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Best spaghetti carbonara?

Came back recently from a visit to Rome, where I tried spaghetti carbonara for the first time. It was the best meal of my entire multi-country European excursion - something about the al dente pasta and the texture of the dry egg, cheese, and pepper made my taste buds tingle! Now that I am back in CA, I have since ordered it whenever I've seen it on a menu but have been extremely disappointed - every place seems to make it with cream, making an incredibly oily and heavy dish. Are there any locations in the Bay that make spaghetti carbonara the way they do it in Rome?

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  1. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ma...

    If you are a capable home cook this recipe will leave you happy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Brandon Nelson

      Perhaps that recipe won't make the OP happy because it has cream and onions. But I agree that making carbonara at home is easier than finding a consistently good restaurant version.

      Find a recipe that calls for eggs, guanciale (cured hog jowl), and pecorino romano cheese -- no cream, onions, Parmesan, or peas. Guanciale can be hard to find, but Lucca's on Valencia stocks it now, and some of the artisan curers (Fatted Calf, Boccalone) have it as well. Guanciale and grated romano cheese both freeze well, so stock up and you'll always be able to make carbonara at home on short notice.

      Among local restaurants, I can think of two Roman places: SPQR and Chiaroscuro. In my one visit there long ago, and some others' experiences, pastas were SPQR's weak point. I haven't been to Chiaroscuro, but their online menu says they use pancetta in carbonara which would rule it out for me. Oddly, they use guanciale in amatriciana, so why not also use it in carbonara?

      Lucca Ravioli
      1100 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

    2. Do they make it with pancetta or guanciale?

      1. SPQR and Ideale are the two Roman restaurants (that I know of) in San Francisco. Have you tried them?

        1. This is one of those dishes that I never order at a restaurant. It's so easy to make at home to your own taste. Restaurants tend to add all sorts of odd things to carbonara that are totally uncalled for.

          1. the closest to the carbonara I had in Rome is Marcella Hazan's version in the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking - no cream, no butter. It is incredibly good. . more so if you use guanciale, the best spaghetti and the best eggs possibly. Freshly grated cheese is a must as well. It is really very, very delicious and will transport you back to Rome. :)

            3 Replies
            1. re: pastryqueen

              I've made Marcella's carbonara sauce several times (except I've never made it with salted pork jowl). It's very good, but frankly I prefer the sauce "American style" with cream (as it is prepared in almost all of Italy except for Rome). I recommend (to everyone except the OP) trying the version at Venezia in Berkeley, especially for lunch when the price is extremely reasonable.

              1. re: pastryqueen

                Carbonara without butter is just plain wrong.

                1. re: pastryqueen

                  I second the recommendation of Marcella's recipe. It really is not difficult to make at home, and it's hard to find a restaurant on this continent whose offering rivals the taste of the homemade version. (Marcella dislikes using bacon, but try it with some of the artisanal bacon available in the Bay Area...!)

                2. Thanks all - I am an awful home cook, so I was hoping to avoid the cooking route, but it seems as though that might be my only option. :( Appreciate the tips!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: alina555

                    Update: I did it. I looked up Marcella's recipe, determined it sounded relatively easy, and gave it my best shot. Picked up some fresh pasta and pancetta (no guanciale could be found) from Pasta Pasta in San Mateo and gave it a go. Fifteen minutes later, I ended up with some pretty darn good pasta - I was pretty impressed and proud of myself! I may experiment with different cheeses to test out different flavors, but all in all it was far better than any carbonara I've tried around here.

                    Not to say I won't test out some of the other suggestions on here though....I am still very curious! Thanks all!

                    1. re: alina555

                      That's great! I really do enjoy that recipe! IIRC, it calls for both parmesan and pecorino romano and I think I remember liking it better with only pecorino. Congrats on cooking yourself up so lovely carbonara. .once you've done it a few times, it will be so easy!

                      1. re: pastryqueen

                        Yeah, I like only pecorino better, too. In fact, just give me some linguine with pecornio and black pepper!

                        1. re: a_and_w

                          Hi, folks, if you're planning to reply here, we'd ask that you please start a new thread on Home Cooking to continue the conversation. That way all our Home Cooking hounds can benefit from the discussion.


                  2. Ideale does a good job. The chef-owner is Roman.

                    SPQR's version gets the flavors right, but the guanciale was in strips rather than diced.

                    Fatted Calf's guanciale is excellent, as is Cafe Rouge's.

                    1315 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                    1. Not sure that it's the way they do it in Rome but the best carbonara I've had in the city is at the French restaurant Gamine on Union at Fillmore (previously Chez Maman). Delicious!

                      1. Aside from my house (no butter, no cream!), I think SPQR's version is yummy. I order it almost every time.

                        1. Chef/owner Stefano Coppola of Lupa Trattoria in Noe Valley hails from Rome and I would vote his Spaghetta alla Carbonara my favorite in town.
                          The dish occassionally pops up on the daily changing specials menu, but we have been able to special order on "non-Carbonara days"...

                          Another amazing Carbonara is whipped up by James Stolich - and it comes with detailed instructions on how to make this rather simple dish at home. CookwithJames' cooking classes are held at his Cole Valley kitchen and cover various regional Italian cuisines.

                          The "Cooking of Rome" class not only taught us how to make a perfect Carbonara, it's history, guanciale and all, but also included an easy recipe for Saltimboca alla Romana - two rather simple, yet amazing dishes from the classic cucina Romana ...

                          Bi-Rite & Lucca Ravioli are good sources for guanciale in the Mission, i you want to avoid the crowds at the Ferry Buidling ...

                          4109 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                          Cook with James
                          San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

                          1. It's not on the menu but the chef at Divino in Belmont will make it for you if you ask for it. No cream either but he does use Pancetta. It's exceptional IMO.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: dhoffman1421

                              Oh, that's right down the street from me! That may be my first trial, thanks!

                            2. Cafe Zoetrope has it on the menu (pdf format)

                              Spaghetti alla Carbonara Classico ........................................ 13.50
                              Niman Ranch guanciale, egg, ground black pepper and pecorino

                              I haven't had it, but I was at Francis Ford Copolla's new little Itailan cafe/deli, Mamarella's near the Nap airport, and the Roma-style pizza there was quite good as were the meatballs. Some of the deli menu is the same as the SF Cafe. It might be a good place to try. Please report back if you go. I'd be interested to hear if it is as good as the deli. food

                              Cafe Zoetrope
                              916 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94133