InContrada , Rome, Italy
A Roman Meal to Remember!
I have just gingerly walked in the door to my hotel and am gingerly sitting here at my computer typing to you. Somehow I have to stretch my arms around my newly acquired Buddha belly and get words down on paper because I never want to forget tonight.
I have had the meal experience of a lifetime!
This evening, my friends Lisa and Geoff who are visiting Rome with me and my husband, decided to let karma take her course and wander until we found a wonderful hidden gem of a restaurant. In Rome, there are very few bad restaurants and many of them are outstanding so we knew our chances were pretty good that we would eat well.
We were not disappointed.
While wandering the streets near the Tuscalana train station, we stumbled upon a restaurant named inContrada. InContrada is nestled in an alley between two large apartment buildings at 30 Via Turno. In East Rome off Via Tuscolana.
Back in 1998, Owners Paola Bolzani and Fabrizio Rulli created this culinary jewel.
As we entered, Paola greeted us. Since my Italian is not the best and even worse when I am tired from sightseeing, a kind stranger intervened on our behalf. “This restaurant,” she said “is known for its meat”.
As we walked in, we could see various cuts of on display in a refrigerator. To our left we saw the pizza oven that is stoked every evening for perfectly authentic pizza.
Meat Fridge InContrada
In the front of the restaurant is a deli of sorts where you can purchase deli items to go. On the other side of the entry was the dessert table and we will go into that in great detail in a moment.
Upon arriving at our table, we ordered a liter of the house red which came chilled and was perfect. Italian wine, I find, just goes with a meal.
I live in California and I know I will be burned at the stake (or steak) for blasphemy but sometimes California wines are, well, they are a bit too heavy! There I said it!
Sometimes I want the wine to complement the meal rather than the meal to complement the wine. Italian wine is light, perfectly blended so it is not too sweet, not too acidic and not too sour. As Goldilocks says, “It is just right!”
A bag of freshly baked bread materialized and we chewed in amiable silence.
There were four of us. I ordered the grilled seafood and grilled vegetables. (I had tried to order carciofo or artichoke but that is only available in winter as they only use fresh ingredients and artichokes are winter vegetables in Rome. )
My friend Lisa ordered a mixed salad and a steak platter. Her husband Geoff ordered a plate of spaghetti with meat sauce and another plate of sausage. My husband Pete ordered papardelle with cinghiale or wild boar.
Lisa at InContrada
A few moments later, the kitchen opened up and food started coming out in abundance.
My grilled seafood platter arrived with the sweetest prawns imaginable, grilled calamare, and swordfish sliced thinly and grilled to perfection.
The vegetables were a green that I had heard talked about on one of Antonio Carlucco’s videos. It was a cluster of long leaves, slightly bitter. It only grows in the area around Rome at a certain time of year. This had been cooked with olive oil and spicy red peppers. It is the only vegetable that has ever bitten me back when I bit into it. It was fantastic.
Pete’s Papardelle con Cinghiale was amazing! Cinghiale (wild boar) tastes like pork but has a lot more flavor. The pasta papardelle, which is a wide, home made pasta with a lot of surface area to soak up the sauce, was lightly coated with a perfect tomato based sauce, flavored with the cinghiale. The result was a delicious blend of flavors that sang when you put them in your mouth.
Papardelle with Cinghiale
InContrato is known for its grilled meat dishes. Lisa’s filletto (filet tenderloin cut) was cooked with a salt crust and premium olive oil, served with roasted potatoes.
Geoff’s pasta arrived and was amazing but he had his heart set on a piece of sausage to go with it. Our Signor Rulli gamely tried to understand our order and we gamely tried to communicate it. Shortly thereafter a plate arrived with a giant serving of homemade sausage flavored with exactly the right amount of salt, little hints of fennel seed, and….. more potatoes. Geoff dove in and we rallied to try to help him out.
