Restaurants & Bars 11

My Favorite Rome Restaurants (Kinda Long)

Jackie Coffee | Jun 15, 200604:11 PM

In return for the great advice I’ve gleaned from my fellow foodies on this site, I’d like to pass along my 2 favorite places to eat in Rome.

First a little about me, because in order to evaluate restaurant advice, you need to consider the source. I am a New York woman who travels solo to Rome twice a year. I’ve eaten all over Italy and while, yes, there are some regions where the food is consistently better than in Rome (Emilia-Romagna, for instance), I am a big-city girl who can’t stand being away from the metropolis. You have to get up from the table sometime and Rome just rings all of my bells. I’m incredibly spoiled foodwise. New York’s got the best restaurants in the world if you ask me. And also, I’m not big on ambience/decor. I judge a place by one main thing, what I call the “Bennissimo Factor.” Either the food is bennissimo or it’s not, and if it’s not, no amount of ambience can make it so. And if a place has lousy service, it really ticks me off because New York City is the world capital of snooty waiters and headcaptains. If I want the waitstaff to act as though they’re doing me a favor by serving me, I can just stay home and eat at certain places in Manhattan and be condescended to by the champs. Lastly, I love a bargain. To me there’s nothing better than finding a little gem of a place where the food is inspired, the staff is welcoming, and the price is doable for a secretary from Wall Street. So here goes:

In Rome, there are two places I return to again and again. One is in the old Jewish ghetto and fairly well-known, “Al Pompiere,” and the other I’ve never seen written up anywhere, a little place in Monti called “La Forchetta d’Oro.”

Al Pompiere is the place I make a bee-line for as soon as I dump my bags at my hotel. It’s a bit pricey by my standards, but worth every euro. I always order the same meal: I start with a carafe of the house white (I’m no oenophile) and an antipasti of fried baccala and zucchini squash blossoms. Then I order a second plate of the same thing because I’ve just gotten off the plane and I’m famished and no doubt a little hungover. Once I’m semi-alert, I go right for the main event--roasted lamb with artichokes and Gaeta olives. That’s the dish that announces to my tastebuds that I’m officially back in Rome. I don’t eat pasta at Al Pompiere because I have other places where I go just for pasta. If puntarelle is in season, I’ll have some after the lamb. If peaches or strawberries are in season, I’ll finish with those. 2 or 3 cups of café macchiato later, and it's “Il conto, per favore.” That’s my first lunch and it runs me about 40 or 50 euros.

For my first night’s dinner, I head out to a little neighborhood called “Monti” which is shoehorned in between Santa Maria Maggiore and the Forum. Before dinner, I make a pit stop at the rooftop terrace of the Golden Tulip Macenate Hotel on Via Carlo Alberto. It overlooks Santa Maria Maggiore and the view with a glass of Prosecco Conegliano in hand is pretty hard to beat, especially at the golden hour around sunset. A couple blocks away, there’s a little restaurant called “La Forchetta d’Oro” in Via San Martino ai Monti just off of Via Merulana. The owner does the cooking, there’s only 1 waiter (the same guy always) taking care of the 10 or 12 tables, and food that’s so unadorned and terrific, you’ll think you’re dreaming. Again, I’ve got my usual things I go for: I let the owner choose my wine because, like I said, that’s not my department. I start with a double-size order of perfect spaghetti con vongole veraci—tender little clams in their broth, wine & herbs. Then I take a look at the buffet set up in the center of the room and see of he’s got any of my favorites for the daily specials. If there’s roast pork with rosemary potatoes or polpettone (meatballs in ragu), I’ll order one of those. Or I’ll just scope out what my neighbors are eating and tell the waiter—“Give me some of that, please.” For dessert, I have panna cotta with raspberry sauce, a couple of brandies and that does it. The bill comes to about 30 euros. They are open 7 days – it’s just those 2 guys and, frankly, I don’t know how they do it. The food is always great, and the place is mobbed with local working people at both lunch and dinner, so you need to either reserve or get there very early. Otherwise, you won’t get a spot.

Full disclosure: I’m passing along La Forchetta and taking a chance on it being overrun for the simple reason that this place and these guys have a special place in my heart. I stumbled upon La Forchetta during my first trip to Rome 5 years ago. It was the summer of 2001—that last pristine summer before 9/11. I had just been laid off from a dotcom job in New York’s Silicon Alley with 6 months severance pay, uncontested unemployment, and not a care in the world. I figured, what the heck, I’ll spend the summer in Rome and look for another job in New York after Labor Day (yeah, right)! Anyway, I blew into town not speaking 1 word of Italian and was too much of a scaredy-pants to eat by myself in any place other than pizzerias. Until I serendipitously wandered into La Forchetta. I found the people so friendly and the food so good, I ate there every night until I got myself acclimated to Rome. I now speak halfway-decent Italian and I’ve eaten all over Italy, but I’ll always love La Forchetta the best.

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