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Trip Report -- Rome

n
Nancy S. Jun 7, 2012 06:43 AM

In March, my husband and I, along with our well-traveled 15 year old daughter (who has an excellent palate), and spent a week in Paris, followed by a week in Paris. This is where we ate in Rome:
All'Oro -- our first night. I like the room and service. Our reservation was for 9pm, and the restaurant was filling up with what seemed to be locals. We ordered the tasting menu. Everything was tasty and the flavors and seasoning were complex and correct, though I would have preferred to have the proteins less cooked, especially the quail. I would return.

Gata Mangiona -- our second night. This was excellent. Again, 9pm reservation and we arrived to a full house of locals. The service was excellent and the suppli and pizzas were superb, as were the desserts (tiramisu and a creamy pudding with chocolate).

Third night -- we bought ingredients from the Testacchio market (vegetables, eggs, pasta), Roscoli (cheese, wine, butter, oil, vinegar), Tricolore (bread -- which was brilliant) and Panella (jam tart -- which was disappointing. We cooked in our apt.

Glass -- fourth night. The place is modern and reminded me of restaurant design circa 1990s. The service was good and responsive. The pastas were a good texture, but the flavors were not suble or delicate, but not in a rustic way. I craved nuance in the ravioli with aged Parmesan, and my daughter's choice with oysters and leeks was a bit heavy. My husband and I thought our scallops were over cooked, even though we asked for them to be rare. The tiramisu was not excellent -- a modern take that was lacking in attributes. I felt that the place was trying too hard and not achieving. Also, many, many tourists.

Sforno -- fifth day. We ordered the same type of courses as Gata (suppli, pizzas, tiramisu), but Sforno's rendition of each paled in comparison. Service, though, was great and the place was lively and filled to the brim with locals.

L'Arcangelo -- sixth night. Sublime. We each had suppli to start then gnocchi. I've never had better. I like the place. Again, we had a 9pm reservation. We were the first ones in the restaurant, which filled up completely by 10. Also, again, all locals but us. Desserts were fine, but not special.

Antico Arco -- last night. This is a big and modern place. Lots of tables and activity. Also, lots of tourists. I thought the food was ordinary, except for the house baked bread. We had scallops with tomato sauce and polenta -- not a successful combination, the sauce was not delicate and overly reduced, the polenta was flavorless and the scallop over cooked. We also had the egg with cauliflower and truffle. Again, the flavors were off, and odd, with an abundance of what was probably truffle oil. We also had pasta with cheese, black pepper and fried zucchini flowers -- what a mess, gloppy, oily, salty, disappointing. Dessert was not much better -- icy sorbets and an average apple tart.

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  1. a
    allende Jun 7, 2012 07:18 AM

    Here is a question for those app developers for Roman restaurants and others who live in Rome and recommend restaurants.

    A number of you have recommended Antico Arco. Nancy S says she had a dish where "the flavors were off, and odd, with an abundance of what was probably truffle oil." Is Nancy S correct in that the restaurant used truffle oil?

    35 Replies
    1. re: allende
      n
      Nancy S. Jun 7, 2012 08:21 AM

      by the way, the dish at antico arco was a slow cooked egg with cauliflower puree and "truffle", with no actual shavings. I am not a fan of truffle oil, especially if it is used aggressively. Nevertheless, the restaurant was disappointing, perhaps because I was expecting better. But, also, I'll add, that judging a restaurant is a bit subjective and my preferences, palate, etc. are certainly not universal.

      1. re: Nancy S.
        a
        allende Jun 7, 2012 09:39 AM

        The restaurant sounded very disappointing in many ways.

        The fact that there were no truffle shavings but the flavor of truffle oil was prevalent in the dish you described (slow cooked egg with cauliflower puree) is even more disappointing because of the use of truffle oil.

        Contributors from Rome, in the past, have inveighed (rightly so IMHO) against the use of truffle oil.

        I'm curious to see how they now respond to a highly recommended restaurant (their recommendations) that uses the substance.

        1. re: Nancy S.
          jen kalb Jun 7, 2012 09:50 AM

          is it possible that there was white truffle in that puree some place? I hope that the rome folks will comment on the range of dishes served at this restaurant because it is my impression that they are not all "creative" or international style.

