Rome trip report - italian w/ a twist and w/o (long post - Ditirambo, Tutti Frutti, Sora Margherita)
A few weeks ago MF and I went to Ditirambo, a really charming place near Campo de' Fiori. We picked Ditirambo because I was getting tired of the same primi and secondi offerings at most restaurants in Italy and Ditirambo offers Italian food that's just a little more interesting, influenced by mediterranean and french, perhaps. Service was very friendly and the wine list is really huge... we're not super connoisseurs but they recommended what was to us a very, very good (and inexpensive) bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo riserva. I'm afraid it was a few weeks ago so I don't remember the names of everything (and the menu has already changed online - that's the other thing, they actually change their menu!). We started with some kind of a crepe (but not crespelle) filled with a riccotta filling... hmmm, and perhaps chestnuts? It was very tasty - I would have liked it to be more potent, but it was quite refreshing. Then I had a ceci (chickpea) puree-soup accented with balsamic vinegar and a big handful of fresh arugala, and MF had a pasta in a tomato crab sauce. Presentation was lovely on both dishes - only small complaint was that MF had giant lumps of quartered crab-body on his plate and it didn't seem that there was any meat left in them (didn't know whether he should busy himself with cracking it all up and trying to eat it or not!). The secondi was, quite frankly, utterly forgettable (luckily we split it) and we got insalata mista also, which was just boring - I've learned my lesson. we didn't want to end the meal on a low note, thankfully we ordered dessert - millefoglie with sabayon cream and chocolate. Presentation was amazing - delicate single sheets of puff pasty sticking artfully out of a central scoop of sabayon cream like some kind of perfect hedgehog of tastiness, really fine chocolate drizzled over... YUM. We will definitely return, though you have to be smarter than the menu - I'll never get insalata mista anywhere again, it's just disappointing - instead I should have taken advantage of something like their cicory or eggplant, as well as their cheese plate. The space itself is really neat, exposed brick and wood beam ceiling. Some tourists, also large groups of Italians. Price came to just over 100 euro for 2 - we were splitting lots of things, too.
On the subject of Italian with a twist, last night we went to Tutti Frutti, a strangely-named "food club" in Testaccio. Service here is enthusiastically sweet, and they're very good about coming by and explaining the (handwritten) menu - which even if you know italian can be difficult to read. You have to ring the bell in front of the frosted glass door to get in. The space is sparse - plain wooden tables and chairs painted in different colors, framed posters and the occasional mosaic on otherwise plain walls. The house red is fantastically inoffensive and very drinkable. We began with the server's recommendation - pizzelle which we ordinarily wouldn't have gotten were small airy puffs of chewy freshly fried dough topped with a tomato sauce and fresh basil leaves - they began to deflate as soon as I took my first bite. Then we had a cheese (hmm... was it pecorino?) drizzled with a clear honey and with chestnuts, which was really, really good (would have been better split among 3 instead of 2 - a lot of cheese!). Then we split fettucini "al febbraio" - special for carnevale, he said - a sausage and cheese sauce topped with chopped cilantro and sun-dried tomatoes (make pretty color, like carnevale fun!). Very tasty (though cilantro wasn't very prominent). Oh, interestingly, our primi came out incredibly fast - we weren't even done with our cheese - and our server went and told the chefs (who were ethnically not Italian) to stop cooking so fast! Anyway, it meant we were able to take our time before we got our secondi, that's for sure. My secondi, I have to admit, was sort of a dud - involtini of veal with asparagus, but I found the asparagus cooked for longer than I like and mushy, and it was topped with a heavy gravy. MF's secondi was fabulous, a filletto of beef pounded exceedingly thin and cooked for about 30 sec. a side - it came out perfectly done, perfectly seasoned, beautifully presented with a long sprig of rosemary on top on a bed of (well dressed!) insalata. By the time we were done they'd run out of a lot of their desserts (since they make them all fresh) so we had biscotti and vin santo. the best part? total for 2 was 65 euro. Clientele was mostly (at least 60%) Italian.
And now, for Italian without the twist - I am still full from lunch at Sora Margherita, in the ghetto. Crammed tables covered with paper in basically a hallway which is certainly not up to fire code, walls covered with newspaper, magazine, and guidebook clippings of acclaim from all over the world. No sign (though a hand-drawn children's scrawl was on the door) but you should be able to recognize it either by long red ribbons over the door which they apparently have in the summer, or the 2 dozen stickers on the door from Roma C'e, Gambero Rosso, Slow Food, Frommers, etc, etc. Be vigilant about getting your name on the list or call ahead - we had to wait, and often you'll end up sharing tables with other parties. But... WOW. Absolutely hands down the best artichokes (giudaia and romana style) that I've had thus far. Giudaia (fried) was like eating fresh potato chips (whereas I once had one at Da Giggeto 2 years ago which I couldn't even chew, it was so sharp and hard), and the romana was so tender and in a pool of really top quality olive oil. Then we had the house made agnoletti with a sugo di carne (meat sauce) and the fettucini (also fatto in casa) with cacio e pepe e ricotta. Exceptionally good. We couldn't even bear a secondi and for dessert we had a slice of cherry and ricotta torte - wasn't our favorite but it somehow disappeared. with a mezzo litro di vino rosso della casa, total for 2 was 35 euro. Menu here was also hand written (also hard to read!) and had today's date at the top. We just asked our (very nice) server for recommendations and he did not let us down. Clientele - mostly italians.
Piazza della Cancelleria 74-75
Especially recommended for: dates, groups of 4-6, foodies
Via Lucca della Robbia 3A
06 575 7902
Especially recommended for: groups with friends, getting away from the tourist rabble
Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30
Seems to be lunch only - I see in some guidebooks that they sometimes have dinner but I'm not sure if that's current.
Especially recommended for: anyone who's hungry. Don't go with a large group.
I second your review of Sora Margherita. All that you say was my experience, except, perhaps because I was alone, I got a table right away, shared with others.
-- Sid Cundiff
Thanks for the well written and comprehensive post Meels.
I'm taking my husband to Rome this weekend for his birthday - I was looking for a nice place, not too fancy, but 'just right' with great food. Another Chowhound member had recommended Ditirambo to me for the birthday dinner, and this has just sealed the deal!
I had also factored in Sora Margherita for a Sunday lunch. Could anyone confirm if it is actually open Sundays for lunch, as well as opening times so we can try to beat the rush!
I was at Sora Margherita on Tuesday! I second your suggestion of the artichoke alla Giudaia -- and had the same thought -- the leaves were exactly like potato chips. I had ordered the artichoke there before, in late May 2005, and it wasn't as tender -- I think the key to a perfect artichoke is to wait for artichoke season.
I also had the fresh fettucini with ricotta, cacio e pepe -- delicious. But I have to tell you that the pasta is not made in-house... as we were leaving at the end of the lunch hour, we saw them opening boxes of fresh pasta and tossing them with semolina. I think the pasta is probably made at a local shop.
We had: two artichokes, one fettucine, one torta with spinach and fresh anchovies, one fennel and blood orange salad, one bottle water, and two coffees. Total: 40 euros.
Unagi -- Sora Margherita is open for lunch on Sundays (but not on Saturdays) but you should definitely call ahead for a reservation.