An exciting adventure in wining and dining awaits the hungry Olympic visitor and his wife if they dine as the Romans do, and seek out the aristocracy of Italian dishes in one of Rome's many good restaurants. Italian gastronomy is an awe-inspiring subject, often misunderstood in the U.S., where the patrons of Luigi's Pizzeria on North Main Street assume it to be a sequence of pizza, spaghetti and meat balls, veal scaloppine and slices of pink and green ice cream. Food-conscious visitors to Rome will discover, to their pleasure, just how mistaken and threadbare this conception is. They will encounter fine, savory cooking in unpretentious trattorie and in smart casinos in the park, on cool hotel roof terraces and sidewalk restaurants of the far bank of the Tiber, in nightclubs ringing with song and picturesque country inns along the Appian Way.
On the menu, or lista del giorno, will be fish from the Adriatic, beef from Tuscany, pasta dishes from Bologna and Neapolitan sweets. But there will also be Roman specialties-famous ways of serving egg noodles, baby lamb, veal cutlets, turkey breasts and artichoke hearts. In August, these last will be substituting for the delicious miniature artichokes which, alas, will be out of season. The most theatrical of Roman dishes, fettuccine alla romana, will be in full flower. Fettuccine is the Roman name for the wide, thin, fresh egg noodles, elsewhere called tagliatelle, and they are served piping hot with butter and powdered Parmesan or Romano cheese. Mixing them is a ceremony which produces many fine flourishes on the part of the headwaiter. This is the dish made famous by the late Alfredo, whose calisthenics with a gold fork and spoon, presented to him by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., will go down in the annals of acrobatic cookery. Every new arrival in Rome should try fettuccine. They are absolutely delicious and surprisingly inexpensive.
Abbacchio is young, milk-fed lamb, another fast Roman favorite. Roasted on a spit or in the oven with a few herbs, it is full of delicacy and flavor. Cooked with garlic, rosemary, sage, vinegar and a trace of anchovy, it becomes abbacchio alla cacciatora, an aromatic delight. Tenderhearted diners who conjure up a vision of baby lambs gamboling among the daisies may have trouble with abbacchio, but realistic gourmets cherish it.
The refinement of Roman cooking is evident in filetto di tacchino dorato, a slice of raw turkey breast dipped in egg and fine bread crumbs and saut�ed in butter. A good contorno, or accompanying vegetable dish, is called piselli al prosciutto, miniature peas cooked with slivers of raw ham. Romans have a favorite soup, stracciatella, a consomm� strewn with egg and cheese, and their own chosen spaghetti sauce—spaghetti alla amatriciana, fragrant with garlic, onions, bacon, tomatoes, pepper and white wine. Look for any of these typical local dishes, and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Roman cheeses are few but essential. The best known is Pecorino romano, a hard, dry cheese which comes in large, corded cylinders. Made from ewe's milk, Romano, when grated, makes a fine topping for soups and pasta. Ricotta romana is a popular white cheese made from curds. It resembles cottage cheese and adapts itself well to desserts.
But it is time to abandon generalities and to get down to the fine fundamentals of Roman restaurants and their tempting liste del giorno. There are scores and hundreds of restaurants and trattorie (you will find that the difference between the two today is merely one of formality, the trattoria being perhaps somewhat simpler in style) eagerly waiting to prove to Olympic visitors that the Italian cucina is a thing of beauty and refinement. A few places will present multilingual menus, but in the majority these will be worded in Italian, a situation which calls for a certain briefing. Here, then, are some of the temptations on the menu as you sit down on a sheltered terrace, ravenous after an afternoon in the stadium and a prolonged aperitivo at a caf� table on the Via Vittorio Veneto. The Romans dine late, and the stranger within their walls may be at the point of starvation when he finally confronts the joys of a tardy Roman dinner.
The Roman menu starts off with a flourish, for its selection of appetizers and hors d'oeuvres is brilliant, tempting and frequently international. Caviale Malossol (caviar), foie gras di Strasburgo (Alsatian goose liver) and salmone affumicato (smoked salmon) are classic foreign specialties that appear on the menus of the more expensive restaurants, usually followed by the cryptic letters, "S.Q.," which mean "according to quantity." It is a good idea to recognize and remember these two letters and also "S.G." ("according to size") at the outset, for they indicate a flexible price, based on the amount served to each guest. If requested, the headwaiter should be able to give you a more specific idea of the cost, thus avoiding surprises.
Other antipasti have a more Italian character. Many restaurants in Rome produce a rolling chariot laden with a choice of appetizers (antipasti variati) in neat rectangular dishes, as tempting as any table of Scandinavian smorgasbord. Here you will find every conceivable sort of cold shrimp, fish, sausage, salad, egg and vegetable dish. In restaurants such as Passetto, Capriccio or Transatlantico, the display is so prodigal in its variety that the hungry guest finds it difficult to restrain himself. Smaller restaurants often serve a few simple antipasti on a plate, thus obviating the temptation to plunge too heavily.
If your taste runs toward that old favorite, the sea food cocktail, the Romans have a wonderful surprise for you—scampi. These are the tender tails of a shellfish similar to the English prawn, a rare delicacy and a bit on the expensive side. Romans also serve lobster meat (aragosta) with a spiced cocktail sauce.