Exciting New Restaurants Have Arrived in Rome
For decades, Roman food itineraries revolved around the same old set pieces: cappuccinos at Caffè Sant’Eustachio, fried artichokes at Ristorante Piperno, Berniniesque swirls of gelato at Giolitti. They’re still there, frozen in an eternal Grand Tour glow. But now, there’s also a more adventurous, forward-thinking kind of Roman restaurant. On a modern culinary tour, you’ll taste spaghetti carbonara updated with artisanal guanciale (cured pork jowl) and eggs from chickens fed on goat’s milk. You’ll find gelati made with Parmesan cheese, and new-wave breakfast cornetti. Pioneers like the ingredients-fixated Roscioli family or the preservationist chef Arcangelo Dandini are reimagining the classics, applying Slow Food principles and an obsessive attention to detail. Rome is still intent on maintaining its traditional cucina povera, but in the three decades I’ve been visiting, I have never eaten better.
Pro Loco D.O.L.
After years of focusing on Friulian prosciutti and mozzarella from Paestum, Romans are finally embracing food from their home region of Lazio. Credit for this goes to Vincenzo Mancino, a passionate curator of ingredients from emerging producers who in 2013 expanded his Lazio-centric deli into Pro Loco D.O.L. (entrées $9–$16), a restaurant in the gritty Centocello district. Whether it’s the fusilli made by star pasta maker Mauro Secondi or the Polluce Cincinnato wine from Nero Buono grapes, a meal here will turn even foreigners into Lazio patriots.
Lunch at Terre e Domus (entrées $11–$16) is a different kind of adventure. The minimalist, glass-walled café sits so close to Trajan’s Column, you can practically relive the conquest of Dacia depicted on its spiral frieze from your table. The enoteca’s surreally central real estate belongs to the Provincia Romana (Rome County), which leases it to the restaurant in order to promote ingredients from the area. It was a pleasing contradiction to sample feathery gnocchi cacio e pepe and elegant eggplant involtini (roll-ups) stuffed with smoked Roman provola under a monument to the ruler of an expansionist empire that imported grain from North Africa, oil from Andalusia, and salted hams from Gaul.
Armando al Pantheon
While most trattorias in Rome cling stubbornly to a small roster of menu standards, a handful of places manage to take the cucina romana canon to a higher level. Despite a location next to the touristy Pantheon, Armando al Pantheon (entrées $16–$27) never rests on its laurels. This wood-paneled stalwart is proudly old-school, with its white-napped tables and the gravitas of a great institution. Co-owner Claudio Gargioli presides over the kitchen in his black, high-collared chef’s outfit, looking like a benevolent cleric. He answered my cravings for quinto quarto, or offal, with a griddled panino of diced coratella (that’s heart and lungs) and pajata, delicate calf intestines roasted into soft, brawny submission. “We’ve had the same butcher for forty years,” Gargioli said.
Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto
Sometimes it takes a prodigal son to infuse local cuisine with fresh energy. Chef Leonardo Vignoli, born near Rome, worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant in France for years, finally returning to open his supremely Roman Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto (45 Via del Casaletto; 39-06-536-015; entrées $12–$19) in 2009. Modest and graying, he still looks baffled by the restaurant’s phenomenal success. Ask any regular why they eat here three times a week, however, and they’ll mention the pleasure of dining on the homey, vine-covered terrace; the chef’s talent for frying, from golden shredded-beef polpette to anchovies fresh off the boat; and his take on trippa alla romana, Rome’s definitive tripe stew.
Some of the city’s most inventive chefs are making Rome’s classic dishes the starting point for their culinary experiments. Take the carbonara and tiramisu at Ristorante All’Oro (entrées $36–$41), a white-on-white dining room near Piazza del Popolo. Here, the carbonara is a mirage: Parmesan spuma with egg zabaglione punctuated by guanciale cracklings, served in an eggshell, no pasta. The tiramisu is a savory cloud of salt cod, potatoes, and pig lardo. “I like to turn my customers into kids,” chef and owner Riccardo Di Giacinto told me. He worked with Ferran Adrià in 2003 (a great El Bulli vintage). Call me nostalgic, but his stylized deconstructions reminded me of just how exciting that era of foams and gels was.
The same Romans who tut at Di Giacinto’s reimagined carbonara adore the iconoclastically creamy version by the ragazza spagnola, or “Spanish girl,” at Marzapane Roma (entrées $22–$26), a bistro near Piazza Fiume. The girl in question is Alba Esteve Ruiz, the twentysomething veteran of Spain’s most creative restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca. Opened in 2013, Marzapane became such a hit it was recently enlarged and renovated, with a woody Scandinavian look. More space now to indulge in Ruiz’s subtly avant-garde linguine cooked in chamomile tea and laced with slippery clams and drops of citrus gelée.
Pizza, fritti, panini: Roman chefs and artisans are reinventing classic fast food with exalted ingredients and sharper techniques. Take Supplizio, a new friggitoria (fried-snack joint) for the Slow Food generation near Piazza Navona. Chef Arcangelo Dandini fills his supplì, or cheesy fried rice balls, with mozzarella “from a very special Lazio producer” and slow-cooked two-meat ragù. Follow these with a fritter of organic eggs, sharp pecorino, and mint, in a sauce of vine-ripened cherry tomatoes.
At Emma (entrées $8–$19), near Campo de’ Fiori, dough advisor Pierluigi Roscioli spent a year completely reconfiguring his Roman-style pizza. Chewy, crispy, and whisper-light, the crust is fermented for 40 hours before being cooked in a 660-degree oven—fired, for that smoky edge, with beechwood and oak. Toppings include chorizo from acorn-fed pigs, culatello from Podere Cadassa, and other sought-after salumi.
Pasticceria De Bellis
In the mornings, nearby Pasticceria De Bellis is crowded with fans of the fried breakfast cornetti by bearded, tattooed pastry perfectionist Andrea De Bellis. At all other times of day, try precise, jewel-like confections such as his Paris Brest with fraise du bois and crystallized rose petals.
Plums for sale at Campo de’ Fiori market.
Armando al Pantheon restaurant.