After the dust settled, we were all lying back in our chairs congratulating each other on a job well done when Lisa looked up and said “Dessert!”
At that point, our friend the interpreter reappeared and took us to the desert table where, as you can see, every desert imaginable was there for the taking. In a moment of mad brilliance, the lady interpreter friend suggested that we try EVERYTHING! A sampler if you will! “Wonderful!” we cheered little knowing that what we know as samplers with tiny tastes of different items is not what Signora Bolzani knows as a sampler.
Bravely she sliced big slabs of cakes, torts, and pies onto a plate and heated it all up for us. Just when we started to really get worried, she topped it all off with vanilla gelato and whipped cream.
We slunk back to our table and waited for the other shoe to drop.
The desserts arrived with orders from Signora Bolzani to Finite tutto! or finish everything! We stared at each other in a mixture of horror and awe, picked up our spoons, closed our eyes and dove in.
We were rewarded with some of the most amazing desserts we have ever tasted. All thoughts of being “too full” and “perhaps I can salvage my diet”, were tossed out window never to be heard from again.
We had a pineapple cake, a triple chocolate slice of deliciousness which I can only describe as a lava cake but much more refined, We had a strawberry and custard tort, a pie made with ricotta cheese and pine nuts, an apricot tart and a strawberry tart. There was another cake with apples and ricotta cheese in the filling which was unbelievable!
Ricotta cheese, in Italy, is made fresh and it is like pastry filling all by itself. When you add light flavorings and a tiny pinch of sugar, you end up with one of the most delicious desert creations you can possibly imagine.
Somehow we managed to decimate the dessert sampler and were waving our spent spoons in abject glee over our accomplishment when Signora Bolzani reappeared with a plate of more cake and moon shaped cookies with more orders to Mangate Tutto!
I snagged a little piece of cake and noticed it was slightly nutty with overtones of anise. Again none of these desserts were super sweet. Sugar was not the first ingredient and these were completely different from the cakes we get in the US. The absence of so much sugar allows the real flavor of the ingredients to come come through. Many bakeries in the US (I am talking about the mass produced cakes and bakery items, not Mom and Pop bakeries) use way too much sugar to cover up the lack of quality ingredients.
Geoff stared in horror, curled up in a ball and settled into a semi comatose state brought on by long sighseeing bus rides (read about this tomorrow. It was sooo fun!) and way too many calories in a sitting.
Lisa, Pete and I, knowing we were ambassadors of goodwill from the US picked up our forks and finished the job. Happily Pete found a napkin and wrapped the cookies and cake up in it so that we could eat them with the morning’s coffee since coffee and perhaps one cookie is all we will be having for most of the day tomorrow.
After we ate everything in sight, we asked for Il conto or the bill. In Italy, you don’t get the bill until you ask for it. When you show up for dinner, they assume that you have the table for the night.
I discreetly left Pete to settle up and went out to take photos of the entry. Pete came out smiling and told me that the entire bill for all of the food that was so amazing we simply could not stop eating, wine for four people and the dessert “sampler” came to a total of 113 Euros.
By anyone’s standards, this is a fabulous deal. If this restaurant were located near a monument or famous sight in Rome, we would have paid a lot more. Because it is tucked away, a quiet jewel, in a neighborhood alleyway, it was ridiculously well priced seeing as it was one of the hands down best meals I have ever had in my life and believe me, I have had some stunners!
On our way back to our hotel, we swayed and ambled our way down the street smiling at the Italian neighbors who had come out for their passagiata and stepping around the children playing games on the sidewalk. The night was still warm and the heat radiated up from the pavement. The odd car would speed by and conversations could be heard everywhere.
We looked at each other and silently thought that this was how life should be.
Tonite our belts are too tight and we are still smiling. Tomorrow we will somehow be hungry again and will remember with drooling excitement InContrada and the owners, Paola and Fabrizio who devote their lives to putting smiles on people’s faces.
Thank you for a wonderful dining experience!