Beating the rap
By Eleonora Baldwin
uidebooks often portray the area around the Vatican and the adjacent Prati business district as a culinary wasteland. It's not. It can't possibly be. There are just too many mouths to feed. The Vatican is a colossal city-state high that's also among Italy's most visited tourist sites. Prati is white-collar territory that includes whole portions of the city's civil court system. Both are crowd magnets. In food terms, demand creates supply, and lots of it.
Your job is finding the gems, which around the Vatican can admittedly take some doing. Doing a little homework ahead of time helps. So does not falling prey to the many overpriced tourist traps located near the basilica or museum entrances. If a menu-wielding hawker tries to invite you in, steer clear. If you see photographed dishes in the widow beside menus translated in seven languages, walk away. The best Vatican-area meals are often in places located outside the immediate Vatican perimeter.
Discerning the decent from the dreadful can be hard for the uninitiated, with many visitors too tired to think straight. So here's a Vatican and Prati shortlist that you can tuck away and count on. For the sake of convenience, I've divided it into aperitivi and dining, coffee and gelato.
Aperitivo and dining
Bancovino Founded by Rome food blogger Francesca Romana Castellani, this deli-meets wine bar offers a richly stocked delicatessen counter with fine cured meats and superb cheeses, wines, liqueurs and a selection of craft beers. On the creative menu are meat tartares, risottos, chunky vegetable soups, and decent burgers. Dig deeper and you'll find suckling pig filet, confit duck leg, mesculun salad with sweet onion, and Sicilian blood orange marmalade. The wine-by-the glass list changes daily, a pleasant surprise. Cooked dishes can be packed for take out. • Bancovino Open Tues.-Fri. 10:30 a.m.-midnight, Sat.-Sun. 4 p.m.-midnight. Closed Monday | Via Pietro Borsieri, 27. Tel. +39.06.8767.3864.
Settembrini Settembrini offers a wide selection of dining options — and people watching possibilities (it's near state TV headquarters and attracts both media lovelies and literati). There's a tremendously beautiful outdoor seating area and a bookstore section with plush pillows, worn-in vintage sofas and illustrations by Swiss artist Alexandra Dufey. The cafè offers breakfast beverages, a good wine list, and a small but imaginative vegetarian-friendly lunch menu. The restaurant tends to go for new-wave rustic cuisine (tagliolini with crab, zucchini and mandarin orange, baccalà with Savoy cabbage, spicy 'nduja sausage). The fine tasting menu runs about €45 with the lunchtime buffet pegged at €12. There are also good sandwiches for a quick pit stop (my favorite panino is stuffed with capocollo, mustard, taleggio and cruschi peppers). • Settembrini The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner while the cafe operates daily from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Closed Sunday | Via Luigi Settembrini, 21/25. Tel. +39.06.323.2617.
Pizzarium Don't expect to sit. Do expect to fight your way to the counter after waiting in line. That said, wee Pizzarium is probably the city's most lionized pizza al taglio (pizza by weight) spot. It has a cult-like following for good reason. The slow-leavened dough and fresh toppings are 100 percent organic and come in artistic combinations. If you can't make up your mind between fresh figs and prosciutto; mortadella and pistachio; sautéed broccoli rabe and sausage, or potatoes and mozzarella, you can opt for a trayful of samplers. There's also a nice choice of craft ales and chilled microbrews as well as freshly fried supplì with delectable fillings. • Pizzarium (no website) Open Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun. 1 p.m.-10 p.m. | Via della Meloria, 43. Tel. +39.06.3974.5416.
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