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Rome's Spring Fling

Al Ceppo

Al Ceppo.

Springtime in Rome: Streets not quite so swollen with tourists. Warm, flowery breezes seducing everyone onto patios. Markets exploding with azaleas, artichokes and asparagus, piled to the ceiling. It’s the best time to be in the city, exploring new places and revisiting old favorites. Here are a few dining stops that always make my list.

La Pergola is Rome’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant, an opulent, glowing space filled with priceless art, antiques (a rare Aubusson tapestry among the most prized) and the one thing that simply can’t be replicated anywhere: a panoramic view of the Eternal City with St. Peter’s Basilica front and center. German-born chef Heinz Beck specializes in Mediterranean cuisine. There aren’t any missteps leaving his kitchen, but don’t skip the fagottelli La Pergola, Beck’s inventive take on classic carbonara that puts the rich sauce inside ravioli-like pasta, which is finished with a veal and white wine sauce, zucchini and bacon. If weather permits, take your meal on the candlelit terrace, drink a lot of Barolo and spend the night right there in the hotel Rome Cavalieri, which houses the restaurant.

For old-world elegance, I like Al Ceppo. Open since 1964, it’s a special-occasion place that Roman families have visited for generations. Sparkling chandeliers and rich wood walls hung with oversized paintings and big, bright windows make the space feel vaguely modern without diminishing its classic vibe. Of course, the pastas are fabulous, but save room for anything that comes off the grill. You can’t go wrong with cuttlefish in pesto sauce with a small salad of dried tomatoes, elegant grilled lamb or crispy veal with herbs. Spring has sprung.

I really dig a lazy afternoon snacking session at restaurant and deli Roscioli; the salumi is the stuff of my dreams. This very casual spot specializes in cured meats, including a selection of Italian prosciutti, all featured on a charcuterie board showcasing a handful of the restaurant’s best cured hams. It might be heresy, but dare I recommend splurging on the Spanish jamón Ibérico gran reserva? Just to compare it to the local classics, of course. This time of year, opt for the appetizer of Galician sardines served atop crisp bread and finished with lemon zest. Stunning farmhouse cheeses also are always available.

If you’ve saved room, check out the equally charming and a bit less polished Filetti di Baccalà just down the street. The specialty is baccalà fritto, which might just be the best fried salt cod in the city.

Pizza al taglio (by the slice) is everywhere in Rome. Here, a slice of pizza used to mean cheap, convenient fuel and nothing more. That changed a decade ago with the opening of Gabriele Bonci’s no-frills pizzeria, Pizzarium. The “Michelangelo of pizza” (that’s really how he’s referred to) set out to turn the al taglio style on its ear. Bonci starts with a divinely thin crust, using rare flours locally milled from nontraditional grains such as Khorasan wheat and enkir; his sourdough starter dates back to WWI. He loves experimenting, and his repertoire includes some 1,500 variations, but he offers only about 20 on any given day. If you fall in love with that ham and artichoke pizza or the LSD pie (licorice, sausage and dates), think of it as a culinary one-night stand and just appreciate the moment. As it is everywhere else on the planet, pizza by the slice is best eaten here standing on the street. And since Pizzarium offers no seating, that’s your only option.

The gelato culture is part of the city’s culinary vibe. A postmeal stroll that ends with a few scoops is the perfect way to punctuate an evening. So many of these places look and feel the same, but Il Gelato di San Crispino is different. This is sexy food. Eschewing the bodaciousness of the gelaterias displaying brightly colored mountains of gelato, San Crispino keeps its goods hidden beneath stainless steel lids. They say it helps preserve consistency and flavor, but I think it’s all about seduction. Fanatics rave about the caramel gelato with bits of crispy, perfectly preserved meringue. I can’t stop eating the gelateria’s seasonal fruit flavors, such as Seville orange, tart grapefruit and vibrant Antofagasta grape. Multiple locations dot the city, so whether you just tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain or finished a hot lap around the Pantheon, there’s likely one nearby.

Viva, Roma!

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