Before we close the book on our little Roman escapade, I should mention the other treats we encountered.
Just south of the Spanish Steps, down the Via Borgognona is Nino, a tiny trattoria with dark wood panelling and high ceilings where the tables are very close together and the uniformed old waiters compete to see who can be the grumpiest. There are no secret places in that ritzy part of the city and Nino is a bit too proud of its unpretentious looks, self-consciously old-school ambience and traditional Roman cuisine. Still, people fall under its spell. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes held their wedding rehearsal dinner there, according to the guide books, all of whom seem to be batting for Team Tom. The food is simple – really good grilled fish, roast veal with potatoes, heavy pastas. The highlight was a bowl of the best straciatella I’ve ever tasted – pure chicken broth, nimbus-cloudlike egg, just enough parmiggiano.
Nino, Via Borgognona 11, 06/678 6752, www.ristorantenino.it.
On the advice of my friend Sid Cross, Vancouver wine and food guru, we had lunch at Perilli when we found ourselves south of the Aventine hill in the Testaccio area. It’s quite like Nino only far less self-aware and the prices are more than reasonable. The feel of the room reminds me of a railway restaurant from the 1960s with old posters and photographs on the wall and a faded mural of a rustic scene. The owner sits at a lectern near the kitchen door, occasionally rising to serve customers he knows from the small but excellent buffet of vegetable antipasti. They had told us at Nino that the artichoke season was over but that was nonsense and we started at Perilli with two perfectly poached little globes – artichokes in their tender adolescence. The prize there is the carbonara – heavy pasta tubes tossed tableside in a large bowl with an egg yolk sauce. The elderly curmudgeon who served us ladled some of it onto a plate for Wendy then set down the remaining majority in the mixing bowl before me. The real deal. Warning: avoid the house wine.
Perilli, Via Marmorata, 39, 06/5755100.
And then there was Crab, on the same street as the Hotel Lancelot, where we were staying, just east of the Colosseum. This is an expensive evening but worth it. Crab is a modern seafood restaurant, chic and glossy, with an irresistible display of oysters and seafood behind glass near the door. We started with a platter of raw seafood for two – four kinds of impeccable French Atlantic oysters, various species of prawns and clams, langoustines and mussels that had been briefly steamed. Then we shared a slipper lobster from Sardinia, also known as a cicala or “batti-batti.” If you’ve never seen one, slipper lobsters are extraordinary creatures, spectacularly primitive. They really do look like a clog but they are full of superbly flavourful meat. The restaurant serves this tender flesh out of the shell, cut into large chunks in a Catalan sauce that’s mostly emulsified olive oil and lemon juice like a warm, runny mayonnaise, surrounded by tart, firm little cherry tomatoes, raw onion, crunchy celery and soft boiled potatoes. It was the dish of the entire week and one of the most expensive things we’ve ever ordered. I misread the price as 17 euros a kilo but it was actually 17 euros a hectogram so the final price was 170 euros. Sheesh… But worth every cent.
Crab, Via Capo d’Africa, 2. 06/77203636.