A week in Rome mid-November offered up two extremes. No comment on several stops that had low expectations which proved correct.
First, the highlights. Claudio, chef and chief bottle washer of La Gensola, has opened "Il Localino" (or, depending on the day, "Da Claudio") just off the Via Veneto on via Lazio 22. Thank you Elizabeth M. for noting this here. I should say "just opened" when we stopped for lunch. No sign on the street, printed menus were of La Gensola but daily specials were handwritten on a chalk board, plenty of unopened boxes scattered around the dining room.
But...Claudio could not have been more charming and engaged. He cheerfully roamed the dining room excited and eager to please. We had a terrific lunch that included involtini di spada con caponato di melanzane, grilled octopus with potato that was unlike any grilled octopi we have had previously, scallops with mushrooms, tuna balls in a tomato sauce, linguini ai fiori di zucca (superb) and linguini with calamari & sun dried tomatoes (equally superb). Lest you think we are gluttons, portion sizes were quite modest. Service was great and Claudio was like a kid at Christmas running back and forth from the kitchen. This was one of the very best meals we have enjoyed in Rome in three visits over the past five years. I am not cutting any slack for the usual break in period a new restaurant goes through. Go, go, go to see Claudio!
What can I add to the terrific and well known effort put forth by the family at Colline Emiliane (via degli Avignonesi 22)? C.E. is rec'd here regularly so I can only amplify the positive comments. Each time we visit for lunch, and we have been five times, the food gets better and better. The wine soaked proscuitto, the gambochetta with spinach is a perennial favorite, deserts (ricotta tort with pear) nicely done. Pasta, as always, fantastic. Yes, yes, the bolognese was mouthwateringly delicious. But the highlight were sublime white truffles (40 euros) . Interesting to note six plates of that pasta dish were delivered to separate tables occupied by what appeared to be regulars. The family still rolls and cuts pasta by hand and it is molto fantastico. Grandson Lucca patrols the dining room and is justifiably proud of his family history and culinary results - as he should be.
Piperno's also delivered as it has in the past. Scelto of fried appetizers (aranciini, zucchini florets, artichoke), carbonara, agnolotti with veal, coda vacinara were all good but this was heavy home cooking. The only flaw was rombo on a potato and artichoke nest, the rombo combo just did not work well. Walked that meal off at a real slow pace.
Favorable mention to the new Claudio Torci gelato store called, um, "Il Gelato." Thank you Katie Parla for the rec. The new site is located next to the outdoor produce market on Piazza Monte d'oro. Fantastic - the best gelato we have had in Rome after giving up on the mediocre offerings at San Crispino and the lines at Giolitti. Gran Teatro is still very good but Torci is a true artist, the staff loves their products, waxing poetic about the various ingredients and flavors that change daily. We had scoops of "Fantasia Bronte" (pine nuts, almonds, pistacchio), a zabaglioni with some sort of whiskey, dark chocolate sorbet and melon gelato. Wow - blew my mind how good this was, perhaps due to disappointing results at the so-called competition in recent years.
Another store of note: if you are in the neighborhood and plan to visit the English bookstore on via della Vite, consider popping across the street to Pastateca (via della Vite 44, www.pastateca.it). The shop has an amazing and varied stock of pasta sorted by region. Once again, I walked out with ten pounds of pasta from producers that are impossible to find (but lighter with euors lifted from my wallet). The shop was recommended by Maureen Fant's colleague and friend who wrote the primer on Italian pasta (Maureen translated). Sandwiched between the Corso and Spagna, its a fun place to wander through.
Now for the low point. Lunch at La Campana was likely the worst meal we have endured in our many visits to Rome over the course of many years. Yes, yes I know it is an old and venerable place, is open Sunday etc. But our meal was just plain terrible and the service staff could care less. Arancini stank of bad oil and was tasteless. A mixed fried vegetable assortment was equally bad and also had an unseemly taste. 70% of the plate were luke warm french fries - McDonalds does a better job than what was plopped down plus McD's are actually hot! The rest of the plate was an uninspired looking and tasting set of several stuffed olives and capers along with a greasy stuffed zucchine flower. We left half touched and said "non bene" when the plate was collected. Got a shrug in return.
We felt the absolute worst part of the meal was the pasta. Fettucini with funghi and taglolini with carciofi looked oddly the same - grey bits of something floating in a pool of yellow butter (could it haven that off oil?) - and undistinguisable flavor. Disappointing and bad. Left the pasta half uneaten. Again, a shrug. Was this an off-day with the D Team? Who cares. Not returning.
Thanks to all who offer their thoughts and suggestions here. A terrific resource for all!