ROME Report: Roscioli, Antico Arco, La Gensola, Perilli, Checchino, Sorpasso, and my impressions on Carbonara
I’ll try to keep this brief, as all of the trattorie and ristoranti at which my wife and I ate last May have already been thoroughly discussed on this board. Think of my report as another data point rather than a detailed account fit for the food and wine section of your local paper.
Roscioli: Having missed Roscioli on each of our previous visits to Rome, we anticipated our reservation here more than any other reservation that we made, and we were not disappointed. We started with Amatriciana and Carbonara, and we shared a terrine of foie gras and a plate of meatballs as our secondi. As a side, we ordered Misticanza Romana, a salad of field herbs that shouldn’t be confused with common salad greens. It should be no surprise to hear that the Amatriciana and Carbonara (photo and more at the end) stole the show; both were extraordinary, although I should mention that both were the slightest slightest bit too al dente for us. Of our secondi, we both preferred the meatballs, which is not to say that we didn’t like the terrine of foie gras. The foie gras, which was served with poached pears and grilled bread, was very good, but the meatballs were simply more memorable. Perhaps it was the unexpected discovery of a smoky flavor in the tomato sauce that accompanied them? As for the Misticanza Romana, it was spare and dressed only with olive oil and salt, but its humbleness made it unique and special. The bill was 110€, and it included bread, bottled water, and an inexpensive bottle of Cesanese.
Antico Arco: I think I understand why Antico Arco is popular among Italians: the service is warm and attentive, the plates are attractive and attentively composed, and the menu is varied and different from what might be found elsewhere. I assume Antico Arco offers Italians an alternative to the typical Roman fare found throughout Rome. As a visitor to Rome, I wish we realized before we arrived that all we truly wanted was typical Roman fare. To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of Antico Arco’s menu, rather a word of caution to others who have similar taste. As for our meal, the majority of it was quite good. As secondi, we had steak tartar and a fillet of veal glazed with honey (photo). Despite not being exactly what we wanted, both were very good, although the veal was slightly over-cooked. Our primi were disappointing. The pasta in our Amatriciana and Cacio e Pepe (photo) were both well cooked—each were al dente—but the sauces were not what we expected. The sauce for the Amatriciana was thin and watery, and it seemed to us that guanciale had been replaced with what appeared to be bacon. Perhaps this was a trendy substitution, but I’ve never cared for bacon in this dish. Similarly, maybe the overwhelming Alfredo-like sauce that I found on the Cacio e Pepe was simply an interpretation of the sauce found on the classic? Including an antipasto of delicious stuffed calamari, outstanding bread, bottled water, and a bottle of moderately priced wine, the total was 143€.
La Gensola: During our previous trip to Rome in 2010, we had a very memorable dinner and experience at La Gensola, and we hoped that our second visit would be just as wonderful. Regrettably, our lofty expectations fell somewhat flat. We started very well: the Polpettine di Tono were just as good as the ones we had in 2010, and my Spaghetti alla Colatura di Alici (photo) were simply outstanding. After that, things started to turn. My wife’s paccheri with monkfish ragu was perfectly fine, but the tomato-based ragu was under seasoned and a little bland. Similarly, the tomato-based sauce on my secondo of monkfish cheeks was also flat. A better sauce would have saved both dishes. My wife’s secondo needed more than just a better sauce. Her Trippa alla Romana, which admittedly isn’t an item in which La Gensola specializes, was categorized as merely average. Our meal, including a second antipasto, bread, bottled water, and a bottle of moderately priced wine was 114€.
Perilli: Perilli is old school. We saw a grainy black and white photo of Perilli’s interior that dated to the middle of the last century, and it appeared as if the photo had been taken the week before we visited; the interior had hardly changed in the many years that had elapsed, and I’m willing to bet that their food has remained unchanged too. We started with Amatriciana and Carbonara (photo); both were excellent, and both rivaled their counterpart at Roscioli. The Trippa alla Romana was outstanding, and the roasted pork with potatoes was well done, but not to the same level of excellence as the other dishes. We loved Perilli, not just for their pastas and tripe, but also for its atmosphere and service, which was warm and friendly. Including marinated artichokes and stuffed zucchini antipasti, bread, bottled water, and a bottle of inexpensive wine, dinner was 95€.
Checchino dal 1887: Elizabeth Minchilli was right to describe the service at Checchino as “weirdly formal.” My wife and I found the service very pleasant, but it felt as if they were trying too hard. No matter. Pay no attention to the service and focus on the Roman dishes that can be found in few other places. We started with Fagioli con le Contiche (beans stewed in pork fat) because it looked fantastic when the family seated next to us the previous night at Perilli ordered it. Checchino’s version was mostly pork fat, and unsurprisingly it tasted like fat. It wasn’t our thing, but I was glad that we tried it. Just like the Amatriciana and Carbonara at Roscioli and Perilli, the Amatriciana and Carbonara (photo) at Checchino were also fantastic. My wife ordered the mixed grilled offal (photo), which consisted of pajata (veal intestine still filled with milk), sweetbreads, liver, and testicle; I ordered the Coda alla Vaccinara. Both were excellent, and I was surprised that I really liked the pajata (my wife loved the whole dish). Our next visit to Rome will definitely include another visit to Checchino. The bill, including bread, bottled water, and a bottle of inexpensive wine, was 98€.
