Friday, April 12, 2013

Getting to Know Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa in Rome

red checkered table cloths on Roman restaurant table
Outside dining.
Where can you cross paths with ancient Rome while enjoying some of the city's best traditional cuisine at the same time? At Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa, a charming little eatery located just down the street from the Pantheon in the heart of Rome's historic center. "Our family has been in the restaurant business since the 1950s," explains Sandro Spoletini, the osteria's affable host. Sandro's father, Remo, began the family's dining dynasty as a waiter when he was only 16 years old. By the 1970s, he was managing a number of Roman restaurants. He soon launched a tavola calda, and then finally in 2004, opened Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa. He still overseas the eatery today, passing on his passion for the business he loves to all his children.

ancient Roman agrippa baths
Dine downstairs in the ancient Agrippa baths.
Snatch a table outside along quiet cobblestone side streets or inside in the small, contemporary dining room. Or, better yet, ask for a table downstairs in the basement dining room where ancient Rome awaits. You see, the osteria was built directly over the remains of the Agrippa thermal baths, part of the great Roman bathing complexes dating back to 29 B.C. The Spoletini family discovered that they were literally sitting on this important piece of Roman history purely by accident. "In 2006, during some maintenance work in the basement," Spoletini explains, "we had the immense pleasure bringing to light the only place where you can see these ancient baths." The family restored the room back to its original grandeur complete with the primitive bricks walls and exposed archways. Guests can dine right near the ancient frigidarium, or large cold pool that was used to close the pores after bathers had spent time in the caldarium, or hot plunge bath, but visitors who happened to be in the neighborhood may also take a peek during the osteria's regular business hours.

Now, let's get to the food! The kitchen focuses on traditional Roman dishes. "Our specialties follow the seasons," says Spoletini. "In the winter, we concentrate on meat dishes, combining them with fresh mushrooms, truffles or artichokes," he says. The results are robust classics such as tagliata di manzo tartufata, tender sirloin dressed with truffle sauce, a steak-lovers dream, saltimbocca alla romana, tender veal cutlets topped with Italian prosciutto and fresh sage, or grilled lamb chops. "Yet in the summer," he adds, "we offer our customers lighter fare such as a variety of seafood dishes." (Think spaghetti with lobster! Freshly grilled fish!)

But man does not live by meat alone, does he? He needs pasta, too! Gnocchi alla romana, those delicate little semolina dumplings topped with butter and grated parmigiano cheese, tonnarelli cacio e pepe, pasta with a simple pairing of cheese and pepper and Rome's favorite comfort food, or ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and walnuts--they're all homemade and stunningly delicious. The osteria also offers pizza and a wonderful selection of wines from Lazio's finest vineyards.

Come to see the baths; stay for some authentic Roman cuisine. "The scene is full of ancient charm and the perfect frame for an evening in our restaurant," Spoletini says.

Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa
Via dei Cestari, 38
Telephone: +39 06 4549 4117
Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa website
Google map

Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa is just one of 80 trattorie and osterie featured in Chow Italy: Eat Well, Spend Less (Rome 2013).

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