Rome, Italy, tasted on March 19, 2004 — Wandering around Rome
all day eating made us hungry... of course. We knew when we planned
our trip to Italy that we wanted to get a healthy mix of tiny spots,
markets, homey restaurants, and high end places. Essentially good
food of all kinds. So we asked friends and strangers, did our
research, and got recommendations for where to eat on our trip. One
of the recommendations we got was to go visit
La Pergola in
Rome. And visit we did.
Somehow I screwed up and forgot to confirm the
reservation, but they took us anyway which was really nice as they
were pretty packed that night. Luckily we showed up early. Since
they had to get us off the table a little early to make room for
someone else, they offered to let us eat dessert in their lounge
area... again, very flexible and nice of them to do. Unfortunately
you won't see any pictures of the food we ate as they were slightly
less flexible when it came to us taking pictures. That was slightly
annoying, but in the end we were hungry and had come on a strong
recommendation. The chef, Heinz Beck, we were told, was something
special, and many people consider La Pergola the best restaurant in
Since they wouldn't let me take any pictures, I
grabbed this one off their website so you could at least see the
Situated at the top of the Hilton hotel, the room
was gorgeous. It reminded us of La Rochelle, Hiroyuki Sakai's
restaurant in Tokyo. The room was filled with a rich, warm, wood.
The light shone through crystals, and it wasn't too dark. On our
table were some gorgeous tulips stood up in beautiful small glass
"stones". The atmosphere was comfortable and we were excited for
some good food.
They started us off with some snacks including long super thin bread sticks.
They had a weird absence of flavor. Almost a flavor vacuum sucking
anything your mouth tasted like until they left a barren landscape
for the food to inhabit. I'm a fan of cleaning your palate, but I'll
admit this wasn't super enjoyable. This was quickly followed by some
pleasant rolls. I had sesame and wheat. The little baguette however
was absolutely delicious. Especially when combined with the olive
oil they gave us - Felsina Berardegna's Leccino ("leccino" is the
varietal). I am a fan of middle eastern olive oils as they often
have a deeper and more rustic flavor and texture. The best Italian
olive oils I've tasted have been lighter, more subtle, and typically
more appropriate for finishing dishes. But this oil had a richer
flavor and a nice thickness on the tongue. It was delicious and
especially good with the the mini-baguette which was crusty,
soft on the inside, and had an enjoyable slight saltiness.
First up, was a plate with several mushroom variations.
The first was a mushroom ice cream. It had a super focused frozen mushroom yumminess.
It's so funny how the way we think about food affects how we taste it.
Some people might freak out at mushroom ice cream. But maybe a frozen mushroom mousse?
It was almost milky and nicely savory. Next up was a mushroom tart in melted cheese.
It was warm and delicious.
savory, crispy, juicy and cheesey. Super smooth. There was also mushroom on toast with balsamic
which was fine, and the mushroom geleé was just ok. Finally they gave us
a pork (or veal) medallion on a mushroom dice which was good but not
special. Of the selection, the pastry and ice cream were truly
Next up was Veal Tail "La Pergola". It was covered in
some of the best, freshest, chunky tomato sauce I've tasted. It was so
light and surrounded by crumbly butter drenched croutons around the edge
of the plate. The Emincé of Lobster with Orange Sauce and Basil was
interesting as well. The lobster was pounded flat. It was soft and sweet in
tart (in a good way) orange sauce. There were also deep fried zucchini
flowers for crunch. This dish was quite good.
The next appetizer was Variation of Fish. Five different plates
of seafood with a large variety. Everything was soft and subtle
and perfectly cooked. Really super subtle but definitely not without
flavor. The Terrine of Rabbit and Duck Liver had some truffle and
was good but not special. But this was followed by Squid Ravioli
with Pineapple. I'm not a big squid guy, but I had to dig in of
course, and I was glad I did. Having squid as pasta was very cool
especially as it was filled with a warm pineapple
soup. The squid was not rubbery but rather chewy in a good way. Really
the best squid I've ever had.
