Chef Adriano Baldassarre is currently firing on all cylinders and his restaurant Tordomatto should be a destination for anyone who loves modernist fine dining. I’m frankly shocked to feel this way. I returned last night expecting to confirm my impression from last year that this place is an expensive snooze. It’s still expensive by Roman standards, but Tordomatto is now – to my great surprise – a thrilling restaurant.
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?”
Following in the footsteps of Stefano Caligari and Giancarlo Casa, Pier Daniele Seu is currently Rome’s most creative pizza chef to watch. Seu first came to attention at Gazometro 38 back in 2014. He left that Ostiense pizzeria to open a stall in the Mercato Centrale in 2017 and quickly became one of that food hall’s greatest attractions. He recently opened the first stand-alone restaurant to bear his name, Seu Pizza Illuminati. The name is meant to invoke bright ideas (not Masons) and a lightness in the dough. Both are delivered, deliciously.
Barnaba is one of those rare and wonderful places that’s slightly better than it needs to be. It’s a wine bar where the wine is really good, where the food is better than anticipated, and where there’s enough space to spread out with a large group or to drop in without a reservation.
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).
There are many potential reasons to celebrate the arrival of Emma Pizzeria in the center of Rome. It’s open every day. It’s spacious, so the chances of snagging an unreserved seat are high. It’s possible to dine outside in good weather. They’re open at lunch, when most pizzerias are shuttered. The quality of wine and deli products is excellent, as one can expect from a place with links to Roscioli. However, the product that’s central to their mission – thin crust Roman style pizza – is disastrously and consistently bad.
Opinion about this family-run restaurant in the Jewish quarter is strongly divided, and our own experience here has been mixed. If we’re sitting outside in beautiful weather and sipping wine while gazing at the columns of the portico d’Ottavio, it’s hard to find fault with anything in the world. The spell is slightly lifted, however, when we’re dining indoors and not distracted by the spectacular scenery.
Stefano Callegari is considered a trailblazer for his contributions to creative pizza in Rome, and for his invention of the celebrated street snack Trapizzino. After Tondo and Sforno, he opened Sbanco in 2016 in a neighborhood that now includes Epiro and SantoPalato. Sbanco builds on Callegari’s winning formula of tasty pizza + fried starters + nice liquids by incorporating a serious craft beer element. Sbanco is also much closer to the center and near a subway line, ensuring that you don’t need to treat it like a pilgrimage site.