Are nights in Rome always this pretty? After after-work drinks with friends, I walked up from Portuense to find a restaurant that my friend James had recommended. Of course, I didn’t have a reservation, but hoped that I’d get in, as it was around 8pm. Somewhat gruffly, I was given a space, as long as I would be out by 9:15pm.
I think they were a little confused that I didn’t have an appetizer, nor main, but just had the one pasta dish, but honestly, I just can’t eat so much on holidays when I’m having meals out every night. Both the couple next to me and a singleton next to them were having the same pasta dish.
I asked what it was. Fettucini with fresh porcini mushrooms and shaved truffles. While the specials board said this was only available if two people ordered it, I asked why the single guy had gotten it. The waiter said he’d come in earlier, when it was less busy, but he would see what he could do… Just a few hours before, Shawn had explained that Italy is a culture of negotation. No doesn’t necessarily mean no. It might mean that they want to see what you’ll say in return. So, I was glad to have pressed the point because OH MY GOD.
The fresh porcini mushrooms were tender and soft, and smothered in butter had a quality that was animal-like. With shaved truffle on top of that, a generous amount, a bit nutty and gritty with a beautiful flavour. And the springiness and addictive quality of handmade pasta. I was just in heaven here. Truffles ain’t cheap, so the pasta with a lovely half-bottle of white wine (Angimbé’s Cusumano, a Sicilian wine of Insolia 70% and Chardonnay 30%), and some sparkling water came to 32 euros.
This was seriously good. When I left, the night was still pretty young, but how the neighbourhood was glowing!
Two nights later, on the Sunday night, I couldn’t resist going again (but again with no reservation, which I wouldn’t recommend doing…). I arrived closer to 10pm. The restaurant was full, and there was a line up. The same gruff maitre d’ tried to warn us off, saying it would be 30 or 40 minutes… I decided for my last dinner in a restaurant in Rome that I would be determined… And no more than 10 or 15 minutes later, he came out, and sat all of us who were waiting, a table of four, a table of two, and myself. I was seated closer to the door this time, rather than near the kitchen.
So, for my second round at Le Mani in Pasta, it was 25 euros for some sparkling water, another excellent half-bottle of wine (a Vermentino this time, for 9 euros) and an incredible pasta.
I asked the same waiter as I’d had before for the “second best” dish, since I’d had the best dish the previous time… and he recommended the anchovies with pecorino cheese. I think there were chili flakes in there too. It came with fresh spaghetti (and as before, was one of the daily specials that they normally only serve for two people [which is why the prices appear double as what they should be] but they’d kindly arranged a dish for one for me!).
The pasta again was absolutely delicious, as was the wine. I also finished the meal with an amaro, and liked it so much (3 euros) that I asked for its name: Amaro de Capo, a Calabrian specialty that is well known in Rome, apparently. Give it a try if you come across it (I liked it so much I brought a bottle of it to my friend’s place the next night).
As I was taking a photo of the daily specials, one of the waiters asked me if I wanted a photo with the chef. Hell yes! Leaving the restaurant, I felt I had fallen into the well-worn cliché on Tripadvisor where a family or couple in Paris or Rome had found THEIR restaurant, befriended all the staff, went there for multiple meals and couldn’t stop raving about it to all their friends and in reviews.
I find something a bit funny about this as it can steal away other’s own sense of discovery, can be pushy about projecting one’s own experience onto others (“You must try this place”) and show not a little bit of pride (“Aren’t I clever to have discovered this place?).
And yet, I am a food reviewer myself, constantly giving recommendations, and it definitely reminded me of how exciting and pleasing it is to feel both at home but also discovering the best of a culture different from your own. And it’s kind of a beautiful experience, really, deeply emotional and sensual to adopt a restaurant, as I did this trip, as your favourite of a place.