If there is one plate that I would go to the ends of the earth for, it is carbonara- my kind of comfort food and Rome's emblematic dish of pasta, egg, grated pecorino (and/or parmesan) cheese, and guanciale. I will go out of my way, leaps and bounds for just a plate so over the years, I've made it my business to eat carbonara in every Roman restaurant I step foot in, an ongoing culinary quest for that very best until a fateful Saturday, September 21, 2013, when I sat down at Pipero and ate the last forkful of Luciano Monsilio's carbonara. The only word to describe his carbonara is perfection - aesthetically beautiful- a sunflower-colored knot of pasta in a serving that was neither too much nor too little with the ideal Italian umami thanks to Luciano's preternatural culinary skills for combining grated pecorino and parmesan cheese, pepper-spiced beaten egg yolk, and pan-cooked guanciale in just the perfect amounts, and Alessandro Pipero, owner of his epynymous restaurantknew it. Heck, he even made a film about it.
As I walked out of Pipero, I vowed I would never eat carbonara again, unless Luciano was putting a plate of it in front of me or, and there always is an "or", it was vetted as hands-down amazing by a series of carbonara sycophants including Luca Sessa, Katie Parla, my favorite taxi driver Emanuele and my aunt Graziella. It was easy to hold back from my carbonara fix. Pipero was getting a lot of press after receiving a much-deserved Michelin star in November of 2012, which meant it was harder to just pop by, and personally I wasn't keen on its location at the Hotel Rex, andthough it is/was somewhat easy to find other great carbonara, my heart belonged to Pipero. Fast forward to March 2017 when, while casually strolling down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, the thoroughfare linking St. Peter's to Piazza Venezia, I noticed that the old and vacant bank across from Chiesa Nuova had curtains. I took a closer look. Pipero's moved in.
Real estate is tough negotiation for a Rome restaurant, and even tougher for a Michelin-starred joint. Choices are either hotel spaces, which is usually a compromise of interior design and multipurpose like a breakfast buffet, or a private space, sacrificing light for independence. The new Pipero is neither. Taking over a former bank in the Piazza Navona/Campo de' Fiori neighborhood, Pipero has location. And thanks to the architectural demands of said bank, Pipero has light- a luminous space of high ceilings, and full-length windows on two sides of the corner restaurant. A chic interior, the lounge/restaurant is simply accented with Poltrona Frau chairs, Flos lamps, original parquet floors and absolutely no clocks on the table, a detail Alessandro loved in Pipero's original incarnation but thankfully shelved in 2017. The ground level area has seven tables, with an open mezzanine hosting three tables, while the subterranean is home to Pipero's wine cellar - a cozy, private dining cave lined with labels hand-picked by Alessandro, who also happens to be a sommelier.
Let's get serious. Style was the first thing on my mind. Before sitting down at Pipero's table, my most important concern was the food and whether or not Pipero would uphold or even surpass this crazy idolization I created over the years. Was it still perfect? On a Tuesday afternoon, I found out by treating myself to a six-course tasting menu. [Note: I asked to include the carbonara, as Alessandro and Luciano had removed it from the menu, making it available to guests by request.] The restaurant was quiet - just me, a couple, and Achille Sardiello, Alessandro's Numero Uno and maitre d', a man whose dedication to Pipero - owner, restaurant and dishes - is all about poise and professionalism. Achille charmingly commands the floor. The mythical carbonara appeared after an incredible duck tartar "panino" of crispy, slim bread with homemade mustard, and a rigatoni with broccoli, sausage and pecorino that playfully innovates tradition and changed my entire life view on broccoli. It would be an understatement to say I was sated when the carbonara arrived, but I needed to make sure Pipero was still Pipero. Every bite that afternoon was just as perfect as the first, second and third times I had eaten Luciano's magical carbonara. Mission accomplished,but to follow was a lambcut which blew my mind with its delicious combination of cottura perfetta (perfectly cooked), anchovies and a raspberry cream. I could've stopped there, gone home and written a love sonnet to Pipero, but why not make sure? One month later, I organized a private dinner for 30 for the very same six-course tasting menu. Of course, Alessandro, Luciano and Achille did not disappoint- perfect service, perfect ambience, perfect dishes -- and yep, that carbonara was perfect.