When is a restaurant not really a restaurant?
When it’s a “cultural association.”
We get a little lost, trying to find this place, wandering in Rome’s Ghetto neighborhood. In fact, we have to stop and ask someone for directions and end up back in a Piazza where we’d just been five minutes before. It’s no surprise because this place has no sign or visible entrance, unless you know what you’re looking for. Stand in the Piazza delle Cinque Scole and look for the doorway with the long red ribbons/ropes (the kind used to keep flying insects out). See it? Then look closer at a metal plate on the wall next to the doorway and you’ll see that someone has hand written “Sora Margherita” on it.
There is a gentleman standing in the doorway, policing all who dare to enter. We ask for a table for four. He hesitates and tells us we will have to wait about 20 minutes. It’s a little after 1:30PM and the small place is packed with people. We sit in the sunshine on a couple of folding chairs and wait, watching the crowd of mostly locals come and wait too. We chat for a while with a guy, also waiting, who teaches at a nearby school. He tells us “everything is good” here.
Finally they are ready to seat us and we squeeze our way to the back room and to a table for four. We’re asked if we’ve been before and when we say we have not, we’re given little cards to fill out to join the “cultural association.” Apparently, this is how they get around following certain rules and inspections governing restaurants. We are presented with a hand written menu on brown butcher paper.
We select a little of everything from the menu to try. The grilled and marinated eggplant is cooked to perfection. The typical carciofi alla giudea (a fried and flattened artichoke) is wonderful. Usually I have not liked this version as much as the marinated alla romana, but here it was wonderful, crispy and tender at the same time.
We get an order of agnolotti (a stuffed pasta like a ravioli) which comes filled with beef. We’d ordered it with a sugo di carne sauce (a tomato sauce with beef). If I’d realized the filling had meat in it, I would have ordered it with a different sauce, like pesto. Almost all the pastas came with a choice of sauce.
We also order the rigatoni di pajata (pronounced pa-ya-ta), which I love, but is not something for everyone. In fact, our server clarified that I knew what I was ordering when I asked for it, just like when I had it at another restaurant last year.
A note about “pajata”: Rome is known for it’s “fifth quarter” food. Whatever was left after the butchers took the prime cuts to sell, the poor would cook up. Of course, some of the best dishes evolved this way, oxtail, osso bucco, sweetbreads, tripe, etc. Warning; this is not for the squeamish, but it is really tasty.
Rigatoni con Pajata is short tubes of pasta cooked in a tomato sauce with veal tripe. The intestines are cut in short sections to mimic the shape of the pasta. In addition, the veal has suckled, and the milk is left in the intestines to cook into a sort of “cheese”. Ok, I can feel you cringing now, but let me tell you, it is really, really good.
To round out the main meal, we get an order of meatballs and an order of eggplant parmesan. The meatballs are probably the weakest dish of the meal; they seem like they have too much bread crumb in them or something to alter the texture and make them less “meaty.” The eggplant parmesan is very good. I would have liked to have ordered another meat dish to try.
We order dessert (cheesecake with chocolate and peaches in red wine) and while waiting, we notice the man across from us has received a plate of chunks of what appears to be Pecorino or Parmesan cheese. He sees both T. and me eying the plate (me with curiosity and she with cheese lust in her heart) and holds the plate toward us, offering us some. We politely decline. He insists. We decline again. He won’t take no for answer and gets up from his seat and forces us each to take a piece of cheese. It’s very strong, sharp and incredibly salty. Later he tries to offer us more, along with other items from his table and we have to try and explain how full we already are. We leave, happy and satisfied.
Lunch for four, including a liter of house white wine, a liter of water and service, is 80€
Sora Margherita, Associazione Culturale; Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30. Tel:06 6874216
For dinner we decide to do something in “our” neighborhood, Trastevere, and head out to Dar Poeta pizzaria. Inside they are full and it’s too cold to sit outside. We wait a few minutes and finally they tell us to come in. We find ourselves being led to a basement dining room, where we sit for the entire meal, alone. This ticks me off a bit and I wonder why the other people (clearly local) waiting for a table inside are not brought down to the basement as well.
From a restaurant operator’s perspective, I’m sure they just wanted to give us a table, any table, and I really want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t putting us down there just because we were tourists. Still, it felt a bit lame and we are the only people down there for our entire meal.
Fortunately, the pizzas, the crust especially, turn out to be really good.
We have one pizza with zucchini flowers, mozzarella and anchovies, one with sausage, mushrooms and mozzarella, and one with potatoes, sausage and mozzarella. The crust is crispy and chewy at the same time and the quality of the toppings is very high.
There was a lot left over, and while getting a “doggy bag” is not very common in Italy, we get the remains of our pizzas to go because we see people leaving with boxes and figured it’s acceptable here.
Three pizzas, 1 liter of aqua con gas, ½ liter of wine, 2 large beers, and 1 small beer was approx. 80€. Dar Poeta, Vicolo del Bologna, 45/46; Tel:06 5880516 www.darpoeta.com
For more on this day, including the Capitoline Museums and the San Cosimato Market, please go to http://www.wired2theworld.com/Rome2009Day3.html