Following is info for 6 restaurants we particularly enjoyed during our recent 2 month stay in Rome. I also have a list of other restaurants (without as much detail) that I'll post this week.
There's a link to our website at the bottom of this post - same information plus lots of pictures of the dishes we mention.
Checco er Carettiere
Via Benedetta 10/13
Roma (Trastevere) 00153
Checco was our local; just down the street from our apartment, they served traditional Roman cuisine, came highly recommended and we got comfy there very quickly. As best we can determine the restaurant is owned by 4 sisters.
The sisters also own the Osteria next door, plus the latteria where most of our working neighbours bought their morning coffee and sweets (the sisters own the Pasticceria too) plus the gelateria which serves a scoop of a frozen experience that is way beyond ice cream. Their zabaglione gelato with a scoop of espresso on top is to die for.
Checcho has a traditional Roman menu, plus specials on certain days:
Thursday - Gnocchi
Friday - Salt Cod
Saturday - Tripe
Our schedule was built around Gnocchi Thursday. Weve eaten gnocchi from San Remo to Otranto and Checchos are the best .light, fluffy, subtly flavoured they constantly threaten to float off the plate (we did try Tripe Saturday but eating a sauced slice of Sponge Bob Squarepants is not one of our culinary delights)
The standard Checcho gnocchi comes with a basic tomato sauce. Wed vary this with artichoke sauces or other spontaneous kitchen creations. And wed always over flavour with the best dried hot pepper flakes weve ever had including Mexico why the Romans dont use their magic dust more often remains a mystery.
As good as the gnocchi was, Checchos claim to fame has to be their Carciofi alla guidia - deep fried artichokes. Every Roman restaurant serves them and we ate them everywhere. Checcho won. Rich, flavourful, simultaneously crunchy and creamy, paired with a bottle of crisp white they were heaven .and yes, contrary to lore you can enjoy wine with a deep fried artichoke!
Following are brief profiles of other Checcho dishes:
Tortellini with Mushrooms
Big, burly, flavourful tortellini with an earthy, robust mushroom flavour:
Cannelloni with meat filling
Very traditional, raw, fundamental flavours, quality cheese as an enhancement, great culinary attention to detail in a deceptively simple dish.
The cannelloni and the tortellini convinced us that for a traditional restaurant like Checco, our best option was to order the traditional dishes no surprise. Checchos claim to fame is that they do the traditional dishes discernibly better than everyone else.
Fried lamb chops with fried artichokes
A cardiologists nightmare .but we love them .deep fried is natures way.
Were crustacean fans .and scamp are our crustaceans of choice. Checchos are fresh and sweet and perfectly cooked.
A Roman Standard. Checchos avoid the all too common overcooked toughness and control the garlic and parsley to let the clam flavour shine through. We discovered we could make them at home North American fish markets need more small clams.
Of course all great meals demand a great waiter. Marco became ours. He won our hearts by always discreetly including a foil pack of Checcho hot peeper flakes with the bill. It was a great loyalty program on his part since everytime we ran out of hot pepper wed go back and have lunch!
Overall a very good, very professional welcoming restaurant; serving traditional food at just the tipping point of refinement before it loses identity. Wonderful staff, great ingredients, and the best artichokes anywhere.
Piazza di Pietra 45 - NEAR PANTHEON
We arrived at 1:00pm we were alone. By 1:15pm the place was packed with Armani suits, Prada bags and custom made shoes.
Modern, 2 floors, relatively tiny near the Pantheon, astride the tourist and business districts of central Rome. A later conversation with an ex pat tourist guide confirmed that this restaurant is a leader in the evolution of Roman cuisine from the traditional to the adventuresome.
We started with Homemade Square Spaghetti with Fresh Anchovies, Wild Fennel and Pinenuts (9.50 )
Solid, in your face, fresh flavours wrapped around pasta, that still remembered the wheat field.
