I previously visited Rome this past December to meet friends from Boston who were vacationing in The Eternal City. We made a point to eat and drink our way through the city on the few evenings we had together in style. It is an amazing experience to meet loved ones halfway around the world. Everything about your interactions is familiar, but your surroundings are not. At all. And, with whom better to explore new places (and new foods) than with your closest friends? During that visit I was introduced to Trattoria der Pellaro and, upon my return this time around, it was high on my list of places to return.
Although it feels like it, tucked away on a partial dead-end on the quiet side of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, away from Piazza Navona, this warm, traditional eatery is not so unknown, as it is mentioned in several tour guides (Lonely Planet Italy and Rick Steves – Italy among them). This probably accounted for the snatches of English floating around the crowded tables. However, I would never let the early (we arrived at 8:30pm) crowd of non-Italians dissuade you, as the locals flooded in around 10pm.
Two questions and one statement were posed upon our entrance into the restaurant (in Italian, which somehow we were capable of understanding): (i) inside or outside (inside)? (ii) red wine or white wine (red)? And (iii) We have no menu, you eat what we bring (ok, let the games begin!). And then the food and wine (included in the prix fixe menu) flowed…
Served family style, like each subsequent course, the antipasti included a selection of incredibly flavorful cured meats (salami and proscuitto that melted in our mouths), fresh tomatoes dressed only in the lightest olive oil and garnished with torn, fresh basil leaves, warm, soupy brown lentils (cooked with what I think was salt, pepper and cumin), green olives and, lastly, crusty, warm Italian bread to soak it all up. It was perfect and delicious. After a long day of traveling and walking through the city, we made quick work of these initial plates.
Next arrived the pasta. Smartly, small servings doled out here kept us from further making gluttons of ourselves. And, for indecisive people like myself, being given tastes of two sauces was fantastic. The German favored the carbonara in the front, heavily accented with black pepper and containing slightly crispy bits of lardon, which provided pockets of smokey, salty bacon-y goodness with each bite. To the contrary, I enjoyed the tomato-based sauce in the back. I hesitate to label, but my best guess is that it was some type of vodka sauce – a bright tomato flavor mellowed with cream and cheese – that coated each noodle, inside and out.
At this point, the kitchen gave us a few minutes before they brought out the main course. It was a good plan. We needed that time to let things settle, ensuring room for the remaining food. When the next set of dishes did arrive, they included thinly sliced, slightly pink roast beef, a small dish of fresh mozzarella, green salad dressed with a bright, lemon-y vinaigrette and homemade potato chips. The chips were so recently out of the fryer that several still sizzled as they sat on the table. The meat was tender and moist, the chips (while needing salt for this American palate) crispy and the salad was refreshing and cleansing, keeping this course from being too heavy after everything we had already eaten.
Lastly was dessert, of which I was unfortunately not able to get a good photo (not without trying – everything just came out the same shade of yellow). A single dish was put between us containing two large wedges of cornmeal cake, topped with apples and vanilla custard. The edges and bottom of the cake were slightly singed and the center still warm and moist, certainly suggesting that it had been baked on-site, along with many others, that same day. A small jigger of mandarin juice followed, an unexpected, but tasty end to the feast that had just been consumed.
That is what this meal was. A home cooked feast. Not food that would win gourmet accolades or Michelin stars, but one that evoked family. This was a meal I could picture eating on a leisurely Sunday afternoon, passing the dishes of lentils or salad down the table so that everyone could try a bite, while joking and laughing with family and friends. It was warm and satisfying on many levels. Moreover, it reminded me how much I enjoy bringing people together over food, and how, although it has been (for me) a long time, maybe it is time to start cooking again.