Via Gaetano Sacchi, Rome; January 23—IN UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY I tend to ask average-guy sorts of people for restaurant advice. Working-class folks; passersby in their fifties at least; local folks for sure. A dog on a leash is a pretty good indication its owner is a local. An old lady with a shopping bag full of groceries can be a good bet.
Today, near the Piazza Navona, I stepped into a delicatessen sort of place. The guy at the cash register looked like he'd been there since 1953. C'e in vicino una buona trattoria semplice? He looked at me thoughtfully. Semplice, he said carefully, and I saw I'd done well to stipulate a simple trattoria. There are plenty of good trattorias in Rome, and probably even more simple ones: I wanted one that was both.
Around the corner, he said, left out the door, then your first left: Da Francesco.
Said and done. I took a quick look at the menu and put it down immediately, and the waiter was right there. Caccio e pepe, I said, and was rewarded with a quick smile and a ben deciso, "Well decided." The others at table took a little longer, and ordered just as well; but I was in the mood for caccio e pepe, grated Pecorino and black pepper. With Carbonara, it's one of the two Rome standbys: this week and next I'll have one or the other every other day. Or a very near equivalent.
This one was not spaghetti, which of course are long extrusions of pasta with a round cross-section. Alas, I forget the name; it starts with a "T"; next time I see it I'll take note. It looked like a pasta alla chitarra, "guitar style," so called because a sheet of fresh fairly wet pasta used to be laid on a set of tight parallel wire strings, then pressed down with a rolling pin, to cut long strands. The resulting cross-section is not round like spaghetti but square, and the pasta holds its sauce better, I think. (Every pasta shape is engineered for a culinary reason, you know.)
The pasta was not made in house but was, as the waiter said, artisinal. Furthermore it was beautifully cooked, and the Pecorino was well chosen. An apple tart made a fine follow-up.
Bianco della casa, Marino, Azienda Agricola Fabi, 2010
•Da Francesco, Piazza del Fico 29, Rome; 06 686 40 09
Dinner was a plate of polenta and broccoletti, kale-like broccoli leaves, cooked by Giovanna at our granddaughter's apartment. Meals taken with family are the best meals.