Appetizers that tantalize and perfect seafood risotto. The hidden fish restaurant in the San Paolo neighborhood in Rome

Mar 19 2024, 17:37
In the southern area of the city, Da Michele restaurant amazed us. Starting with the appetizers, we wanted everything, from bruschetta with small squid, bite-sized cod in tempura, to rice polenta with shellfish

A large blackboard, nestled among wine bottles, welcomes us. We had passed by the sign of the Da Michele restaurant in the San Paolo area several times, but it had never caught our attention. We were mistaken. Bruschetta with small squid, bite-sized cod in tempura, rice polenta with shellfish: among the appetizers, we wanted everything. We ponder and eventually opt for the tartare of the day, made with sea bream, and puntarelle, fried anchovies, and pecorino cheese.

In both cases, impeccable ingredients and excellent, invigorating extra virgin olive oil, finally, that enhances and ties the flavors well. The venue is small, with just over thirty covers, the atmosphere serene and relaxed. The table next to us celebrates a lady's 98th birthday, there are many young couples with small children. The service is informal and very attentive: it feels good. The wine list is a carefully curated selection with a good dose of passion and research. There are suitable Champagnes, a selection of characterful artisanal whites, and the quantity of reds surprises. We struggle to match them with what was written on the blackboard, but we still jot down two or three labels to uncork on the next occasion: Civettaja 2015, Barbera Cascina Francia 2020 by Conterno, a rare Poulsard. In our glasses, we have a good Greco di Tufo, and here we are on the starters.

"The Romans? To say they are traditionalists would be an understatement, it was already difficult to propose cabbage on a classic spaghetti with clams. But now it's popular," smiles Marco Pignotta, the owner of the restaurant. The wine list reflects his instinct. Indeed, the pairing works well, the finely chopped cabbage livens up the flavor of the clams, and the pasta is well creamed. Oil and garlic are used just right. Neither too rich nor too slow, a well-tested dish. In the kitchen is Andrea Pignotta, so we can talk about a family-run business.

We are also convinced by the seafood risotto, the flavors are clear, the parsley well dosed: it is intense and well-combined. A treat that takes us back in time. Among the mains, the roasted swordfish cube with Roman-style artichoke is also pleasant. The cooking times are precise, the pairings simple and vivid. We hesitate a bit, then we finish with a ricotta mousse, orange honey, and pine nuts: homemade, minimally worked, good raw materials. Coffee and an artisanal chocolate, offered. The final bill? Around 50 euros per person. As we leave, we think about how many restaurants designed for a clientele that doesn't exist have opened in the last 15 years. To satisfy whom? The ego of the current chef or the unrealized dreams of the restaurateur? We get back into the car parked on Cristoforo Colombo. There are also two seagulls. And a stretch of red traffic lights.

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