Thursday, May 3, 2012
I’m never one to make it to the opening night of a restaurant. Or the opening month for that matter. I have colleagues who rush to the newest place and seemingly blog about it on their way home. I’m lucky in that respect, because that’s usually how I end up hearing about what’s hot and what’s not.
It’s been about a year that I’ve been reading about Cesare al Casaletto. (here, here, here , here and here are just a few of the Italian reviews). And I’ve been meaning to go, really I have. But it sounded so far away (add slightly whiny tone here). I kept reading that it was in Casaletto, which sounded like another city or something.
But as my good friends Betta and Ruth pointed out, Casaletto is just the name of a street, and it’s only a block away from where they live in Monteverde. In Rome. And that wasn’t the only thing to convince me. Last week we were at Flavio Velavevodetto and Flavio himself told me he thought it was the best trattoria in Rome at the moment.
No more excuses.
And just so you know before I continue: I agree with Flavio. It is, hands down, my new favorite restaurant in Rome (sorry Flavio, partly your fault this).
When you do go (and go you will) don’t be put off by the setting. It’s on the ground floor of a nondescript ‘seventies era apartment building. The outdoor terrace looks like an abandoned bar more than Rome’s hottest restaurant.
Which is actually kind of charming.
Inside is bright, simple and cheerful. Oddly hued lilac walls and wooden wainscoting were obvious attempts to tart the place up. But nothing too designy or sleek, which felt just right. In fact, the current owner, Leonardo, took things over a couple of years ago and wisely decided to keep the dining room and ambiance relaxed and simple, while aiming his attention of the kitchen. It feels very much like a neighborhood hang out, complete with families with children and tables of older locals.
Do look at the menu, but also be open to the daily specials. Or don’t. My problem was that once I had read the menu and then listened to Leonardo I wanted to try absolutely everything. Luckily we were four, so were able to do quite a bit of damage.
First up their justifiably famous fritti. In the short time they have been cooking them, their polpette di bollito con pesto di basilico have become one of their signature dishes. If you’re thinking left over meat, rolled into balls, think again. Each small orb is a crispy crunchy fried skin encircling succulent, meaty and roasty tasting beef. With a dollop of perfect basil on top.
Fried Gnocchi. Who knew? What a brilliant idea. And served atop a fondue of caccio e pepe? I could eat this every night.
We all agreed that the paper cone filled with deep fried totani - baby squid - was the best fried fish we had ever had.
Oops, I forgot to mention our wine experience. Fantastic wine list. Again, hard to choose what to order. Lots of natural wines (are you reading this Alice?) and many from very small, hard to find, producers. We chose a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Praesidium. A very small producer that I’d heard good things about. Since I knew we would go through at least two bottles I held back and ordered the 2006, which I think was about 18 euros. When we were ready for the next bottle, Leonardo brought it quickly to the table opened it, tried it, and took it away just as quickly. Something was up. He finally came back, apologetic. His last bottle of 2006 was corked. Could he substitute the 2001 Riserva? But at the same price of 18 euros of course, rather than the 38 it should have been?
Ok. I’ve been going to restaurants in Rome long enough to know that this never happens. Ever. So, thank you Leonardo, your extreme graciousness would have made me love your restaurant even if we had had nothing more to eat at this point.
But we did.
Of course we did.
We ordered two pastas for the table. The new trend in Roman restaurants is to take a classic, and spin it into something even better. Gricia con carciofi is a brilliant idea, because really, how can anything not be improved by artichokes? And as much as I love vignarola, I like it even better tangled up with a mess-o-tagliarini.
Jane and Betta ordered the fish special of the day: a perfectly cooked filet of ombrina. Ruth had a pile of crispy, juicy lamb chops. And me? Of course I went straight for the grilled pork liver wrapped in laurel leaves (which will never look as good in a photograph as it tasted in my mouth).
After this grande abbuffata we all agreed: absolutely no dessert. No way. Until somehow, before we knew what was happening, we ordered the sublime dessert platter. Six of their greatest hits including panna cotta with caramel, two types of crostata (butter made crust!); tiramisu; zabaione and millefoglia. With four spoons. With which, by the end, we were fighting each other with to scoop up the very last bits.
The moral of this story? Don’t wait like I did to eat at this amazing restaurant. I missed out on an entire year of eating here. What was I thinking? I wasn’t. But you can. You have no excuse. At this point you trust me, right?
Cesare al Casaletto
Via del Casaletto 45
Although you could take a taxi there, it's really easy to take Tram number 8, which leaves from Largo Argentina. Get off at Casaletto, and the restaurant is only 1 block away.