As you drive toward Testaccio, you may think to yourself that Fork and Spoon are off their trolleys and sending you in the wrong direction. How wrong you would be! You are headed in absolutely the right direction! Mostly undiscovered residential, a little industrial, and definitely the next neighborhood to live in, Long Island City is quickly becoming the restaurant place to be.
Testaccio was on the list of places Fork and Spoon wanted to try, and one of the places that Cheese Plane was urging us to try. As luck would have it Cheese Plane was in for a visit, so Fork and Spoon decided it was time for this adventure. And even luckier for us, it turned out to be a tableful Cutlery along with us – always the better, more dishes to try!
Testaccio is just there. No fanfare, no fancy front, but that is where the plain part of this Roman cuisined restaurant ends.
You walk into a very large, very warm, beautifully decorated restaurant. Lovely staff, friendly accommodating, knowledgable about the restaurant and the menu. Through the bar, you pass the pizza kitchen. There is a gigantic pizza oven. We were trying to figure out if this was built in the space, or built and brought in. We really don’t think it was possible for it to have been brought in. What craftmanship. It almost looked like an adobe hut in the middle of this open part of the pizza kitchen.
The rest of the kitchen is down a half flight of stairs in the back. Up a half flight of stairs are more tables. Separating the view of the kitchen and the upstairs tables is a gigantic wine area. All wrought iron and encased in glass, it is interesting and multi-functional.
The wait staff is super friendly, very courteous, and knowledgable about the entire menu. By the way, the restaurant is child friendly. They even have a children’s menu.
The menu is extensive, with just enough dishes in each category for variety, but not so many to make the menu seem overwhelming. Yes, you heard it here, too many menu choices can be a bad thing.
Yes, they had iced tea, and yes, it was bottomless.
Their bread was also very good. Constantly replenished and served with two different spreads that are made in house, one olive and one sun dried tomato. Be careful of the pits in the olive spread!
As there were eight of us, we knew trying a number of appetizers would be no problem (oh, yes, our accompanying Cutlery fell so easily into our evil plan – MORE DISHES!).
We’ll start with an appetizer we ordered from the specials menu. Raviolini Fritti – these were fried spinach and ricotta ravioli served over baby spinach and spicy tomato marmalade for dipping. There was a lot of dough and not a lot of filling. It might have been that what filling there was inside the slightly greasy raviolini was seriously bland. In complete contrast, though, the spicy tomato marmalade was fantastic. What a blend of flavors. That alone with some bread would have been great! Sadly, with the exception of the marmalade, this was our least favorite of the appetizers.
Next was Assaggini di Suppli – an assortment of rice croquettes. Six ping pong ball sized rice balls, three different varieties. There were two artichoke and truffle, two tomato and mozzarella and two sweet corn and pecorino. The shells were very crisp and golden. The rice was beautifully cooked. Spoon had the tomato and mozzarella, Fork the artichoke and truffle. The only one not received so well was the sweet corn and pecorino and that may have been just from the odd combination. They were very good, although not enough cheese in them to make them truly suppli – stringy.
Cheese Plane ordered the Terina di Coda alla Vaccinara – oxtail terrine with celery and mushrooms. The itself terrine was quite tasty. Very rich and hearty. It was served with grilled flat bread or naked pizza crust. Not sure what the beige dollops were. Cheese plane said this was a dish that could be taken or left.
There was a Pasta e Fagioli. Huge portion of bean soup which supposedly was served over maltagliati pasta. Lovely flavor. Full of beans and vegetables. Maltagliati is a short, almost trapezoid shape tube made from left over scraps of pasta. The pasta used in the soup was a long, hollow pasta as opposed to a short pasta that would lend itself better to this soup and the ease of eating it, but it was yummy just the same.
One of the appetizers that we had been longing to try was the Carciofo all Giedea. Crispy artichokes served with a black olive tapenade. The tapenade was really good. Salty, rich and terrific alongside the crispy artichoke hearts. They were quarters of hearts with long stems. Beautifully cooked – nicely seasoned and very crispy on the outside while still tender on the inside. Perfect for one or for two to share. But, for more than two people, there just isn’t enough!
