After spending few days in Roma doing the requisite tourism visits; staring up in awe at the Pantheon, navigating the narrow, crooked streets in search of ancient fountains and traipsing through the Vatican, we were ready for a Real Roman Adventure. That adventure began, like all good adventures, with food. My mentor Giampaolo Gravina suggested we have dinner at La Sagra del Vino. He has been a resident of Rome for many years, has owned a restaurant himself there, and now writes and reviews restaurants for many important publications, including the Gambero Rosso. When Giampaolo suggests a restaurant, you know without a doubt, it’s going to be good.
The restaurant is located somewhere just outside the Vatican walls, and even late on a Wednesday evening it was PACKED with people (Romans, not tourists!) The kitchen is run by the family’s matriarch, while the customers are corralled by her son, grandson and grand-daughter. I fact, as I understood it, the only person working in this restaurant who is NOT a part of the family, is a charming young man named Sandro Bonvissuto. Sandro also happens to be the author of one of Italy’s most interesting recent works of modern fiction, a fascinating tome called “Dentro”. With a cast of characters like this, dinner was shaping up to be a highly entertaining affair.
The menu is small, highly traditionally Roman, and completely affordable. We settled on a few dishes including a bowl of pasta e fagioli, grilled lamb, a couple of Roman pasta specialties, and a selection of seasonable vegetables. As predicted, this dinner was one of the highlights of our Roman tour.
I love places like this, where the restaurant’s culture is so deeply embedded there’s no apology when something particular is not available. At La Sagra del Vino, what Mamma cooks, is what you’re eating! Giampaolo inquired about ordering the pasta dishes with spaghetti instead of Rigatoni. Sandro responded, “Tonight, we have RI-ga-to-ni, Ri-GA-to-ni, and as usual, Ri-ga-TO-ni!” With flourish and a handsome smile, or course.
Rigatoni it was!
And to drink? Well thanks to Giampaolo and his seemingly never-ending supply of wine, we drank two exceptional bottles that night. First we opened the inimitable and singular bottling by Nanni-Cope. I think Giampaolo found a little satisfaction and pride in the fact that an American importer had been smart enough to find this jewel of a winery and bring it to the US- I had just tasted the wine at Bäco Mercat in Los Angelesa few months ago! The wine was just as fascinating as I remembered it to be- deeply dark and full of layered flavors. A saline, mineral nose all of which really does make me think of Campania and all of its colorful plumage.
We also opened a stunning bottle of Barbaresco from a producer I had never heard of before: Punset. Punset is located in Nieve, a collection of vineyards owned by the Macarino family, whose winery is now directed by Marina Macarino. All I can say is, this wine was everything to love about Nebbiolo. Bright, alive and bursting with rose petals, violets and strawberry.
What more can you ask for than a warm, bustling restaurant full of happy people, a perfect plate of pasta and a few good bottles of wine?
While I was completely enchanted by Rome and all of her beautiful antiquity, I didn’t really relax until I sat at the table that night.