Rome: An Insider's Address Book

By Catharine Reynolds

March 7, 2004

Where else does a glance embrace Renaissance domes, ancient stones and bronzed citizens sipping their caffè ristretti in sunglasses, the human pageant more important than the news in their folded paper? No wonder we -- like Romans -- find the city intoxicating.

While caffeine fanatics argue the superiority of the arabica beans and the water at the Caffè Sant'Eustachio and at Tazza d'Oro, the fashionable opt for the heady brew at Teichner, where the sandwiches are also excellent. 17 Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina (06-687-1449). Closed Sunday.

Whether leaning against neighboring buildings or seated at tables in this cozy wine bar, drinkers chatter about Il Goccetto's wines, selected knowledgeably by the owner, Sergio Ceccarelli, at small vineyards from the Veneto to Sicily. Good ''piggeries'' (cured meats) and cheeses enhance their flavors and provide the makings of light meals. Unlike others, this enoteca is open at lunchtime, making it an ideal stop after trolling nearby antiques shops. 14 Via dei Banchi Vecchi (06-686-4268). Closed Sunday.

The glories of Italian delicatessen -- torta filled with spinach, Gorgonzola, and pine nuts, robiola cheese wrapped in cabbage leaves, bricks of goat cheese from Brescia and boar sausages from Lucca -- line the displays at Volpetti in Testaccio. Volpetti Più, around the corner, assuages travelers' kitchen envy with its tavola calda where one can sample the firm's wares. 47 Via Marmorata and 8/10 Via Alessandro Volta (06-574-2352; 06-574-4306). Closed Sunday.

What could be more romantic than a picnic in the Borghese Gardens, followed by a (reserved) visit to the Galleria Borghese? Gina provides fitted hampers (including tablecloth, glasses, thermos) of their panini (tomato-sweet eggplant and mozzarella di bufala on focaccia), fruit salad, dessert and coffee for two ($45). If the weather fails, the white-on-white restaurant is a choice place for a pause during a Piazza di Spagna shopping marathon. 7/A Via San Sebastianello (06-678-0251). Open Monday though Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight, Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Participate knowledgeably in the best-gelato debate. Stop in at both Il Gelato di San Crispino, whose ''laboratory'' near the Trevi Fountain scoops cups of lush textured natural ginger-cinnamon ice cream and clementine sorbet ($2.15 for a small coppetta), and Il Palazzo del Freddo di Giovanni Fassi, known for the rich flavors of its Sicilian-style multilayered caterinetta, frosted with whipped cream ($2.75). San Crispino, 42 Via della Panetteria (06-679-3924). Open noon until past midnight; closed Tuesday. Palazzo del Freddo, 65/67 Via Principe Eugenio (06-446-4740). Open noon until midnight. Closed Monday.

A glass of prosecco at Il Bicchiere di Mastai is apt to segue into a light meal, but who's complaining? The drinkers are handsome, the food, conceived by Fabio Baldassarre (formerly at La Pergola), delicious, and a simple salad of tuna, potatoes and onions, flavorful. 52 Via dei Banchi Nuovi (06-681-92228). Closed Monday.

There is talk of banning smoking in Rome restaurants, but until a law is passed, the smoke-averse should angle for outdoor tables wherever and whenever possible.

Settimio all'Arancio has oranges etched on its windows, a hint of the flavors on the menu. In this halogen-bright trattoria, clients reach from table to table to liberate a crisp-fried leaf from a neighbor's artichoke alla giudia before attending to their own strozzapreti (''priest stranglers,'' but it's only pasta) with prosciutto, thyme and lemon, or tender turbot crisp with potato scales and puntarelle, a bitter chicory. The tiramisu redeems lesser examples in other Roman restaurants. Alas, the rooms full of enthusiastic diners are not smoke free. 50/52 Via dell'Arancio (06-687-6119). $42 a person (this and prices below include a moderate wine). Closed Sunday.

Join the buzzy crowd at a ground-floor table at Maccheroni, in a white-tiled former butcher shop near the Pantheon. The food is straightforward and delicious -- roast lamb, bresaola with arugula and generous hunks of Parmesan and Roman specialties like tonnarelli cacio e pepe (sturdy spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and cracked pepper). Bypass the desserts in favor of biscotti dipped in vin santo. 44 Piazza delle Coppelle (06-683-07895). $34 a person. Open daily.

Neither rain nor long waits deter the trendies lined up for Saturday and Sunday brunch at 'Gusto, the all-purpose wine-bar-restaurant-pizzeria-osteria-kitchen-shop-cookbook-store that spills onto the terrace alongside the scaffolded Ara Pacis, the elegantly sculptured monument to Augustus' peace. The fill-your-own-tin-plate seasonal buffet (average price about $23) explains it: salads of all shades, vegetable-studded couscous, scrambled eggs, prune-stuffed pork rolls and chocolate cake sauced in more chocolate. For calm, reserve at the upstairs restaurant. 9 Piazza Augusto Imperatore (06-322-6273). Open daily.

