Bene’s next installment finds her visiting Ristorante L’Arcangelo. I’ll spare you puns about the food being heavenly, but I couldn’t resist thisFra Angelico fresco of The Annunciation. (The Archangel Gabriel — get it?)
When I moved to Rome in the mid-90s, I witnessed initial sparks of a food revolution. The Slow Food movement, which began in Italy’s Piedmont region, was making inroads, and a handful of restaurateurs were trying to wake the Eternal City up from its eternal reliance on tired trattorie. Fifteen years later, I found a really exciting culinary energy in the city, with more and more chefs successfully putting their own spin on Roman cuisine without ever abandoning old favorites completely. A great example of this was Ristorante L’Arcangelo, where chef Arcangelo Dandini breathes new life into the classic dishes, techniques, and ingredients of Rome and the surrounding area.
My companion, John, and I started with a glass of St. Paul’s Gewurztraminer and Casale Certosa Convenio Malvasia di Puntinata (again sticking to my “drink local” adage), respectively, as we admired our amuse bouche of lentils from the Lazio town of Onano, cooked simply in a dark, rich, tomato-based sauce. We split an incredible potato-cheese torte, smoky with mackerel and grilled rosemary, with marinated beets providing acidity and color, and also shared fried nuggets of rabbit with raisins, pine nuts, ramoracce, wild greens found in the Roman countryside, and croutons made from sweet fette biscottate, packaged crisp toasts that are a staple of the Italian breakfast table, such as it exists. During our starters, we moved into the bottle we’d selected, a 2006 Montevertine, a Sangiovese-Canaiolo blend I had way higher hopes for. It should have been complex with a long finish, but it never seemed to open up; it was just, well, okay. Maybe in a few years.
John and I shared one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten: thick spaghetti with aglio rosso (“red garlic”), grape must, and extra-aged Parmigiano. I have no idea what they did or how they did it, only that these three ingredients came together in an astoundingly delicious way. We went our separate ways with course #3, John choosing the pigeon special (evidently the mascot of the week), and me going with what was billed on the menu as an “aromatic torment,” which turned out to be small tasting portions of anchovies with butter, a brioche-like sweet bread, and a dusting of ground coffee; roast quail with lavender and cicerchie, a legume related to the chickpea; porchetta; and unctuous oxtail, another staple of Roman cooking. Our dark chocolate, turmeric-infused dessert was nicely paired with a highly-spiced, herbaceous Barolo Chinato from Teobaldo Cappellano, whose ancestor apparently invented the stuff.
Riding back to my hotel on the back of John’s moped, I reflected on the dinner, which was both totally Roman and one step removed. I felt like I’d seen an old friend who had gotten a great new haircut: same friend, just a little spruced up.