I greatly enjoyed a recent return visit to Rome, and almost every bite I ate, although several qualifiers will put this "report" in context for others:
a) once again I found that the very best meals I ate were in Roman homes
b) I so enjoyed eating in Rome's modest trattorie it is hard for me to know why people would want to eat elsewhere, but since I didn't eat in higher-end restaurants with the exception of Pierluigi, I'm not qualified to dismiss the other venues
c) I injured a foot just before I arrived in Rome. My choices of eateries were dictated by the fact it was too hard for me to walk more than 500 meters (and only about 150 meters on cobblestones) and there were several taxi strikes that made going further afield that what appointments and my apartment location dictated impossible.
SETTIMIO AL PELLEGRINO:
I loved eating here. Thursday gnocchi for lunch was terrific. I couldn't dream of a better example of this dish. My husband's soup of stracciatelli was equally fine, and a contorni of broccoletti nearly brought tears to my eyes. Grllled patties of chopped meat are not the kind of dish one travels to eat, but there were fresh and tasty. When we returned another night for dinner, we both wanted that evening's soup of endive and rice, but there was only one order left. We got a plate of parma ham, and then stuffed shoulder of veal, cauliflower, and lentils. We had to remind the waiter twice to bring us our wine -- Settimio bottles its own house red and I thought it was delicious. I ordered a "mont blanc" dessert, my husband asked for seasonal fruit, and when a wicker basket of it was set on the table, I almost cried again. The manderin oranges he ate (and almost couldn't stop eating) were fantastic. The staff, which I have read can be intimidating, could not have been nicer.
Were it not for my bum foot, I probably would not have eaten at this Sardinian restaurant out of the belief that when in Rome, etc. But I had some really very enjoyable food here, and the ambience of the restaurant was also very pleasurable. A dinner that included thin slices of bottarga roe, potato-stuffed ravioli (cugliones), Sardinian couscous (frejulas) with clams, roast suckling pig, roast duck and the Sardinian pastry stuffed with cheese and dripping with orange zest and honey (seadas) was a memorable feast that has me plotting a summer trip to Sardegna. Another dinner that included an antipasta of Sardegna breads with salad, fried artichoke hearts and a zuppe di pesce was very flavorful. The only misses were a "torta della nonna" (go for the seadas instead) and a red pepper stuffed with cheese and artichoke -- just not a terribly exciting dish.
Service and food couldn't have been nicer. We settled into a corner table for lunch and didn't want to leave. The mixed cold buffet was actually outstanding. A frittata with artichokes was fresh, not greasy and hit the spot. I walked in thinking I would order a pasta with some sort of beans if they had it, then switched at the last minute to join my husband in eating bucatini all'amatriciana. This is a dish where home cooks excel, and Nerone's version didn't hit those heights, but the bucatini was perfectly cooked and tasty. Nice house wine.
I never would have eaten at this restaurant had my foot enabled me to walk further, but it ended up my first choice for a big Sunday lunch. It is really hard to fault what Pierluigi is selling, and the salt-baked spigola I had was simply excellent. The cacio e pepe with wild octopus isn't for purists, but the octopus added a nice dimension, and the dish was well executed. The antipasta we began with -- a sopressata of octopus -- was bland and the house olive oil brought to our table with it was way too heavy for the dish. The entire lunch in the beautifully decorated space was close to ruined by the inability of the staff to keep up the same level of service for the duration of the meal. Waiters vanished, we were flagging down anybody to help us get coffee, we had to ask twice for the bill and then get up and look for the credit car that was taken away --- just a sour finish. Pierluigi's prices are not out of line with the quality of fish and the touristy flourishes they are delivering. But at those prices, the staff should stick with their theatrical service to the very end of the experience.
As a side note, several Roman friends helped me out greatly with restaurant recommendations after learning that I couldn't walk far from my apartment. In every single case, when Pierluigi came up, they looked wistful, sighed as if to regret the fate of a one-time friend who now disappoints, and one said: "Well, we never go there anymore. I mean, why would we?"
.... to be continued