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Downie's _Food Wine Rome_: 1st post: Campo de'Fiori, Ghetto, Capitoline

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I thank Jen Kalb for suggesting The Terrior Guides’ _Food, Wine, Rome_ by David Downie, 2009. . A sucker for books about Rome, I have it in hand already. The series emphasizes eating in the local tradition; in this edition, as on an unnumbered opening page, the author states that his recommendations are “unabashedly about eating and drinking the Roman way”; “reflects native sensibilities”.

Occasionally I’ll post his recommendations over the next few weeks. Yet I’ll not tire Chowhounders’ eyes with all the recommendations for all 10 chapters (divided by area in the city), but instead restrict myself to just neighborhoods where I plan to frequent in the next two years. I’ll list
1) Downie’s recommendation of restaurants where I’ve never been or about which I have only some information;
2) places where I’ve been and found either praiseworthy or blameworthy;
3) places unknown to me which other Chowhounders have found praiseworthy or blameworthy.

Today I’ll list the chapter “Campo de’Fiori, Ghetto, Capitoline/Forum”.

I. LISTED BY DOWNIE AND UNKNOWN TO ME:

1. BAR BENITO, Via dei Falegnami 14. A _caffe_ and _tavola calda_. Sounds like a place for breakfast.

2. DA SERGIO, Vicolo della Grotte 27. Mixed reviews from Chowhounders.

3. GRAPPOLO D’ORO–ZAPANO, Piazza della Chancelleria 80. Recommended by a _New Yorker_ writer years ago, and thus raises my suspicion that it now might be resting on its laurels. True?

4. LA CARBONARA, Campo de’ Fiori 23. I can’t get enough of spaghetti carbonara. Here it’s made with penne. Are both the restaurant and its speciality dish praiseworthy?

5. SETTIMIO AL PELLEGRINO, Via del Pelegrino 117. Said to be hard to get a table, and cold to foreigners (“‘we don’t take reservations unless we know you’”). Service said to be “small, overworked, studiously insouciant”, yet “Few places are more authentically Roman”. True in part? in whole?

6. SORA LELLA, Via di Ponte Quattro Capi 16. I’ve always wanted to eat here, yet mixed reviews from Chowhounders have made me cautious. Is my caution warranted?

7. LA VECCHIA BOTTEGA DEL VINO. Via Santa Maria del Pianto 9A/11. Said to be a wine and lunch spot.

8. AL GALLETTO, Piazza Farnese 102. Mixed reviews from Chowhounders. Is the view of the Palazzo Farnese make sitting outside worth it?

II. LISTED BY DOWNIE; EXPERIENCE BY ME AND FOUND PRAISEWORTHY

9. Dar Filettaro a Santa Barbara
10. Der Pallaro
11. Piperno,
12. Sora Margherita
13. La Taverna del Ghetto (100% Kosher, including the wines; if you want milk with your coffee, you get soy.)

LISTED BY DOWNIE; EXPERIENCED BY ME AND FOUND BLAMEWORTHY
14. Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia

LISTED BY DOWNIE; FOUND BLAMEWORTHY BY CHOWHOUNDERS
15. Roscioli, found blameworthy by Chowhounders both in atmosphere and cuisine.

I would particularly welcome Chowhounders’ judgements about ##1-8. I am grateful to those of you who responded to my listing of restaurants from _The Concise Blue Guide Rome_. And I remain grateful to this Italy Board, which has proven to be invaluable to me over the years. Next week, time permitting I’ll post Downie’s recommendations for Campo Marzio, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and post in the same format.

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  1. 2. Da Sergio: My experiences have also been mixed: once wonderful, once abominable (a hugely oversalted dish).
    3. Grappolo d'Oro: The ownership has surely changed since the article appeared in the New Yorker in the 80s or 90s. In any case, the place was completely changed (not necessarily for the better) the last time I was there.
    4. La Carbonara: Overhyped, in my opinion. Its carbonara is no better than many another.
    7. La Vecchia Bottega: A wine bar run by Anacleto Bleve's nephews in his old space before he went upscale. No hot dishes, as far as I know.
    8. Ar Galletto: It was for many years the favorite neighborhood resource of a friend who lived nearby. I haven't been back since it became a Rick Steves favorite.
    15. Roscioli: I'm not sure you're right; I've seen a number of positive reviews. Unlike most of the places on your iist, it's an upscale restaurant rather than a trattoria. And I don't think I've seen bad reviews of Forno Roscioli, the pizza al taglio place across the street.

