Surprising disappointments: Piperno, Da Danilo, La Gensola
By and large the recommendations I've found on Chow for Rome have been winners, but I have recently had a few meals that were less than satisfying and I thought I'd share.
We were really looking forward to Piperno. Fritti were excellent (best carciofo all gudia I've had) as was service, but the coda alla vaccinara was not cooked long enough and served in a bland stock. I've eaten far better coda in tratts all over Rome for much less. Equally unremarkable were the abbacchio scottadito. What gives? If I had paid 12 euro in a tratt I'd be disappointed, but at Piperno's prices, I'm downright offended. We ended the meal with a creme caramel that was too eggy and stiff. This was a birthday meal, so it really bummed us out. Is Piperno slipping?
Da Danilo has been praised on chow and elsewhere as one of the best tratts in the city, but our experience was otherwise. We had a reservation, but when we arrived on time, we were asked without apology to wait outside in the cold for a half hour. This might have been excusable if the service improved once inside, but it did not. Our reservation was for nine but it was 10:30 before were served our primi. In all fairness, it was a Saturday and everybody gets caught in the weeds once in a while, and many of the pastas looked excellent including a cacio e peppe prepared table side in a cheese wheel. But the tagliata I had was really unforgivable--though topped with some very flavorful porcini, the steak itself was under-salted and too tough to chew! This was a first for me--I was literally unable to consume it! I would have sent it back but by the time I was able to get our server's attention we just wanted to go home. No one ever asked us how our meal was.
Perhaps the most perplexing of all was our dinner at La Gensola. Unfortunately they heard us speaking English when we came in and assigned us a cantankerous old waiter who, I can only presume, wanted to try out his English skills. When we asked about a particular plate (in Italian) he would only answer in English "It's a fish," or "It's a meat." Luckily, we had done our research, and with the exception of a rather dull antipasto of mussels and the too sweet dolci, everything we had La Gensola was excellent. However, when our bill arrived our wine was priced at four euro more than it had been listed. When we pointed this out, our waiter slapped the wine list down in front of us and demanded we find the bottle. When we did, he said "It's not a big difference," and did not adjust our bill. Wow. We more than made up for the difference in his tip.
I did see many other tables get good service, and the chef visited several of them. But at least one poster on TripAdvisor had a similar experience to ours, with what must have been the same waiter. Unfortunate, since he ruined what would have otherwise been a great meal.
I know these three spots are much loved and have been recommended a lot, but in the future those recommendations may have to be taken with a grain of salt.
We too were disappointed with Piperno (didn't eat at the other 2 restaurants) when we were there in March 2009. We saw beautiful artichokes in the Campo dei Fiori and had read that Piperno did the carciofi hebraica (pardon spelling).
We did not have a reservation and although we could see many open tables in the front dining room, we assumed already reserved. There was another dining room that we did not look in. We were sat at the table closest to the cashier and the hall between the dining room and the bathrooms and kitchen. My husband was bumped by wait staff frequently, which did not help our opinion of the restaurant.
The famous artichokes tasted of nothing but grease. The lamb chops had very little actual meat, being most gristle. We didn't bother with dessert. All in all we should have gone to one of the less fancy Jewish Ghetto restaurants a few blocks away. When you have a limited number of meals on vacation, and the Euro>US$ exchange is not in your favor, a bad meal seems even worse.
All recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt, unfortunately. Things change, and indeed the wrong waiter can ruin an otherwise good meal. One of my absolute pet peeves is the waiter who insists on speaking English when it is clearly not required. We have been gearing up for a return to La Gensola, which has been getting very good notices. Piperno should definitely have been up to snuff -- if there's one thing you have a right to expect from a place like that, it's consistency. I wanted to try Danilo the other day, but my husband refused on the basis of the (enthusiastic) review in the Gambero Rosso guide, which gave it a poor price-quality ratio. We caught a stinker the other day on the recommendation of an American gourmet-shop owner: Da Gildo, in Trastevere. You have to really try to ruin an artichoke in Rome at this time of year.
Yes, Piperno was a real shock. If you do decide to go to Danilo, I'd go on a weeknight and stick to the primi. Too bad about Gildo--I've actually had some nice meals there. I had a really nice baccalà with gaeta olives and tomato sauce there once, but not everything there is good, and it's not a destination. We go there because it's close, open late and you can usually get a table.