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Kicking off my honeymoon in Rome

So excited to return to Rome for the first time in 15 years! I have three questions and would so greatly appreciate your advice. We want to stick within the range of moderately priced restos. As a resident of San Francisco, I firmly believe that's where you get the tastiest bang for you buck. Would love your opinion on where we can find the city's best:

Cacio y pepe?
Carbonara?
Porchetta?

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  1. I think you'd better search the board for these dishes. They have been discussed at length, with no consensus. Personally I disagree with your whole idea. There is no single best of these traditional foods nor should there be. Our local trattoria, Hostaria Nerone, has great carbonara in traditional ham-fisted trattoria style. Perilli's is also very good in the same unsubtle way. Chi-chi Roscioli has renowned carbonara (I've never had it, but don't doubt it's delish) with the best guanciale, designer eggs, etc. The Gambero Rosso, Italian restaurant guide, voted it best carbonara in Rome, which gives you the measure of the futility of looking for a single "best" -- it's also one of the least traditional. Checchino's cacio e pepe is very good (note spelling; it's not Spanish), but so are others'. Porchetta is not a restaurant dish. I know of two shops that sell it by the slice, one near Largo Argentina, one near the station (you can probably find these by searching here). Grano also has excellent carbonara, genuine but a bit more refined than the Nerone-Perilli style.

    A word about the moderate price idea: carbonara and cacio e pepe (and gricia, amatriciana, and many traditional dishes) depend on a certain amount of technique and the quality of their ingredients. Your moderately priced restaurants are not using the best ingredients. If the place is decent, the food will be tasty just the same, but the high-end places are using the finest pecorino romano and guanciale and freshest eggs from non-battery hens who have never tasted fishmeal. Fancy-schmancy Pipero (super place) offers carbonara, and Agata Parisella's (Agata e Romeo) is legendary. Neither is moderately priced.

    15 Replies
    1. re: mbfant

      Our famil had at one dish of cacio e pepe almost every day. Our favorite renditions was Osteria Rouge.

      1. re: mbfant

        Thank you so much for your helpful reply. As the resident Rome expert, can I trouble you with one more question?

        It sounds like reservations are a must everywhere!

        1. If we dont have reservations, is it a case that we just flat out will not get seated, or is it just that we'll have a long wait? (in SF, we often have to queue and have a drink at the bar for up to an hour or more at the great restos that dont take reservations - which unfortunately is most!)

        2. Do you know how far in advance most restos take reservations? I have an Italian friend who can call for us, but I dont want to trouble her too early. Or too late!

        Thank you so much, we are incredibly excited. I plan tours for a living, but entirely in Asia, and spend half my day talking about food - it's tough being the one NOT in the know.

        Leslie

        1. re: lglazer

          Yes, the reservation business. Your best friend will be a cell phone. There are no queues except for pizzerias and perhaps other not-exactly-restaurant places frequented by young people who are willing to suffer for status. If we're talking about places you go to sit down for an evening meal (lunch is rarely a problem), the usual thing is to just stay there as long as you like, so queues are useless. The turnover is slow. We will often call half an hour ahead and ask if there's a table, but we wouldn't just turn up and hope for the best. Weekends do need reservations, but unless we're talking about Michelin stars, early the same week should be fine. Romans do not like to commit much in advance to anything, much less a restaurant meal. For the Michelin stars, reserve as early as you like. Trattorias are probably used to taking early reservations by now, but they still think it's silly. Reservation time is measured in days, not weeks or months. And don't forget that your trip will not be ruined if you can't get into such-and-such a place. There are plenty of decent places in every category, certainly too many for one trip. If you want to be spontaneous and just walk in someplace, go early (7.59) and have some alternatives in mind. If you have your heart set on someplace, reserve now, especially for a weekend. BTW restaurants don't usually have bars, so if you're waiting, it's in the street, and most places are small.

        2. re: mbfant

          Mbfant, I’ve noticed that Grano is one of the few, moderately priced restaurants in Rome that you consistently recommend. However, I was disappointed (their carbonara was no exception) when I ate there in late 2010. Each time since, whenever I see you put forth another recommendation I wonder more and more about why our opinions are so divergent. May I ask you to elaborate on what makes Grano special and what you typically order when you eat there? I wouldn’t bother asking if I thought our differences were based on personal preferences, but given your reputation regarding Roman cooking, I’m convinced that I must have missed something. Thanks in advance.

          1. re: Il Duomo

            I wonder that too. I see Grano constantly recommended here even though it is proven that it would take advantage of tourists. Just for that, even if it served the BEST food on earth, I would not recommend it.
            Here is a link to what happened.
            http://www.parlafood.com/grano-and-th...

