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Dining out in Italy...guidebooks have me intimidated!!!

Dining out in Italy...guidebooks have me intimidated!!!

Apr 4th, 2004, 04:42 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2004
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Dining out in Italy...guidebooks have me intimidated!!!

I've been reading many guidebooks for my upcoming trip to Italy, and believe it or not the only thing that has me feeling nervous...is the ability to go into a restaurant and order food! Give it to me straight fodorites.

Must I really...
Be dressed to the nines?
Speak Italian to read the menu?
Always order firsts, seconds and dessert or be looked at as rude?
Know what i want the moment the menu is handed me?
Not even think about asking for translations?
Never sit outside, without paying someone?

wkcape is offline  
Apr 4th, 2004, 04:48 PM
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How you dress depends on what kind of restaurants you go to- pizzerias, trattorias, gourmet- like anywhere else.

You can just point to what you want, but trying to pronounce would probably be appreciated.

Order what you can eat. My cousin who lives in Rome always just ordered a pasta course when I was with her.

I've never been given a hard time for taking awhile to read a menu.

Ask for translations if they speak English.

What do you mean paying someone so that you can eat outside?
AP6380 is offline  
Apr 4th, 2004, 05:16 PM
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Something that has helped me a lot with ordering food is a menu translator. I have used the Eating & Drinking in Italy book by Andy Herbach and Michael Dillon a couple of times and have found it to be a huge help. I rarely found a menu item that was not in the book. I think AP got the rest of your questions answered well. Have fun!
cls2paris is offline  
Apr 4th, 2004, 05:49 PM
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Search here for "acena" for an excellent menu translation aid.

Dressed to the nines? No.

Speak Italian? It can help, and be fun; you can get what you want most of the time (with the occasional surprise, if you are a gambler), without "speaking" Italian.

Order multiple courses from every section of the menu? No.

Need to order quickly? No. "Cinque minuti piu, per favore", as you would say in any restaurant anywhere. (Cheen-kway mee-noo-tee pee-oo, pehr fah-voh-ray).

Ask for translations? Sure. If they have no menu in English, you could still ask about a particular thing - - just point - - and ask "Inglese?" you might get clueless shrugs, but often times, they have had occasion to learn a translation, in case you have a mental block on "fagioli bianchi".

I don't understand the last question - - sit at their outside table? without ordering ANYthing? You must mean something different from that.

Best wishes,

rex is offline  
Apr 4th, 2004, 11:18 PM
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Heavens, no wonder I never buy guidebooks.

Be dressed to the nines? Absolutely not.

Speak Italian to read the menu? Probably yes. Although some restaurants in touristy places will have the standard menu translated into several languages, they don't always translate the daily or seasonal specials - which are usually the best things on the menu! Unless there's something you really won't/can't eat, I'd just say go for the specials and let it be a surprise.

Always order firsts, seconds and dessert or be looked at as rude? No. Most Italians don't eat that much at a single meal themselves.

Know what i want the moment the menu is handed me?

Not even think about asking for translations?
By all means ask. In any case, even if you speak Italian fluently, there are often non-obviously named dishes on the menu that even an Italian would have to ask about. So there's no reason for embarassment.

Never sit outside, without paying someone? Huh? If the restaurant has outside seating, you can sit there without paying extra.

best regards,
Deirdré Straughan

DeirdreStraughan is offline  
Apr 5th, 2004, 05:04 AM
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Thanks so much, out goes the guidebook! I have the menu translator...thanks!
wkcape is offline  
Apr 5th, 2004, 05:20 AM
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Some cafes and geletarie have tables outside. If you sit there and have your order brought to you, it will cost more than if you went inside and ordered at the bar and stood there to consume your coffee or gelato. Do not get your coffee or gelato inside at the lower price than go and sit at one of the outside tables.
Grinisa is offline  
Apr 5th, 2004, 06:17 AM
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Something we often did was order the first course (antipasti are easiest to read in my kids' opinions) and something to drink, then you can peruse the menu and winelist without feeling rushed. It often took us a long time to order as my children often wanted to know what every single item on the menu was, before slowly making up the minds. I'm the translator and would have gotten a little peeved if not for the affumati! A friend gave me the book "Italian Cuisine" by Jeffrey Sadowski - which I studied well and which also helped me with how things are cooked and with grocery shopping. We also had a pocket translator which when we brought it out always interested the waiters, and even the maitre'd in two places. We started some good conversations over that translator.
Carolanne is offline  
Apr 5th, 2004, 06:34 AM
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The original poster is getting a lot of bad advice here. The correct answer to his question is: "do whatever you want."

I don't understand why people who would scream bloody murder at home if a glass of water were 10 seconds late suddenly turns into a sheep when he goes goes overseas. Nothing has changed. You are the custom, and are paying the money. It is the business' job to make you happy, not the other way around. There is absolutely no reason to feel intimidated. Half the businesses in Italy would go belly-up without peoplelike you who are willing to give them the benefit of your hard earned money. Always keep that in mind.
platzer is offline  
Apr 5th, 2004, 07:07 AM
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We just got back from Italy a few weeks ago. We had the same worries you did, but honestly had no problems at all. First of all, wear whatever you like. Unless you are going to a "fancy" restaurant you shouldn't have to dress us. I wore nice jeans or pants for all of our dinners and fit right in. You should be able to tell if the restaurant is more formal or not just by peaking in the windows. Generally ristorantes are considered more expensive and formal. For more informal (but just as tasty!) meals, look for osterias or trattorias.

