TRAVEL

Trattoria V.2: 4 New Rome Restaurants Turning the Tables

Tortellini. Credit: Retrobottega

While Rome will never relinquish the triple threat of carbonara, amatriciana and cacio e pepe, it’s ready to cast off the stereotype that the classic trattoria has to be no frills, no elbow room and absolutely no service. These four new spots are turning the tables on the way you think about the Eternal City’s restaurant scene.

Retrobottega

This budding restaurant has actually been on the block for a few years, but in 2018, a refresh revealed a larger dining space and a moody, minimalist design with a trademark open kitchen and two communal tables.  

Chefs Giuseppe Lo Iudice and Alessandro Miocchi can be found center stage assembling and plating their creations: evolved recipes featuring locally sourced and foraged produce. 

The dishes change so frequently, it’s best to check Retrobottega’s Instagram to see what’s on the menu — typically a five-course, prix fixe format with an à la carte option available, too. If it’s in season, be sure to order the tortelli pasta with Roman broccoli and anchovies, or the blueberry and veal shank risotto. 

Be on the lookout for Retrobottega’s newest addition: Retro Vino wine bar serving bottles as carefully curated as the dishes. 

If you don’t have time for a full meal, stop by Retropasta, the next-door boutique where you can pick up eight types of housemade pasta. Try the stuffed options with untraditional fillings.

Luciano Cucina  

If carbonara had a king, it would be Luciano Monosilio, the home-grown chef who exalted the beloved pasta dish from local recipe to coveted art form. After more than a decade commandeering the city’s fine-dining scene, Monosilio opened this Centro Storico spot to honor his roots in the local trattoria. 

His pioneering take evolves the casual concept from rustic bolthole to a modern, stylish dining room with an exposed pasta lab and open kitchen. Monosilio is emphatically Roman, and he shows it off throughout the entire menu. His antipasti include incredible fritti (fried dishes) like suppli al telefono(fried rice balls stuffed with meat, tomato sauce and basil) and unexpected not-so-Roman dishes such as vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce and capers).   

But carbs are the highlight. The pasta offerings are divided into themes: Contemporanee (contemporary), Romane (traditional Roman favorites) and Ripiene (stuffed), so you’ll be able to cash in on Monosilio’s epic carbonara, while trying some of his more unusual dishes, like fettuccella ajo, ojo e bottarga di muggine — a spin on the classic garlic, pepper and olive pasta topped with cured fish roe.  

Marigold

This trendy newcomer ups the ante on the typical trattoria, casting off yesteryear stereotypes in favor of clean lines and Scandinavian design — a little oasis of hygge (coziness) straight from the oven of pastry chef Sofie Wochner.  

Simplicity is the overall objective at this self-proclaimed “micro bakery.” Focusing on seasonal products and smaller, local producers, Wochner’s pastries and partner Domenico Calabrese’s plates are deliciously sustainable creations, with an ethos inspired by Calabrese’s time in the kitchen of the American Academy of Rome’s Sustainable Food Project. Here, leftovers become delectable, unique dishes.

Wochner’s cinnamon twists, housemade butter (from kefir) and rye bread alone are worth the trip, but you’ll want to stay for Calabrese’s savory lunches and dinners. Each day features a different sandwich dependent on his mood, with made-from-scratch mustard aioli and Wochner’s sourdough, while evening menus (only available on weekends) often feature dishes like stracciatella (a heavenly soft cheese) with grilled, marinated artichokes and marjoram, and slow-cooked Korean pork belly. 

After you dine, peruse the bakery and pick up at least one loaf of fresh-baked sourdough to bring home. 

Spazio  

This Rome eatery from acclaimed toque Niko Romito isn’t exactly your typical trattoria. Rather, the experimental space serves as a test kitchen where chefs from his renowned cooking school can experience the bustle of a real working restaurant.  

