Valeriano and I agree about most things.
There are a few exceptions: Brexit; dogs wearing coats; whether Bob Dylan should have won the Nobel Prize; the dangers of electric fans; what causes various illnesses; bidets; eating out at restaurants
Valeriano is not a fan of restaurants. He prefers cooking, eating at home, and not being ripped off for a plate of pasta. It’s an attitude shared by many Italians. During a discussion with my teenage students about whether eating out in Rome was good value, I suggested that it was, “As you only pay something like €10 for pasta.” “€10!” they cried, “That’s too much!” Their reasoning is that you shouldn’t waste money on a basic pasta dish with cheap ingredients. If you can make it at home for a fraction of the price, why order it at a restaurant?
But I live in Testaccio, where paying €9-13 for a primo is standard, and it doesn’t bother me. As an ex-Londoner, restaurant prices in Rome generally seem reasonable. €20 for some pasta, bread, a side dish of vegetables, wine and water? Sounds good to me.
On average, I probably eat out 2-3 times a week. Sometimes I drag Valeriano with me.
Da Carlone, Via della Luce 5
This trattoria in Trastevere was recommended by a friend of Valeriano’s, who enthused about the enormous portions of pasta. It’s a smart, old-fashioned little restaurant in the quiet part of Trastevere, and we were lucky to get a table without booking. The waiter referred to Valeriano as my “marito“, which was a first.
Of course I was going to order cacio e pepe – the delicious, extremely comforting combination of pasta, pecorino cheese and black pepper that I practically live off. Valeriano decided to order it too, and for €26 (“mortacci tua, Carlone”) the waiter brought us an absurdly enormous dish of pasta to be shared. It was for two people, but it could easily have been shared by four.
Because cacio e pepe is such a simple dish, its few ingredients tend to be added in lavish quantities. Un sacco di cacio, un sacco di pepe. I always say there’s no such thing as too much cheese, but there is such a thing as too much pepper, as we discovered at Da Carlone. It seemed like the cook had taken inspiration from the videos on Tasty, dumping fistfuls of pepper into the dish.
“Mortacci tua**, Carlone,” said Valeriano, gulping down water in-between mouthfuls. And to the waiter: “C’e’ tanto pepe.”
“Si chiama cacio e pepe,” the waiter shrugged. “Senza pepe sarebbe…” Yeah, we get it. As the name suggests, pepper is a fundamental ingredient of cacio e pepe. But in this dish, Valeriano joked, there was enough pepper to hospitalize someone.
20 minutes later, an ambulance arrived. An elderly lady at another table was taken out for a check-up. Meanwhile, a band squeezed themselves between the tables and performed traditional Roman folk songs, serenading us as Valeriano coughed and I inhaled the remaining pasta.
Would Valeriano eat there again? No. Would I? Probably. I recommend Da Carlone if you’re extremely hungry and feel like a challenge.
A Japanese restaurant, Prati
Japanese food is very popular in Rome. For a long time, I couldn’t understand it. Why were there so many Japanese restaurants in Rome when there were hardly any Japanese immigrants? Chinese restaurants made sense – lots of Chinese people living in Rome. But as Japanese food is no better than Thai or Indian food, for example, the Japanese restaurants popping up all around the centre didn’t make much sense to me.
Even the Italian teenagers I know – those who firmly believe in the supremacy of Italian food, even distrusting foreign food as pleasant and inoffensive as hummus – can’t get enough of sushi. Why?
Another student of mine explained that the sushi trend began in Milan. One good Japanese restaurant opening in Milan was enough to create a trend in Milan, which has since been copied in Rome. Although I don’t deny that Japanese food can be really good, it seems that the prevalence of Japanese restaurants in Rome has more to do with fashion than the superiority of the cuisine.
Late last night, on a whim, Valeriano and I decided to try a Japanese restaurant. We were in Prati – the upmarket neighbourhood near the Vatican – and felt like splashing out, and trying something else for a change. I eat Japanese food occasionally, but Valeriano had never even tried sushi.
I was a little apprehensive, convinced that he wouldn’t like it. While he appreciates Indian and Lebanese food, somehow I just couldn’t see him enjoying sushi. I couldn’t see him appreciating the restaurant either. It was a stylish, slightly pretentious place with black walls, dim lighting and an indoor fountain. In the toilets there was a fancy, waterfall-style tap and 360 degree mirrors that gave you a view of yourself from every angle. Seeing yourself in profile can be a bit disconcerting sometimes, and I’m not sure it’s the ideal bathroom experience, having a minor existential crisis while you wash your hands. (“Is that what I really look like from the side? Is that how other people see me? Who am I?”)
We were both a bit out of place, with our scuffed motorbike helmets, me accidentally wearing my cardigan inside out, Valeriano in his Joy Division t-shirt. He had no idea what to order, and I wasn’t sure either. I’m not used to sushi menus without pictures.
In the end we ordered miso soup, edamame beans, a rice dish with vegetables and fish, a sushi/sashimi mix and a bottle of white wine. Valeriano found everything disgusting apart from the wine, and, much to my surprise, the miso soup, which he declared buonissima. I thought everything was just about okay, but not exceptional. I’ve had much better sushi in Rome, and given the restaurant decor and prices, I’d been expecting something a bit more special.
“Mortacci tua,” said Valeriano when he saw the bill. We saw our waiter not-so-discreetly snorting cocaine behind the bar. “No wonder it’s so expensive. Our money pays for the furniture, the fountain and his cocaine habit…”
To conclude: Valeriano’s first and last sushi experience. I wouldn’t recommend the restaurant, but Temakinho (Prati and Monti) and Sampei (Viale Regina Margherita) are very good for sushi. If you like that kind of thing…
** “mortacci tua” is a very Roman expression that could be translated in a myriad of ways – “fuck you”, “son of a bitch”, “bastard”, “motherfucker”. More literally, it means “fuck your dead relatives” and it ranges from extremely offensive to comical depending on the context. As an exclamation, it’s “mortaaacci tuuuuua”, uttered in a tone of outrage and disbelief. If you want to say “fuck their dead relatives”, it’s “mortaaacci looooro”.