The menus are fairly easy to read. The pastas are easy...lasagna, spaghetti, etc. I brought along a menu translater for the things I coudn't read but had no problems.

We never did order a full four or five course meal and never felt uncomfortable by that. We usually ordered an antipasti (most are wonderful!) and a pasta dish and were never treated rudely. I think that most restaurants almost expect that when they find out your American.

We never had to pay to sit outside so I'm not sure what this means. We ate outside at restaurants in Rome, Florence, and Siena without any problems.

tcreath is offline  
Apr 5th, 2004, 08:21 AM
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Don't worry! Eating in Italy is wonderful!

I find Italian waiters to be much more friendly and patient than French ones (and I love France). I found the Sadowski menu book to be helpful, as well as Eating in Italy by Fred Plotkin and Italy for the Gourmet Traveler by Faith Willinger. They break up chapters by locations, and explain the food specialties of each region, plus give some recommendations.

I'm a foodie, so I wanted to experience regional specialties, so I really studied the books. (Keep in mind that what we in the US think of as Italian food is mostly from Southern Italy and the Campangia region, so there are wonderful grilled meats in Florence, fish in Venice and other dishes to try beyond the basic pasta with sauce.)

Most restaurants will also ask you if you want a bottle of water for the table. Gazzata (sp?) is fizzy and naturale is flat. I'm usually too cheap to pay for bottled water, but it isn't overpriced there, and we came to love the cold, refreshing, lightly bubbly sparkling water with our meals. It kept us hydrated after all the walking we did.

I often ordered soup (they were consistently wonderful and I was there in winter) and a pasta course, since I'm not a big eater.

Salumi platters(slices of meats like salami, proscuitto, etc.) are great.

For non-foodies, the pizza and piadini/panini (flat heated sandwiches- proscuitto and cheese for example) were cheap and delicious everywhere. Don't expect Dominos-style pizza, but fabulous brick oven pies with exotic toppings. I ate panini sandwiches for breakfast everyday because I like protein in the morning, not sweet rolls. I just got them take-out from little cafes.

We are wine snobs, but found that the "table" wine in most places was excellent local artisanal stuff. Delicious and no need to worry about knowing what to order.

In the north- try whatever the special risotto of the day is. I can't believe how delicious every single risotta I had was.

Also remember that in most restaurants you order vegatables on the side, called a "contorno." They have delicious small marinated artichokes at many restaurants.

Apparently Italians don't believe in drinking cappucino after a meal, only espresso. The hot chocolate in the northern cities was like no other hot chocolate I have ever had.

Overall, except maybe in really fancy restaurants in big cities, my take on dining in Italy is that it truly is a celebration. If you smile and seem to be ready to enjoy yourself and experience their culture, you will almost always be shown help and kindness. Enjoy!! (I'm jealous- I've made myself hungry and now must go to lunch!)
BlueSwimmer is offline  
Apr 5th, 2004, 02:13 PM
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Okay, with all you dining experts out there responding to this thread, I thought I would get some opinions on restaurants in Rome, Florence and Italy. I have read the threads on this topic but thought I would just throw it out there. I will be on my honeymoon so hitting the romance button is a definate priority. Thanks fodorites!
TravelBug16 is offline  
Apr 5th, 2004, 02:45 PM
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Dear TravelBug,
Okay, in Florence: 13 Gobbi, Il Cavillino, Da Noi (very small and romantic!).

In Roma: Bocca di Ripetta, Nino, La Taverna del Ghetto, and Il Margutta near Piazza di Popolo (don't let the fact that it's a vegetarian restaurant put you off at all--it is very chic and the food is terrific!)

Buon Viaggio & Buon Appetito,
bookchick is online now  
Apr 5th, 2004, 03:50 PM
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I don't recall the name of it right now, but we ate a wonderful dinner on our final night in Rome. We ate outside, directly in front of the Pantheon. There is nothing like having a glass of good Italian house wine with views of the Pantheon lit up at night. It was definitely a "pinch me, I'm in Rome sitting in front of the Pantheon having dinner" kind of night!

Honestly, there are wonderful restaurants all over the place in Rome and in Florence, not to mention the rest of Italy! Most restaurants we tried were the kind filled with locals, which normally meant that the food must be good. I would definitely try restaurants catering to locals as opposed to tourists. The restaurant we ate at outside the Pantheon was probably a touristy place, given its such a touristy spot, but the food was still good.

tcreath is offline  
Apr 6th, 2004, 06:30 AM
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One of the most romantic restaurants in Rome is Camponeschi on Piazza Farnese. Great food, beautiful patio facing the Palazzo Farnese. Expensive.
Grinisa is offline  
Apr 6th, 2004, 06:57 AM
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Hi bug,

In Florence, IL Ritrovo Via de? Pucci 4/A Closed Monday

It is worth a trip to Orvieto to eat at I Sette Consoli Pzza Sant?Angelo 1A phone/fax 011 39 0763 343911

In Praiano: La Strada and La Brace

In Bologna: Nuovi Notai

In Fiesole: The restaurant at the Villa Aurora

In Paestum: Ristorante Della Rose
ira is online now  
Apr 6th, 2004, 02:57 PM
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You guys rock. My mouth is watering just thinking about all that Italian food. Thanks for the suggestions!
TravelBug16 is offline  

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