Our arrival was inauspicious: the city was dead (it was late on Christmas Eve, after all, in the city surrounding the Holiest of Holies and with a people that, though they may drive like the spawn of Satan and have little use for marital fidelity, they will spend all Natale shut up in their homes with nonno, nonna, parents, cousins, neighbors, whoever); I had somehow booked us into a “bed and breakfast” (there were literally both available to us, but whether the place actually qualifies as a B&B proper is debatable) waaaaay outside the center, in the unfortunate district of Garbatella; and we woke up the next morning to rain. And pretty much everything was closed.
Our initial plan on Christmas morning was to hunt down the good pizza place in the Ghetto (we were smart enough to realize that not ALL Romans were observing the holiday), but when the locals and the local police failed to help us find the street it was on (we later found out we had actually walked through it at least three times), we gave up, made a reservation for dinner at Giggetto and then almost headed to another part of the city in my desperation and hunger to find a quick bite to eat. We wandered past and then into Dal Pompiere as the anxiety was growing in my head. I was put off by the English-translated menu posted outside (but then realized later that there’s probably no restaurant left in Rome that doesn’t do that) and the waiter that had wandered downstairs in a starchy uniform. And there wasn’t a Slow Food snail sticker on the door. But Steven, equally desperate and hungry, persuaded me to give it a shot.
And boy, am I glad he did. My anxiety ebbed away once I reached the top of the stairs and noticed all the families (Italian families!) that crowded — happily and noisily, as they do — around the tables in the spacious dining rooms (for there were a few). And Dal Pompiere turned out to make the best bucatini all’amatriciana and puntarelle we had during our entire stay in Rome. We sampled at least three other specimens of the pasta, and none were nearly as perfectly, toothsomely cooked, with just the right sweetness and acidity to the sauce. All the others (at Ne Arte Ne Parte, Da Bucatino, and somewhere else) either had that weird mustiness that tomato sauces can sometimes get and the guanciale or whatever they were using was cooked to mushy, flavorless stringiness. The puntarelle: young and tender, crisp and succulent, with an anchovy sauce that was roughed up just enough to retain a pleasing chunky consistency — unlike the sludge we received elsewhere — and funky enough to point up the citrus quality of the vegetable. We ate it all up.
And from there, Rome turned out to be okay. The sun came out. I started beating Steven at Boggle. We discovered that Garbatella had an excellent pub filled with students from whatever university is nearby and offered a surprisingly wide selection of whiskeys. Great wallpaper, too (it was like someone had lucked into an interior decorator’s fire sale and decided what the hell, let’s throw all these colorways together). The line for Da Baffetto pizza wasn’t that long (though the wait once we put the order in sure was). Da Baffetto pizza was GOOD. The Vino e Olio bar that Malcolm recommended was pretty near perfect. We only regretted not making it to dinner at Il Pagliaccio across the street. We ate coda alla vaccinara, coratella, and many, many fried artichokes (Pompiere’s were also the best in this category). Da Bucatino had an amazing antipasto spread for lunch. Giggetto wasn’t all that or a bag of chips. (I maybe would have preferred chips.) We got a little too excited at Volpetti and couldn’t stop from buying a few too many things to eat in the car on our way through Basilicata.
I don’t know if Steven likes Rome any more now than he did before (which wasn’t very much). Hell, I don’t know if I do either. But we sure left a few pounds heavier.