          1. re: Nancy S.
            b
            barberinibee Jun 7, 2012 10:48 AM

            Antico Arco's current online menu lists "Rosso d’uovo pochè, yogurt, ricotta, asparagi e mille punti di tartufo nero". Sounds like you had the same dish in March but with cauliflower instead of asparagus.

            A "mille punti di tartufo nero" will look more like sprinkings of black pepper than truffle shavings.

            In the English version of their online menu, Antico Arco translates the dish as "Poached egg, asparagus, yogurt, ricotta cheese and black truffle". Somebody ordering that dish might expect to see truffle shavings.

            You can check out both versions of the restaurant's current menu here (site has a soundtrack):

            http://www.anticoarco.it/index.html

            1. re: barberinibee
              r
              Ricardo Malocchio Jun 7, 2012 11:04 AM

              I ate that exact dish (with cauliflower) as part of the tasting menu on March 10 of this year, and it contained black truffle. Very obviously. Not shaved over, but little bits incorporated into the yogurty "albumen".

              That said, more of a beautiful presentation than a delicious dish. But very good.

              1. re: Ricardo Malocchio
                a
                allende Jun 7, 2012 02:05 PM

                Was the truffle cooked? If so, how?

                1. re: allende
                  r
                  Ricardo Malocchio Jun 8, 2012 08:40 AM

                  Cooked? Not sure at what point the truffle becomes cooked, but certainly the bits were slightly warmed by the "albumen" mixture of yogurt and ricotta. I didn't see the dish being prepared, but I can't imagine it could see much heat. Otherwise, I don't think it would maintain the thicker texture of the yogurt and cheese, and also not set the yolk.

                  Not intensely truffly tasting, alas, but a very mild dish in all respects.

          2. re: allende
            vinoroma Jun 7, 2012 02:23 PM

            Let me start out saying i like all of the listed places.
            Nancy S. (if i read and interpret correctly) liked arcangelo best.
            Other dishes at other places she classifies as either "too heavy" or "too bland", although, i would say there were other finer places (all oro, glass) and rougher places (the pizzerie etc) she visited. I am concluding, as all of us, she has her particular palate and arcangelo just hit the mark for her. I don't think there is much to discuss when it comes to this level of evaluation - it is just our tastes differing.
            As to truffle oil - yes, i would totally be against it if i was served it.

            1. re: vinoroma
              n
              Nancy S. Jun 7, 2012 03:45 PM

              Evaluating restaurants is certainly a subjective sport. We travel a lot and eat quite well. My current list of favorite venues include noma, Geranium, Matsalen, Matbaren, The Ledbury, Roganic, Agape Substance, Passage 53, Hertog Jan, In de Wulf, and my home town place, Eleven Madison Park, although I'm also quite fond of more "moderate" places like Fiskbaren, Bull $ Last, Harwood Arms, Septime, and my local picks -- Motorino and Kanoyama. Rome, of course, is a fabulous city, but my dining choices did disappoint. Next time I will choose more restaurants like L'Arcangelo and none like Antico Arco.

              Incidentally, we did have some lovely aperitivos, especially at Remiglio and Settembrini.

              1. re: Nancy S.
                a
                allende Jun 7, 2012 11:33 PM

                Very interesting group of restaurants. Very interesting. Very impressive in terms of your likes.

                Have you travelled to Piemonte, Emilia-Romagna and southern Lombardia in search of restaurants you might enjoy?

                1. re: Nancy S.
                  mbfant Jun 8, 2012 03:48 AM

                  None of us who live here and like Antico Arco would put it in a class with Eleven Madison Park or any of the other exalted addresses in your groups. I certainly don't put it in a class with the best Roman restaurants. As I said in another post, its purpose (or at least how I use it) is to raise the occasion above the ordinary while saving the expense of the top tier. I think sophisticated international travelers who have been led to believe it is more than that will be disappointed. There seems also to be great divergence of opinion on their interpretations of traditional dishes. I think their carbonara and cacio e pepe is great, but you have to like cacio e pepe. Its nature is to be gloppy and salty. I doubt they are using truffle oil. As barberinibee says, the wording on the Italian menu suggests it looks like pepper. The English skips the crucial words "mille punti". Unfortunately English menus are almost never reliable guides to what a dish contains. This makes it hard for visitors, and I am certainly not defending the practice of paying more for flowers every day than they would pay a few times a year for a decent translation.

