When in Rome
Surprisingly Rome, though a beautiful city with a history lesson at every step, has been slow to expose its culinary gems. Many seasoned travellers agree that it is a challenge to find somewhere good to eat here and the place is chockablock full of restaurants so there is no lack of material to experiment with.
This trip we finally made progress!
We were recommended 3 restaurants to try by one of our suppliers. By now having driven over 5000km in 3 weeks we thankfully climbed into a taxi on the very wet Roman night and headed to the first. Roman taxi drivers are a breed of their own, they can negotiate tight streets in heavy traffic at breakneck speed whilst driving manually and talking on their cellphone at the same time. Multitasking does not begin to describe it.
La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali
The street this family run trattoria is in is the width of a wide NZ footpath - we were prepared to get out and walk down it but our driver would not hear of it and practically delivered us through the door. La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali is down by the Forum Hotel near the Colosseo. We were told "don't order from the menu, just ask Aldo - the son of the owner - to bring you what he thinks."
We were greeted by a charming trendy-looking woman in her late twenties with a welcoming smile and squeezed into our table - the closest to the door and the last in the room which was full to the brim with many different types of people: a large table of elegant, expensively dressed Romans, other tourists, suited businessmen and relaxed looking locals. The table cloths were of the classic red checked variety.
The tourists behind us were already trying to book for the following night but the place was booked out, so they settled for the night after that instead. Straight after our arrival some casuals arrived hopefully at the door to be told warmly that unfortunately the place was full tonight - so not a place to drop in on. You need to book.
A very engaging man in his early thirties was soon there to offer water, wine and a menu - and to recite a long list of extra dishes. We had had a very ordinary and overpriced pizzeria lunch so the prices on this menu looked very reasonable: antipasti and primi piatti around the 8 euro mark, mains around 11, vegetable dishes 4.50 euro, desserts 6 euro. The dishes looked tempting, many in the traditional Roman style - so lots of pasta, vegetables (sometimes hard to find when travelling) and meat.
The restaurant has been in the family for four generations. The father (wearing a very snazzy chilli apron) is in the kitchen, the girl who greeted us is Claudia the daughter and Aldo is the son. They are supported by a couple of non-family members. The place seats 60 and is closed Tuesdays.
We decided to take the advice we were given and to leave it in Aldo's hands - just asking him to please include lots of vegetables and thinking two courses would be fine, so he decided to give us a selection of the antipasti and a pasta dish each and if we felt like anything else we could decide later.
A generous platter of caponata di melanzane, bruschetta with guanciale (bacon) and balsamic vinegar, and steamed Roman artichokes soon arrived. This was followed by a pasta dish each: rigatoni with squid in a rich tomato sauce and thick pappardelle with ground veal and truffle, then a rocket salad with tomato. All very tasty. We were not pressed to have a meat course - so didn't - but Aldo did insist we try dessert so we shared a confection which came dusted gloriously with icing sugar and painted with chocolate sauce and what looked like an inordinate amount of cream. It turned out to be a piece of homemade cake with zabaione and cream. No holding back on calories here. Afterwards he presented us with a complimentary fennel digestive - which was very welcome.
Despite being extremely busy they all took time to chat and when we asked for a copy of the menu Claudia offered to have it signed and we were given a tour of the spotless stainless steel. Everyone spoke very good English and there are photos on the wall of previous star diners such as Dustin Hoffman and copies of reviews.
The food is tasty and they treat every diner like a regular. The prices are extremely reasonable for the experience - especially in Rome...
The next day for lunch we headed down to Trastevere for lunch at Da Enzo, a tiny hole in the wall which looked like it only seated about 20 but in true Roman style actually seats 32.
Arriving at 12.30, the place was empty and looked closed. We poked our heads through the door to see a mountain of vegetables being prepped in the kitchen and were told that certainly they were open but not until 1pm. We booked and headed off to wander around Trastevere in the rain for half an hour. Not wanting to lose our way back through the maze of streets we cruised the menus of nearby trattoria but found no shops to speak of to take shelter in. We also had to watch for kamikaze local drivers who treat the narrow streets like a racing track - even in the pouring rain.
A queue had formed at door by the time we arrived back and we were directed to a side table, offered water and quite a vast winelist when we asked if one existed, as on the menu there is red wine or white, but there were other bottles lining the walls so we suspected more. The checked table cloths - this time paper - are blue. The art on the walls looks a like a proud parental display of a child's drawing of various animals - mainly cats. This is a simple local restaurant with no frills - you don't quite share the table of the people next to you - but it's close!
Within 15 minutes the place was bursting and the food coming out. The style is 'Cucina Romana' and the whole fried artichokes passing us looked delicious, as did the battered zucchini flowers. There was also a red mash - and since we had heard the couple beside us order potato we figured this is what is was. They looked a little surprised.
We had ordered a mixed vegetable platter, pasta carbonara, penne arrabiata and also a veal chop and braised oxtail. Far too much as it turned out - especially given the fact we had booked the third place for dinner.
Service is reasonably quick, the food is simple but good - and they turn over tables so quickly they manage to do a hundred covers for lunch. "Everyday!" said the waitress.