Dining is without a doubt one of the main activities that makes a trip magical. For every dream destination that dances in your head, there’s usually a culinary side dish to the fantasy.
Been longing for that summer in France? I’m pretty sure some cheese and wine have been floating through that equation. Packing for that semester in Munich? You’ve probably already been bragging about all the beer & pretzels you will be putting down. About to head off to Southeast Asia for a few months? You probably already know you will end up on a first name basis with a street food vendor there.
Speaking of, have you noticed how the Travel Channel almost seems like the Food Network over the last few years and vice-versa? Shows like No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, Man vs. Food, & Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives could easily be at home on either television station. Just further evidence of the melding of the two and it seems like more and more people are being inspired to travel through the food and drink displayed on these type of shows.
I’m one of them. I used to record No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain all the time and especially took notice of the Rome episode that aired since it was on mere weeks before I would be in the Eternal City. I found it entertaining, informative, and a little slow as usual but it wasn’t until the segment when he visited a Roman “mom and pop” restaurant called Il Timoniere that I looked up from my laptop and started paying attention.
When I am traveling, I always try my best to find dining establishments that are off the beaten track of most of my fellow tourists (sorry, guys). Besides inflated prices, quality is not going to be up to snuff when they know the tourists are streaming in the door regardless.
I was so impressed with the segment on Il Timoniere that I immediately texted my friend who I was going to be traveling with and said “Dinner. Rome. Done Deal.”
Now I know what you are thinking: “How could any place that was on television qualify as off the beaten track and by time you get there won’t the tourist herds already have descended on the place and ravaged it beyond recognition?” These were concerns of mine of course, but since we were visiting in September and the show aired in August, you would have already had to have a trip planned to Rome coming up to include it in your plans. It was plain to see that it was located in a residential area outside the main tourist sites, so I knew we would be good-to-go.
A few weeks later, we were without a doubt the only tourists wandering the streets of the Garbatella neighborhood searching for Il Timoniere. Even though the directions we had written down seemed bulletproof, of course we got lost. Through the help of many friendly Romans though, we got back on course for our first course and headed straight down a hidden residential street.
It was a perfect September night, remarkably quiet and still. With all the high rise apartments that enveloped us with their windows open, the only sound in the air was that of televisions broadcasting the local soccer team, A.S. Roma, and the “ooohing and aaaahing” of the fans in their homes.
When we finally arrived at the restaurant after multiple wrong locations searched, it was like taking a step back in time. The name of the restaurant was sketched into a piece of wood out front and it appeared to be in the courtyard of a residential building.
We were seated, and became only the second table being served. There wasn’t one word of English on the menu, and that was just what we were hoping for.
What followed was an mouth-watering procession of prosciutto-wrapped buffalo mozzarella, carbonara with zucchini flowers, Spaghetti Amatriciana, and Tiramisu. The dishes tasted as good as they had looked on television and then some.
The family dog that was scouring the floor for scraps and the peeling wallpaper complimented the “mom and pop” feel, but it was the warm, family-run atmosphere that made Il Timoniere the highlight of my time in Rome.