Several months ago, a friend of mine – a notorious madman in our circle – interrupted one of his patented rants to tell me: Eva, if you want to eat the best spaghetti carbonara ever, you need to go to La Carbonara. I don’t know where it is, but it’s in Rome, and I don’t remember how much you pay, but it’s worth it. His recommendation failed to make much of an impression on me, especially given the fact that mere seconds before, he had been criticizing my attitude towards men. I didn’t think about his random outburst until a couple of weeks ago, when I was wandering through the skewed streets of Rome near the Cavour metro stop and saw this:
Who was I to sneer in the face of destiny, especially when I was starving?
La Carbonara is a family-run hostaria in the heart of Rome. It has been serving traditional Roman cuisine at 214 Via Panisperna since 1906. Donna Teresa – the Rossi family matriarch, nicknamed La Marescialla (The Marshal) – is the heart of the establishment. The vibe of La Carbonara, as in most hostarie, is relaxed, simple, and slightly romantic – plaster arches and cozy tables adorned with single red tulips. The walls are lined with wine bottles and entirely covered in triumphant graffiti, mostly shout-outs to Andrea, one of the Rossi family’s scions.
I entered the hostaria hoping for a simple plate of spaghetti alla carbonara – after all, what else would one eat at a place named after one of Rome’s signature dishes – but one glance at the reasonably priced, old-school Roman menu tempted me to change my mind. Spaghetti all’amatriciana, mayhap? Spaghetti cacio e pepe? Pasta e ceci? Or maybe some of the more inventive dishes … like the gnocchi in (be still my heart) truffle sauce…? I hemmed and hawed until one of the waiters asked if I was ready. I told him I was torn. He said: If it is your first time here, I must recommend the spaghetti alla carbonara. If you’ve never had it here, you really must try it. I was sold, and even a bit ashamed for having entertained thoughts of ordering anything else. I also ordered an appetizer and a dessert, which is something I rarely, if ever, do when eating out. But when in Rome, my friends. When in Rome.
My meal at La Carbonara:
- A carciofo alla giudia
- Spaghetti alla carbonara
My carciofo alla giudia (a Jewish-style artichoke) was almost too beautiful to eat; a delicately crispy fried green sunburst on a plate. I took my sweet time with it, eating it crackly leaf by crackly leaf, until I reached the tender, flavorful heart inside, saving the stem for last.
As I chewed, I took note of what the other patrons were eating. A Japanese couple to my left had clearly asked for a sampling of Rome’s most famous dishes – not listed on the actual menu. An English couple to my right was indulging in a plate of prosciutto e melone and two large goblets of red wine. The hostaria’s cantina boasts wines from most regions of Italy, as well as wines from Argentina, France, and Spain. I also noticed that several members of the waitstaff spoke English. As I watched my fellow patrons and cleaned my plate, the main event made its way to my table:
So how was the famous spaghetti alla carbonara at La Carbonara in Rome? Turns out, my madman friend was onto something. Spaghetti carbonara is a relatively simple pasta dish, its condiment containing just egg yolks, guanciale, black pepper, and pecorino cheese. Yet every rendition I’ve tasted has been different. And I don’t know what they did to the particular plate they served me, but this is what happened:
And I’ve been dreaming about it ever since – even going so far as to make up a batch myself, hoping to satisfy my craving (no dice). How do you make such a simple dish taste so great? I’m not even sure if I want to know.
Tiramisu – the sweet, creamy end to my fantastic meal. There were chocolate chips inside the filling, adding an interesting, delicious texture to the usually smooth dessert.
My three-course meal came out to €17, including a bottle of sparkling water. My food was served in a timely fashion by a gentle and friendly staff. The resulting food coma was most pleasant. Just goes to show you, sometimes it pays to listen to madmen.
Address: Via Panisperna, 214 00184 Roma Italia
Have you been to La Carbonara Hostaria in Rome? Share your comments below!