Just back from Rome. Thank you all for your advice. My report:
Il Goccetto was our first stop in Rome. This old wine store (vino e olio) offered over 40 varieties of wine by the glass, small snacks (bocconcini, involtini), and a local crowd. We arrived at 8 and had no trouble getting a table. We enjoyed two glasses of red wine and a few small snacks in this comfortable, relaxed environment before heading off to . . .
Roma Sparita for our first dinner in Rome. We started with carciofi alla giudia followed by bucatini all'amatriciana and taglionini cacio e pepe served in parmigiano tuille. The pastas were superb—al dente and perfectly sauced. Roma Sparita provided exactly what we were hoping for in cucina romana. The clientele appeared to be mostly Italian (on a Wednesday night) and the service was warm and efficient. The rooms are plain but the food is memorable. I would say that the amatriciana was the best I had in Rome.
On the way home we stopped for a tartufo at Tre Scalini. I must confess that it is no longer as good as I remembered and I would no longer recommend it. Navonna yes, tartuffo at Tre Scalini no. For New Yorkers looking for a dense, chocolaty tartufo I'd recommend Lattanzi on West 46th St (good Roman cooking as well).
For lunch on Thursday we chose Matricianella. Thursday, I understand, is gnocchi day in Rome and Matricianella did not disappoint. Their gnocchi pomodoro e basilico were light, fluffy, and perfectly sauced. In fact, I’ve never had better gnocchi. We enjoyed a tender, flavorful saltimbocca alla romana and delicately fried zucchini flowers. Another example of excellent cucina romana in simple surroundings.
Early Thursday evening we enjoyed two great glasses of wine at Cul de Sac. Though my husband really wanted to stay for dinner (and I did too), I argued against it as we had a reservation at Antico Arco. The meals being served at Cul de Sac were particularly appealing: large fresh salads, plates of cured meats and cheeses, lentil soup, lasagna. The ambiance was casual and friendly and the service warm. Our fellow diners thoroughly enjoyed their meals—I asked. I will definitely return for a meal.
It was with some reluctance that we left for Antico Arco. Though we prefer simple pasta dishes to innovative Italian cuisine, I wanted to try Antico Arco as it had been so highly recommended here and on other sites. We were shown to a table upstairs—the English speaking ghetto, I surmised. Downstairs the atmosphere was buzzy and vibrant. Upstairs more sedate. I assume that they put the English speakers upstairs so that they can devote a single English-speaking waiter to the room. I was not insulted by the move but felt that I could be dining in New York or LA. My husband started with the crispy buffalo mozzarella, salted tuna roe and confit tomatoes. The tomatoes overwhelmed the cheese. Good but unremarkable. I started with the onion pie in a parmigiano cheese fondue. Definitely not memorable. I followed with the risotto with castelmagno cheese. Too much white food. My error in ordering (though when I voiced this concern to our waiter when placing my order he assured me that I was choosing the house specialties). Thank goodness for the nebbiolo wine reduction to add some color and to cut the strength of the cheese. My husband had the cacio e pepe and enjoyed it. The service was friendly and efficient and the room comfortable. Not in any way a memorable experience, though. Too many choices and too little time in Rome to repeat this one.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch on Friday at Enoteca Provinciana. I must say that I did not expect the sleek, contemporary décor that characterized this enoteca at the edge of Trajan’s forum. Nor did I expect to need a reservation! Though the restaurant was full, we were lucky enough, after a short wait, to secure two seats at the bar. We had an achingly fresh insalata caprese and, as porcinis were in season, an insalata porcini. We paired this with glasses of excellent local red wine. After the salads we enjoyed lasagna porcini and tiramisu. Lovely spot with fresh, locally grown and inventively prepared food. The crowd appeared to be entirely local. Many people came in for paninis to go—which also looked great. Definitely go, but make sure to reserve.
Later that afternoon we stopped by Al Forno in Campo de Fiori and Roscioli, where we sampled excellent pizza al taglio and pignoli cookies (Roscioli).
After a visit to the refreshingly empty Vatican Museums on Friday night, we ate a late dinner at Trattoria Lilli. When we arrived at 10 the place was packed with locals and two parties were waiting outside. Again without reservations, we were lucky to be seated within ten minutes. The room filled with large groups and the mood was convivial, boisterous even. The friendly energy was infectious. And the food delicious! We had the house wine, anitpasto del casa, bucatini all’amatriciana (gives Roma Sparita a run for its money), tonnarelli alla gricia, and rocket salads. All perfectly prepared. Lively ambiance, neighborhood vibe, delicious food, friendly service, and good value. A winner for sure.
Having polled my dining partners at the bar at Enoteca Provinciana about their favorite spots I decided to forego dining at Trattoria Monti in favor of Da Gino on vicolo Rosini near the Parliament. I haven’t dined at Monti so I don’t know if I made the right choice but I know I made a good one. We had Saturday lunch reservation at Gino for 2:30. When we got there the place was full and a line of waiting Italians snaked out the door. After a short wait we were seated. I started with the tonnarelli all ciociara (house made pasta with guanciale, pecorino, mushrooms, and peas) and my husband had the spaghetti all gricia. Perfectly sauced, perfectly al dente. We then had a large platter of oven roasted porcini mushrooms and a mixed salad capped with glasses of grappa offered by Gino himself. I would happily return and gladly recommend Gino. Great food, lively local atmosphere, rustic room with hand painted murals, and good value.
Saturday night, our last night in Rome, we had planned to eat at Le Mani in Pasta. However, by 8:00, after drinks at Bar Della Pace, we were just too tired to consider a walk to Trastevere. So, at the recommendation of our hotel concierge we dined at Hostaria da Pietro, on via Gesu e Maria. We were greeted warmly and shown to a nice table in the back room, which was mostly filled with Italians. The service was great and the ambiance both friendly and clubby. The food, while very good, was in my opinion not up to the standards of Matricianella, Roma Sparita, or Gino. My rigatoni was over sauced and the saltimbocca ever so slightly tough. The millefoglia was delicious though. For cucina romana near Piazza del Popolo it’s worth a try but you can get better food if you venture just further afield.
Next time I will try Monti, La Campana, Le Mani in Pasta, and Cul de Sac. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these.
I will also lunch at Palatium—an enoteca on via Frattina with a vibe similar to that of Enoteca Provinciana.
I will go back to Gino, Matricianella, Lilli, Enoteca Provinciana, and Roma Sparita.
I’m curious about Edy and Enoteca Cavour. Any thoughts on these? Also checked out Bar del Fico but my gut on that one is that it is for a very young crowd who values atmosphere above all. Thoughts?
Special thanks to Katie Parla and Vinoroma who made such generous suggestions!