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March 30, 2010

Just Back from Rome

The eternal city continues to change for the better

The eternal city continues to change for the better from moment to moment, a by-product of the extensive renovation and improvement campaign undertaken by the municipal government. Here's the latest.

Grand Opening
Le Grand Hotel , now the St. Regis Grand, is back, having been restored at a cost of $35 million. All the rooms have the same decor—a rich, sensuous rendition of Empire, Regency, or Louis XV styles with beige, gold, or red as the dominant color—and each has a fresco of a Roman scene above the bed, a terrific touch (a Deluxe room). Suites have antique furniture—some 2,000 pieces were restored—and 70 percent of those Murano chandeliers are original. I loved the Imperial rooms, which are the size of two doubles. Also spacious are the 14-series rooms—581 square feet. For the best views ask for an upper-floor room on the Quirinale side of the hotel. $467-$4,674. 3 Via V. E. Orlando; 39-06-47091; fax 39-06-474-7307. Reservations: 800-325-3589.

Hot Spot
Il Chicco d'Uva, just outside Piazza Navona. Warm yellow tones, cherry-wood paneling, and lots of candlelight lend a soft golden atmosphere to the two dining rooms. My advice: Stick to the light antipasti (octopus carpaccio or salmon marinated in a raisin vinaigrette served on a bed of mesclun) and the first courses like spaghetti with piquant sun-dried tomatoes and sweet moscardini (baby octopus), and risotto with taleggio cheese and radicchio topped with thin slices of fresh pear. They were inspired. Forget the second courses—the chicken breast with sweet-pepper sauce and black truffles was dry, the sea bass, overpowered by a balsamic vinegar and grape sauce—and go straight to dessert. $70. 70 Corso del Rinascimento; 39-06-686-7983.

A Donkey with Taste
Asinocotto is a good restaurant, a rarity in Trastevere, the old working-class and now increasingly gentrified neighborhood across the Tiber. The dining room is small (cramped, actually) and rustic—nubby whitewashed walls and dark beamed ceilings. But it's the perfect counterpoint to Giuliano Brenna's sophisticated cooking. (He was most recently at the one-star La Terrazza atop the Hotel Eden.) Best dishes: a mini-bouillabaisse antipasto that tastes of spring because of the vegetables in it (zucchini, carrot, and asparagus); strips of whole-wheat pasta with lamb ragout and fennel seed (remarkably light); swordfish and pesto with tiny Pachino tomatoes on trofie (short, rolled pasta); and duck breast with tangerine and green tea. (Brenna likes to mix meat with fruit.) One thing you won't find on the menu is asinocotto, or cooked donkey in Roman dialect. $50. 48 Via dei Vascellari; tel/fax 39-06-589-8985. www.trastevere.net

Diplomatic Coup
The Hotel Eden Ambassador's Floor is a wing of five communicating suites on the second floor of this hotel, a stone's throw from the Spanish Steps. The feeling is Roman—frescoes of city scenes, a palette of terra cotta, peach, and ocher—rather than Anglo-Saxon, as in the rest of the hotel. Splendid baths of Italian marble add a touch of end-of-Empire hedonism. Perfect for those with an entourage. $9,500 per night. 49 Via Ludovisi; 39-06-478-121; fax 39-06-482-1584. www.hotel-eden.it

Old Reliable
The recently renovated Testa Food & Wine, near Villa Borghese, is as straightforward as its name. The spacious dining room has exposed brick arches, lots of woodwork, antique prints, warm lighting, and well-distanced tables. Best dishes: squared-off spaghetti alla chitarra with succulent shrimp; fresh tomato and zucchini scented with anise; orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) gratinée with Sicilian broccoli and sautéed clams; duck breast stuffed with foie gras, crowned with roast almonds and served with plums marinated in port; a light tempura of zucchini, eggplant, sweet peppers, sage, radicchio, and shrimp. Live jazz in the bar on Tuesday nights. $70. 30 Via Tirso; tel/fax 39-06-8530-0692.

Roman Romantic
Montevecchio has only nine tables in a high-ceilinged dining room lit by candles and branch sconces. The food is superb—the chef formerly worked at the one-star La Pergola, which many consider the city's best restaurant. Dishes we loved: Giant prawn wrapped in bacon with a white bean salad; sea bass on a bed of fennel with crisp fried mussels; lamb with black olive crust. The little square outside should make a divine alfresco dining backdrop at this time of year. $70. 22a Piazza di Montevecchio; 39-06-686-1319.

Coming Soon
The Hotel de Russie should have just opened on Piazza del Popolo. If the mock rooms were any indication, the hotel should set a new standard here. $295-$1,600. 9 Via del Babuino; 39-06-328881; fax 39-06-3288-8888.
www.rfhotels.com

New Look
Il Convivio has moved, and the dining room is now a chaste all-white. But based on a recent dinner, the Troiano brothers are still topnotch. Note that the entrance is in the alley just beside the restaurant. There's no handle on the Iron Age-looking door. Ring the bell and stand back—the door swings out automatically. The only odd note. $110. 31 Vicolo dei Soldati; 39-06-686-9432.