Wine list at bargain prices and Abruzzese cuisine: the hidden restaurant in the Northern Suburbs of Rome

Jun 17 2024, 14:14
A restaurant run by a former musician and sommelier boasts a monumental wine list at very affordable prices. In the kitchen, his wife creates innovative dishes with an Abruzzese-Mediterranean influence

When we enter Le Ninfe, on Via Antamoro in the northern outskirts of Rome near Bufalotta, just a stone's throw from the GRA, it is disorienting to hear the notes of Vivaldi's Giustino and Cecilia Bartoli singing "Vedrò con mio diletto." It feels like stepping into Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, where Klaus Kinski listens to Caruso on a gramophone in the middle of the jungle. Sitting at the table, it is also surprising to find a menu formatted in a 1990s style. And it’s striking to be handed, alongside the menu, a wine list of pages and pages, a true monumental tome with hundreds of labels not only from Italy, right here in the far suburbs behind an unassuming old shopping complex, in the street-level spaces of anonymous residential buildings. When the owner comes to the table, the Fitzcarraldo atmosphere strengthens: Massimo Daniele is like a Klaus Kinski in the urban jungle with his beloved immortal music. Alternatively, one might think of a modern Don Quixote among the condos of the Capital. His demeanor and appearance somewhat remind us of this.

Massimo Daniele. At the top, the calamarata prepared by his wife Evelina.

The monumental wine list

The most impressive thing, however, as soon as we open the wine list, is its depth, its variety, and—despite all this—the affordability of the prices. In choosing, we first wonder, "What will we eat?" But soon we drop the pairing dilemma and opt—regardless of the food choice—for a 2015 Molitor Riesling Kabinett. Price: 23 euros. Alcohol content: 9.5%. An excellent start. And satisfying. So we order: fish, meat, and a revamped version of the Abruzzese Pallotte cacio e ovo. At this point, we’ve moved beyond our concerns (just as they did for the G7 lunch pairing lobster and cod with Tignanello and Brunello!). We then open a 2019 Travaglini Gattinara (listed at around thirty euros). One of us enjoys it with a good seafood calamarata (by the way, the dry pasta was perfectly cooked al dente: not easy to find someone who uses dry pasta and cooks it perfectly!), another guest tries it with lamb (better) and also with the Pallotte.

Chickpea lasagnette with Abruzzese lamb ragout

In wine list Paradise

In short, we feel like we’re in wine list paradise. So much so that we decide to treat ourselves to a bottle of 2013 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano at 46 euros. And to think we had found (albeit a more recent vintage) just a 60-euro price tag during a lunch in Verona. Yes, we buy it and take it home. We also decide to come back for a 2006 Cervaro della Sala at 33 euros. The list is really extensive, perhaps a bit tied to the late 1990s in its choices, especially in Friuli and Tuscany... Nonetheless, a 2014 Guado al Tasso Vermentino at 16 euros is truly a bargain, considering that more recent vintages are priced online between 15 and 20 euros. And—just to mention a few wines that are not easy to find—the 2017 Foradori Fontanasanta Nosiola in Amphora is listed at 26 euros, while it is offered online at 33 euros. Or the 2003 Nobleeffervescenze 4478 Metodo Classico is listed at 21 euros when it was (actually, it is no longer available: it was) found online at 22 euros (but the 2022 vintage).

Swordfish bundles stuffed with burrata

A sommelier-musician in a frontier Restaurant

There’s a lot of fun to be had and also a lot to be curious about! We decide, on one hand, to come back to this suburban signpost more and more, like a little wine amusement park. On the other hand, we decide to pester the host, Massimo Daniele, who at first is not very expansive. We wait for the other guests to leave (a business lunch table and a couple of other patrons) and start asking questions. Well, Massimo is quite a character. His father was the Aibes contact for Central Italy and worked at the Majestic restaurant (Le Ninfe comes from there, now it no longer exists) when it was still strong on the coattails of the recently faded Dolce Vita. We’re in the second half of the 1970s. Massimo, who also taught piano for years, worked at Georges between 1976 and 1979. He then managed the catering at the Parioli Tennis Club. These were expansion years for wine, pioneering years. Then, in 2000, he decided with his wife Evelina to open their own restaurant near their home, which had moved to Bufalotta, an extreme suburb: there was really very little around in those years. Just minutes away from another place we recently found in Montesacro, which would open nearby a few years later: two frontier restaurants.

A glass interpretation of the traditional Abruzzese Parrozzo

You must book to play

Today, 24 years after opening, Le Ninfe is a bit faded: a troublesome illness has forced Massimo to rest in years already marked by the pandemic. However, he and Evelina have held on. And now, after some time away, they have taken the wine list back in hand, updating and reviewing the hundreds of little darlings that fill the cellars and fridges. Currently, if lunch is almost guaranteed to be open, in the evening the shutter is raised only if there is a reservation. So, if you fancy coming to play with the wine list and taste some of Evelina’s good dishes, we recommend booking. It’s worth it.

Le Ninfe - Roma - via G. Antamoro, 65 - 348 688 0109 - @leninfeRoma

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