For the life of me, I don’t know why more people don’t know about Renato e Luisa. It’s not that people don’t go there. The restaurant is usually full. But when I say ‘people don’t know’ I mean, of course, the regular round of guide books/blogs/forums that English speakers and visitors to Rome turn to.
I admit it took me a while to get there too. I have a habit of trying out a new place for lunch, before I commit to dinner. And Renato e Luisa isn’t open for lunch. As most restaurants have begun to have hours that stretch from almost breakfast to dinner, Renato e Luisa refuses to even accept reservations before 8:30.
But persevere I did. And do. Because not only is the food slam dunk delicious, daily specials offer surprises that are a welcome change from the same old, same old of Roman restaurants.
I almost never look at the printed menu, but wait to hear the daily specials. Which usually presents a conundrum, since I feel like ordering everything.
As usual I started out with an antipasto. These days a lot of restaurants in Rome tend to ignore antipasti, and heap all their attention on pasta. But you know what? I don’t always (actually barely ever) want to have pasta for dinner when I’m out. I’d much prefer to start with a (at least in theory lighter) antipasto so I can then justify ordering a second course.
I chose the polpettine made from tuna and sardines. Light and fluffy, they were breaded and fried, and then served on a bed of pureed celeriac and baby spinach leaves. When was the last time you heard the word celeriac in a Roman trattoria?
Luckily Jane ordered the other antipasto I had wanted: a small sformato made from octopus and potatoes, in a black squid ink sauce, served in a puddle of arugula pesto. I loved the contrast of earthy, inkiness with the bright green zing of the pesto. (I also loved watching Jane carry on conversation while her lips were totally black. But that was an added bonus.)
Domenico of course couldn’t help himself and ordered pasta. Perfectly al dente calamaretti (that’s the pasta shape, not the squid) bathed in a veal and dried porcini ragu.
Since it was Friday, Scott and I went fishy, and both ordered the salmon, which I’d actually had before, and so couldn’t resist. I rarely order salmon in Rome restaurants, since they tend to overcook it, and it becomes bland and boring. Here, though, they make a slit in the filet, slip a slice of smoked provolone in, and then pan sear it just until it is barely done. By the time it comes to the table the heat of the fish has had time to melt the cheese, which comes oozing out as I dig in. A side dish of puntarelle allows me to mention the fact that they always serve a side dish with their main courses (almost non existent in Rome)
Everyone else went meaty, with Domenico ordering the stracotto. A piece of veal roast cooked for hours in red wine until it was completely imbued with the sauce and falling apart. Boyd went old school, with coda alla vacinara, which he managed to clean of every last bit of rich, tomatoey, glutinous meat without ever picking it up with his hands. Both dishes came with what I swear are the creamiest mashed potatoes in Rome.
(FYI, Jane ordered the stracetti, which were delicious. But….stracetti just tend to look like what they are in photographs. ‘Rags’ of meat. )
I’m sorry I don’t have any photos of dessert, beyond the truly excellent home made biscotti. But, as you can imagine, we were beyond full by the time the meal ended. We couldn’t even manage one of their famous molten chocolate cakes to split.
If, after all these photos you’re thinking that Renato e Luisa is ‘fancy,’ it’s not. The prices are very reasonable, and the ambiance is pure Roman trattoria, complete with bright lighting and families with kids and grandparents in tow. It’s also right in the center, on an alley off of Largo Argentina that you probably didn’t even know existed.
Renato e Luisa
Via del Barbiere 25
Open only for dinner. Closed Monday.