During our BUCA days, Joanne and I led culinary teams to Italy two-to-three times a year – always to Rome, Tuscany and Naples, occasionally to Sicily. This went on for about 10-12 years.
So last month when we took our grandkids to Italy, it had been at least 10 years since Joanne and I had been there. And I think during the course of those 30-or-so visits, we probably ate at most every significant spot (and some not-so-significant ones) that these cities and regions had to offer.
And so it was, on this trip, that some of our favorites were still around while others had closed up shop.
Among our favorites, we were delighted to find that LA ROSETTA, located near the Pantheon in Rome, remains in business. It’s been around since 1966 and was the first ALL SEAFOOD restaurant in Rome.
On Sunday, June 17, 2018, we went back.
My memories of our visits to La Rosetta are delightful. The surprise of the amuse bouche (before I even knew what an amuse bouche was)…shared antipasti plates of “crudo (raw fish), the freshest and briniest oysters on the planet…thin slices of “just-caught” swordfish carpaccio…as well as a morsel of crispy fried monkfish liver in a roasted pumpkin puree. And to top it all off – you know how “star-struck” I can be – on our last visit, Kathleen Turner and her daughter were at the table next to us.
We enjoyed dishes I never could have imagined, like a chicory salad with anchovy dressing. It was at La Rosetta where I first tried “cacio e pepe” (kinda like fettuccine Alfredo except with cacio sheep’s milk cheese instead of Parmigiano Reggiano, and what seemed like handfuls of freshly cracked black pepper).
Platters of simply grilled langoustines, lobster and crab are also embedded in my flavor memory.
Well, on Sunday night we went back for the first time in 10 years. It was a beautiful night and we were fortunate to snag one of the coveted outdoor deuces with a vista of the Pantheon about a block away.
Dinner started off well enough with a bottle of well-chilled and crispy Frascati from just south of Rome.
For the antipasti I tried to share a plate of deep-fried anchovies alongside porcini mushrooms. Joanne would have none of it (well, none of the anchovies; she had no problem snarfing down the accompanying porcinis). She followed with a small arugula salad and ravioli stuffed with crab, leeks, ricotta, ginger and lime. I opted for the black pepper-laced cacao e pepe (as good as I remembered it). Next came grilled sea bass and red snapper, accompanied by more freshly foraged mushrooms (note to readers: there are worse times to schedule an Italy trip than during porcini season).
Now, La Rosetta is not cheap. And here was the problem: The amuse bouche never came (perhaps it was forgotten – or just purposely cut from the La Rosetta experience). The potted white flowers on our table were hopelessly wilted and beginning to turn brown…perhaps dead. Our menus were dirty, torn and dog-eared. And the service? Lackadaisical, a little aloof and not caring.
I flirted with the notion that maybe I was fantasizing and romanticizing our visits from ten long years ago. But no. The flowers were actually wilted. And the menus were, in fact, dirty and shabby. And our server really didn’t seem to give a shit.
I wondered if it was simply an off-night. Restaurants aren’t known for scheduling their “A Teams” on Sundays.
Then again, was our server’s lack of attention to detail a reflection of management’s shortcomings? After all, we never even saw a manager during the entire evening. Had the “disease” spread throughout the restaurant? You have to ask yourself: If the menus are dirty, how clean will the bathrooms be? How about the kitchen? If no one cared enough to keep the flowers on our table from wilting, could they be bothered to keep the lettuce in the cooler fresh?
Based on a single visit, I can’t answer such questions with any certainty.
So would I recommend La Rosetta to you?
Yeah…I would. My memories are so fond from years ago that I just find it hard to believe that the place could slip so much. I think that the ownership has not changed and as I said: the food was good.
Just don’t go on Sunday night.