Rome may not have been built in a day, but stick to the tourist attractions and it could just about be seen in one. My semester studying abroad started with a family pre-trip to the Italian capital, and by our second day, we were ready to ditch the jacked-up prices at eateries and shops lining famous squares like Piazza Navona or the Vatican.
Rome — especially Roman food — is best down the narrow cobblestone pathways winding ‘round each attraction. In particular, Via di Santa Maria off of Piazza della Rotonda by the Pantheon led us to our first incredible Italian dining experience: La Scaletta degli Artisti.
Seafood caught our attention — that and one incredibly persistent waiter ushering us in from the street, which is pretty common here. Waiters and waitresses stand, menu at the ready, waiting to drag in every tourist that makes eye contact — like the selfie stick vendors but better because, well, noms.
As our first proper meal, Ristorante La Scaletta also presented an opportunity to dust off my Italian speaking skills. Okay, so I ended up ordering French wine, but they still appreciated the effort (Give me a break guys, it was day one).
Once our Cabernet Sauvignon reached the table, I ordered “antipasti” aka appetizers: cold seafood salad, mixed greens, and a waiter-recommended focaccia bread.
The squid and muscles were tender and lightly seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper. The next dish followed suit with crisp slices of carrots bright between mixed greens. A huge focaccia round held our attention as well. At home, the focaccia I know comes thick and doughy with some sort of baked-in tomato. This one was crisp and ultra-thin, speckled with bubbled-up dough that crunched at each bite.
We ordered three different pastas from the “primi piatti” section of the menu (which means “first course,” because traditionally there’s a second course of meat, fish, or cheese, which also means elastic pants are a necessity).
Our waiter suggested a homemade rigatoni noodle with swordfish, eggplant, and tomatoes. It was bomb. Even if you’ve never heard of swordfish or you swore off veggies back when your mom tried to force feed you Brussels sprouts at age five, trust me, this is something to try— not fishy at all, but mild with each ingredient holding its own distinct flavor.
Pasta number two was a “penne arrabiatta,” which essentially means “angry pasta,” hinting at the heat that would add a perfect kick to the sauce. Each noodle was cooked al dente giving the pasta integrity to hold its own flavor. “Al dente” means that the noodles are less cooked than what you’ll usually find in the States. It’s just the Italian way.
Our last pasta dish was homemade lasagna with a meat tomato sauce. Layers of pasta sheets piled high on the plate separated by thin layers of ricotta cheese and spices. Let’s have a moment to recognize how incredible ricotta cheese is in Italy. Like a light, fluffy cloud of happiness bestowed upon us by the gods of cheesy goodness. I suggest it on everything. *swoon*
After our meal, the owner/manager motioned for me to come inside and choose a dessert— naturally I chose two. One was a panna cotta covered in an incredible blackberry fruit sauce and the other was expertly espresso-soaked tiramisu. Neither dish overwhelmed us with sweetness. They both boasted full flavor but the airiness to both dishes finished out our meal similar to the way it began — in elegant simplicity.
Each dish was unique and incredible. I couldn’t get over how much flavor there was in each ingredient as opposed to the over-salted concoctions of my favorite local fast food places back home. Don’t get me wrong, rarely would I ever turn down a late night French fry run, but after tasting such fresh food, I might be inclined to hit up a farmers market or two while I’m back in the States.
Everything we tried was simple and carefully spiced with authenticity and ease. The Roman restaurant had a comfortable atmosphere, a welcome pause from the hectic parade of tourists filling the squares. It had that homey vibe you find at mom and pop restaurants where they make you feel like you’re actually part of “da family.” You can tell that’s how it’s always been.
And even though a hot guy on a Vespa wasn’t waiting for me post-meal, two desserts were, so I think I’m still winning here.
At La Scaletta, the price was right and the food was stellar. They appreciated our efforts to — bear with me here — do as the real Romans do.