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Please rescue my Roman dining experience!

Dear Chowhounds,

Today I tried 2 Roman restaurants and was disappointed in both:

- Giggetto (lunch): went to taste their seasonal artichoke and zucchini flowers. Both were heavily fried, a la State Fair Twinkie fried, and left much to be desired;
- Osteria La Gensola (dinner): dishes were passable, but priced at twice their value. To be honest, the pasta tasted like al dente De Cecco with an OK flavorful sauce, not what I expect for $20 bucks a dish... And the antipasto included chopped fresh tomatoes that rivaled any US grocery store for blandness and desecration to a proper tomato.

I did not cross the ocean for this!

Can the opinionated among you please reply with suggestions to recover my food experience of Rome? Or should I save my money for the Italian countryside and stick to affordable pizza while in the eternal city?

Thanks!!

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  1. I liked La Gensola, so take this for what it's worth, but our favorite meal in Rome was L'Asina D'oro.

    1 Reply
    1. re: startsev

      Asino, not Asina. The allusion is to Apuleius' Golden Ass (L'Asino d'Oro in Italian) -- the protagonist, who was turned into a donkey, was named Lucius. The owner-chef is named Lucio. Very cute and what the Italians call autoironico. I wish I liked the restaurant better.

    2. Chechino. Not for picky eaters but phenomenal and very classic Roman food. Impeccable ingredients. Really old school.
      JeremyEG
      HomeCookLocavore.com

      1. We had our best meal of our last Roman visit at Trattoria Monti. Im sure others will recommend other places.
        Tomatoes are still out of season in Italy just as in the US. there is also a preference for rather green tart tomatoes in salads. So you may need to adjust your tomato expectations if you are crossing the ocean in March .

        Did you have any seafood/fish at La Gensola? Thats what its known for.

        As to the fried stuff, zucchini flowers (also out of season, really) usually have quite a lot of batter on them. Cant comment on Giggetto's version Was there thick batter on the artichokes too?

        Hope you will have better luck from now on.

        3 Replies
        1. re: jen kalb

          Jen, carciofi alla giudia never have batter. They are trimmed the same way as carciofi alla romana (outer leaves removed, etc.) and fried commando. The outer leaves are crisp and oily, the heart tender. I'm no fan of Giggetto, but I'm pretty sure they can make a decent carciofo alla giudia. Batter is used for the zucchini flowers and baccalà fillets.

          We had a good dinner last night at Vino e Camino.

          Tomatoes are not exactly out of season, in that there are varieties from Siciliy that are in season now and will be gone when the weather gets hotter. But certainly right now we're buying broccoli and artichokes, not tomatoes.

          I haven't thought of La Gensola as a major destination in decades. When it was really a Sicilian restaurant, in the 80s I used to love their caponata and penne con le melanzane, but since they became a fish restaurant my enthusiasm has been less. I actually think it's pretty good, especially for the price, but I just don't love it. Something about the way English has become the default language there or something.

          1. re: mbfant

            @ mbfant
            What made the dinner at Vino e Camino good? What did you have and what did you drink?
            Thanks.

            1. re: allende

              We had to choose a not-fancy and not-standard-Roman place to have dinner with another couple, who were visiting and whose possible gastronomic idiosyncracies we were unfamiliar with. So the first reason dinner was a success was that our friends liked it, to our great relief. The atmosphere is lively without being overpowering and the staff was very kind and friendly. I never actually saw the wine list and we drank two different Montepulciano d'Abruzzos, neither of which was the one my husband originally ordered (they were out), and I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember their names, but they were good, served in decent glasses (changed for the second wine). As for what we ate, we had an antipasto of tortino di patate with sausage and crema di broccolo romano, and Franco also had filetti di baccalà (he had kayaked on the Tiber in the morning and was starving). Two had a truly delish soup of chestnuts, leeks, and speck. On had tonnarelli cacio e pepe because he had never had the dish (looked good). My ravioloni with duck were a little tough, but OK. Then two had fave e cicoria and two involtini di verza with meat inside and carciofi outside, very tasty and a nice change from the usual trat menu. No dessert.

        2. Al dente De Cecco with an OK flavorful sauce is about right for $20 these days, but I'm sure you can do better. I don't have a fancy app, but if you go to www.mbfant.com, you can download a pdf of places I Iike. I would certainly agree with the recommendation of Checchino, but a little reading on Roman traditional food might be helpful first. I like Grano a lot, near the Pantheon. We had a good experience last night at Vino e Camino. We like Nerone. We like Felice. I dislike (in varying degrees), or am simply unenthusiastic about, many of the places often recommended here. Where else did you have in mind?

          11 Replies
          1. re: mbfant

            Thanks for your replies and suggestions, everyone!!

            I recognize that tomatoes are out-of-season. My grievance is that the restaurant used them to compliment a scallop dish (we didn't specifically order tomatoes); and I expect a highly rated restaurant to adapt their dishes to seasonal vegetables. It shows that they care! In all fairness, I should mention their use of eggplant which was the highlight of our meal, even though we ordered seafood dishes. Like I said, they were OK, but for the money - no.

            The artichoke at Giggetto were properly prepared, fried commando, they just weren't very tasty. The outer leaves were a little tough and dripping in oil. I am a southerner and don't shy from fatty food, but the taste has to justify the grease!

            We have a reservation tonight at Le Mani in Pasta because our proprietor recommended it... But maybe we should go elsewhere..?

