I'm so glad to have just discovered Roma Sparita, a bustling restaurant and pizzeria in the heart of Trastevere. Like other tourist spots in Rome, Trastevere is packed with poor culinary choices. Roma Sparita, however, is not one of them.
Situated, with plenty of outdoor seating, on the broad, quiet Piazza Santa Cecilia, the restaurant was, at 10pm on a Wednesday, completely full of Italians. (That's always a good sign). Even so, the host hustled to get our party of two seated. Another waiter asked if someone was helping us. Within three minutes, our table had been cleared, reset, and a menu brought. For a restaurant in Rome–especially a popular, not-expensive restaurant in Rome–that kind of service is rare. Believe it or not.
*[Update, Oct. 2011: In the pursuit of honesty, I have to share that, sadly, this blog post is now completely, um, incorrect. When I wrote this more than a year ago, guidebooks, tourists and (most importantly!) Anthony Bourdain had yet to discover this place. But just a couple of months after this post, Bourdain went (rightfully) gaga for Roma Sparita's cacio e pepe in "No Reservations."
If you've caught this post on my blog about Rome restaurants almost always going south with newfound fame, you know what happened next. More and more tourists started eating here… and the food quality started to slide. The cacio e pepe is still good, but no longer great, and certainly not the best in Rome. Nor is this any longer a "local's place" by any stretch of the imagination. Even worse? Roma Sparita has started taking advantage of tourists who eat here. For excellent cacio e pepe at places that don't rip you off (yet), instead, head to Flavio al Velavevodetto, Trattoria Da Danilo or even Taverna dei Quaranta at the Colosseum. They might not have a fried-parmesan bowl, but they don't rip you off with a selectively-applied service charge, either.]
The food ranged from classic cucina romana to regional variations (beef carpaccio? you don't see that much in Rome). And it more than lived up to expectations. Popping the olive ascolane, a fried mixture of green olives, veal, pork, and breadcrumbs, became tough to stop doing–even knowing a pizza and pasta were on the way.
Then came the good stuff.
The pizza alla norma (shown above), a Sicilian dish with tomato, eggplant, basil, and ricotta salata (a salted, dried ricotta grated onto the pizza), was just right. And Roma Sparita's most famous dish, its tagliolini al cacio e pepe, deserved every accolade. Presented in a fried basket of parmesan, it was the best cacio e pepe I'd ever had. Truly. (To the uninitiated: a traditional Roman dish, cacio e pepe features pecorino romano cheese and black pepper. That's it. Simple, but delicious.)
Even with a good, €15 bottle of Sardinian wine, the bill came out to a little more than €20 per person. Not bad. But it left me with one lingering question: With restaurants with that kind of value in Rome, why would you ever eat here?
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