This is a trip report to the itinerary feedback post at (thanks to all for the help): http://www.chowhound.com/post/planned...
Best: Checchino dal 1887, Roscioli, Al Ceppo
Very Good: Pizzeria Emma
Underwhelming: L'Asino del Oro
Bad: Assunta Madre
Checchino dal 1887:
Went for lunch. Perhaps its unfair to call this the 'best' restaurant of our trip, as the food was simple and good -- but it was my favorite restaurant of the trip. I ordered the Bucatini Matriciana and the Ox Tail Stew, wife had a cacio e pepe & tiramisu; for sides we had the artichoks and some type of local broccolini. I still think of that bucatini. This was the best red sauce meal of the trip and it was so simple. The sauce did not have the massive chunks of guanciale like Rosciolis, but was just so flavourful and balanced. I wish we went back to get some more of it on the trip. the Ox Tail was very, very good. I'm sure this description will make heads turn, but to me it was a tomatoey mole.. just a lot of flavors going on in that sauce. The surprise hit was the local broccolini. Also, the wife called this the best Tiramisu of the trip. We had a discussion with the owner and discussed regional varities of artichokes, broccolini, etc. Service was very good! We met the chef (co-owner), discussed wines etc. The restaurant was sadly mostly empty, which I felt was a travesty given I can imagine there are many tourists who are simply unaware of this restaurant. The owner chatted with us at length, and we discussed the wine list. We took a tour of the wine cave (a very interesting cave buried into a Roman landfill) with a substantial wine cellar.
Went for dinner. Despite what we read, this turned out to be some of the best service of the trip. Across every dish, the food here was consistently good -- no misses at all. Across each dish, I would say this may have been the highest quality food we ate. However, I did not love the red sauce here... found it a little too simply seasoned. For appetizers, we had the (1) anchovies in oil, lemon zest, and chili on toast, (ii) fried sardines. For main courses, we had the Spaghetti Carbonara, Gnocci Amatriciana and Spaghetti "with red sauce" (vegetarian custom dish for the wife off-menu). The anchovies on toast were simply awesome.. definitely getting canned anchovies in chili oil at home, adding some fresh lemon zest with toast.. and having a great day. The fried sardines were OK, but the quality of the fry was better than Assunta Madre. I thoroughly enjoyed the Spaghetti Carbonara (although I requested, and was promptly given, some extra pieces of guanciale to eat with the Spaghetti). The Gnocci were not the best gnocci I have "ever" had, but were very, very good (and miles ahead of Assunta Madre's). The red sauces were very good, but these were not our favorite on the trip. The tiramisu we had was a modern version, and we did not love it. To reiterate, the service here was very good. We sat in the cellar (which wife originally thought was a snub, but was fine with a mix of italians and Americans). Our waitor (Daniel Demiras) spoke perfect English. He spent quality time with me filtering the wine list, and helped me identify two quality Barolos, properly aged, which we enjoyed tremnendously. While service started off a little slow to start, we had great service through the night with multiple waitors stepping in, and with Danielle accomodating our specific requests re wine, the vegetarian red sauce, the extra guanciale etc. So contrary to my expectations, the service here was good. This was my second favorite restaurant of the trip.
Went for X-Mas lunch. This was our third favorite restaurant of the trip, and I would return to it. For starters, we shared the ?smoked burata with spinach strudel. This dish was excellent! Perhaps it was simply not what we were expecting, but it was a filo dough/spinach/ricotta combination in a creamy, smokey, mozzarella sauce. For entrees, the wife had the 55 euro taglioni with white truffels; execution here was very good (extremely fresh/aromatic truffles). I ordered the Lasagna Al Marche (I believe this is a beef lasagna) and the lamb shoulder. The Lasagna was fantastic - one of the best I've had (which unfortunately in my life, is not many to be an expert!). Compared to lasagna in the states, it was lighter -- which to me is the hallmark of a good lasagna. The sauce, seasoning and slightly crunchy top were fantastic. For some reason i grade this a 8 or 9 out of 10, and not a 10.. and I'm not sure why (perhaps slightly underseasoned?). but it still excellent, I can taste it now, and would eat it now if I could. The lamb was disappointment as it was woefully underseasoned; however, the accompanying vegetables (puntarelles with touch of balsamic/no anchovy, and ?parsnip mash?) were excellent. This was my wife's favorite Tiramisu of the trip as well. For wine, we were steered to a great 2007 Barolo that was our favorite of the trip.Our waiter was very attentive and gave us excellent service, but I did feel we stuck out a little as the owner/host visited many tables (but not ours). Furthermore, our waiter asked us if we wanted to include a tip in our bill -- this was the ONLY time this happened to us on our trip. As this was x-mas and a great meal, I was already planning a good tip - but I was taken aback at the request.
