Al Moro is this American expat's favorite restaurant in Rome. For the food, for the scene, for the feeling.
ROME – Perhaps because I grew up with a Roman nonna who spent most of her time convincing her nipotine americane that Rome is the only city in the world worth living in due to its millennia of history, I spend most of my days searching for a Rome of the 21st century, one wherein electric buses take me to cutting-edge contemporary galleries and haute couture means fashion shows in ancient ruins. However, in my heart — and, more importantly, in my stomach — I am my nonna: a Roman traditionalist who needs nothing more than carbonara and a carciofo to agree that, yes, the world does revolve around Rome.
Never at the top tier of high cuisine, eating Roman is neither an art nor an insult. It is merely an institution when understood properly. To paraphrase every guidebook and gastro-tour, Roman cuisine is basic, made up of local ingredients simply combined for comfort, served by rightfully proud waiters. It is not mind-blowing and it is not rude. And it is definitely not Eat, Pray, Love, and even less Eat, Pay, Leave.
With my only expectations a good plate of pasta and impeccable service, I walk towards Trevi Fountain, the quintessential Roman must-see in a neighborhood of tourist traps and trinkets. By definition, there should be nothing to brag about here. But this is Rome, a city of contradictions, and my heart belongs to Al Moro.
From the minute I was first handed the typed menu — from a vintage Olivetti Lettera 32? I couldn't help but wonder — I fell in love with Al Moro for every facet of its menu: seasonal dishes like fried artichokes, puntarelle, ovoli salad (rare October mushroom with shards of groviere), and its indomitable staples like spaghetti al Moro (a piccante reinterpretation of carbonara) and grilled meat and fish. I have an irrepressible crush on the white-haired waiters in formal jackets who will not offer artichokes or any other vegetable if not in season and will look you up and down to aptly assess how much fish you should eat.
The smallish dining rooms, all three, are like home, with clothed tables placed with Al Moro's chic flatware and walls covered with framed newspaper clippings and photos. The tiny powder room is my favorite place to overhear a tesoro or amore from the front room VIPs. Of course, I've heard the whispers that all non-Italians are placed in the back dining room. This I cannot confirm, but I happily reserve the front to see Italy's politicians, literati, and girlfriends. Where else could I have a front row seat to Italy's top fashion while eating unforgettable spaghetti with vongole?
Vicolo delle Bollette 13