise), alla Giudia (deep-fried Jewish-styled), grilled and raw). To finish: Tiramisù, panna cotta and cheesecake.
On a street-food tour with Davvero Rome’s Lauren Caramico, taste the triangular tramezzino sandwich at Trapizzino, a small chain that Stefano Callegari introduced in 2009. The tricornered creations are made with long, slowly-leavened pizza dough and feature Roman classics like oxtail simmered with tomato and celery, chicken cacciatore, and eggplant parmigiana. For table and bar service, go to the Trastevere venue.
Osteria Circo is housed amidst the arched, stone walls of an ancient building near the Circo Massimo; the Roman menu is complete with recognizable, popular dishes, from focaccia to polpete (meatballs), pizza and an alphabetical variety of pasta preparations: Bucatino, carbonara, ravioli, rigatoni and cacio e pepe (spaghetti with pecorino cheese and pepper).
At Settimo Ristorante, Chef Giuseppe D’Alessio serves contemporary Roman cuisine incorporating artisanal cheese and house-made pasta within the newly redecorated lounge, restaurant and adjacent seventh- floor terrace at Sofitel Roma Villa Borghese. Garden and villa views enhance the experience from breakfast, through “business” lunch through dinner to late-night.
Galleria Iginio Massari Firenze, a stunning pasticceria in an historic building, displays pastries that look like works of art. Inginio Massari, “king of Italian desserts,” offers biscotti chiacchiere, tortas, frittelle, panettone, pralines, zeppoline, and coffee.
Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura, the renown three-star Michelin chef, introduced a new farmhouse-style restaurant with painted floors and butterfly-decorated china where in-house chef Karime Lopez creates international tastes from Purple corn tostada and tortellini to flower-studded broth in a multi-storied building, with a boutique and exciting Gucci Galleria.
Ferruccio Ferragamo brought organic produce plus artisanal olive products and wine from the family’s Tuscan estate into their home’s former vaulted chapel at Il Borro Toscana, facing the Arno River. Chef Andrea Campani transforms the ingredients magnificently; he responded “yes” to an email request for artichoke risotto, a truly elegant dish, and prepared a gorgeous grilled vegetable platter, the following day.
La Ménagère serves an impressive menu, from espresso bar to risotto to wagyu beef, in an uber-chic, day-to-late-night café/bar/florist/houseware boutique housed in a vaulted palazzo; our al fresco table backed a fabulous floral wall.
Cantinetta Antinori Firenzi presents traditional Tuscan specialties enhanced by piano music within the columned courtyard of the 15th-century Palazzo Antinori and served with Marchesi Antinori wines. We enjoyed sliced bistecca alla fiorentina, butchered by Chianti experts, warm pear cake and zuppa inglese.
At stylish Ristorante Sottovoce in the penthouse at Vista Palazzo Verona, Chef Fabio Aceti proposes elevated and updated Northern Italian cuisine: White and green asparagus with spiced lemon cream; an artistic vegetarian floral arrangement with tomato, beets, mozzarella and herbs; Ribi & Bisi (rice and peas), a ratatouille-topped tarte and free range chicken with honey mustard, served on Richard Ginori china.
At Ca’ di Dio bar, we sampled Venetian “tapas,” called ciicchetti: Scallop in the shell, prawns, calamari, giant green olives, carpaccio, pan e tomate and mini rice cakes. On the terrace at the adjacent Vero Ristorante, we devoured rare slices of Tuscan steak with crispy roasted potatoes.
Giuseppe Cipriani Sr. opened Harry’s Bar, in Venice, in 1931, a must-stop for this and many American visitors, including notables, since the Charlie Chaplin era. Many order stateside favorites—burgers and club sandwiches—most savor Classic “Harry” specialties: Carpaccio, risotto, taglierini, curried rice pilaf and veal Milanese.