            1. re: cristinab

              As I have explained on numerous occasions, Grano has discontinued that practice, or so it says, and explained what lay behind it. If they are to be believed -- and without a polygraph I can only believe the person who told me this (a tough customer who demanded an explanation before sending any more of his own clients there). According to what I was told, the service charge was an inept attempt at self-protection when foreigners would occupy prime tables for hours ordering one dish each, which, they said, is not a problem with Italians. Of course the practice is wrong, but I believe the solution was clumsy rather than malicious in intent.

              1. re: mbfant

                Thanks Maureen. The explanation they gave you is very weak. Anyhow, it is not only foreigners' practice to occupy tables for hours but Italians' as well. It is not uncommon to have 5 italians booking on a Saturday night at 9pm, order 1 thing each and chat until midnight. The solution is to organize a double shift and tell people they need to free up the table by...pm. Lots of places are doing this and seems it's working.

                1. re: cristinab

                  i agree the explanation is very weak. a more likely explanation is that their illegal practice was an attempt to squeeze money out of tourists who they thought wouldn't notice. and the clients i sent there who reported the insane service charge being added to their bill didn't order 5 salads and water...

                  www.parlafood.com

            2. re: Il Duomo

              I haven't been to Grano in several months, but my favorite dishes are the polpettine antipasto, and also the polpette main course, the "hamburger" of coda alla vaccinara, the pasta all'amatriciana (I am not a big carbonara eater, but I've eaten their carbonara in some extremely exigent company that found it excellent, but much lighter than the Perilli style, which might not appeal to everyone), their selection of Lazio salumi, the cold tomato soup -- lots of things. My husband often orders the fave e cicoria. We've also had fish pastas that have been very good. The parmigiana di melanzane is excellent. I get pretty tired of the usual trattoria menu, and appreciate Grano's variety and pleasant atmosphere in a neighborhood I usually try to avoid. Also, they use very good ingredients, including Verrigni pasta. I can't summon to mind the places you like. On the recommendations of posters here I have dragged Franco to Tempio di Iside, Flavio al V., Danilo, Roma Sparita, and probably others, and he found them wanting (as did I, but if he's happy, I'm happy) in various respects. He enjoys Grano. On the recommendation of Italian guidebooks, I have dragged him to Glass and Armando, with similar results. The alternatives near Grano are Armando, Fortunato, Enoteca Corsi, Pigna, and I forget what else, plus surely a number I've never tried. But of that group Fortunato would be my second choice, Corsi my last (I loved it in the old days of real retrobottega but always ate just beans and tunafish).

              1. re: mbfant

                I can report that Corsi is gross. They serve awful food made with awful ingredients but in a casual somewhat charming setting, which are its only attractive points.

                www.parlafood.com

                1. re: katieparla

                  Enoteca Corsi gets good reviews in blogs and other online press. I walked in on my visit, looked at the menu, which didn't appeal to me and went to Roscioli instead where I had the Burrata and Carbonara - I'm glad I did!

                  1. re: mikey8811

                    i want that to be my last meal. i actually like the menu items at enoteca corsi and i would order them elsewhere, but at EC the preparation and ingredients are bleh

                  2. re: katieparla

                    Hi Katie,

                    We downloaded your app and very excited for Rome! We have three dinners and we really want to remain pasta-centric (doing a ton of meat in Tuscany and following it up with Argentina).

                    I have narrowed it down to these three places, that all seem to have incredible Roman pasta dishes, relaxed atmospheres and good prices. Do you think we are on the right track??:

                    Perilli
                    Roscioli
                    Da Danilo

                    alternates:
                    Ditirambo
                    Colline Emiliane

                    Thanks!
                    Leslie

                  3. re: mbfant

                    Mbfant: I appreciate your reply. I don't recall seeing coda all vaccinara on the menu, but if it was presented as a "hambuger" it's possible that I overlooked it. We don't usually order salumi at restaurants and your other favorites are off our radar, especially the tomato soup and the parmigiana di melanzane. Further, I wasn't familiar with fave e cicoria, but I'll look for it in the future—I assume it's prepared with dried beans and therefore not seasonal? Perhaps if we had ordered different items, our experience would have been better. I just wish my carbonara could be explained. The dish I was served wasn't too light; rather it was way too heavy. It’s as if the carbonara that you describe was from a different restaurant.

                    Iglazer: Regarding your original question, I’ve wanted to try the carbonara at Roscioli for some time, but I’ve never had the chance. When I return to Rome, Roscioli will be my first stop. Take this for what it’s worth.

                    1. re: Il Duomo

                      The parmigiana di melanzane is offered as an antipasto, usually to be shared. I would never have ordered the salumi had I not been tipped off, but they are outstanding. Fave e cicoria is very common in Puglia and Basilicata, not Rome, but the owner is from Basilicata and sneaks a few such items onto the menu. Yes, dried fave. I almost never order carbonara in restaurants. I almost never order anything I can make easily at home. The "hamburger" of coda is very elegant. The meat is taken off the bone and shaped into a sort of hockey puck. There is very little resemblance to a hamburger. Another delish item is the antipasto of trippa alla romana on a crostino.