    1 Reply
    1. re: zerlina

      3. Grappolo d'Oro:

      The whole place has changed since the New Yorker article. It was an institution, but is completely different now. I haven't been.

      4. La Carbonara:

      I haven't been in years, but when I went with a senator and another time with a neighborhood regular, it was great. When I went alone with a friend it was awful.

      7. La Vecchia Bottega:

      Bleve is back at the old shop, having ceded it to some employees. The food is the same as always, cold and fancy (and delicious).

      15. Roscioli:

      It's an upscale restaurant decked out like a trattoria with tables inside the shop. As for the pizza, actually I went a few weeks ago and was totally underwhelmed. I preferred Antico Forno, which surprised me. The formica-looking place across from Sant'Eustachio is even better. Best of all is nowhere near Campo de' Fiori -- Pizzarium, near the Cipro metro station.

    2. Superb thread---I will stay tuned and contribute when relevant.

      2 Replies
      1. re: erica

        I recommend you parse Downie's language carefully. He dispenses swooning praise only for a few specific spots and was (pun intended) spot on in those instances for me. As you read the book, I think you will gain a good sense of the ones he really really likes vs. the large majority which are happily included for various - sometimes odd ball - reasons.

        Can't comment on 1-8 except for Benito which was a dump. I saw the Downie entry, went by in the morning for breakfast but took a pass. Sad drunks and grim looking interior did it for me. You can do far better in the morning elsewhere.

        1. re: wristband

          I'll grant you it takes a small act of courage to go into Benito, but when I had lunch there with a friend a few years ago, we thought the food was more than acceptable (portions quite small, however) and the price was certainly right.

      2. 1. Bar Benito: It is futile to hunt bars, unless they have one special thing that they do very good and you are crazy about. bars are about visiting them everyday, building up a relationship and the barista recognizing you and making your favorite coffee without you asking for it.
        2. Sergio: not consistent.
        3. Grappolo d'oro: Not like in the article and not good, either.
        4. Carbonara: It is ok but service (and seemingly food) depends on who you are with.
        5. Settimio: 1st time call were asked several questions and finally, reluctantly given a spot for sunday lunch. Got the door closest to the door (I heard the more regular you are, the more inside your table gets). Food was not special. Roman but definitely not worth all the trouble if you only have the chance to go once. I can see if you are a regular, go with your family, etc, the place gets nicer and more interesting, but as a tourist, don't bother.
        7. Bottega del Vino: fine for a glass of wine and cold cuts etc.
        10. Dar Pallaro: terrible, tourist group serving, faux-authentic place
        12. It is an experience. Food good home cooking. Not overwhelming, but if you want a special experience in Rome, I would pick rather this than 5.
        14. Tourist place, though I admit to having gone there more than once when with friends in tow on a sunday. It is not bad, just not as good as the hype. Get the fried vegetables, esp. the artichokes.
        15. Roscioli is a place not for everyone. I am afraid even Maureen Fant whom I highly respect in all things food doesn't understand what it is about and I stop recommending it because I am afraid if you don't go there with the right set of mind you will hate it. It is not a trattoria, it is not a michelin star restaurant. It IS first of all a deli where they have excellent products. There are exactly 5 stools at the bar, the rest (about 15 + 6 in the cellar) are small tables (for 2). It is cramped. It does not serve traditional Roman cuisine but it is not international and artificial either (yes, there IS a hamburger on the menu, but it is not what you think it is). It does take excellent products and produces dishes that are sometimes classics (though I rarely order those) sometimes creative new combinations. Do not just take a (very good) salumi plate, venture out to other dishes.The wines are certainly a very strong point. Do not go there if you don't drink wine, don't go with children, don't go if you are with dad who will only eat a steak and potatoes (though you can get a very good one here). It is our favorite and go to place but I certainly understand someone not liking it - it certainly is a place where the right person has to meet the right dish.

