ome has a small but precious collection of restaurants and eateries that are either too obscure to make waves or privy only to a select few who jealously or lazily guard their secrets. When it comes to dining out, I put myself in the indolent explorers category. I need a rave review before I break from my habitual haunts. But since Rome is undergoing a culinary renaissance, I hereby resolve to put an end to my sloth spell.
If you want to do the same, or just want to experiment, you might want to sample from my list of the lesser-known city spots, which I’ve arranged a little whimsically. Rather than listing their menu highlights, I’m just revealing some of my stash: The rest is up to you. Some have been around for years, while others are new, or nearly. My hunch is that all will make their mark in 2011.
Ristorante Settembrini This restaurant and cocktail bar (tended by illuminated barista Pino) is also a bookstore, aperitivo hang out, and gourmet specialty store. The eclectic Prati venue opened five years ago, but has been growing steadily. Menu offerings in handwritten chalk change daily. The only sure thing is that you’ll get what you pay for, and better. Via Via Luigi Settembrini, 27. Tel. +39.06.323.2617.
All’Oro I’m not a fan of mouthfuls. When I’m hungry, I want portions that sate me. Influenced by this gastro-snobbism, I usually classify contemporary mini-sculptures on large octagonal plates dusted with liquorice powder as boring. But something in the cappelletti in brodo asciutto, burro, zafferano e parmigiano made to look like two fried eggs, and the Rocher di coda (true Testaccina stewed oxtail in the form of a popular chocolate bonbon), changed my mind. Why? I suddenly wanted many more mouthfuls. Via Eleonora Duse, 1/E. Tel. +39.06.9799.6907.
Mia Market From the outside, this looks like small neighborhood produce shop. Masking tape signs cover the glass display and the shelves behind it are filled with canned goods, olive oils, organic juices and other pantry basics, exclusively from Lazio. The middle of the room offers baskets and crates of lettuce, broccoli, kale, onions, and eggs.
Then, when your nose picks up the aromas of cooked food, you’ll notice the mismatched chairs and tables, and the few customers that occupy them. That’s if the girls running the Market aren’t holding a cooking class. When that happens, it feels like a party. Join it. Via Panisperna, 225. Tel. +39.06.4782.4611.
Giuda Ballerino! Off the beaten path and tiny (10 tables), the new and improved “dancing Judas” of the Appio Claudio has lots of promise. Andrea and Marianna, who once ran a pizzeria, now manage this elegant (and pricey) creative cuisine restaurant that was recently awarded a Michelin star. The desserts are headline-worthy. Largo Appio Claudio, 346. Tel. +39.06.7158.4807.
Open Colonna The setting is a futuristic greenhouse on the top floor of the city’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni Museum. The menu by maintains the flavors of traditional Roman dishes, with interesting contemporary twists. Patrons (of the museum or food, or both) can enjoy Chef Antonello Colonna’s weekday City Lunch (€15) and weekend brunch (€28) under the transparent glass roof. The original Antonello Colonna was a family-run restaurant founded in 1874 in Labico, a village near Rome. Scalinata di Via Milano, 9/A. Tel. +39.06.4782.2641.
Osteria Le Coq The wine list still needs to improve, and sometimes the chef tries too hard to impress, but this newly born Monteverde “gastro-bistrot” is on the right track. Keep your taste buds peeled for the house natural starter breads, crisp foie gras escalope with Maldon salt, homemade fettuccine with porcini and the “chocolate variations” platter. The few and carefully-chosen menu items and the focus on quality products and ingredients, along with the informal, relaxed ambience, have my attention. Viale di Villa Pamphili 35/C. Tel. +39.06.5833.5146.
Enoteca Provincia Romana This wine bar-meets-grocery store opened in April 2010 and sells and promotes the wines, olive oils and other local products of the Rome province, the largest in Lazio, which has five (Frosinone, Rieti, Latina, Viterbo and Rome). While sipping a perfect glass of Cesanese, you can enjoy a view of the Trajan Column, the Forum, and the back end of the Vittoriano while biting into porchetta from Ariccia sandwiched between slices of Genzano (or Lariano) bread. Largo del Foro Traiano, 84. Tel. +39.06.6766.2424.
Eataly Roma When it’s up and fully operational (early 2011), this 12,000 square meter (150,000 square foot) gastronomic megastore will house an array of specialty stores, 15 restaurants, a dozen cooking workshop teaching areas, and a conference hall. The complex, located at Rome’s defunct Air Terminal, near Stazione Ostiense, will feature local products and specialties and be Stay tuned.