Sorpasso: Having made plans to spend the day around Vatican City, we had lunch at Sorpasso, which was only a few blocks from Piazza San Pietro. We ate a bit of this and a bit of that: Pizze e Fojje (sautéed polenta cubes and greens), Cacio e Pepe (photo), Polpette al Sugo, and Bollito alla Picchiapò (photo). The polenta and greens, which were similar to chard or kale (I can’t remember exactly what they were), were OK—I’m not sure I liked the textures of the two together. I had never had this dish before so I couldn’t make any distinctions between it and other preparations. To the contrary, I’m very familiar with Cacio e Pepe, and Sorpasso’s Cacio e Pepe was classic and outstanding; Antico Arco should take notice. The meatballs were very good, although not as good as the ones at Roscioli, and the Bollito alla Picchiapò was excellent. If you’re in the neighborhood, there’s no reason not to come here; and if you’re not, it would be worth the walk. Including a glass of wine, bread, and bottled water, the lunch was 42€.
Carbonara: Having eaten Carbonara at Roscioli, Perilli, and Checchino dal 1887—three restaurants consistently recommended to people seeking excellent Carbonara—I thought I’d wade into the never-ending discussion of where one can find the best Carbonara in Rome. Each was excellent and traditional. Each of the pastas was well cooked and sauced, and all the ingredients were of excellent quality. I would happily eat any of the three Carbonare for the rest of my life without complaint. However, I keep thinking about the Carbonara at Roscioli, particularly the large chunks of guanciale. Their fat had been rendered, and they were crisp as if they had been fried. And when the chucks were chewed, the crispness gave way to the most satisfying chewiness. Divine. I know that I said at the top of the post that I thought the pasta was too al dente, but the guanciale and the rich velvety sauce that coated the pasta were irresistible. So, add another tally on the scoreboard for Roscioli, but know that any of the three are worth the trouble of making an effort to find them.
The photos aren't uploading correctly; I'll try to add them later.
And the photos...
Carbonara at Roscioli,
Fillet of Veal and Cacio e Pepe at Antico Arco,
Spaghetti alla Colatura di Alici at La Gensola,
Carbonara at Perilli,
Carbonara and Grilled Offal at Checchino, and
Cacio e Pepe and Bollito alla Picchiapò at Sorpasso
Very helpful report, thank you. Your analysis of Antico Arco is spot on. It's a fine place, but don't go there if what you want is unadulterated tradition.
A couple of clarifications: cacio e pepe IS supposed to be like Alfredo in that the technique for making both is very similar. Alfredo contains butter, parmigiano, and pasta water, cacio e pepe just pecorino romano and pasta water (and pepper, of course, and sometimes a little olive oil). While Amatriciana is certainly not supposed to be "thin and watery," it is not supposed to be thick and generously applied as in most trattoria versions. The pasta should definitely show through the sauce. Bacon would, indeed, be an aberration.
As for Checchino, I would call the service "old school" with nothing weird about it. And I like old-school service. Fagioli con le cotiche are not beans and pork fat but beans and pork rinds. What you took for pieces of fat were actually pieces of skin. It's a very traditional dish done very well. I am not personally a fan -- I eat the beans, though -- but my husband orders them at Checchino now that his mother's fagioli-con-le-cotiche days are over.
Thanks! Having a comprehensive report like this is very helpful is deciding whether or not I want to go to some places I've been on the fence about trying, and I also appreciate that you included prices.
My favorite observation from your report is:
"As for the Misticanza Romana, it was spare and dressed only with olive oil and salt, but its humbleness made it unique and special."
Not everybody travels to eat like this, but I do.
Precisely Barb I think everyone has their own agenda.........there is no way I am at all as sophisticated in terms of the knowledge around menus as most here but for me atmosphere takes on a large part of the motivation to go to a certain spot which I am sure is crazy to some.........but even with my palate I find so many posts like this one on here incredibly helpful in trying to understand the overall experience
hopefully I will have some good reports from our journeys!
definitely getting meatballs for the 14 year old at Roscioli!!!
What a great read. We also just came back and ate at some of the same places.
In Roscioli we actually had a different experience. While our pasta course was fine it was actually the worse course of the 3. Really loved the meatballs but the most memorable things for us was a first course of Mortadella, and burrata with sun dried tomatoes we couldn't get enough of
Interesting that you thought the carbonara was a little too al dente. After spending 10 pasta filled days all over Italy prior to this meal, we thought the carbonara at Roscioli was a little too al dente for us. In another establishment (Le mani in pasta) I ordered carbonara and never got it, so needless to say the carbonara fix I was so looking forward to never came. But we still ate very well
Fantastic report! Thanks so much for checking back in.
I think Maureen has a different experience at Checchino than most. She's been going there for years, and so perhaps the owner is a bit warmer with her. But there is definitely a weird vibe going on, not at all 'old school', although it's that too. When I think of other old fashioned restaurants, like Piperno, Campana and Nino, with white coated formal service, it's completely different. There is just something extra stiff about the dining room at Cecchino.