        5 Replies
        1. re: vinoroma

          Hiya vinoroma. I will grant you that I had concluded I needed to go to Roscioli sometime with a regular, and I was very open to learning to like it. But I went into the shop a couple of times lately and found it so not Volpetti -- in terms of warmth/courtesy of greeting, visibility of merchandise, and general comfort of shopping there -- that I decided there was no point. (BTW a prominent local food editor was lunching at the counter deep in conversation with one of the brothers.) As for my remarks on the restaurant, they are based on (and I have not made a secret of this) one visit. I had lunch with an American friend, a long-time resident and totally bilingual and knowledgeable. I recall the food was very good, but the young, foreign (can't recall whether Scandinavian or English or American) waitress blasted us with that faux intimacy I so abhor in American restaurants that I wanted to go screaming to the dignified formality of a normal Roman trattoria. More recently Franco and I found ourselves walking past it and I remarked we should go there sometime together because so many people say it's so good. He looked at the menu, curled his lip, and said "We cannot go to a place like this." He turned on his heel so fast I never saw what he objected to so much, but it was probably the word "hamburger" (to which he has no objection at home). I AM willing to try it with the right tablemate, but I confess I'm better disposed to places whose true meaning is more evident with less effort on my part.

          1. re: mbfant

            Hi Maureen, I totally understand! As I confess, I must have just by chance started on a very good foot - remember going there alone for lunch exactly 2 years ago now, coming out 3 hrs later and immediately calling my husband who was not yet in Rome and telling him I have found "the place" for us. It has never once deluded us since then and we have a wonderful relationship. I do see others (non-regulars?) at times getting less than stellar service. I do understand, especially coming from you, who has been living here so long and is so knowledgeable and has already enough of other great places, that you are not disposed to spending energy, time and money on yet another place where they obviously have made it difficult for you to like it. I just am sorry about that. And you are right about the shopping experience - it really would do them a lot better to separate the two areas more rigorously. Just today my husband commented on the difficulty of it as we were trying to buy some mozzarella at 12 noon, where they had already set up the tables for lunch service.
            Ah, we'll just need to talk about our differences over some wine, some time :)

            1. re: vinoroma

              I have to throw in my two euro-cents. I just returned from Rome a couple of weeks ago, short visit, but I was on a carbonara quest. After reading here that Gambero Rosso declared that Roscioli had the best in Rome, well, I had to try it. First night of the visit, made reservations. I'd been in before, but only to buy cheese, aceto, etc. The tables and chairs in the deli were sort of creepy. Anyway, my service was fine, the waiter helpful. But the touted carbonara, in spite of its pedigreed ingredients, was the worst I had on the trip. Flavorless, maybe four chunks of the carefully chosen guanciale. The pasta itself, a spaghettono from I don't know where, was "meaty" or, as food writers love to say, toothsome. But the dish itself was lame. Sorry. I also splurged and had a dish of tagliarini with tartufo. What a waste of money. Again, flavorless tartufi. I should have complained, but....

              Now, to the OP's list:
              2) Da Sergio: went here a few years ago after they'd reopened. It was one of the worst dining experiences I've had anywhere. Maybe the food was decent, I don't remember because the service was so surly, and downright nasty. Maybe because I wasn't Roman? My Italian is ok, so I'm not the bumbling tourist trying to figure out the menu for hours. Let's just say it's on my never-again list.
              4) Carbonara...have been a few times, and the food has been uneven. Now, I know far better places and don't bother.
              5) Settimio: went here 10-12 years ago. It was ok, nothing special. I didn't have any problems getting in, but I was certainly the only non-regular. If I lived in Rome, it might be a good place to go regularly, but....
              8) Al Galletto: went for the first time last month. It was fine, carbonara far better than you know where. The setting is wonderful, the owner delightful. Might go back.
              10) Der Pallaro: I enjoyed this place the first few times I went. Few tourists, ok food, great price, the husband was always cordial to this Texan, and once gave me the originale, the bowl used to mate sauce, pasta and cheese. But the last time I went, it was overrun with tourists, the food was a bit boring, and the service was gruff. Don't think I'll return.
              12) Sora Margherita: I've always had good chow here. Sometimes better than others, but it's a fun experience if nothing else. I'll go back again for sure. But, it isn't cheap anymore....three of us ran over 100 euros, but that included a bottle of wine, not the house stuff.
              13) Giggetto. Never again. Once was enough.
              15) Roscioli...see above. (now, i do like their forno for various items) but i'd never enter their deli/restaurant again.

