Five Favorite Casual Restaurants in Italy

It is Dream of Italy’s 5th anniversary!And you will see a number of features using the number “5” in the coming months. I’m inaugurating the series this month with “Five Favorite Casual Restaurants in Italy.” I was going to just pick my five favorite restaurants from my travels over the last five years but, although it may sound cliche, it felt like a mother choosing favorite children! So I’ve narrowed down my faves in the area of “informal eateries”:

Cane e Gatto, Siena: The cozy art-filled dining room, which feels more like a private home than a restaurant, has seats for just 20 patrons at glass-topped brass tables. Owner Paolo Senni welcomes each female guest with an orchid before retreating to the kitchen to whip up some magic with wife Sonia. Our five- course meal (dinner only served here, pre- fixe). begins with a plate for each of us of antipasti: prosciutto with melon; honey drizzled on Pecorino cheese; startlingly fresh mozzarella and tomato; chicken liver pate; and finally, quiche with a cheese sauce. It only got better. Via Pagliaresi, 6; (39) 0577 287545 (More information in DOI’s Special Report: Chianti)

Da Ettore, Naples: A Neapolitan friend turned me on to this place that is packed with locals every night (in fact, if you don’t arrive early enough, expect to wait in line). Even more stop by to pick up takeout pizza. This is the real thing in the birthplace of the pizza pie. Also try pagnottiello, a scrumptious pizza dough creation, with fillings such as mozzarella and prosciutto and don’t miss the fried zucchini flowers (fiorilli) if they are in season. Closed Sunday and the month of August.Via Santa Lucia, 56; (39) 081 7640498

Renato e Luisa, Rome: It is the kind of restaurant (taverna officially) you might not notice when walking by, but looks can be deceiving. Step inside Renato e Luisa, just behind Largo di Torre Argentina, for a relaxing, authentic and affordable Roman meal. When we ate there, our waiter did not speak English, which was actually refreshing for a change and made the experience more authentic. After listening to him slowly and patiently recite the nightly specials in Italian, the sea bass with puntarelle was hard to resist. (Puntarelle, resembling a dandelion and a member of the chicory family, is grown outside Rome.) Dinner only. Closed Monday. Via dei Baribieri, 25; (39) 06 6869660 (More information in DOI’s Special Report: Rome)

Giovanni, Florence: I’m so crazy about this place that I made my review from DOI’s Special Report: Florence available as a free article. I was there again in November and am reserving a table for my parents who will be visiting Firenze in two weeks!

Vino Vino, Venice: Entering this tiny wine bar, you can’t help but notice of the number of men wearing black and white striped shirts and red neck scarves; this is a favorite hangout for Venice’s gondoliers. Diners order off the menu of daily specials at the bar. There are usually a variety of meat, chicken, vegetable and pasta dishes; some examples: pasta salad, spicy veal stew, turkey with zucchini and curry. All of the dishes are prepared at Vino Vino’s sister restaurant, the much more expensive Antico Martini next door. Closed Tuesday. Calle delle Veste, 2007A; (39) 041 2417688

The past five years have produced a stunning (I can hardly believe it!) 43 issues covering destinations from Palermo to Piedmont and topic from cooking schools to shopping for ceramics. Paid subscribers gain online access to all 43 of these issues (including the special reports mentioned above) plus receive 10 information-packed editions in the coming year and receive a bonus e-book on Florence. Celebrate with us and subscribe today!