Retrobottega is the most exciting place to eat in Rome, once you’ve digested the city’s compulsory Carbonara, fried artichoke and gelato elsewhere. It delivers an experience on par with the very best modern meals I’ve had in Paris or New York. That’s quite a statement to make about a restaurant in Rome, where attempts at culinary creativity often fall flat. Such attempts here are usually characterized by a repackaging of canonic dishes into alternative and often asinine forms: salt cod marshmallows, cacio e pepe lollipops, amatriciana ‘sand.’ By contrast, the cooking at Retrobottega is without artifice. It feels urgent, of the moment, and most importantly, delicious.
For a while now, I’ve been on the hunt for a new Cesare. Ever since Katie Parla called this “the perfect trattoria” back in 2012, Cesare has been prominently on the radar of hungry travelers. 2015 was a record year for anglophone press coverage (see links below), but with the recent publication of Eater’s Guide to Rome, in which the trattoria is featured prominently in four different articles, I believe we are now experiencing Peak Cesare.
I’ve never disagreed with any of these rave reviews. But I’ve wondered, like Peggy Lee, “is that all there is?”
SantoPalato is having a moment. My friends who are traveling to Rome routinely ask about this new trattoria. They’ve heard about it from Katie Parla in pieces from the New York Times or Eater (links below) and want to know if it lives up to the hype.
That hype is significant, but it’s not without substance. Sarah Cicolini is a sincere and gutsy cook who centers her cuisine around the off-cuts known in Rome as quinto quarto. Cicolini has a strong philosophy about using all parts of the animal. If you’re into that, you’re going to have a ball at SantoPalato (maybe literally).
Epiro is my favorite sort of place – it’s a mom & pop restaurant for the modern age. Alessandra Viscardi and Marco Mattana met in art school but decided that a restaurant was their future. They opened Epiro five years ago in an inexpensive neighborhood just outside of Rome’s center. She manages the dining room and the liquids, he runs the kitchen with Matteo Baldi. Their approach is sincere and personal, and they deliver incredible value for money.
In the beginning, Epiro was a place to try inexpensive creative cooking with a good selection of craft beer and natural wine. It is still that, but the cooking is now on another level.
Litro, a bright, welcoming wine and cocktail bar in Monteverde, was arguably the first in Rome to specialize in natural wines, which is to say organic and biodynamic wines vinified with minimum sulfur and no other additives. But where natural wine hotspots in other cities have sometimes taken a reactionary stance towards service norms, the team at Litro are warm and cheerful, clearly delighted to share the bar’s big list of obscure wines from throughout Italy, along with surprisingly evolved cocktail and mezcal selections.
Since 1999, Giancarlo Casa has been making pizzas with cut-above ingredients, spending extra time working the dough, and charging slightly more for the result. You’ll be happy to pay the higher prices, and also the cab fare to Monteverde, for what is currently my favorite pizza experience in Rome. I say ‘experience’ because it’s not just about the excellent wood-fired pizza. The supplì and other fried starters are a true joy to put in your mouth, and the surprisingly good wine selection at la Gatta Mangiona elevates it to destination status.
Most people arrive at Roscioli with high expectations. It’s one of the most consistently and lovingly reviewed restaurants in Rome. It’s also a place that disappoints some people. Why? Because they’ve understood it to be a restaurant, when in reality it’s a shop selling exceptional cheese and salumi – one that invites you to sit down and enjoy these with some wine and perhaps a plate of very good pasta. Cheese, salumi, wine and pasta… isn’t that why you came to Rome?