                  1. re: mbfant
                    n
                    Nancy S. Jun 8, 2012 05:02 AM

                    Not to be too defensive, though I may be, but I know the difference between actual truffle and truffle oil, and the dish at Antico Arco was overwhelmed with the acrid taste that truffle oil imparts. Also, with the pasta, the zucchini flowers were poorly fried -- soggy and oily (I've had correct examples and these paled in comparison). I mean no disrespect to Roman cuisine, but given the numerous raves of my choices, I was expecting something other than I experienced.

                    1. re: Nancy S.
                      a
                      allende Jun 8, 2012 09:01 AM

                      @ minchilli, mbfant, Katieparla

                      Let's assume that Nancy S is correct in saying that it was truffle oil in the dish at Antico Arco,

                      Are you still going to be recommending the restaurant?

                      1. re: allende
                        o
                        Octavian Jun 8, 2012 09:31 AM

                        But can we assume that Antico Arco (always) uses truffle oil? Nancy S. writes that the dish was "overwhelmed with the acrid taste that truffle oil imparts", but Ricardo Malocchio describes the same dish as "Not intensely truffly tasting, alas, but a very mild dish in all respects."

                        Perhaps the moral of the story is that it is better not to order truffle dishes except when genuine white truffles are in season, which they are not in March.

                        1. re: Octavian
                          b
                          barberinibee Jun 8, 2012 01:19 PM

                          I note that the dish that Antico Arco is offering is with black truffles, not white truffles.

                          On my recent May trip to Puglia, I ordered a mixed antipasta "della casa" at Cibrus in Ceglie Messapica, which is raved about by both Gambero Rosso and the Slow Food editore. I ordered the mixed antipasta plate blind, without knowing what it would include. Many plates arrived including a burrata with minced black truffles. The truffles were quite pungent.

                          A few days later, in Basilicata, my dining partner ordered a pasta with black truffles, which were tossed into the pasta before it arrived at our table. Those truffles were not as sharply pungent as the ones I had in Puglia, but the next day I found myself wishing I hadn't eaten them at all, since I could still taste them when I sat down to lunch, and they continued to overpower my tastebuds for most of the day.

                          I have no idea where Antico Arco gets its black truffles in March. There was still ice on the Dolomiti in Basilicata in early May. We've had such a wet and chilly May in Liguria this year, I was able to buy wild porcini in the market last Wednesday.

                        2. re: allende
                          mbfant Jun 8, 2012 02:20 PM

                          Maybe somebody, and I am not volunteering, will call them up and ask about the truffle oil. And yes, I will still recommend Antico Arco with the same reservations as before. It's not a top tier restaurant, but it does a good job, they're nice people, and nobody's perfect.

                          1. re: mbfant
                            a
                            allende Jun 8, 2012 02:32 PM

                            But why would you recommend a restaurant that used truffle oil? You have told me that these are the types of things that you really despise.

                            1. re: allende
                              mbfant Jun 9, 2012 03:21 AM

                              I don't believe I have ever actually used the word despise. I despise people who kick cats. I merely avoid food products I don't like. As cristinab wisely says, truffle oil is not the antichrist. I'm not going to write off a restaurant I've been going to since it opened because of a second-hand report of truffle oil. The description of the dish on the web suggested grated black truffle, so some confirmation is needed. We are lucky to have Antico Arco in Rome and it has its place in the spectrum of Roman dining. Writing it off for an alleged peccadillo would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.

                            2. re: mbfant
                              n
                              Nancy S. Jun 8, 2012 02:48 PM

                              Even if I'm mistaken about the truffle oil, it still was not a delicious dish, and the zucchini blossoms still were not correctly prepared. This cannot be disputed. Clearly, I am in the minority about this restaurant. Why say more?

                              1. re: Nancy S.
                                jen kalb Jun 8, 2012 03:11 PM

                                Im glad you engaged, its been a very interesting and useful discussion so far!

                        3. re: mbfant
                          jen kalb Jun 8, 2012 09:12 AM

                          From Nancy S.'s description of her dishes it seems like Antico Arco's chef may be overreaching when he moves away from the classics. Scallops with tomato sauce and polenta sounds fairly awful unless its a very delicate tomato glaze, and the egg dish seems also like a rather timid excursion into the international cuisine sphere. Its very disappointing but sadly typical of what sometimes happens with restaurants aspiring to "move up".