Bar, caffè, bistro and dining room, Spazio is many things, in a few different spaces that effortlessly flow into each other. The restaurant, with its contemporary industrial-meets-greenhouse feel, focuses on affordable gourmet with dishes like Rome-inspired cacio e pepe with mezze maniche pasta, and creamy pork belly with savoy cabbage and potatoes. 

Spazio Pane e Caffè is the casual café side, an open, all-day kitchen serving pastries, breads, sandwiches, soups, salads and pasta dishes.

Styling up Rome's Sushi Scene with Bruno Barbieri {Review}

Chef Bruno Barbieri celebrates Daruma Seasons.

Bruno Barbieri.  If you live in Italy, you know Bruno.  He's been playing foil to chef Carlo Cracco since the very beginning of Masterchef Italia, and is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The seemingly harmless Emilia Romagna-born Barbieri is a culinary force, tallying up 40 years in the kitchen and 7 Michelin stars.  He's been all over the world, including a research sabbaticaI in Brazil.   Of all the places he appears, I never expected to see him at the neighborhood sushi joint in Rome.

Sushi in Rome has come a long way, baby. At the turn of the century, pre-made, tiny one room shops stocked with refrigerated California rolls populating the city as an economical answer to Hamasei, Rome's historic Japanese restaurant.  For a self-declared California girl like myself, these sushi nooks quenched some nostalgia cravings but not quite.  Even with the k-rab rolls, I still missed my cheap, strip mall sushi joints where fresh uni, red bean miso encrusted cod collar and cherry blossom moshi were mandatory on almost every white-board menu. 

Over the years, Rome grew into the sushi culture, and it evolved from novelty to locality.   Nippon-syled restaurants like Rokko opened in the center, while trendy mod boat sushi started appearing on the outer center neighborhoods like  Prati neighborhood, and a triangle of Ostiense (Via Ostiense -Via del Gazometro- Via del Porto Fluviale) became a neighborhood of Japanese restaurants.  Somewhere in this timeline was Daruma Sushi.

Daruma Parlamento. Photo credit: Daruma Sushi.

I like to consider myself Daruma's first client.  Alessio Tesciuba opened the original outpost (one of those tiny shops with  of rolls, Japanese soft drinks and bags of wasabe peas) somewhere around the time I moved into my Piazza Navona adjacent apartment in 2005.  From the moment I spied Daruma, I was front and center,  showing up once or twice a month for some rolls and a chitchat with Alessio. We talked about everything sushi, Japan and California.  Eventually, I moved out and Daruma moved on- opening new take out/delivery spots around the city and finally opening a sit-down restaurant (among others) in Rome's the historic center by Piazza del Parlamento.

Alessio and his brothers Daniele and and Dennis are overlords of an empire which includes delivery, take out and sit down restaurants, originally sushi and Japanese cuisine, and now Italian-Japanese fusion, thanks to a little help from Bruno, who coincidentally is a client like me- serendipitous finding the spot a few years back and befriending the owner.  Returning from a visit to Japan, Bruno and the Brothers Tesciuba brainstormed the idea Daruma Seasons,  the culinary mash up of Bruno's expertise with inspirations from Japanese cuisine.

The professional photo of Spaghetti alla chitarra (made with algae) con astice (lobster). Photo by Daruma.

"I like the philosophy behind [Japanese food], and the way they treat food with respect", says Barbieri.  "Food is a kind of deity and eating is a real ritual", with similarities to Italian cuisine in "its profound culture of food .... with deep, probing flavors".   Bruno's take is a seasonal experiment of flavors and techniques from both cultures, featuring two new dishes each season season.  My beloved spaghetti alla chitarra, is a crunchy, flavored spaghetti with dried seaweed powder, with lobster, fresh mixed algae and flavored with typically Mediterranean aromas like capers, bottarga and aromatic herbs, and winter's cartoccio di tonno is simply tuna cooked in paper bag and seasoned with peanuts, toasted sesame, vegetables and Teriyaki sauce.