Followed up with Sicilian Fish and Seafood Cous Cous (14.50 )) not even a little bit bland. Fish that tastes fishy, mussels that tasted of the tide pool. A tough dish to do well that was done very well
Other dishes on the non traditional, non local menu included:
Braised Beef in tomato sauce with yellow corn polenta (12.50 ) a survey of surrounding tables indicated this was a favourite
Fresh steamed salmon and sea bass carpaccio with steamed vegetables (10.50 )
Baked chicken roll filled with grilled zucchini and dry ricotta cheese (12.90 )
A charming youthful staff (much more New York like than the mature professional wait staff found in most Roman restaurants). Great people watching opportunities.
Overall a restaurant we regret not going back to for a second longer experience. Book early when we left, patrons were lined up into the street.
Ristorante Alla Rampa - NEAR SPANISH STEPS
Piazza Mignanelli 18
Perched in a square near the base of the Spanish Steps, Rampa is in the heart of tourist country. You enter a room designed by the same people who do Disney Worlds Pirates of the Caribbean. In a city where real ancient brickwork and antiquities are commonplace, youre amazed to tap on the walls and discover that the whole environment is made of fiberglass faux décor.
Every customer in the room is a tourist. Can the food possibly be any good?....and of course it can. This is Italy. The food is wonderful. The antipasti buffet is the best we experienced 63 different dishes, including marinated grilled quail, wonderful breaded vegetables, multiple crostini variants, fish, meat, fresh vegetables and of course puntarella with anchovy sauce.
Rampas buffet rules are a little different from the standard North American experience. A buffet visit costs 9 .a second visit is another 9 . The waiters were very careful to explain the rules.
Matching the antipasti, the meals were equally good. We had fresh, house made broccoli raviolis and fresh ricotta and spinach ravioli in tomato sauce.
In Rome, you can have great food in Disneyworld.
Wed go back and just pig out at the antipasti bar .but the raviolis are not to be missed.
Il Ciak - TRASTEVERE
Vicolo del Cinque 21
A block from our apartment Il Ciak specializes in game.
Tough to find, tough to get a reservation; but worth working at. Only open for dinner after 8:30pm and you need a reservation. Seems to be open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday but we were never sure. When they close their metal doors the whole place disappears into an anonymous graffiti covered wall.
Comes with a great cat Bongo who will sit on the table and share your meal with you (or not!). We loved Bongo. Some North Americans may not be comfortable with a cat on the table, but if you stay relaxed Bongo will point a paw at whats really good on the menu that night do listen to Bongo.
Wild Boar sausage as a starter as good as meat gets primitive, basic, real, and delicious polenta with sausage.
A wild boar stew with olives succulent, gamey, rich
For obscure reasons we ordered steak, even though we dont like European steak. Its usually grass fed, flavourless and tough. North American restaurants generally do steak better than Europe (at least for our taste). But Il Ciaks steak was wonderful; more primitive than what we get in North America while still delivering tenderness and flavour. It was raw, closer to the beast, carnivorous.
On other visits to Il Ciak we had duck (mallard) en croute (delicious, but not much meat); venison and rabbit.
Hotel Eden La Terrazza
Via Ludovisi 49, I-00187 Rome NEAR SPANISH STEPS/BORGHESE GARDENS
We had to do a Michelin One Star when we were in Rome. We picked the restaurant in the Hotel Eden. They didnt disappoint spectacular venue, skilled service, exemplary food and a bill to match.
The hotel is near the top of the Spanish Steps and the restaurant is at the top of the hotel the view is perfect. You can see a 180° panorama from Victor Emanuel to the Vatican. Be sure to book a window table. Also be sure to have a jacket and tie for a dinner reservation.
They opened with an ameuse geule of sardines with a tomato concasse very clean sardine taste complemented with perfect tomatoes.
We split a loin of rabbit with balsamic vinegar, culatello ham and lentils (34 )
Followed up with Saffron potato gnocchi with radicchio and asparagus (26 ). The gnocchi was not as light as that at Checcho, but the bitterness of the radicchio sauce contrasted with the sweetness of the asparagus was a taste triumph.
We paired the gnocchi with wild mushroom risotto with scampi and black truffles (34 ). Everything tastes better under a layer of shaved truffles and Edens Risotto didnt disappoint. Creamy, rich with just a hint of crunch .and a tail from our favourite crustacean on top.