                          for this restaurant, it seems as though a list of recommended reliable dishes would be helpful to hounds.

                          1. re: jen kalb
                            r
                            Ricardo Malocchio Jun 8, 2012 10:53 AM

                            My favorite dish was the rigatoni all'amatriciana, so it may be true that the more traditional dishes were more successful ... or at least to my palate.

                            And I do prefer the simplest preparations, usually the more traditional ones, or at least those where the chef's influence doesn't obscure what nature has wrought. The dish here in question would certainly have been more to my liking if it were simply an exquisite egg, barely cooked, with a generous amount of shaved truffle, maybe pepper. That said, the composed nature and more preciously assembled elements didn't detract from the deliciousness of that deeply golden yolk. They just seemed a little superfluous. After all, it's the gorgeous marriage of egg and truffle that drew me to this dish. And I guess it's clear that I missed getting a really heady dose of truffle. But, fortunately, not an acrid dose of truffle oil either.

                            Roscioli was our eating/drinking highlight of the March trip, and I know Elizabeth is a bit down on them lately. For us, it was one highlight after another of mostly just very well-sourced products requiring little or no preparation, served simply yet impeccably. Starting with a perfectly cellar temp Antoniolo Gattinara (not taken down off the wall apparently!) served in Zalto Denk'Art stems (!!) to the very best burrata blah-blah. Really no need to go on. Those are the tiny details that move me in a way that a composed albumen never will, properly truffled or no.

                            1. re: jen kalb
                              cristinab Jun 8, 2012 04:26 PM

                              scallops, tomato are a fairly common flavor combination. With polenta is a famous dish by Blumenthal (he actually got inspired by an italian ingredient!). Cauliflower and egg with truffle (and snails) is a famous dish by Enoteca Pinchiorri. No jump into international cuisine for restaurants aspiring to "move up". As I have stated before, italian cuisine is often perceived by foreigners in the wrong way....If you studied Italian cuisine, you'll find flavor combinations that might surprise you.

                              1. re: cristinab
                                n
                                Nancy S. Jun 8, 2012 04:34 PM

                                I agree that the combination of ingredients was correct, and, indeed appealing (which is why I ordered those dishes and why my expectations were high). However, the preparation in each case was flawed.

                                1. re: Nancy S.
                                  cristinab Jun 8, 2012 04:44 PM

                                  well, you mentioned twice in two different restaurants that scallops were overcooked. Could it be, and I am just suggesting this, that maybe the way you like scallops are not the way they should be served? Both restaurants use modern cooking techniques with immersion circulators whose cooking time and temperature are programmed. There is no human impulse but mechanical. All meats, fish and bivalves like scallops are cooked that way nowadays. Could it be that maybe you happen to like them rarer and that was not understood well by the staff? It's just a rare coincidence you pointed at the same problem into two different restaurants that makes me (and I hope and think other readers) think.

                                  1. re: cristinab
                                    n
                                    Nancy S. Jun 8, 2012 04:48 PM

                                    I said I like proteins on the rare side, but this issue is not how I ultimately judged the restaurants. My opinion is merely that -- I do not assume that it is universal.

                                    1. re: Nancy S.
                                      cristinab Jun 8, 2012 05:00 PM

                                      Sorry, one last thing. Truffle oil even though is not among the ingredients I'd bring with me on a desert island, is not the antichrist. The quality of it may depend on several things among which the extraction (or infusion). I have tasted truffle oils made by infusion, therefore without presence of Sodium benzoate, that are out of this world and extremely expensive. Also, black truffle is in season in march (and this year was terrible). And the oil could have been made with the scraps....

                                      1. re: cristinab
                                        b
                                        barberinibee Jun 9, 2012 03:27 AM

                                        It wasn't Nancy S. who portrayed truffle oil as the anti-christ. It was allende.

                                    2. re: cristinab
                                      b
                                      barberinibee Jun 8, 2012 05:53 PM

                                      " There is no human impulse but mechanical."

                                      ?

                                      Surely this is not how the chefs at Antico Arco want their work portrayed.

                                      "All meats, fish and bivalves like scallops are cooked that way nowadays."

                                      ?

                                      We eat in different worlds.

