Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rome – Ristorante Camponeschi

Rome has many excellent restaurants. Among them are two more famous, Camponeschi and Bolognese. Dignitaries, movie stars, and other “in” people visit both restaurants. While I have nothing positive to say about “Bolognese”, I cannot say enough about Camponeschi.

The Camponeschi family has run this restaurant for generations. They also have a vineyard in Lazio where they produce Prosecco, white and red wines, labeled “Carato” (I have about 24 cases of the red and whites in my personal cellar). Although they do not push their family wine at the restaurant, it is a good compliment to many of the hearty regional dishes. Located in Piazza Farnese right between Campo dei Fiori and via Giulia and 5 minutes from Piazza Navona, the restaurant is particularly busy Friday and Saturday nights so your best bet for an exclusive experience is during the week.

The father and son team are an excellent blend of traditional formality and modern casual attitudes. Service is present but not overbearing. Portions are large enough that either a first or second course is sufficient but this is one occasion where you need to splurge and go for the full show. In addition to the internal seating there is patio dining under a tent in front of the restaurant. Even in the winter you can dine outside, just be sure to get a table close to the external heaters.

The food selection is marvelous. Fresh fish, and I mean still moving when it arrives in the kitchen, is their strength. For several years Camponeshi was the premier featured chef for US Airways international flights. At about 8:00 pm Sr. Camponeschi will arrive with the catch of the day that most often will also include beautiful Scampi. If you have not already ordered you will have the opportunity to choose something from this selection.

Upon seating, a variety of antipasti are served with a glass of Champagne or Prosecco. The antipasti is made up of various fried or marinated vegetables and a traditional Roman dish, Trippa with a red sauce. Tripe is not the preferred food of very many people however this is incredible. The flavors and texture are balanced, savory yet not overpowering. So forget what you are eating and go for it!

At this point you may notice music in the background and might think about some CD playing traditional Italian songs. A closer look reveals a distinctive gentleman tucked away in one of the nooks in the dining room playing a guitar and singing just loud enough to be heard, if you are listening.

The choice of first plates is significant. Depending on the time of year my choices are “Gran Seola” - King Crab salad served in the shell, “risotto ai funghi”, or “risotto or tagliatelle al tartufo”. It is light and will get your taste buds going for the second course. Camponeschi prepares foods that are in season. Seasonally the main course will be fish, mollusks, pigeon, wild boar, tartufo, mushrooms and various types of wild meats. The wild meats or “cacciagione” will be savory yet not gamey.

Your waiter will be knowledgeable about the proper wine selection and you should value his opinion. Differently than the US, in Italy waiters are career people. Most have been with the restaurant for many years and will know the subtleties of the food, how it is made, and which wine will compliment it. If you follow my suggestion on the dinner I would order Gaja Rey. This is a Chardoney, and I do not like Chardoney, but it is probably the best white on the market today, except for Tocai - the King of whites. Camponseschi will have a great selection of Pinot Grigio, Arnies, Tocai, Verdicchio, and sometimes Canonaio.

Red wines will most likely be your best choice with the second plate. Their cellar is stocked very well. I would suggest you indicate your preference for Italian wines, just because they are better. If your waiter suggests that you change wines, do not be worried about the popular saying of mixing red and white, he will have a wine that compliments both the previous wine and the plate that is on its way.

Then comes dessert. Camponeschi is also famous for its soufflé however you need to order that before you start dinner. The soufflé will be served just out of the oven with a sparkler burning on top. The selection of desserts is impressive however my favorite is the Zabaglione, made directly at the table, while you contemplate the marvelous dinner experience, chat with your friends and sadly finish the wine.

To sum it up, Camponeschi is an exclusive experience. You should be rested, it will require 2-3 hours, so do not attempt this on the first day of arrival. The price is proportionate to the service so you will spend more than at a taverna but well worth it. The food is great, the wine selection extensive, the desserts a meal unto themselves, and the atmosphere sophisticated yet relaxed. No one will rush you to get another table seated. If you would like to see more about this restaurant there is a web site: http://ristorantecamponeschi.it.

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