Giuliano Brenna cooks up a creative storm at Asinocotto, deep in Trastevere. This dim, whimsically decorated room hums as diners savor sea bass and lettuce ravioli in dry white wine and succulent beef braised in red wine with the virtuoso addendum of poached pear, as well as panna cotta lively with ginger. 48 Via dei Vascellari (06-589-8985). $56 a person. Closed Monday.

A block from the Campo de'Fiori, Ditirambo's two rustic dining rooms rely on a visible kitchen too small for most families; yet from it emerge brilliantly seasoned, regularly revised treats like puff pastry with lentils in truffle-scented Parmesan cream and roast loin of suckling pig spiced with star anise. If the grins on the diners are a measure, any dessert that includes the house chocolate sauce has to be good. 74/75 Piazza della Cancelleria (06-687-1626). $46 a person. Closed Monday lunch.

Dal Bolognese is Rome's leading exponent of the pasta, ragù and lasagna that are that city's culinary fame. With old-school service and a few tables on what is arguably the city finest piazza -- well, what's not to love? Generations of artists, politicians, film stars and families out for Sunday lunch agree. 1/2 Piazza del Popolo (06-361-1426). $70 a person. Closed Monday.

''The Divine Mouthful,'' or Boccondivino, serves revisionist Italian cuisine in a black-and-white setting. Tagliatelle might come with lemon, but here cinnamon, too, enters the mix -- to admirable effect. From the regularly revised menu, choose anything that includes bottarga (mullet roe). Outside the entrance framed by ancient columns, a terrace facing Santa Maria in Campo Marzio beckons in fine weather. 6 Piazza in Campo Marzio (06-683-08626). $56 a person. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday.

For 150 years Alinari's photographs have documented life in Italy. Its handsome Lucite trays (large $162, small $107) and bookends ($155) provide an appealing way to display these variations on a postcard from Rome. The hard part is choosing which of their 3.5 million images to feature. 16a/b Via Alibert (06-679-2923).

For a quick fix on the season's latest colors and accessories, Blunauta's easy-to-wear day-into-evening women's and men's clothes in natural fibers may be the answer. Who wouldn't fall for a velvet-trimmed watermelon-pink cashmere twin set ($107 for the shell, $145 for the cardigan)? Tempting, too, to top it with a matching velvet jacket. An of-the-moment men's zip cardigan in gray heather wool runs $100. 35 Piazza di Spagna (06-678-0110).

Calico Lion stocks the clothes traditional grannies imagine on under-8's, say, a red velvet jumper fastened with bows of the same striped silk as the puffed-sleeve blouse ($205) or a blue checked wool jumper ($130), as well as corduroys and Viyella shirts for boys. 80 Via della Vite (06-678-4626).

Spada upholds the Roman standard for refined masculine sportswear with pashmina and cashmere ties ($126), jewel-toned cashmere sweaters ($505) and a Paddington Bear-cuts-a-bella-figura navy cashmere duffel coat with zip-in squirrel lining ($3,377). No surprise that women raid the shop for their country wardrobes. 20 Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina (06-687-1505).

In her tiny workshop, Valentina Troccoli gives classes in fresco restoration and paints porcelain. What breakfast wouldn't be brightened by a small butter container cheerful with flowers ($20)? Chose from stock items or commission what will become sentimental heirlooms. 16 Via dei Banchi Vecchi (06-687-6508).

Instead of forcing themselves into club mode -- veterans of the London and New York scenes find Rome's venues like the vast Alpheus and Bluecheese in Testaccio so yesterday -- romantics immerse themselves in the past that is Rome's forte.

They choose moonlight rambles around the city's monuments, from Castel Sant'Angelo and St. Peter's to the Colosseum and Campidoglio, where, I could swear, a sibyl still murmurs near the Temple of Jupiter and ghosts inhabit the Forum beyond. And, yes, stop at the Trevi Fountain before a nightcap off the Piazza Navona. The Bar della Pace remains the crossroad of fashion.

Racing the crowds through the Vatican Museums to the Sistine Chapel, tourists often glimpse the serene, groomed lawns of the Vatican Gardens. In fact, this privileged sanctuary is more accessible than one would expect.

Covering nearly half the Vatican's 109 acres, the gardens couple the fountains and follies of classic Italian formal design with botanical ecumenism. Tender jasmine arches within vestiges of the famed ninth-century 40-foot Leonine walls. Carlo Maderna's exuberant galleon fountain gushes water from its cannon, a reminder of the papacy's past temporal power. The 16th-century Casina, a charming garden house, is a masterpiece of the architecture of delight, a Renaissance riposte to the pious solemnities of the Vatican Museums. Today it is home to the scholarly 70-member Pontifical Academy of Sciences. However, the most magical bonus is the stunning views of St. Peter's dome framed with palms.

Guided visits only. Visits Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10 a.m. from March 8 to Oct. 29. Reserve a week in advance, calling 06-698-84676 between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Access through the Viale Vaticano entrance to the Vatican Museums. Admission: $12.