              For what it's worth, the place that thrilled me the most on this trip was found in Downie's book (and seconded by Slow Food's new guide) was Da Gino, sometimes referred to as Dal Cavalier Gino. Wow, the best carbonara of the trip. Can't wait to go back, wish I'd gone before my last night, would have made a return visit...do call ahead, it's small and fills up fast.

              1. re: sambamaster

                Thanks, sambamaster, esp. for your remarks on Al Galletto, about which I've read mixed Chowhounder reviews.

                And your positive experience at Dal Cavalier Gino was also mine. I found out the hard way that one needs to make reservations.

                And I too am in quest for the Holy Grail of carbonara. So thanks for your warning about Roscioli's and your endorsement of Gino's. Next month I'll post a request for carbonara recommendations, or a least an update of the posts from Jan. 2009 and March 2007.

          2. re: vinoroma

            Thank you, vinoroma, and thank you vinoroma's interlocutors! Thanks to you folks, my list is getting appropriately narrower.

          3. This thread is really interesting as I will be stay in Rome for three nights this June but I can't find the 2nd and 3rd post.

            On the other hand, it is a bit sad after reading some many threads on Rome in this board and the others. It seems that it is difficult for tourists to get a good meal in Rome especially for those seeking values. Sounds like most places are either tourist traps or if they serve locals, the services are cold at the best if not rude and the non-regulars simply do not know what to order, or even they order the right dish, the kitchen might dump the less quality ingredients to them.

            11 Replies
            1. re: kyeblue

              And yet the clear evidence of this board, and many other testimonies, is that tourists and other visitors enjoy their Roman meals and find a warm welcome. As one of the pessimistic voices that contributed to your gloomy scenario, let me try to introduce a more cheerful side to this. (1) tourist traps are easily identifiable by the disgusting food you see people eating at outdoor tables while they breathe traffic fumes; also somebody is probably standing outside hawking, or there are stupid signs in bad English; (2) they aren't even on the radar for CH people; (3) there are a lot of mediocre places not aimed at tourists; not every Italian is a gourmet; you get what you pay for; (4) the more homework you do -- both names of places and, especially, local dishes and ingredients -- the better you will eat; (5) use your knowledge to engage the waiter and ask questions; if you show you care what you eat, you will eat better -- you'll be steered to the right dishes, for one thing; (6) when possible, go back to the same place; it takes very little to establish yourself as a regular.

              1. re: mbfant

                mbfant, I greatly value your comments. Lunch primarily or dinner for two. Please comment if you can on Ad Hoc, All'Oro. Settembrio, Il Pagliaccio and any other comparable restaurants. We'll be visiting Rome next month. The best Italian food we've had was at Cracco in Milan.. Nothing memorable in Rome so we're prepared to go upscale.

                1. re: amrx

                  I am not Maureen, but if you care about one more comment: Ad hoc really doesn't offer anything memorable and is a different /lower level than All'Oro and Settembrini (is that what you mean?). These two offer interesting/modern food at a high level. Il Pagliaccio is again one or even two classes higher and the most comparable to Cracco in Milan.

                  1. re: vinoroma

                    Vinorama, many thamks. I'm just getting around to Chowhound Italy reports.. I will omit Ad Hoc. From their website Il Pagliaccio appears to be quite similar to Cracco., so your verifacation makes it certain to book.