Lately, I've noticed I am not always willing to suggest non-Roman, non-Italian restaurants, but it's time I've updated my mindset.  Barbieri's Daruma Seasons are well-crafted, delightfully tasty and easy pleasers.  Less Italianization (a style of watering down Asian cuisine to make it similarly "palatable" for an Italian audience) and more of a thoughtful plate evolution where Japanese flavors and techniques overlap with Italian counterparts.

Cartoccio tonno e verdure (tuna and vegetable). Photo by Daruma.

Cartoccio tonno e verdure (tuna and vegetable). Photo by Daruma.

LOCATION:  All over. Daruma has six sit-down restaurants across the city in areas including Daruma Parlamento in the historic center's Campo Marzio neighborhood and Daruma Sushi Kosher in the Ghetto. Other Japanese-inspired spots in my little black book: Sakana, a boat sushi spot suggested by my friend Sachiko as a kid-pleaser. Excellent soups.  Kiko for the cool factor. Doozo for its zen-garden inspired private terrace, and Zuma for the view and the cocktails.

 

The Great Italian Chef Shines on the Big Screen

A new film chronicles the life and work of one of Italy's best and most influential chefs.  This article originally appeared in Fathom, September 2017.

Gualtiero Marchesi the Great Italian chef, in a scene from the upcoming film "The Great Italian."

If you haven't already heard of Gualtiero Marchesi, listen up. He is, by many accounts, The Great Italian, maybe even the Greatest. A larger-than-life, Milan-born chef who has spent more than six decades in the kitchen, Marchesi is the godfather of modern Italian cuisine. From the beginning of his career, his dishes have been multi-sensory works of art, beautiful and revolutionary recipes that inspired legions of students and chefs to define and drive innovation in Italian cuisine. And now you don't even have to go into one of his four restaurants in Milan and Monte Carlo to get a proverbial taste. Marchesi has landed on the big screen.

The Great Italian, a one-hour film celebrating the career of Italy's most famous chef, debuted last summer in a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival, and I was one of the wide-eyed viewers in the audience. Mixing a dash of Chef's Table with Paolo Sorrentino panache, the film shares the touchstones in Marchesi's life and career in a non-linear format. We sit at the table as colleagues, friends, and former students — Alain Ducasse, Yannick Alleno, Jean Troisgrois, Massimo Bottura, Davide Oldani, Andrea Berton, and Carlo Cracco among them — tell stories about their experiences with the chef. Marchesi himself brings us into wood-paneled libraries, fresco-covered billiard rooms, and contemporary kitchens to dish about his story, illustrated by enchanting diorama-styled animation from family photos and news clips.

The film, directed by Maurizio Gigola, is delightful and literal eye candy, but what had me at the edge of my seat were the vivid, jaw-dropping, close-ups of Marchesi's signature dishes — Raviolo Aperto, Dripping di Pesce, Seppia in Nero, and Riso Oro e Zafferano — spliced side by side with scenes of Marchesi walking through galleries filled with Pollocks, Stellas, Warhols, Fontanas, and so many others. This art and food lover saw stars.

Raviolo Aperto. Photo courtesy of Gualtiero Marchesi.

Dripping di pesce. Photo courtesy of Gualtiero Marchesi.

Marchesi shooting pool, in a still from the movie

A musician before he became a chef, Marchesi is also a lover of the visual arts. He uses avant-garde ideas — Pollock's drip paintings, Fontana's cut canvas, and Warhol lithographs — as ingredients in his dishes, mixing masterpieces with Italian produce and DOCG products to plate the perfect multi-art trifecta — visual, conceptual, and performance. And he started doing this long before modern Italian cuisine was even a concept.

It makes sense. Born in 1930, Marchesi grew up during the most epic periods of modern art — abstract, Arte Povera, optical, conceptual, performance, pop — experiencing all the genres that redefined the second half of the 20th century and set the foundation for the 21st. These ideas, images, and experiences flowed into Marchesi's sensibilities, inspiring him to play around with tradition, leading him to innovate Italian cuisine for the 21st century. And in turn to do so through his acclaimed protégés and their restaurants, a who's who of Italian gastronomy that includes Andrea Berton (Pisacco), Paola Budel (Venissa), Davide Oldani (D'O), and Carlo Cracco (Cracco).