                                  2. re: cristinab
                                    jen kalb Jun 8, 2012 06:39 PM

                                    I am willing to be surprised, nevertheless the combination would not have appealed to me at a superficial level - knowing that it was a Heston Blumenthal dish or that the egg dish was a Pinchiorri dish gives a different perspective on this restaurant and its aspirations that I had not been aware of before. it might not make the restaurant or the dish more appealing but its useful info.

                                    1. re: jen kalb
                                      a
                                      allende Jun 8, 2012 10:34 PM

                                      The fact that it is a Pinchiori dish, for some of us, has absolutely no meaning. For many, many years Pinchiori has been a restaurant that Italians, who really care about food, avoid. Very similar situation to Da Caino in Montemerano for example... and others.

                                      1. re: allende
                                        cristinab Jun 9, 2012 01:50 AM

                                        I agree, the fact that the dish belongs to this or that restaurant means absolutely nothing. My statement was just trying to demonstrate that certain flavor profiles might be a novelty to people who know little about Italian cuisine and the assumption that trying things different than amatriciana are a way to "move up". On Valeria Piccinni and Caino I do not particualrly agree with your statement. She is just a difficultlocation and expensive, but really great chef.

                                        1. re: cristinab
                                          a
                                          allende Jun 9, 2012 07:37 AM

                                          I'm confused. Nancy S said "Again, the flavors were off, and odd, with an abundance of what was probably truffle oil. "

                                          Let's just say that she made a mistake and it wasn't truffle oil, but truffles. You said "Also, black truffle is in season in march (and this year was terrible). And the oil could have been made with the scraps...."

                                          Question: why would a well respected restaurant such as Antico Arco serve such a dish with truffles if this year's crop was terrible.

                                          Am afraid I'll have to disagree about Valeria Piccini (note the correct spelling). I really don't understand what being in a difficult location and being expensive has to do with whether she is a great chef. Am I missing something?

                                          Piccini was probably a good chef in her family's humble restaurant. However, she was ambitious (all to the good), but is simply out of her sphere of competence... way, way out of it and it has nothing to do with price or location. I haven't been in a few years (have been there three times) and have no idea if her husband is still running the dining room, but the last time it was amateur hour and couple that with the time before, and that was it for us.

                                          I don't think of truffle oil as the antichrist, but rather as a contrived substance, which is basically used as one of many culinary jokes played by restaurateurs on their customers.

                                          But then, I'm of the school that the only truffle worth it's pig (or dog) is a white one, from Piemonte, during the months of October, November and December, shaved no more than a week from when it was found. Never could understand the black truffle, either in Italy or France... vapid. What especially ticks me off is the famous "Piemonte" white truffle from the area of the former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more of a practice on the part of Italian restaurateurs (those whose restaurants are not in Piemonte) to play this culinary joke on their unsuspecting customers.

                                          1. re: allende
                                            cristinab Jun 9, 2012 07:59 AM

                                            Allende,
                                            to answer your questions.
                                            a) Question: why would a well respected restaurant such as Antico Arco serve such a dish with truffles if this year's crop was terrible.
                                            a) because I meant a terrible season, not terrible truffles. This year white,black truffles and porcini mushrooms were very expensive and rare. Neverthelss, you could find some.

                                            b) On Piccini, I recognize her the capacity of placing regional cuisine on a more refined level. I might have been just lucky and enjoyed her food and lessons more than once. She certainly is old school, but still very much enjoyable.
                                            My mention about the location and prices was to stress the fact that her job is not easy.

                                            c) Your position about truffles is too extreme for my taste! I could find many, many tartufari, restaurateurs and chefs that disagree with you, but I feel nothing would convince you otherwise :-)

                                            1. re: cristinab
                                              a
                                              allende Jun 9, 2012 08:31 AM

                                              You're right. Nothing could convince me otherwise both because of how I feel about white truffles (and my dislike of black) and because my restaurateur friends tell me what is going on in the business.

                                              Best,

                                              Allende

                        4. The Chowhound Team Jun 9, 2012 10:42 AM

                          Hey, folks, this thread is getting awfully testy, and we'd ask that everyone take a step back. People can have different experiences at the same restaurant, whether because things have changed over time or because the restaurant had an off night. They can also have different opinions about the same experience. It's fine to disagree, but this thread is getting too personal.

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