I hadn’t heard of it when I first visited Rome some twelve years ago, but whoever first coined the phrase was genius. The ‘holy trinity of pasta’ here is a sensitive subject among locals and constantly exploratory for anyone living or visiting Rome. L’amatriciana, Carbonara, and Cacio e Pepe. And occasionally a fourth player, Gricia. While there are some similarities, each pasta is distinct. I decided pretty early on that L’Amatriciana was my favorite (with Carbonara as a very close second).
Originated from the small town of Amatrice of the Lazio region, this traditional pasta has only 4 ingredients - tomato sauce, olive oil, Pecorino Romano cheese, and guanciale (pork cheek). It’s a simple peasant dish but the taste is anything but. While you can sometimes find it throughout Italy, L’Amatriciana is on every trattoria and osteria menu in Rome.
When my first plate was served to me, it was reminiscent of the Sunday suppers I had growing up in Brooklyn. Of course, I wouldn’t dare make the comparison on quality and taste (being Italian-American) but the general appearance of the sauce came pretty close.
Many places claim to have the best – too many for me to possibly sample. So, I asked my friends, local Romans and fellow foodies who of course, already had a list. Like me, they couldn’t definitively decide which restaurant was their favorite, but they did manage to narrow it down to 3 places.
I had been to the first place, quite accidently. Flavio Al Velavevodetto had two locations, one in Prati and one in Testaccio. But I think I prefer their Carbonara there, which is perhaps one of the best in the city. The second place, I literally tried to go every weekend for the span of 3 months, but every time the lines were too long and I was too hangry to wait. I finally made it to Da Enzo Al 29 in Trastevere a mere 6 months later and its reputation and the lines finally made sense. But was it the best? Although pretty damn good, I still wasn’t convinced that I had found the “place”.
That was until the other weekend. It was the perfect fall day so I spent its entirety walking around Rome – starting from my apartment in Basilica San Paolo to Circus Maximus, and then to the Colosseum. By now I was getting a little tired and hungry rightfully so when I decided to stop in Trastevere. At first, I was just looking for a place to rest my legs and enjoy a glass of wine, when I passed by the infamous Osteria ‘Zi’ Umberto. This was the last of the three places on my friend’s list but I was never able to find the restaurant before. It was tucked away in a little corner behind the bustling Piazza Trilussa. got so excited I almost ran into the place but quickly learned they weren’t yet open. They said to come back at 7:30 which I of course did, only to find out that they were totally booked. But they put my name down for 9pm.
I got so excited I almost ran into the place but quickly learned they weren’t yet open. They said to come back at 7:30 which I of course did, only to find out that they were totally booked. But they put my name down for 9pm.
Sadly, I couldn’t remember when I had last enjoyed a plate of my favorite Roman pasta. That’s probably why I had a sudden craving come on so strongly last weekend.
A bit late for me to eat a huge bowl of pasta but I had waited so long – and I had just walked around Rome for 5 hours so I was okay with it.
As I was waiting outside for them to clear my table, I heard my friend’s voice. He had brought some guests who were visiting to his favorite spot. They invited me to join them but I had some work to do so off to my table I went. My friend said to come and join them once I was done, figuring I would be, well before them. Boy were we wrong – I ended up practically closing the place down! I started with the zucchini flowers which I hadn’t had in a while. They were good but I purposely didn’t finish them, wanting to save room for this famed bucatini l’amatriciana. The spacing was perfect, as it allowed me to finish my first glass of wine, wetting my appetite even more. A few minutes after ordering my second glass, my plate/dish had arrived. It was a sight. I took several pictures at various angles and then dove in. It took me about an hour but I nearly/almost completely finished it/cleared my plate/dish. But the staff let me linger. By now, my friend came by to say that they too, were almost done with their meal and were planning on going for a walk afterwards for an after dinner drink or some gelato. Not able to put another thing in my stomach, I agreed to join them for their passeggiata. I told him I would meet them outside after I got my check. I would never go out to meet them all. The waiter came back a few times for everything but my bill. The first time was to see if I wanted dessert. The next was some limoncello, and then he dropped off a tin of homemade cookies before walking away. After another half hour he came back. I figured he was going to take back the cookies but he just poured me some more limoncello.
Each time, forgetting to ask him for the bill. My friend came back in twice more during this time. Seeing that I was in good hands, and wasn’t leaving anytime soon, he said goodbye/bid me farewell.
By now I had been talking to the staff for so long, I swear my Italian was improving. Or it could have just been the limoncello. I felt so at home that I totally didn’t realize that the entire restaurant had cleared out and that they were cleaning up. So I finally thought it was the right time to ask for the check. But it still didn’t come.
I decided to leave my table and sit a little closer to everyone. At this point, they had made some café as they were, and offered me some. I offered to help put up the chairs, but they wouldn’t allow it/hear of it.
This was beyond hospitality – I felt like I was at one of my cousin’s houses for dinner – except they would have made me help clean up after. The lights were closing….
Finally, at midnight I was about to pay my bill. We exchanged goodbyes like you would do with your extended family members.
Perhaps the best meals I’ve had in Rome to date/as of yet – outstanding food and people to match.
Was it the best L’Amatriciana though? To date, yes. But I would nevertheless continue my search, just in case.
Definitely as of yet. But I guess I would have to keep searching….
I guess I’ll just have to continue my search….
Going to see my friends again tonight!
Tie into Eden Walks Trastevere Food Tour
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