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Jan 23, 2014 01:29 PM

Best non-fusion Italian in Rome

What are your favourite non-fusion restaurants which know exactly what they are doing and are sourcing high quality ingredients? I like mom and pop shops and family run restaurants; they do rustic flavours well but they usually don't have the best ingredients.

The one place I have found so far that fits these criteria is Roscioli.

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  1. By 'non-fusion' do you mean straight forward cooking, without any fancy techniques?

    If that is the case then Cesare al Casaletto for sure, and Armando al Pantheon and Sorpasso.

    1. I'm also unsure what you mean by "non-fusion". Roscioli imports a great percentage of its stuff. My bias, but I think even high quality ingredients lose a lot traveling away from their source, and that is questionable whether Rome is the place to get the best experience of buffalo mozzerella from Paestum -- especially when Roscioli is putting it on hamburgers. That isn't "fusion" -- ?

      I just grabbed this from Roscioli's online menu:

      Brown cows milk parmesan cheese from the Alps flan garnished with Passito from Pantelleria jelly and raspberries sauce

      Again, sounds like what I would call fusion. Their menu goes on and on with this kind of stuff. What is "MIX OF VEGETABLES FROM THE SEASON COKE WITH TOFU" --? Even if they don't mean coca-cola (I'm sure they don't), what is tofu doing on a non-fusion menu?

      If you find the right family restaurants in Rome, they are getting their ingredients right out of the markets or from long-time local suppliers and I wouldn't assume they aren't getting the best ingredients just because they aren't flying in stuff from Cantabria Spain or Sant Malo France. A lot this "sourcing" hype is just that, and "branding" and flavorless, like I said, once you've put it through all the ups and downs of air travel. If you want "sourcing", put yourself on the plane and go to the source. When in Rome, eat Roman.

      I like Settimio al Pellegrino. They use good food to make good food.

      7 Replies
      1. re: kmzed

        kmzed: I hadn't even noticed the hamburger on the Roscioli Menu - I am sure that is there to please foreigners. I'm going for their pastas, cheeses and meats. I agree that many Family run restaurants try their best to get good ingredients straight from farmers. I want the best of these; people who are sourcing the best cheeses, best olive oils, and best meats sourced locally, regionally or nationally. I didn't mean international; If I wanted Spanish olives, wine, cheeses, meat or olive oil I would go to Spain.

        I own food businesses from wholesale to retail to restaurants. I have seen many of my customers and know how restaurants function; one of the basic tenets of running restaurant is the need to be economical - I've even seen Joe Bastianich who owns some of the most expensive Italian restaurants (Del Posto, Babbo, Osteria Mozza, etc) say this. At my own restaurant we use lower grades of meat to be able to match our price point; the food still tastes great but could be better, or much better depending on your taste, given a price increase. I want restaurants that aren't too restricted by low prices so they can afford to pay for better ingredients and have the knowledge and expertise to use these ingredients. The Roscioli's seem to fit this bill. La Pergola, Imago, or Glass Hosteria seem to have the knowledge but their food looks too fusion.

        Elizabeth: Yes. Straight forward cooking, traditional. I don't mind the chefs using good/fancy techniques as long as the dishes are traditional (ie sous vide). Cesare al Casaletto was second on my list of places!

        My list is as follows:

        I haven't had too much time to update it recently, but the list is basically in order of preference

        Cesare al Casaletto
        La Gensola
        Colline Emiliane
        Armando al Pantheon
        Sora Margherita
        Trattoria Monti
        Corsetti 1921
        La Campana
        Checchino dal 1887
        Tempio di Iside

        1. re: quddous

          If you are willing to pay for quality ingredients, I don't think you will have a hard time tracking down in Rome wonderful traditional restaurants that take pride in serving the best of locally sourced ingredients. You are right to point out that the neighborhood family run joint in Rome might not be able to afford to stay in business if they serve precious products and charge accordingly. They will price themselves out of the market. But there are food guides and blogs that can help you distinguish between who might be cheating with supermarket produce and who is keeping faith.

          Don't assume that Roscioli's hamburgers are there for toruists or are mainly eaten by tourists. It is very trendy in Rome to eat burgers and drink beer. I am not knocking what Roscioli does because they are very upfront about the fact they are importing signature artisinal foods from all over the world. But if you go to their website and look at their menu, you can see that a lot of the emphasis is on bringing imported foods to Rome.