Fish was a fillet of turbot with sautéed spinach, red onion marmalade and light orange sauce (43 ). The ability of a starred restaurant to cook a perfect piece of fish constantly amazes us moist, evenly done throughout, almost sashimi but just on the side of doneness that we strive to achieve at home. And the onion marmalade was the essence of onions earthy, naturally sweet with succulent texture.
The meat course was loin of lamb in a Mediterranean olive crust on saffron cous cous (43 ). The lamb was the texture of butter but still rich in flavour.
We closed with the traditional petit fours were not dessert eaters so we passed on the sweet options. In the tradition of Italian biscotti, the petit fours were far drier than in France or Spain. This love of dental threatening crunch is an aspect of Italian cuisine well never understand.
Overall, a very good, very expensive, dining experience. Not particularly Roman. Weve had very similar excellent meals in Spain, France, the UK and North America.
Glad we went, but you could have a comparable experience in most major cities. An interesting dilemma emerges. By becoming a one star most restaurants seem to lose their regional character. They dont lost their quality, but the relevant comparisons are now to one stars in other cities ..not the regionals. In our experience the most interesting and satisfying restaurants have been those that can achieve starred status while preserving regional identity. Mullinazzo in Sicily and Les Fuillants in Ceret are good examples.
Hostaria Glass - TRASTEVERE
Vicolo del Cinque 58
The most interesting food we found in Rome. Innovative, adventuresome, refined while still retaining regional character and the restaurants individuality. Unfortunately we only found it a few days before we left .and it was only a 5 minute walk from our apartment.
Unlike most Roman restaurants, the interior décor of Glass is very modern a stunning angular steel staircase to the upstairs dining loft; an originally configured marble bar; glass slabs in the floor and contemporary lighting (someone told us it had been a gallery before this current incarnation). The décor was complemented by a skilled, attentive, very youthful staff.
We chose one of the two tasting menus (a bargain at 40 each). They allowed us to make a substitution on one of the 6 courses. The sommelier chose a flight of wines to match the dishes some of the most interesting Italian wines weve had.
They opened with green cabbage with caciotta cheese and lard from colonatta. Not a visual winner, but clean flavors and textures. It was a symbolic start to the evenings experience simple ingredients perfectly prepared to showcase their flavours. The humble cabbage never tasted better.
The next dish would have made a starred restaurant envious foie gras in a fig and pistachio crust. The sweetness and crunch of the crust was an ideal marriage with the rich texture and earthy taste of the foie; nicely complemented with perfectly toasted brioche spears (Glass does the details well) and a simple salad of apple slivers and greens. The salad cried out for vinaigrette to counterpoint the oil of the foie but overall a marvelous dish. Three or four servings of these would be a justifiable excuse to destroy a bottle of Veuve Cliquot.
Saluting the region, Glass followed with cheese and hazelnut ravioli with pumpkin sauce. Again - humble, traditional ingredients elevated to cuisine. Very large raviolis (perfectly cooked, unlike in so many other Roman restaurants) with a sauce that defined pumpkin .it can be more than a halloween decoration!
Next wide noodles with white pigeon and porcini mushroom ragout. Glass prepares and cooks extraordinary pasta. This was not exception. And of course a rich wild mushroom sauce could only enhance perfect pasta.
We substituted our next course lamb in egg sauce. Not an expected flavour combination. The lamb was delectable while the egg sauce was exceptional. Its tough to imagine what food would not taste better smothered in this sauce. Visually again not inspiring, but salivating flavours.
Closed with white chocolate mousse with blackberries and raspberries.
Overall an exception meal hard hitting, defined flavours a foundation of Regional dishes with adventuresome flavour pairings and the elevation of humble ingredients to star status.
Other interesting dishes on their menu included:
Ravioli with oxtail filling 9
Sabayon dumplings with bacon and parmesan wafer 10
Butter milk curd gnocchi with quail and porcini ragout 12
Quality with mango salad 12
Stuffed rabbit with porcini and chicory tartlet 14
Chick pea soup with octopus ragout 8
Tuna in poppy seed crust with eggplant and apples 16
Some of our most rewarding meals, we cooked at home. The Roman ingredients are spectacular. At first we thought it was the holiday placebo effect, but by the end we became convinced that the Italians have ingredient superiority.