I am compelled to warn potential visitors about this place. My context: from Toronto, visiting Rome for a conference, staying in Parioli, on a budget, wanting to see the Colosseum on my last night in the city and to have a classically Roman trattoria meal. I have eaten in a dozen (plus a few) places over the past week, from 68 Euros/person (Pescheria Rossini) to a 6 Euro slice of pizza (Roscioli). I was made aware of Hostaria Nerone by Maureen Fant's list, via Google. It was a choice between H.N. and Taverna Dei Quaranta. H.N. was closer.
My Colleague and I looked identifiably touristy, but not stupid, poor, or uncouth. Service at a notably un-crowded (but not deserted) H.N. (7 p.m., yes, I know, that's early) began with us being ignored for 5 minutes, then grudgingly given napkins and cutlery. Two slices of bread and plastic-wrapped grissini followed a minute later. Menus lagged behind a couple of minutes. No orders for drinks were taken during this sequence; no greeting was offered, no prosecco proffered.
Several minutes after we closed our menus, the waiter approached. "CHAMPAGNE?" he leered, hoping to capitalize on the romanza that was so not in the air between (female) Colleague and (gay male) me. I demurred. We were allowed to order water, wine, and meals. Colleague ordered an insalata mista and osso bucco. I ordered insalata di mare, swordfish, and a contorni of cicoria.
The water, which was ordered "with gas", arrived in an open but labelled bottle advertising it as "naturally effervescent". It wasn't. In fact, it was not just flat: it was unmistakably tap water. We engaged the waiter, explaining in broken Ital-English that the water was flat. He shook the bottle, observed no carbonation, and proceeded to pantomime ignorance - a specialty here: feigning guileless daftness despite clear indications that one is clearly a veteran of serving/bilking the tourist trade.
We requested a fresh bottle of carbonated water, and received a carafe of tap water. By that point, we were wary of arguing further.
The white wine: it was a carafe of house wine, because Colleague wasn't drinking. It arrived with an inch of wine slush at the neck of the carafe. It was otherwise what one would expect, which is to say: bad. But let's ignore that.
Insalata arrived. Colleague's salad comprised wan lettuce (browning around the edges), shredded carrot, and slices of tomato that were so pallid that they seemed to have been imported from Florida in February.
My insalata di mare was an overly generous portion of calamari (cooked nicely), octopus (overcooked to the point of mealiness), mussels (no complaints), shrimp (canned-salad-sized, and mushy) black olives (canned), baby arugula (pale) and a few bits of oddly flavourless giardiniera. The salad was essentially undressed - there was a pool of olive oil (not tasty, likely not extra virgin) in the bottom of the bowl, and the rest had been dropped on top. It wasn't even good, marinated, pre-packaged seafood - it was just... a bunch of stuff. No vinegar, no lemon, no salt, no herbs, no spices... nothing.
On to the secondi. Colleague's osso bucco was tender, generously proportioned, utterly bland (yes, we both know how properly seasoned food tastes) and profuse with canned button mushrooms. It was accompanied by mashed potatoes, despite the fact that Colleague was offered (bizarrely) the choice between potatoes and mushrooms at the time of ordering. (Wouldn't risotto alla Milanese have been a valid choice? Or when cooking in Rome, does one conspicuously make a point of mis-interpreting dishes from other provinces?) Waiter, asked about the discrepancy, pointed to the canned button mushrooms in the sauce by way of explanation.
The swordfish... not bad, actually. Again, completely devoid of seasoning and spices, but nicely cooked, apparently fresh, and ideally portioned.
The cicorio... ugh. Sodden, unsalted, and spiked with punitive chunks (not flakes or brunoise) of dried red pepper.
Having rejected dolci and been punished with a 15 minute intermezzo, all that remained was the theatre of negotiating the bill. Waiter made an enormous show of writing down each item on his notepad as if it were new to him (shrewdly, we were not charged for water), tallying it up not once, not twice, but thrice, and - grand gesture - presenting us with the total on a new sheet of paper: 2 Euros less than it was on his notepad! We asked for a ricevuta, and were told in no uncertain terms that the 2 Euros was in exchange for not getting a ricevuta. We demanded a ricevuta, and the waiter stormed off. Of course, this meal being expensed, the lack of a receipt amounted to our paying for it out of pocket. But the meal had been so miserable, the prospect of another encounter so daunting, and the hours remaining in Rome so few, that we left exact change and scampered off into the night.
And that is how Hostaria Nerone stays in business.
Via Terme di Tito, 96, Roma , IT
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