What's Behind those Fuzzy Curtains? Dining in the Jewish Ghetto
Take a wrong turn and you could miss this food gem tucked away in the Jewish Ghetto. While the flaming red curtains certainly draw attention to this restaurant-cum-cultural society, it took three separate recommendations & trusted local advice to have our first dining experience at Sora Margherita. First, be prepared to wait if you want a table for lunch (although they do take dinner reservations) as we strolled up at 11:45 & and were asked to return at 12:30 for the first round of service- a good move considering we heard rumors of two-hour waits at peak times (ie. pack an umbrella as these folks did as you might be in for a bit of a wait).
[table-waiting à la Romana]
You will be asked to fill-out a "membership card" at the start of you meal for the Sora Margherita Cultural Society (we're guessing for tax purposes as many cafes have the distinction of "book bars" which somehow gives them the right to sell alcohol if they have a few Italio Calvino's lining the walls), and you may or may not receive a menu. In our case, a confident and efficient woman arrived to announce, "Who's having artichokes?". Yes, we were. "And what about mozzarella?" Non. "And do you like cacio e pepe?" Yes. "And what about angenlotti?" Yes, ok. "And how about some chicken?". Well, yes senora, but maybe that's just too much food. "Don't worry, I'll take care of you...". She was gone in a swish in a third attempt to take the order for a group of flustered tourists clearly confused about the lack of a menu and unable to accept our server's "suggestions". This attitude certainly doesn't jive with the energetic vibe of Sora Margherita. Ultimately the staff are there to ensure their solidly Roman fare is enjoyed by all, but this is also a no-mess-around type of place where timing is key with the next batch of diners waiting impatiently on the other side of those fuzzy curtains.
[cacio e pepe]
Indeed we felt like we were dining in a Roman friend's salon, especially after our server complimented us on finishing our artichokes ("Bravi!") & deftly divided our pasta dishes at the table so we could, in fact, manage the oversized portions. Even though you may likely be scolded for not finishing your food (I hid a portion of my artichoke under a napkin after another patron was lectured on the virtues of eating the stem), we did feel warmly taken care of and Sora Margherita ranks near the top of truly Roman experiences.
Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30
I've been carrying around a business card for Le Mani in Pasta for months on a good friend's recommendation and we finally took the tram ride across the river to Trastevere (a big feat if you're living in Monti) and wow, this meal was long overdue. Along with friendly staff, this osteria has a cozy dining area with attentive waiters who seemed to anticipate our every need - which consisted mainly of delicious plate after delicious plate (and some well-chilled Prosecco thrown in for good measure).
We split an antipasto of Carpaccio di Spigola (seabass) con tartufo (topped with shaved truffles) which was happily place on buttered toast-wedges and just simply mouth-wateringly good. I would have loved to order a secondo (second course) but we made a pact to sacrifice a meat dish for dessert (I've got my mind set on their steak with peppercorns for the return visit). We decided to order off the menu of the day, and opted for Spaghetti alla Pescatore which is meant to be shared by 2 or 3 people.
It was certainly a wise choice to save room for dessert, and perhaps a little too giddy from several glasses of il bubbly, we squealed like school children when the waiter placed this sugary wonder in front of us: Tartine di Cioccolato. I'm not sure if the chocolate swirls were meant to be eaten or just an artistic flourish, but I stuck my fork in nonetheless. Heavenly.
Perhaps sensing our unwillingness to leave, a hand swooped down and deposited a napkin full of hot, roasted chestnuts on our table. Did I mention this was an absolutely fantastic meal? I don't remember ever having an occasion to take close-up shots of nuts my entire life, but this finishing touch sure warranted the stares I got from nearby tables. In short, make the trek across the river & down the dark back-alley to Le Mani in Pasta, you won't be disappointed.
Le Mani in Pasta
Via dei Genovesi, 37
PH: 06/ 581 6017
All Roads Lead to Gelateria del Teatro
Behind Piazza Navona, tucked off Via Coronari, exists my favorite gelateria in Rome, Gelateria del Teatro, (judging by the crowds in the summer, I'm far from their only fan). It's a bit off the beaten track, which can make it all the more fun to find, but the real draw has to be the fresh & inventive flavors and the fact that the gelato is truly artigeniale.
Are you interested in combinations like Cioccolato all' Arancia (chocolate with orange), Saliva e Lampone (sage & raspberry), or Riccota, Fico, e Mandorle (ricotta, fig, and almond)? Well, really, who wouldn't be, & during our last visit I just happened to notice that they featured other desserts as well. Thanks to an ambitious Japanese tourist who scooped up 5 bite-sized Pistacchio di Bronte e lampone mousse with biscotto pastries. Then proceeded to eat them all while we waited in line for our scoops (Really, who could blame him).
It's cooled down a bit in the bella cita, but the gelateria has quite a pleasing courtyard in which to enjoy your flavors (notice the plural because you have the option to choose 2 or 3 flavors for your cone or cup. I'd take 4 if I thought my cone would hold up), and then there are the steps leading to the Il Teatro del Via Dei Coronari, where our lovely gelateria takes its name, which make great seats for people watching as the street is usually packed with window-shoppers, families, & marauding Italian teens.
[chic & antique, Via dei Coronari]
The Via itself is worth a stroll as it has swanky antique shops, chic wine bars, with matching prices, and a direct line to Ponte Sant'Angelo and the Vatican. Being the first "straight street of the Renaissance", Via dei Coronari served as a route for pilgrims to St. Peter's Basilica. Coronari meaning rosary sellers in Italian and the street is named after the so-called rosary shops that sprung up along the pilgrim's route.
[strolling, direction St. Peters]
Gelateria Del Gelato
Via di San Simone, 70 (near Piazza Navona)
PH: 06/ 45 47 4880
Pompi, The King of Tiramisù
I've officially gained 5 pounds (or is that 2.3 kilos? who can keep these things straight) this week after a tiramisu splurge at the self-proclaimed (with good reason) Regno del Tiramisù: Pompi. This is by far the best tiramisu I, or anyone I know, have ever had, and the lines stretching out of the cafè on Sunday afternoons can attest to it. I'm not sure what Mr. Pompi is putting in this chocolate & espresso wonder, but he's got a good thing going as it seems that everyone in Rome knows this place. Also, luckily for us, Pompi has other desserts like Nutella Mousse (need I say more) & a wickedly decadent chocolate cake.
Pompi remains the only café I have found in Rome designed for long afternoons of knocking back cappuccinos, gossiping with 7 or 8 of your closest friends (Roman standards here), and enjoying Italian dessert heaven. They have a proper salon where you can sit for hours and not feel the press to down an espresso in 3 swigs while delicately balancing a cornetto in your other hand (my usual morning routine). But the star remains the tiramisù. Even if you arrive late & have to freeze your takeaway tin for and additional 2 hours (as we did on our last outing) before serving, it's well-worth the trek. Take the Metro A to Re di Roma and enjoy.