I have on FB post from Italian sites run by Americans in the USA. The Italian site promotes property for sale, restaurants, cities to visit, cultural tips, etc. It also promotes news items from Condé Nast and CNN travel.
Having lived in Italy, I am less and less enamoured with such sites. One like Condé Nast, tend to recommend the same spots over and over again, Tuscany being one, Florence and Venice is another, there is also the constant refrain of pursuing authenticity.
What I find disappointing is that often what they recommend is neither authentic and is usually expensive or they go budget and it is so cheap that you wonder if it makes any sense to even go.
There are also a lot of expat Americans who have made a business of luring tourists into their business as tour guides or Italian cooking classes. They are popular because they speak english and what they propose is not challenging and made to make you believe that this is how it is done.
This week Condé Nast was proposing a restaurant as authentic in Rome near the Pantheon, first it is not near the Pantheon at all. This establishment has been there since 1930, it is very simple and non discript. Then Anthony Bourdain on his show on CNN went to this restaurant and he makes a point of not telling you the name of the place. Interviews a young woman while he eats with his fingers and speaks with his mouth full, because he is a celebrity. The young woman goes on about how ”la mamma” has been cooking since for ever, if the restaurant opened in 1930, ”la mamma” would be at least 100 years old now. Then a blogger who lives in Rome, wrote about the place and though will no recommend it because the wine is cheap and undrinkable, the owners Mario and Teresa will sometime pad the bill and the food has apparently been the same for many decades. So the concept of no menu, we serve the daily special is out the window, the special has not changed in 85 years.
The restaurant is called Settimio al Pellegrino on Via del Pellegrino 117, it is a trattoria, meaning a cheap eats place. I get really annoyed with Bourdain who I consider a fraud who is trading on his past in NYC restaurants as a Chef apparently. He is certainly very clever at promoting himself but then so was Paris Hilton and that Kardashian women.
I can understand that a traveller who may have this one trip and who may want to make this into the trip of a life time, who only has a few days in Rome or Italy will do whatever they can to make it worthwhile. So Condé Nast or Bourdain come in and sell their wares, it may be what you want and it may not, buyer beware, but the whole authentic thing is a fraud.
Condé Nast like many travel sites hires writers to produce articles about a place, this does not mean that the writer has been to the place they write about. Last year per example Air Canada had a list of the best restaurants in Canada. Most of them were in Vancouver, Toronto, there were 2 in Montreal. Considering the vast distances between those cities, I was wondering if the writer had travelled to any of them. I looked up who had written the article, it was a young Asian woman who lived in Los Angeles. I sent her an email telling her that I really found her choice of best restaurants very odd. Ottawa has good restaurants, none mentioned, Quebec City, no, how about in the Maritimes, none mentioned. She replied that she in fact had picked her choices from another magazine and travel guides and simply re-wrote a newish article, she had never been to Canada. Well she was honest. I have to say that I usually find airline recommendation of hotels or restaurant very strange. The segment they wish to appeal to is usually the traveller on large expense accounts who can drop $400 dollars a night or more and pick $200 bottle of wines on the menu.
It all comes down, in the case of Italy, Rome or any other cities, if you really want authentic, well I am not sure what that means anymore. However there are plenty of good restaurants with typically Roman style cuisine and reasonable and good wines on offer all over the city. First stay away from the restaurants on a famous Piazza like Piazza Navona or around the Colosseum. Don’t go to pizza joints, remember in Italy pizzas are like fast food, in neighbourhoods they are sold in small pieces to simply eat quickly for a couple of Euros. Go to restaurants frequented by Italian families and avoid places with tourist menus or kids menus, that is so not Italian.
The same with coffee shops, Condé Nast and others have been pushing Caffè San Eustachio , on Piazza San Eustachio. It has been there since 1938 and his famous for its roasted coffee beans which are still roasted on a wood fire. Though I wonder given the popularity of the place and the hordes who descend on it everyday if this method is still followed. They only have 6 tables and an espresso is meant to be drunk standing up at the counter in 3 sips. Since 1999 the Ricci brothers who now own the place use Fair Trade Coffee and will charge more for an espresso than other coffee shops. I never liked that place because there are far too many people at any time. Rome has thousands of coffee shops and you can find in any neighbourhood a good one devoid of tourists. The one I liked was in our old neighbourhood, on Via Alessandria near the corner with Corso Trieste, a real neighbourhood caffé.
There are lots of other place, it just requires a bit of flair.