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What’s a visit to La Citta Eterna without trying a couple of its best restaurants? Because we were on holiday, we decided to splurge a little and let Michelin be our guide to restaurants in Rome – we had dinner at two restaurants with a 1-star rating from the Michelin Red Guide. The first was All’Oro, newly starred in 2011 and very contemporary in food style. The second was Imago, a favorite for the commanding view at the top of the Spanish Steps with a more classic and continental take.

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With only 26 seats, All’Oro offers an intimate and personal dining experience. We could watch chef/owner Riccardo Di Giacinto finish our dishes through the window to the kitchen from the other end of the room. He came out to greet us twice during the meal, get our reactions and chat about his trip to California. Very charming and genuine, Chef Riccardo cooked at el Bulli with Ferran Adrià and his cooking shows that influence – it’s an understatement to say that dinner was excellent. (el Bulli was a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Spain that closed in 2011, widely considered the finest restaurant in the world during the first decade of the 21st C and a key innovator in modern, molecular gastronomy.) Of course we had the 5-course tasting menu with wine pairing. The standout highlights included a starter of “tiramisu” with baccala under a heavenly potato blanket and cappelletti in broth that was turned inside out – this Italian classic had the broth inside the cappelletti which were sitting on a parmesan foam – creating a perfect explosion in your mouth. In addition, we had raviolini filled with creamed mascarpone in a duck ragout and a drizzle of red wine reduction, the closest thing I’ve ever had to perfect pasta dish. Chef Riccardo really understands sauces and how to create innovative dishes that excite the palate without being gratuitous or self-conscious. Highly recommended. $$$

Imago was a different experience – a much bigger restaurant, it was contemporary but still rooted in an old-school approach. The first feature you notice is the 180-degree view of Rome from its location at the Piazza Trinità dei Monti. This time we had the Inspiration tasting menu and worked with the sommelier to choose a single bottle of wine for the whole meal. As the tasting menu is a surprise from the kitchen, this required some research so that the sommelier could recommend something suitable for the dishes to come. Having selected a reasonable Sicilian white wine from an Italian varietal that has the full, dry and slightly oily quality that lets it pair well with seafood and meat, we got started with the dishes. We tried about six different dishes, with only a couple from the current menu while discussing different wines with the sommelier between courses. Standout dishes included superb fettuccine with a duck ragout, roast duck breast in red wine demi-glace and a traditional sweet cake from Sicily. Overall, very good, albeit not as innovative as All’Oro and you pay a bit extra for the view. Service in each restaurant was superb – Italian waiters are wonderful at warmth without chumminess and efficiency without being curt. Recommended. $$$$

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