Via Gaetano Sacchi, Roma; February 1, 2013—
A COUPLE OF FRIENDS arrived today to spend the weekend keeping us company in Rome, and introduced us to a local restaurant we hadn't visited before — primarily, now I think about it, because it's on the other side of the Viale Trastevere, the main avenue whose tram links "our" railroad station to the Largo Argentina in the Historic Center across the river. In the past number of years, on three visits, we've pretty well stayed in the Santa Maria part of Trastevere, but in the next few days we'll be looking at the east side of the rione.
The Osteria La Gensola, on the piazza of that name, turned out to be more restaurant than trattoria. In fact it revealed to me, finally, just what it is that seems to make that distinction: if on stepping into a place you know immediately what you want, and it is pasta either caccio e pepe or carbonara or alla grigia, with either puntarelle or an artichoke, then you're in a trattoria. If on the other hand you feel compelled to consult a menu, and the possibility of a meat secondo seems almost instinctively advisable, and you might even order a red wine rather than white, you're in a real restaurant. Even if it calls itself a trattoria.
Having consulted the menu, I decided this was in fact a restaurant. I began with rigatoni alla gricia, with egg and not bacon but guanciale or jowl, then went on to a carciofa alla giudia and coda alla vaccinara, a fried flattened artichoke and oxtail in tomato sauce. The artichoke was really splendid, the best I think I've had in Rome, the outer leaves crisp and delicate, the stalk and heart creamy and resonant with flavor.
The oxtail was another matter. I liked the sauce, and the meat fell easily off the first piece; but the second piece resisted every attempt I made at it. I've never realized how different one bone of an oxtail can be from the next — or perhaps these two bones came from completely different animals. Well, the meat was sound and flavorful enough, however difficult of access, and I couldn't really complain.
The place itself was delightful, filled with locals having a good time, pleasantly decorated, comfortable.
Cucumano, Angimbé (Sicily), 2011
•Osteria La Gensola, Piazza della Gensola, 15, Roma; 065816312