Tuesday, October 2, 2012
If you’ve ever checked in at Chowhound for advice on Rome restaurants then you probably know that there are a few of us expats that regularly chime in with our musings. Although Vinoroma, Tavole Romane, and Gillian show up regularly, the loudest of the bunch seem to be me, Maureen and Katie.
All three of us write about food regularly for publications like the New York Times, Food & Wine, etc. and Katie and I have both written apps. So we are all ‘professionals’ when it comes to mouthing off. And while we are all friends and all see each other at various events and restaurants around town (Rome is small!) we definitely have our own distinct opinions when it comes to where to eat. Maybe it has to do with the fact we’re all born in different decades? Also the fact that we’ve all spent different amounts of time living here. Whatever.
When it comes to recommending our favorites (as well as the places to avoid) we tend to stick by our guns.
Which is why I want to say right here, right now, Maureen, forgive me for not listening to you when you repeatedly recommended Checchino over and over to inquiring Chowhounders.
I admit it. I had based my negative opinion on two meals over a dozen years ago. I hadn’t been back since, even though you said I should.
My memory was that it was overpriced, stuffy and the food kind of boring. Yes, I knew it was supposed to have a fabulous wine list, but...that usually isn’t my thing anyway.
But a few weeks ago a friend was in town on an expense account, and wanted to take us somewhere ‘special’ where he could have authentic roman food, but with extraordinary wines.
So I decided to give Cecchino one more chance. Because while I love Perillli and Flavio dearly, neither is that great on the wine side of things.
First of all my memory served me correctly on the stuffy front. At least at dinner the place a bit grim feeling: brightly lit, with a few tables full of various varieties of tourists.
And the service was a bit on the weirdly formal side too.
But I’ll get right to the food part of things, since that is the real reason I”ll be heading back.
We started out with a trio of antipasti to split, and headed directly into Testaccio territory. Crostini with guanciale looks simple but was a harbinger of things to come. Simplicity brought to the sublime by the drop dead level of quality. Just the best guanciale I’ve had in recent memory. Which is kind of what you want, right? Meaty and rich, not too salty, and extremely piggy. On a thin slice of pane di lariano, toasted just enough.
Next up insalata di zampi. While all of the Testaccio restaurants talk up a good innard story, rarely can you find something as down-to-Earth, old fashioned yet as ethereal as this. A ‘salad’ made of veal trotter, boned and tossed with a tepid mix of celery, carrots and beans and dressed with salsa verde.
Then fagioli con le cotiche, just because they were on the menu and how often do you see that?
I went very old school / boarder line country club fare and ordered the straciatella next. I figured any restaurant that served bollito was a good choice for anything broth related. I was right.
The dish I would gladly eat everyday was the rigatoni alla pajata. Again, while most Testaccio restaurants do serve this, I rarely order it since it usually comes with a few measly squiggles of veal intestine thrown into a tomato sauce. Checchino does it right, with the ratio of rigatoni to pajata being about 50/50. The sauce tasted like pajata, just like it should, with a healthy dusting of sharp pecorino.
Domenico, being Domenico, ordered trippa alla romana. Set down on the table the piping hot dish sent out a blast of mint, just the way a good roman restaurant should make it (but rarely does).
The highlight of the meal (at least for me) was the mixed grill of (get this) pajata, kidney, sweet breads and liver. All crispy, crunchy, salty and cooked till just barely done. Never having had grilled pajata before, I found it a transformative experience. Tender curls of veal intestine, still filled with milk, which had undergone a miraculous change by being lightly grilled. This is definitely the dish to come to Rome to order, you offal fiends out there.
And right here, I have to tell you Maureen: had you mentioned this dish when rhapsodizing about Checchino I might have heeded your advice and not wasted all these years in an offal wasteland.
Oh yeah. The wine. It was great and made my friend very happy. In fact we enjoyed our wine choices so much that after the first couple of bottles I forgot to write things down (that happens). Sorry.
Moral of the story? That I should listen to my colleagues more closely. So thank you Maureen, for finally convincing me to give Cecchino one more chance. And Katie? Who knows, maybe I’ll even make the trek out to the Prenestina to eat at that Ethiopian place you keep talking about.
Checchino dal 1887
Via di Monte Testaccio 30
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