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After exploring new restaurants during our recent stay in the Lazio countryside, Tom and I were ready for old familiar places and old favorite dishes when we got to Rome for the second half of our trip.  Here are some that we enjoyed.

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Ar Galletto, just off the Piazza Farnese, used to be a simple down-home trattoria. We were dismayed to find it had moved just into the piazza and upgraded to a severe – not to say stark – modernity. That elegance took away some of the fun for us, but happily, the kitchen hadn’t changed. Since it was high porcini mushroom season, the highlights of that dinner were my primo of fettucini con funghi porcini and Tom’s secondo of porcini ai ferri. My pasta was lavishly adorned with the mushrooms, and Tom’s grilled caps were huge and succulent.

Rome 1

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Still in the fungus category, there were white truffles all over Rome. When we ordered tonnarelli ai tartufi bianchi at Fortunato al Pantheon, another old favorite place, the aroma of truffle when the cart was wheeled over to prepare our dish perfumed half the restaurant. We weren’t given all those truffles in the picture on the left below, but they didn’t stint. The picture on the right is a half portion (we shared the dish). Those truffles were even better than the ones Tom had in his white truffle menu in Lazio.

Rome 2

BTW: 2014 should be a great year for white truffles, because the north of Italy had a lousy summer – chilly and frequently rainy – which, though terrible for grapes, is just what truffles like. The subterranean beauties will be abundant and delicious, and maybe less expensive than in the past few years.

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La Sagrestia, near the Piazza Rotonda, for years was the only pizzeria in the centro storico that offered pizzas at midday. That’s not true any longer, but Sagrestia is still a must-stop place for us for a reasonably modest lunch. Roman pizzas are very different from Neapolitan ones: The crust is as thin as a matzoh and extremely crisp. (I’m speaking of individual round pizzas, not the very large rectangular slabs – pizza al metro – sold by the slice.) We had one pizza with sausage and one with lardo di colonnata. I was hesitant about a lardo topping – it’s pure fat, after all – but curiosity prevailed. It was amazingly good. I’m going to try it next time I make pizza at home.

Rome 3

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Roman dining used to be very tied to the seasons. Now it seems that many formerly time-limited delicacies are available year-round. For instance, abbacchio – milk-fed baby lamb – was always a springtime specialty. But I had it on Halloween this year at the Trattoria dal Cavalier Gino, and it definitely hadn’t been frozen. It’s a very rich meat, for all the delicacy of its appearance.

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BTW again: Gino is a tiny, hidden-away, deeply Roman trattoria, with this inscription in Roman dialect blazoned across one wall: Chi cia li sordi e se li magna e beve arisparambia er pianto dell’erede. What it means (translation from my friend Lars) is “He who has money and spends it on food and drink spares the tears of his heirs.” An encouraging if rather self-serving sentiment!

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Similarly out of season – or so we’d thought – all the restaurants were offering carciofi alla romana and alla giudia (big globe artichokes, braised or deep-fried), fiori fritti (stuffed fried zucchini flowers), and fragoline (tiny wild strawberries). We gobbled as many of all these as we could hold.

Rome 4

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Our last dinner in Rome was at La Campana, yet another old favorite. (I have a menu from the place dated October 28, 1990, which was far from our first meal there. Very little has changed except the prices.) As always, everything we had was delicious. The standout dish this time was my main course, maialino con patate al forno. The suckling pig had the perfect contrast between meltingly tender flesh and crisp, chewy crackling. Terrific potatoes, too.

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Our stay in Rome ended with a short walk to say goodnight to the Pantheon – for us the perfect emblem of the Eternal City.

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