On my recent visit to Rome, in addition to researching hotels, I decided to spend a week in an apartment, experiencing life as a Roman citizen. In search of authenticity, and in order to escape the tourist throngs, I chose to stay in the residential neighborhood of Prati. The name means “meadows,” and 150 years ago, Prati was a flat, marshy area, bounded by the Tiber to the east and the Vatican to the west. Today it is a grid of tree-lined streets with grand, mostly 19th-century buildings. The area is popular with lawyers, politicians and affluent professionals of all stripes. Because Prati is relatively new, by Roman standards, it has no monuments or churches of significance. However, it is home to many of the city’s best food and wine stores, as well as a number of notable restaurants and trattorias. Whether or not you actually stay there, it is certainly an area worthy of exploration.
My chosen apartment was on the second floor of an imposing, classically proportioned building at the eastern end of Via dei Gracchi. The chief virtue of its location was that despite being on a quiet residential street, it was only a 10-minute stroll to the Piazza del Popolo, across the Ponte Cavour.
Prati’s principal thoroughfare is Via Cola di Rienzo, a wide, straight and impressive boulevard that is generally considered to be one of Rome’s foremost shopping streets. It soon became my habit to go for breakfast at one of the local food stores. Castroni, at No. 196, opened in 1932 and is still a superb family-owned emporium. Aside from a cornucopia of culinary delights, there is a café, much frequented by locals, with delicious pastries and arabica coffee. Four doors away, Franchi serves delicious prepared foods — there are tables, so you can eat here — as well as a superlative selection of cheese, salumi, speck and porchetta. After breakfast, on my way home, I would pass through the Mercato Rionale di Prati, a covered market with kaleidoscopic displays of produce, as well as the finest-quality meat, prosciutto, cheese and pasta.
The best-known restaurant in Prati is L’Arcangelo, on Via Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, where chef Arcangelo Dandini serves traditional Roman dishes in a cozy, unaffected dining room with small tables, red banquettes and family portraits on the walls. Dandini offers up challenging dishes such as tripe and sweetbreads, but there are plenty of options for the less intrepid. My local favorite, though, swiftly became Sorpasso, on Via Properzio. This is a no-frills establishment (reservations are not accepted), which is customarily full of locals and their children. However, the staff are extremely friendly, and the food is delicious. The restaurant’s philosophy is to prepare simple and natural dishes using the best local ingredients, the “genuine products of the countryside.” If you have to wait for a table — some of which are outside on the sidewalk — there is a small but congenial bar. I also recommend the Del Frate wine bar (which also serves an extensive menu) on Via degli Scipioni. The enoteca next door has been a Prati institution for decades.
After dinner, the stroll back to the apartment invariably involved a stop at Gelateria dei Gracchi. Despite having opened relatively recently, in 2000, this small takeout-only place is now recognized as one of the city’s finest gelaterias. All the flavors are completely natural (and seasonal). The nuts for the pistachio gelato, for example, come from the Bronte area, on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, and are toasted and ground on the premises.
We found our temporary home in Prati with the aid of the excellent company Italy Perfect (Tel.  308-6123), which has an extensive inventory of handpicked, upscale apartments throughout the city. Our arrangements were flawless, and the staff in Rome, who handled the cleaning, laundry and so forth, were friendly, efficient and reliable.