On the silver screen and at the table, Marchesi comes across as humble and relatable, a chef who loves cooking for its ingredients and for who and what his dishes can inspire. After the screening, I briefly met the chef, surrounded by friends, family, and press. I congratulated him, told him how much the film moved me and how I remembered dining at Hostaria dell'Orso, his Roman restaurant, holed up on the top floor of a medieval palazzo on the edge of Piazza Navona. At the time, I didn't get that Italian food was supposed to be about tradition, not art. He chuckled. Now I get it.

For Marchesi, it wasn't about art at all. It was about love — for the ingredients, for the technique, for the experience, and, yes, maybe also for a little art.

The Great Italian, directed by Maurizio Gigola, will be in theaters in fall 2017. San Pellegrino is a contributor to the film and presented it together with chef Marchesi at the 2017 Festival de Cannes.

Pipero and the art of Carbonara

Carbonara.

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.

IMG_2963 (1).jpg

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.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 250

(+39) 06 68138022

Above:  Tuna tartar with green apple and mustard.  Here: Rigatoni with broccoli, pecorino and sausage

La Piola, Alba

Piola Plate
Piola Plate

I've been thinking a lot about Italy and eating, and I'm about to betray decades of my nonna's deliberate brainwashing to say that I do not have a favorite place or region or dish.  With 20 regions and hundreds of thousands of towns who each interpret produce, meat, fish and street food dishes uniquely,  it would be impossible for me to pinpoint a favorite.

I love them all.  I love them with intensity and sincerity like I loved all my ex-boyfriends before we broke up and with the same nostalgia that came after. Bottom line, I can always find something good in each.

... but lately, I'm digging every dish that the Langhe has put in front of me.  Langhe [lahn-geh]= verdant area in eastern side of the Piedmont region [think Alba], best known for  white truffles, barolo, barbaresco and docletto d'alba wines, robbiola cheese and Nutella is my cornucopia of comfort food during the cold months.  There are times when  I crave nothing more than bagna cauda [see below] and a glass of Barolo.

Enter:  La Piola in Alba.

I've had my eye on La Piola for three reasons: first, a piola is a typical Piemontese osteria, simple food, simple service, simple style-- in other words, my style.  Second, Chef Dennis Panzeri, under the supervision of Michelin-starred Chef Enrico Crippa, runs the kitchen and finally, it is owned by the Ceretto family, prodigious vintners who also incredible contemporary art patrons.

Piola Lavagna
Piola Lavagna

In essence, La Piola is the very definition of Piemontese- no frills, no fanfare.  Located on the ground level of a palazzo in La Piola in Alba's Piazza Duomo, La Piola seems at first glimpse, like a hipster coffee shop, due in part to its sparse design and handwritten blackboard with its daily food and wine menu.  Its vibe is friendly, local and home grown.   When I walked in the door, my heart and stomach were on the look out for bagna cauda, a  hot fondu-like dish of cooked down garlic, anchovies, olive and butter that takes hours to prepare.  Though not on the blackboard, I asked the incredibly thoughtful wait staff who checked to see if there was any left. I was lucky and that began my back-to-back dinner at La Piola.

Three days eating pasta in Alba meant my two evenings were focused on dishes I will never find outside the city walls.  Case in point:  Bagna Cauda.  Not quite light fare, a good bagna cauda is able to trick you with leggerezza, a lightness found in the sublime mix of the cooked down garlic/anchovies and its dipping vegetables like Jerusalem artichoke, aka sunchoke or topinambur, pepper and white turnips, and Valeriana lettuce.   The objective, which La Piola achieved, is to be pleasantly piquant, with a delicate anchovy taste best noticed witha a sunchoke.   To accompany the bagna cauda and keep it real, I had Vitello Tonnato, thin, cold slices of veal with a tuna-mustard sauce.  The next evening's line up was old school- an onion soup, which La Piola makes just as hearty as it is subtle, with melted Raschera cheese, and a cheese sampling of robiola, sandrè, cubiò, matinè, comtè and quatordes from Arbiora (you got it, a Langhe cheese producer).