          There are a lot of places on your lsit I never have eaten at, but some of them are not serving the local cuisine of Rome or run by natives of Rome. They are serving dishes from other regions of Italy or the cooks are from Sicily, etc. Also, some of them are what I would describe as "modern" or "inventive!. (To me Pierluigi is modern.) So if you are strictly looking for traditional roman cooking that was developed over time based on the seasonal availability of local ingredients -- which I think is definitely the best way to eat if you are visiting Rome and I applaud you for seriously looking -- then places like Trattoria Monti (cooking from the region of Le Marche) or Colline Emiliane (emilia area) aren't that.

          1. re: kmzed

            I am happy with any cuisine that is Italian. I still haven't experienced enough Italian food to be able to differentiate between the dishes of different regions. I dont mind fusion. I may eat at one of those fusion restaurants I named but I would prefer traditional for most meals.

            Which other restaurants do you recommend?

            1. re: quddous

              Actually I would recommend that you not eat the food of the other regions of Italy while in Rome because regional food in Italy is best in its own region. Just like the US. Also, people running restaurants need to make a living, and if they find out Romans prefer certain tastes and aren't used to others, they will change their recipes to please local palates.

              I really like Armando al Pantheon and Settimio al Pellegrino for roman food. I like Roman pizza and Roman Jewish food but I don't like eating offal, which is popular in Rome. How many meals will you be eating in Rome? Don't you want to eat near your hotel at night or close to places you will be visiting during the day?

            2. re: kmzed

              "...But if you go to their website and look at their menu, you can see that a lot of the emphasis is on bringing imported foods to Rome."

              And a light bulb goes on over my head...

              I'd always been somewhat surprised by the glowing reviews and stellar reputation of Roscioli on CH until I read this. My own experiences there have been underwhelming; couldn't help the feeling I just didn't "get" it. Now I can see why - you've put your finger on it perfectly.

              It's that emphasis on exotic imported foods that just doesn't sit well with me. If I'm in Rome I'm more interested in eating what's genuinely local/traditional. However the same might not be said of native Romans. They have that stuff every day. A change of pace - something they don't see all the time - may be exactly what gets them excited.

              Thanks so much for the insight.

              1. re: AlexRast

                You have a point there, though what gets most people excited about Roscioli is burrata (just a couple hundred of k south of rome), carbonara & cacio e pepe (as local as it gets).

            3. re: quddous

              You list is looking pretty good! I think I would take off Colline Emiliane, but only because I have been getting very bad reports from there lately. Horrible service, and two forced seatings a night, which makes things very uncomfortable.

              I've never eaten at Corsetti, so can't comment on that.

              All of your other choices are good ones. You might want to add L\Asino d'Oro to your list. Very high attention to quality of ingredients pared with careful eye on the bottom line. Try to get there for the fixed menu lunch (you must reserve).


          2. Sorry for the late update.

            We had a really amazing time in Rome. Sadly the food was not the highlight as we have had better "Italian" food outside of Italy.

            Highlights were Roscioli, Roscioli Bakery, and Frigidarium.

            Roscioli - Great space, great ambiance, great quality of food, great preparation, great service, very informative and helpful. The bread basket was amazing with a multitude of different breads from their own bakery. We had the carbonara, which was quite amazing, the pieces of gianciale fried to crisp perfection and added to the carbonara at the last second. The burrata with their amazing sundried tomatoes (which we bought 3 jars of) was great. We went back for lunch two days later and had the Gnocco Amatriciana, Bolognese Tortellino en brodo, a salad of artichokes and everything was delicious. I really can't recommend this restaurant enough.

            We had the pizza rossa at both Campo Fiori and Roscioli. Both were the best we have had with Roscioli's being the best easily. I preferred plain tomato while my wife liked it with cheese.

            Frigidarium - The best gelato we have ever had. I really do think this place is quite amazing. We tried to go there twice when they were closed and ended up coming back a second time after we were finally able to have some. We also had gelato at San Crispino (good), Giolitti (good) and Fatamorgana (very good).

            The biggest disappointment during our entire trip was Perilli and it was horrible. I really felt somewhat depressed after having this meal because I was worried about how bad the rest of our meals might be.The restaurant itself was not up kept properly. The bread basket was unappetizing at the least - filled with stale bread, packaged crackers and packaged grissini. We had the Coda alla Vaccinara which had meatless pieces of oxtail in an oily tomato sauce. The Carciofi alla Romana which were the blandest artichokes (or any vegetable for that fact) I have ever had. Lastly, we had the Amatriciana pasta, which did not taste of anything other than tomato sauce and had a few very bland chewy pieces of guanciale. Service was inattentive, and unhelpful. The server also made some comments during lunch which we took as being quite rude.