We had dinner at Emma. Reservations were required as the restaurant was near-packed, despite Rome being mostly dead. For starters we had the red pepper stuffed with spicy sardines and the egg with white truffle. The sardines were awesome... crazy spicy, but loaded with salt, spice, and flavor. The truffled egg however was disappointing: the truffles lacked aromatics and flavor (although the price point here was much lower than the truffled pasta at Al Ceppo). For pizza we ate two margaritas. We thoroughly enjoyed our pizza. that said, we ate a slice of fold-up pizza from ?random? bakery near the Pantheon which we enjoyed more.. so I can't call it the 'best ever pizza we've ever ate'. But it was very good! Perhaps we had unreasonable expectations coming into it, but I would return. I was disappointed with our wine selection, I feel I could have been steered better.. but with wine that's how it goes.
L'Asino del Oro:
We ate their price fixe lunch, with wife needing to modify the entree for a vegetarian entree. I don't want the call the lunch disappointing, as it was a relatively low price point, but it was a bit underwhelming. It was all very good and enjoyable, but it just wasn't the best. For example, you can tell the red sauce was fresh and authentic, but it was not slow-cooked and was slightly more on the acidic side. My wife's custom vegetarian entree of pasta w/ ricotta re-used the ricotta from the starters. I think this is a reasonable lunch option if you are in the Monti and looking for a sit down italian meal at a reasonable price - but I would not consider this to be a destination restaurant.
Overall mixed food with the absolute worst service of our 1 week trip (** I do not recommend this restaurant for tourists or foreigners **). For appetizers we tried the sampler of 6 various appetizers. Only 5 of our choices were served, with 1 unexplicably left out (we did not ask for it once we realized it was not coming). One of the winners was one of the five appetizers: a grilled shimp over some sort of herbed puree. The rest of appetizers were OK. For entrees, the other winner was the Lemon Pasta with Sea Bass. This dish was outstanding. The second entree was a gnocci dish (I cant remember the details) with shrimp and pecorino. The flavors were actually good when mixing in all the pecorino (for mainly the salt), but the gnocci were more like dense hard pillows, vs. soft pillows. Service wise, this was an EXTREMELY disappointing restaurant. Firstly, the seating/ambience is to be desired for a tourist. The main dining room is very sharp and beautiful, with many vacant tables. However, we were seated in the back. This was more of a lodge feel, and it wasn't 'bad', but it was half the decor of the main room that gives the restaurant credibility. We realized this back room was seated with (i) Americans, (ii) families with babies, and (iii) more roughly dressed Italian. So basically, the deplorables in the restaurants eyes are seated here. And absolutely this restaurant sizes you up as you check in. Wife & I were dressed well, were polite, but we nevertheless seated in the back room. After ordering our food we asked for the waitress to recommend a eur$125 white wine to pair with our food. Waitress came back with a bottle -- without a description of the wine, or a wine from the sommelier etc. The wine was excellent, but the experience disappointing. The worst component of the experience was effectively being rushed out of the restaurant as the wait staff closed down the back patio while constantly opening (and at times leaving open) the back door to the patio. It was FRIGID outside and a wait staff put on coats to do this. They did this when there were 2 tables in the back room, and the rest of restaurant was packed - and we were in the process of eating our entrees. They had no problem with us asking for the check and paying, despite unfinished entrees, unfinished bottle of wine, and no ask for dessert or menu. At no point did the main host of the restaurant visit the back room. I felt a bit hoodwink through the beautiful main dining room which made us initially happy with this last minute addition to our itinerary. I understand if tourists cannot be afforded the experience of the "main" dining room, but the rest of decor and service should be up to par. No missed appetizers, no frigid blasts of air, a visit from the somme, the ability to enjoy a full meal. I suspect these shortcomings are culturally embedded in the restaurant's DNA (that tourists/foreigners are second class) and are unlikely to be addressed. Nevertheless, as the food wasn't uniformly awesome, I wouldn't feel that I missed out by not including this restaurant on any future itinerary. That said.. the lemon pasta with fish was really, really good!