The best Romans we ever knew were former ex-pats there: Charles and Doris Muscatine. We didn’t know them well, having met only once, for dinner in the early ’90s, at their son Jeff’s house in the Bay Area. But it turned out we were going to be in Rome at the same time, not long after that dinner, so we arranged to hook up there for lunch. We felt like we were imposing a bit, but hey: both were authorities on Rome, and Doris was the author of A Cook’s tour of Rome, among many other books on food and cooking.
They told us to meet them in a small alley-sized street next to an obscure church in a part of town that was all cobblestone and stucco over brick that went back to the days of empire, if not earlier. There we would find a restaurant with no sign, they said: just a curtain for a door. It was, literally, a hole-in-the-wall. It was also their favorite. Just about the only patrons then were locals, and the food consisted of Roman staples, perfectly prepared. It was wonderful.
But Chuck and Doris are now both gone; and, when we arrived in Rome a few days ago, we had no memory of the restaurant’s name, much less its location, since Rome has no shortage of old narrow streets and obscure churches. Instead the first place we aimed for was one we read about in an airline magazine.
To our astonishment, it was the same place. The curtain was replaced by red ropes (see above), but otherwise it was unimproved. Margherita herself is now too old to cook there, we learned, but it’s the same home cooking as ever. The fried artichokes (“carciofi alla giudìa”), which have leaves as delicate as potato chips but infinitely more character, are a must if you’re ever in town.
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