                    1. re: amrx

                      spelling mistake: verification not verifacation. sorry

                  2. re: amrx

                    Vinoroma has given you the hierarchy. Pagliaccio is very very good and considerably higher up the scale than All'Oro, which I liked the one time we went but I live here and want a change every so often. If I'm "going upscale" I go to Agata e Romeo or Il Convivio or Antonello Colonna, which I find most successfully combine local roots and fine dining. While my instinct is to bite your head off for not finding anything memorable in Rome, I actually agree with you in that people so often think somehow it's not quite Roman to seek out the high end, or that Riedel glasses are somehow incompatible with good genuine food, but that is a crock. Agata Parisella, Angelo Troiani, and Antonello Colonna make, and serve, the best Roman food around, and if they've cleaned it up a bit, more power to them.

                    1. re: mbfant

                      May I assume you mean the restaurant in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, not the one in the town of Labico? Sorry to be out of touch.

                2. re: kyeblue

                  kyblue, I hope the reason you are here is to get some recommendations that fit your needs. Having some good places in mind , understanding something about the local foods, looking at what others are ordering and going with that when you can (instead of picking the familiar bolognese, veal piccata, etc) and understanding what type of places to avoid is the best way to make sure you have a good experience. this thread is really about a group of the Roman places reviewed in David Downie's book - yes there are some "insider" type places on his list, but they are far from the average. I very much enjoy (and you will too) the professional service in most Roman restaurants.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    Maureen and Jen, thanks for your assurance and wonderful tips, and please forgive the pessimistic tone in my early post. I was in fact half joking. But I do find a bit frustrated when I research into dining choices in Rome, or any large touristy cities, where there are so many restaurants, and the restaurant scene changes so often, and when a low-profile gem appears on a popular magazine or TV show or a popular guide, it is often over-run by bus loads of tourists and its quality deteriorates. But anyway, I do find Downie's book very helpful as he does reveal some important aspects of a place that may or may not fit my needs.

                    Someone on the other board suggests Cantina Cantarini, which is close to where I will stay and reviewed by Downie. I guess it will be my choice for Friday/Saturday dinner.

                    Maureen, have you made to Mamma Angelina, another David Downie listing and of course on both Michelin and Espresso. Worth a trip for Sunday dinner?

                    1. re: kyeblue

                      I find Mamma Angelina inconsistent, some dishes are sometimes very good, but then again amiss at times - like old and poorly fried sardines. Since it is also rather uneasy to reach from where we live, we have given up on it. So you can have a good experience, but it is not guaranteed.

                      1. re: kyeblue

                        This is how an expat living in Italy, whose veracity I have no reason to doubt, described Cantina Cantarini in email correspondence with me:

                        "It seems to be very popular in the neighborhood. It's smaller, dinkier, and more expensive, and we couldn't figure out how they compete with Il Ristorantino [another restaurant in the same area]. The first table they showed us to was positioned so that if we sat there, the door no longer opened all the way. We asked for another, and were placed literally at the elbows of a family of four. There was a freezer right in the middle of the dining area. Yet there was a line to get in, including some rather elegant people. Their specialty is fish..."

                  2. I guess I'm the only one who likes Grappolo d'Oro Zampano. I don't anything about the article so I didn't have any preconceptions when we went March 2009. On a Friday or Saturday night, you definitely need a reservation. The tables are crowded, but I'm used to that in New York City. My husband and I had a number of dishes that were reinterpretations of classic dishes from all over Italy (I think) and enjoyed it. They have an extensive wine list. Although our waiter didn't speak much English, we still were able to get a recommendation for a wine for our main course. This was our "fancy" restaurant for our stay and it was definitely expensive. It was the only restaurant we had antipasti, primi, secondi, with contorno, and dolci and cafe. Loved it. We had the panzanella, crostini Toscana, rigatoni and gnocchi, angello and bacala, don't remember the dessert. The Albanian waiter did speak English and loved my New York accent--couldn't hear me say "cawfee" enough. Gave us a little bottle grappa as we left. We were happy as our big meal and had a great time. I'm not saying I'm a gourmet or an expert in Italian cooking. That was our experience.

                    1. I was at Ar Galletto this January and had a wonderful couple of dishes there for lunch. It was so warm that we could sit outside, and we were surrounded by only Italians. Maybe that was because of the season, but the experience was very nice. The service was gentle and efficient, and all was handled by experienced waiters.