[Editor’s note: In addition to being assistant editor and business manager for Crux, Shannon Levitt is also married to John L. Allen Jr. and, as a result, has extensive experience of the various restaurants Allen describes in today’s guide to blending food and prayer on a Roman pilgrimage. Herein, she offers her own take on several of the eateries he recommends.]
The day we moved to Rome in the summer of 2000 was exciting, and stressful, and frustrating, and tiring, along with about a hundred other adjectives. But the only thing I really remember is the dinner we had that night at Osteria dei Pontefici.
John had already let me in on the secret of buccatini all’amatriciana. That’s what I ordered, but soon found out I could have it with spaghetti instead, which I consider so much better.
After dinner they gave us limoncello in chocolate shot glasses, gratis. After all the stresses of the day, it made for a perfect ending. I still have the photo they took of us somewhere.
“Pontefici”, as we call it, became a place we frequented. They knew what we would want when we entered, though they always checked in case we changed our minds, which we hardly ever did.
They also knew we would eat fast, which comes in handy when you forget to make New Year’s Eve reservations. We could slip in at 8 p.m. for dinner, and I still love them for that!
Upon our arrival in Rome, John introduced himself to a lot of Vatican players, most of whom are priests. He would use me as a way to make the introduction friendlier – something along the lines of, “You have to let me take you to lunch so you can meet my wife.”
That’s how I ended up eating more meals with Catholic priests than any other Jewish woman ever! Many of you know priests, or are priests, and so you know they’re like pretty much everybody else – some are witty and charming, some deadly dull. (We met a lot of journalists too, who generally have great stories to tell, so the ratio of fun-to-boring is often a little higher.)
When I found myself stuck with the dull crowd, I was happy that most of those meals took place at Roberto’s. (It’s formally known as “Al Passetto di Borgo”.)
As soon as we walked in, we would be seated at a table in the section belonging to Claudio, our favorite waiter. (Alas, he’s no longer there, but the food’s the same.) I probably ate buckets of rigatoni alla norcina. Luckily, they also make a great pasta faggioli during the winter. It certainly made those lunches and dinners more palatable.
To all those priests with whom I became friends, thank you for hours of good conversation!
I can’t think of Da Fortunato without thinking of my first meal with one priest in particular, Father Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit based in Rome. He put my mind at ease about learning Italian, while he introduced me to swordfish.
The olive bread is amazing, as are the fat and crunchy breadsticks alongside the usual grissini. And there’s nothing quite like walking out after a delicious dinner into the unparalleled beauty of the Piazza del Panteon.
Taverna Giulia is the place I tell people visiting Rome they have to eat at least once. It has probably my favorite food in all Rome. Plus, now when I go back the waiters like to tell me how I look younger and more beautiful every time they see me!
John has his favorite meal there, and sometimes I would have exactly what he was eating. It’s the first place I had penne alla vodka. But it also has delicious pesto, and the trenette col pesto is worth your while.
They also have a really special dish I never had anywhere else in Rome called pansoti al sugo di noci. Their menu translates it as “big tortellini with spinach and cheese inside and walnut sauce.” I guess that describes it, but whatever “walnut sauce” consists of is pure magic.
John saved Dal Sardo for last, and so will I.
It was in our neighborhood, so it was a place we went generally once a week. The food is great for sure. I didn’t realize that salmon mixed in with pasta and sauce would be good until I ate it there. Their pizza is also one of my regular dishes, as well as a delicious minestrone in the colder months.
John is also right about Dal Sardo’s fizzy white wine. It’s the only place I even like white wine.
But more notable than all of that are the people. Barbara and Giovanni Pietro treated us like family members. True, they made us pay, but still. They always were happy to see us and chat with us. So many restaurants were important to us, but that’s the one that seems the most like home to me.
Every time I talk to John while he’s in Rome, and I’m here in Denver, I always ask how all our restaurants are reacting to the fact that he’s eating at them without me. He always says they’re still great, and he always tells me they ask where I am and when I’m coming back.
It’s a long flight, but with those places and so many others like them at the other end, it’s worth the jetlag!