            No plans for Monday night because I'm not sure what is open.

            Tuesday - Thursday we are in Sorrento / Amalfi Coast, Friday we're in Orvietto area for dinner. Suggestions for outside Rome are welcome, too, although I have already pulled names from Amalfi threads.

            Next Saturday we are booked at Checcino. Sounds like Checcino is a keeper! We plan to try their famous dishes and aren't afraid of the 5th quarter. Any advice for ordering?

            1. re: missy_beauvois

              Perhaps your expectations need to be adjusted. La Gensola is not a "highly rated restaurant"; it's a trattoria, better than most perhaps, but in a broad classification of Roman dining establishments, a trattoria ranks near the bottom of the list. Also, fish and seafood are not part of traditional Roman cooking and will always cost more than meat dishes.

              Giggetto could possibly have prepared the artichokes more carefully - trimmed them better, drained them on absorbent paper - but artichokes per se, even the Roman globe artichokes now in season, are not a vegetable with a pronounced taste.

              At Checchino, I'd have coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtail) and one of the classic Roman primi without tomato: cacio e pepe, alla gricia, alla carbonara.. Bear in mind, though, that Roman cooking, like most regional Italian cooking, is a "cucina povera", i.e., poor cuisine. It is simple and rustic (if one can call a city-based cuisine rustic); it is not a refined cuisine, in flavour or presentation. Also, Checchino is a ristorante, so prices will be somewhat higher than for the same dish in a trattoria. You may find them priced above their value and not worth the money. Even higher in price are some of the restaurants that do lighter, more creative cooking and place higher value on presentation, such as Roscioli, Antico Arco and Settembrini. They may respond more closely to your expectations, and I think all three are open on Monday.

              1. re: missy_beauvois

                regarding tasteless artichokes:

                I don't know where artichokes for Giggetto come from, but a fair number of the artichokes sold in Liguria come from Sardinia, and my impression eating them this past week is that the hard freeze of February did a lot of damage to the crop.

                Is "commando" the term of art about frying without batter? (I associate it with going without underwear, not outerwear.)

                1. re: barberinibee

                  Commando is not a term of art. I just used it spontaneously off my own bat this morning. Didn’t seem to matter whether what an artichoke wears is analogous to boxer shorts or a raincoat. Point is in this dish it doesn’t wear anything.

                  1. re: mbfant

                    @mbfant,

                    Thanks for explaining. It vaguely conjured unappetizing images of Lindsay Lohan, so I was wondering if was permanently associated with cooking and I just hadn't heard it before.

                    1. re: barberinibee

                      Lindsay Lohan is so totally not on my radar that I don't even know if it's a boy or a girl.

                      1. re: mbfant

                        Female. Venice Film Festival. Flying (not frying) commando. Unappetizing. You probably don't want to know more.

                2. re: missy_beauvois

                  Orvieto has been discussed a lot here, so do a search, but you'll have to spell it right.

                  1. re: mbfant

                    @mbfant,

                    Google has gotten very good in making up for spelling lapses.

                3. re: mbfant

                  Maureen, nice list. I agree about La Gensola and although I had fish, found the food pedestrian. It's a pity I missed out on Checchino even though I had reservations as it was a far trek from where I was. Am a big fan of offal....

                  1. re: mikey8811

                    I loved the use of commando in this sense, off your own bat.
                    Using crossover terms in this way makes for interesting culinary writing.

                4. A lot has been said here (thank you), so I'll be brief: we has lunch today at La Campana and dinner at Le Mani in Pasta. Both were excellent in terms of food and experience. Nothing fancy, as you know, but great experience for a visiting foodie in Rome.

                  PS: we ordered Roman artichoke at La Campana (not fried) and it was far tastier than the fried one at Giggetto... But two artichokes is by no means conclusive. We also ate pasta with pajata (simple, tasty), oxtail and osso buco (a little heavy for my taste but no reflection on the dish... Just personal preference). At Le Mani in Pasta, the simple primi (cacio e pepe and gricia) were delicious and so filling we couldn't eat a second course. At 8-10 euros per plate, the price to quality ratio was great, despite what others have posted here re: Osteria. Oh, and we also really enjoyed a side of bitter chicory sautéed with garlic.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: missy_beauvois

                    missy,

                    I just realized that you are a poster who had posted previously about markets near the piazza Navona. It's not clear to me how long you will be in Rome after your return, but Armando al Pantheon is a restaurant I'll recommend to you.

                    http://www.armandoalpantheon.it/menu....

                    1. re: barberinibee

                      Second this. Delicious.
                      JeremyEG
                      HomeCookLocavore.com

                      1. re: barberinibee

                        Yes, thanks for remembering and also for the restaurant tip :-) I decided to skip markets this trip because we are short on time (and frankly, I need a vacation from cooking for my 5 family members on a daily basis ;-) We will try to book Armando al Pantheon before we depart - grazie for this tip. By the way, we ate at Roscioli last night and whereas everything was delicious, the Burrata was so good, I nearly cried. Honest to God. Things are looking up!

                        1. re: missy_beauvois

                          Very interested in comments about La Gensola which we intended for lunch on upcoming trip. So we welcome chowhounders' fav recomms for a trattoria lunch in Travestere. Grazie mille.

                            1. re: petergins

                              We loved the happy chaos and heaping plates of simple pasta at Le Mani in Pasta, but can't vouch for lunch (were there for dinner).