No single venue earns me more love letters and hate mail than Roscioli, the family-owned gourmet food shop/wine bar/restaurant in Rome’s historic center. I get it. The place is not for beginners and most of its menu items are superfluous. If you’re looking for a Roman trattoria with simple food and quaint atmosphere, this ain’t it. But if you’re after a great wine list, spectacular cheeses and cured meats, a handful of satisfying pasta dishes and an impressive selection of spirits, this is your place–especially if you aren’t on a budget.
Roscioli is mostly amazing. That’s why regulars–the city’s (and the world’s) leading chefs and food experts–place it firmly at the top of their list of places to eat in town. But here, as elsewhere, a good experience is all about ordering properly and managing expectations. Here’s how to make the most of Roscioli. Deviate and you will be disappointed.
-Start with burrata and order it with semi-sun dried tomatoes, which provide a sweet and tangy counterpoint to the creamy cheese.
-If you like fresh cheeses, get some mozzarella di bufala, too.
-Order the mortadella with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s exactly ten times as delicious as it is treif. The salumi plates are great, too, and if you’re down for a splurge, there’s jamón ibérico de bellota.
-Don’t skip the Cantabrian anchovies and butter starter just because they are Spanish and French, respectively. The anchovy-butter combo is totally Roman circa the 1980s, but the high quality European ingredients make it so much better than the original. Butter curls and anchovy filets are served with pane di Lariano, Antico Forno Roscioli’s sourdough bread. The butter comes in two flavors, salted and vanilla. I vacillate between finding the vanilla butter magical and vile, depending on the day. The spaghettone with anchovies and butter, on the pasta menu, is one of the best pasta dishes in town.
-Stick to the primi. The gnocchi, amatriciana and carbonara are ususally great. The cacio e pepe ranges from superlative to inedible.
-Skip the mains and desserts. They are a mess. You’ll get ciambelline with chocolate sauce at the end of your meal, anyway, and if you need to satisfy your sweet tooth after lunch, go directly to Pasticceria Andrea de Bellis. After dinner, Gelateria del Teatro and Carapina are a short stroll away. But regardless of what meal you eat, don’t leave Roscioli before perusing the spirits list.
-The wine list is fantastic (except the offensive presence of Bressan’s wines) and there are some real steals, especially if you steer clear of Tuscany and Piedmont (and resist your server’s attempts to up-sell wines from these regions). The wine lists (Italian and foreign) are online.
-Book well in advance for lunch or dinner. But you can walk in for aperitivo (6-8PM), though you will likely be advised you have to give up the table at a designated time. The benefits of booking a table at lunch or an early dinner? Warm slices of pizza bianca from the family’s bakery down the street.
-Roscioli’s kitchen stays open for lunch rather late by Rome standards, so if you can’t snag a reservation, try swinging by at 3ish and you might get lucky.
-None if the seating is particularly appealing, but the tables near the entrance are horrific. Downstairs can feel claustrophobic. Ask to be seated upstairs near the back for the best case scenario.
-Be prepared for service that ranges from completely chaotic to supremely attentive. The place is too expensive to have such radically inconsistent service, but it is what it is.