Roman Holiday Finale

The exciting conclusion of Bene’s Roman adventure…
My final night in Rome, I treated myself to a blowout dinner. Not that I’d been restricting myself previously. But that day at lunch, I managed to only eat 2 pieces of pizza and a trapizzino, a pizza bianca sandwich stuffed with Roman fare like tripe, from a very cool slice joint in Testaccio called 00100. Before dinner, I took a walk through the old Jewish Ghetto to burn off a few calories and regain my appetite. The main thing my stroll accomplished was to remind me I hadn’t eaten fried artichokes alla Giudia this trip.

My final destination, the fish restaurant il Sanlorenzo, was another of my friend Giampaolo’s recommendations. I’d noticed it on a previous trip, all glass doors and stark decor smack dab in the middle of the historic center. Their fish arrives daily from Ponza, an island closer to Naples than Rome but part of Lazio, and Civitavecchia, a coastal town about an hour northwest of Rome. For fresher fish, you’d need to catch it yourself.

I’ve traveled a lot by myself, and I’ve noticed that solo diners often get the short end of the stick. Servers forget about you, and you’re restricted to a selection of wines by the glass unless you’re up for either drinking an entire bottle or paying for an entire bottle without finishing it. In Buenos Aires, a waiter actually whisked away the second chair at my table midway through the meal because another table needed it, leaving me feeling rather unloved and dejected. At il Sanlorenzo, instead, I was treated like a queen by co-owner Enrico Pierri, who runs the place with his wife Elena. The menu offered a tasting option that didn’t quite speak to me, a ton of other dishes that did, a substantial raw bar, and several specials. Indecision! The other problem of dining alone is that you have less to order and no one else’s dishes to taste; your decisions feel weightier. Enrico, who sent out a glass of Paul Goerg Blanc de Blancs with the kitchen’s amuse bouche of fried anchovies and pancetta-cheese fritters, recognized my paralysis and offered to create a tasting menu just for me. And I said, yes, I want to go to there!

I began with a 2007 Luigi Maffini Pietraincatenata, a barrel-aged Fiano from Paestum that showed a lot more complexity than the usual Fianos from Avellino, and a trio of glistening crudi: cod, tuna, and amberjack, seasoned simply with a sprinkling of chives here, a chiffonade of basil there. My second course was a carpaccio of red shrimp, dressed with olive oil and lemon, which tasted like sweet butter of the sea. I made a mental note to get my cholesterol checked back home. My one request for my personalized tasting menu was sea urchin, and next arrived 6 perfect specimens on a bed of ice. Briny, sweet, with a bracing tinge of seaside metallic, they disappeared quickly.

The kitchen’s subsequent gift: a glass jar of squid, octopus, clams, mussels, and shrimp, which my server shook, gracefully emptied onto a plate with some basil, and dressed with a fruity olive oil. By this point I was drinking a 2009 Baroncino Chardonnay, a special mention winner at this year’s Vinitaly. Sea urchin returned with spaghetti, the sea creatures’ richness matching the nutty Chardonnay. Finally, out came a perfect fillet of spigola (that’s sea bass to you) served with lemon-scented potatoes topped with caviar, paired with a Bianco della Castellada, a “super-white” blend from one of Friuli’s most outstanding producers.
My two-course dessert consisted of cold strawberry soup surrounding an island of citrus panna cotta and a very grownup version of a kid’s Nutella sandwich: bread gelato (bizarrely delicious) and Gianduia gelato, served with a mini Nutella sandwich on a bread plate to the side. I wanted a dessert wine but instead wisely opted for a digestion aid in the form of Tre Soli Tre, a single-vineyard Nebbiolo grappa from Lombardy producer Berta. Sated, smiling, and even a little giddy from all that amazing food and wine, I was already planning where to eat on my next trip to Rome.
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