            Pizzarium was good but I didn't think it was much better, than the easier to get to Pizza Del Teatro.

            Tricolore would not be recommended. The bread for my sandwich was amazingly good; zabaglione was good; but the meat that came with the sandwiches was chewy and bland - almost inedible.

            Trattoria Monti - I liked Trattoria Monti overall but I expected much more. The service and space were very nice and cosy. We had quite a few dishes that, though they did not look complicated nor too appealing, were quite good.My favourite dish of the night was the tortino di mele con zabaione - an apple cake with zabaglone (whipped eggyolk custard with marsala).

            Colline Emiliane - Good service, Good ambiance but food here was also just okay. They served a soup which was the highlight of the dinner.

            We also had a really amazing mortadella with black truffle at Eataly.

            We ended up skipping many of our other meals because of Perilli.

            4 Replies
            1. re: quddous

              Thanks for reporting back. I am in Rome right now (not my first visit), and running all around town to chase down the ideal Roman meal seems really unappealing; I thought about going to Pizzarium but I'm not a big bread-lover, so I don't know. When was your trip? Warm, humid weather certainly puts a damper on food pilgrimages, at least for me.

              1. re: Leely2

                we havent been in Rome in the summertime since our very first trips more than 30 years ago - we decided early on that the glaring sun was not ideal for our kind of active holiday. I do remember enjoyable meals, but mostly not of the heavy pasta and meat specialties. Grilled trout and such (dont know if this appears on ANY Rome menus these days, pollo alla romana and a tomato-pepper-basil scented risotto under a grape arbor at highly touristic Angelo ai Fori, near the Roman Forum, and sitting in the courtyard at Otello alla Concordia with their fruit fountain dripping, coolly, watching Italians/europeans eating pears with knife and fork and eating cherries served in water with ice (this was early June),, strill there. having cool vegetable appetizers and, I think florentine steak under an awning at Osteria Nerone. Then too, indoor restaurants become cool caves/ refuges from the summer heat if you dont have to trek too far to get there.

                It would be nice to see some particular recommendations for (todays) summer fare in rome.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Yes, I too would be interested in recommendations with a summer emphasis. I have been skipping a secondo in favor of contorno-as-secondo: grilled vegetables or insalata. Just eating a little bit lighter at the end of the meal so I can indulge at the beginning. Had a terrific fiore di zucca stuffed with an anchovy as well as cheese at Cesare al Casaletto.

                  1. re: Leely2

                    Cesare was one of my top picks but was closed for renovations while we were in Rome. I really do recommend getting in to Roscioli and their bakery.

                    Pizzarium is quite a bit out of the way. We were at the Vatican Museums and it still took a 20 minute walk to get out to Pizzarium.

            2. thank you for the report - better late than never!
              I can relate to your experience at Perilli - but do not understand why and how exactly you ended up skipping many meals because of perilli - did you just quit eating after the perilli experience? lived on water alone? ;)
              You must have been at Pizzeria del Teatro at the very beginning - they were good for exactly three days (not an allegory, it was really only three days, where Gabriele himself was there that the pizza was good. it went to inedible after that).
              Surprised about tricolore - i consistently eat good panini there - when they *are* open, which is rare lately.
              you will have to come back to check out Cesare. They are still the best.
              As for summer eating: there is a lot of salad and antipasto eating, mozzarella or burrata with ancovies and/or tomatoes, melon & prosciutto, cheese and/or salumi platters. Pastas are lighter, carbonara and cacio e pepe are on hold, tomatoes in many incarnations are in. contorni instead of secondi are popular, as well as fish dishes.

              1 Reply
              1. re: vinoroma

                Vinoroma - It is funny that you mention about Tricolore being open. We had to go back three different times because they were closed on the first two occasions. We tried to go to quite a few places which had wrong opening hours on Yelp/Google - just a note for other people who are going to visit Rome.

                We still ate but we cancelled some of our meals. We returned to Roscioli for one extra meal. We also had a selection of salumi and cheeses from Eataly as one of our meals.

                I was just about to say it wasn't a horrible meal but I remembered it more vividly and I can't even justify saying that it was okay. I missed a few more things about Perilli - the coda alla Vaccinara was extremely salty. The glasses were also all dirty (not just one which is already a bad sign).