We moved on to first courses starting with Ricotta
Tortellini with Pecorino and Broad Beans. These were cheesey perfect
little noodle jewels mixed with bright green broad beans. We also had
the Sweet Pepper Consommé. The soup had a perfect essence - light and concentrated
at the same time.
It was slightly tangy and perfectly clear. I could eat it every day.
Next was Tagliolini with Scampi, Lime, and (yes again) Zucchini
Flowers. (I guess they don't expect people to order basically every
dish on the menu.) The dish had a slight tanginess and a savory gorgeously
cooked pasta. We also had the Saffron Mousse Risotto with Scampi. It was
strong and interesting though the shrimp got a little bit lost. And
in a final dish, the zuchhini flower caviar was smooth and good but not very
interesting. The serving of caviar was generous though.
While we had essentially come in off the street (as we
had forgotten to confirm our reservation) they put on the same show for
us I assume they put on for everyone. The service was a huge albeit
professional spectacle. Our plates came straight from plate warmers -
heaven forbid they should be room temperature when they arrived in front
We weren't done yet as we had two rounds of main courses
still coming our way. The Filet of Veal Poached in Vanilla Sauce with
Topinambur Purée was interesting and sweet. (A topinambur is a jerusalem
artichoke - thank you google.) Our baked lobster showed up with a tiny
amount of actual meat. Given that this dish alone cost 80 euros this
seemed pretty nutty. Eventually they came to us and told us there had
been an accident and they had lost part of the lobster between the
kitchen and the table. Freaky!
Peyman was convinced that our first lobster tried to jump back in the ocean
when he saw a window of opportunity.
In the meantime the Variation of Lamb was fantastic.
We had it three ways including and confit and two rare variations.
Those last two were amazing with savory juicy goodness and dripping
with flavor. We also got a Whole Duck in Mustard Sauce. The duck skin had concentrated seasonings
which exploded in my mouth and the braised lettuce it sat on was fantastic
and crunchy. The mustard seed was great as well -
Alex likened to caviar for meat.
Our whole lobster finally arrived and it was good and tender with a soft lemony flavor on
of the meat. Though that flavor didn't last long on the tongue.
All during our meal there was a Mozart piano
concerto playing on a loop. It was driving Peyman crazy. I can't say
that helped his outlook on the meal, though it didn't bother the
rest of us.
For our second wave of main courses we ate
variations and extensions of the first round. The duck leg they gave
us had an almost chocolatey flavor. They also served s the lobster
claw from that poor second lobster. It had a foie gras surprise
inside and also had a truffle of green cauliflower. Though
interesting, the first editions of these ingredients seemed better
to us. The second wave of duck was chewier than the first, and the
second wave of lobster had less flavor than the first.
We retired for dessert in the foyer on some comfy
seats. Alex felt that their wine choices throughout the evening had
been on target. As for dessert the Ricotta Souffle was interesting
but the Ricotta Flan was very good. There were also tons of
chocolates, fried eggplant chips, and some sorbet that was pretty
ice creamy. We also had 12 different variations of petit fours.
Debbie loved the
"golden tea" they served her. She thought it might be the best cup
of tea she'd ever had. We were stuffed!
I can't say that La Pergola was a slam dunk. It was
kind of a push and pull evening. They were gracious about us not
having confirmed our reservation, but they were kind of pissed about
us wanting to take pictures (yes I realize that 99.99% of customers
don't want to do that). They would serve us a perfect red pepper
consommé, and then a risotto that was not balanced. (Risotto and
consommé are two dishes that are benchmarks - hard to make, but easy
to spot perfection). The head waiter told us he was writing
a book on service, but we didn't always feel comfortable. Though
I did take note that someone brought a baby to eat there. I thought
that was cool.
Ultimately, there is obvious talent at La Pergola.
Real deep talent. And yet it showed inconsistently on the evening we
were there. I would try it again though ostensibly to see if our
visit was a fluke. That said, I'd be happy to go back and just have
a big bowl of that perfect red pepper consommé. I can taste it now.