And just like that heady feeling of bumping into an ex at a market or cinema or on the street, I'm ready for next round.

My food for thought (clockwise):  bagna cauda (R), vitello tonnato, local cheese, onion soup.

Dinner at Piola copy
Dinner at Piola copy

Here's a nice deviation:  in the same palazzo, on the first floor is Palazzo Duomo, Enrico Crippa's Michelin three star restaurant. Though I didn't have the time to dine, I did live out one of my long-held artsy fantasies by standing under the pink frescoes of artist Francesco Clemente in the restaurant's dining room.  As I mentioned, the Ceretto family is  owner of La Piola as well as Palazzo Duomo, and long-term art patron focusing on bringing living contemporary artists to Alba and the Langhe territory.  Most commissions are site-specific and are outdoors as well as indoors.

PalazzoDuomo
PalazzoDuomo
ALBA DUOMO
ALBA DUOMO

Hot Pockets: Roy Caceres, Rising Rome Chef’s Brave New World

Hot Pockets is a series of chef interviews that I write for my blog and/or other publications. My interview with Roy Caceres of Metamorfosi for Forbes Travelwas published in April 2013.  Caceres since gained a Michelin star.  

SB_RoyCaceres_CreditMetamorfosi5
SB_RoyCaceres_CreditMetamorfosi5

It’s a brave new world in Rome’s restaurant scene. Where tradition once unwaveringly reigned supreme, creativity is the novel leader. Heralding the movement is Roy Caceres, chef of Metamorfosi, the latest entry to Rome’s growing list of top-tier restaurants. Likewise, Caceres is being feted as one of Italy’s rising stars.

Born in Colombia, Caceres has been sharpening his skills in Italy’s kitchens for nearly two decades, including Porto Ercole’s Il Pellicano and Bologna’s Locanda Solarola. In fall 2010, Caceres set stakes in Rome’s tony Parioli neighborhood, opening Metamorfosi. With a sly wink to antiquity’s Ovid, the Roman poet who wrote Metamorphoses, Metamorfosi is all about transforming the Roman cuisine stereotype by Caceres’ mosaicked menu of dishes that play on Italian traditions and nouveau cuisine. As Caceres says, “Every dish is an homage, a joke, a play on food, whether traditional or not.”

When Caceres is not playing with tradition, he’s making it, best exemplified by Uovo 65°, an unlikely reinterpretation of carbonara, where taste trumps form as the traditional dish excludes pasta in favor of creamy essence, and the more subtle (but long-titled) Bottoni, burro, parimigiano 36 mesi e tartufo, a delicious, truffle-garnished ravioli served in a parmesan broth as hearty and delectable as any beef stock.

Though the menu meanders around Italian fare traditions, it is also a celebration of culture as the Metamorfosi team of chefs represents Sweden, Colombia and Japan with collective experience in Italy, their respective countries and around the globe. It is this Caceres-described inter-cambia (an engaged interchange) that creates not just a dynamic menu, but collaborative participation in the kitchen and on the table.

But even with the obvious dedication to the restaurant, I was somehow still able to pull chef Caceres away from the stove for a quick chat. Here are the highlights…

What is your favorite dish at Metamorfosi?

Crudo di Fassona (tartar of Piemontese beef). This dish reminds me of my grandfather who used to make me something similar when I was child. It also contains my favorite ingredients including raw beef, mint, spring onion and egg.

What ingredient is a must-have in your kitchen?

Salt is fundamental to me. It jumpstarts tastes and augments it, but it must be used well or else it will cover up natural flavors.

Where do you like to eat in Rome?

On my days off, I like to take my family out of Rome and to the countryside. A favorite restaurant is Le Colline Ciociare in Frosinone. In Rome, I’ll go to Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzarium for take-away pizza.