This is the seventh post in the Spontaneous Weekend Trip to Rome Series. Other posts in this series include: Dal Paino Pizzeria in Rome, Etabli, Il Convivio, Ciuri Ciuri Pasticceria Gelateria Siciliana, Sant'Eustachio Il Caffe, and Gelato in Rome
It's been a tumultuous year on Italian food front.
This past year, our favorite Italian restaurant has been an ever-shifting target. Even though we still love our North End favorites, our food-related travels in the past twelve months have opened our eyes to some absolutely incredible Italian food.
Bryan, the pasta aficionado, initially declared Mario Batali's ristorante in Las Vegas to be his favorite for pasta. This past year, that was superseded - first by Il Mulino (Las Vegas), and then again, by Il Buco Alimentari (New York).
And then we visited Rome.
Italian food in the U.S. is good. But nothing beats Italy.
Welcome to Roscioli, a quaint restaurant-salumeria-wine bar off the Campo di Fiori not too far from Piazza Navona. It's a high-end food market, wine shop, and restaurant all rolled into one. The market sells an incredible selection of cheese, salumi, and other Italian specialties.
And what does the restaurant serve?
Gambero Rosso, a prestigious Italian food and wine magazine dedicated to the slow food movement, awarded Roscioli the "best carbonara" honor in 2008.
The carbonara at Roscioli is special because of its specially-sourced ingredients. Guanciale (bacon made from pork jowls) comes from del Conero. The sauce incorporates a mixture of Romano and Moliterno (a sheep's milk pecorino), and the spaghetti is made by a small producer from the Abruzzi region. Even the black pepper is a mixture of three different kinds from Jamaica, China, and India.
The most important ingredient, however, are the eggs. The eggs come from Paolo Parisi, a famous egg farmer in Tuscany. His intensely yellow-yolk eggs (which cost around $4 each!) come from free-range hens who feed on goats' milk.
Combine all these incredible ingredients and you have gloriously chewy spaghetti coated in this velvety, thick, eggy sauce full of intense flavors from the cheese and black pepper.
Bryan, who has always been a pretty big fan of carbonara, absolutely loved it, citing how wonderfully "eggy" (not a dash of cream in this dish) the sauce was.
It was seriously crazy good.
But let me not get ahead of myself. First, let me tell you a bit more about Roscioli.
Roscioli is really fun because it's a food market, restaurant, and wine bar all in one location. Owners Alessandro and Pierluigi Roscioli had a dream back in 2002 to take their already successful salumeria and turn it into this multi-concept destination.
They were guided by the philosophy of prima della cucina ("before the cooking"). They strived to procure the highest quality ingredients possible at the market, available "before the cooking" for the restaurant.
This philosophy was evident in everything that we enjoyed at the restaurant. We started out with a complimentary plate of Bufalo ricotta drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. It was mild, fresh, and creamy - a perfect way to start the meal.
The market at Roscioli sells a dizzying array of cured meats from which you can choose. On the menu, you have the option of trying all different types of salumi. In fact, there is a whole page dedicated to selection.
It was a tough choice, but with the help of the waiter (who spoke excellent English, by the way), we shared the Prosciutti di Razza Nera Autoctona, a selection of native black pork prosciutti: Nebrodi, Mora Romagnola, Nero Casentino, Casertana, dei Pirenei di Bigorre. (€28)
The quality of the salumi was excellent, definitely among the best we've ever had.
These went perfectly with the other starter that we ordered, Buffalo Mozzarella from Paestum (€14 for 300g single "ball") with semi dried cherry tomatoes from Pachino.
The roasted cherry tomatoes were beautifully bright and intense, full of rich tomato flavor.
The buffalo mozzarella was substantially "steaky" and had a nice, substantial (for lack of a better word) "mozzarella" flavor. We loved eating random combinations between the prosciutto, tomatoes, and the mozzarella.
Since it was lunch, we opted to order two pasta dishes and no "secondis". Roscioli's pasta dishes are mostly traditional preparations, but made with ultra high quality ingredients. The resultant products take on new life, far surpassing most pasta dishes we've ever had.
I ordered the Spaghettone with Tuna (€16), a simple pasta made from Buzzonaglia (oil packed canned tuna) from Vulcano Island, Taggiasche olives from Liguria, semi-dried cherry tomatoes, and fresh chili.
It was simple yet intensely flavorful, a blend of Mediterranean flavors from the sweet tomatoes, salty olives, and strong tuna.
Bryan, of course, ordered the famous carbonara (€15), which he could not stop talking about . . .
At the end of the meal, they gave us traditional Italian cookies and a chocolate dipping sauce. The dark chocolate sauce was deep, intensely chocolately, and not too sweet. Even though I was full, I happily finished my cookie, dipping it over and over in the luscious chocolate sauce.
Our Thoughts on Roscioli
If I lived locally, I swear I would be stopping by this market every other day, checking out what new cheeses, cured meats, or wines they had on sale. We loved the concept of eating at a restaurant right inside a great food and wine market.
I could totally imagine coming by weekly to the restaurant/wine bar as well. How fun would it be to sip wine, taste a few cheeses, and munch on some crazy good salumi? Or the incredible award-winning carbonara?
At the end of our trip, we both agreed that Roscioli was by far our favorite find of the entire weekend. I loved the idea of starting a meal by grazing my way through a selection of in-season cheese and salumi. Bryan loved the pastas (especially the carbonara), and we both agreed the service was excellent. The waiter was really knowledgeable, spoke fluent English, and recommended some great dishes.
Finally, there's just something really unique and charming (and fun!) about sitting in the middle of a food market.
There's no question. If we come back to Rome again, this will undoubtedly be one of our first stops.
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