Spoon had been eyeing the Insalata di Fagioli Giganti e Porchetta. Fork is sure it was the word porchetta that made Spoon swoon. This was a warm butter bean salad, with chunks of porchetta, roasted peppers, eggplant, and other vegetables. Nice light dressing. It was different. The porchetta needed to be a little crisper – or there needed to be something in this salad with a crunch – otherwise everything was the same much consistency. It’[s a shame to take away from a delicious dish because of texture.
The last appetizer we tried was the Gnocchi alla Romana. These are not what one would normally think of when gnocchi is mentioned. Gnocchi – unless cooked really well – can be like little lead balloons. These were nothing like that. These were not even shaped like that. These weren’t even potato. These were semolina gnocchi. They were very light and fluffy with a great flavor. They seemed to just melt in your mouth. Their shape resembled a short cylinder, as though they were made as a timbale – or perhaps made into a log and then cut into 1″ pieces. They sat on a flat side, sprinkled with parmesan and then light broiled to melt the cheese. The gnocchi were served in a light tomato and basil sauce.
With the exception of Fork and Spoon, main dishes were not shared, so we can’t really comment on the others.
Well, no, Cheese Plane is always a happy sharer. Cheese Plane ordered the Costolette D’Abbacchio Scottdito – grilled organic lamb chops with chicory and grilled polenta all drizzled with a lamb reduction. The dish though was not cooked the way requested. Cheese Plane explained to the waiter what was wrong and he whisked the dish away and returned with the dish perfectly cooked. Cheese Plane asked for sauce on the side, and truthfully, the sauce is unnecessary and takes away from the dish. Sadly, by this time Cheese Plane had been happily munching away on everyone else’s entrees and took the dish home for later.
Fork and Spoon decided to order two things and share them.
First we tried the Bucatini all’Amatriciana. Bucatini is a long hollow pasta. Amatriciana is a spicy tomato based sauce made with guanciale, hot peppers and a lot of pecorino cheese. Guanciale is salt cured pork jowl. Because it is less lean than pancetta it gives a very rich feel to the sauce. This was super. Spicy and rich, the guanciale so yummy, the tomato sauce sweet, the perfect amount of heat just hitting the back of your throat.
Our second choice was a pizza. How could we be 10 feet from this amazing pizza oven and not have a pizza from it!? We ordered the Pizza Diavola. First, their pizza crust is great. The dough is fabulous. Thin crust, nice tooth, not soggy in the center, not too doughy or yeasty tasting. The crust is topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salamino and fresh oregano. Great flavor combination. The salamino (pepperoni to most of you) was thinly sliced, packing just enough heat to make it interesting, and crispy. Doesn’t get much better than that!
And, as always, there is room for dessert. We tried three!
First the Tiramisu ‘Fai Da Te’. Sort of a do-it-yourself tiramisu plate. This was inhaled so quickly by the tiny Cutlery, there was no time for photos! But, what arrived were lady fingers – soft and springy, a bowl of mascarpone sauce, a cup of espresso, and bitter cocoa. You could put this together any way that suited you – or not at all and eat each component separately. The mascarpone cream was so delicious, we were practically fighting over the last bits of it.
Next arrived Tortino di Cioccolato e Caffe. Dark chocolate and coffee flan with a caramel sauce. This was more like a seriously fudgey cake than a true flan. Deep, dark chocolate with a not too subtle flavor of coffee. It wasn’t as pudding-ish as a flan, and certainly not what you would call a cake – something in between. Drizzled all over the plate and all over the Tortino was incredible, buttery, sugary caramel. What a flavor combo! Chocolate, caramel and coffee. Throw in a few slices of strawberries and you have perfection!
And, last but not least, Torta di Ricotta e Visciole. Roman ricotta pie with amarena cherries. The cheese cake was so so, but the cherries – man oh man were they good! Amarena cherries are small, very dark, slightly sour cherries. The cherries are preserved in sugar.