back-alley feast

August 7, 2009

Da i 2 ciccioni

i went out for an incredible meal last night with a visiting friend from new york. a bartender up near the piazza navona had told us about the place, claiming it was arguably the best spot in town. Da i 2 ciccioni is an unlicensed back-alley restaurant where the owner cooks out of his kitchen and serves meals on rickety tables, right outside his door. there are no menus — you just eat whatever the gianni happens to be cooking.

that bartender at the piazza navona had mentioned that national geographic listed it as one of the best restaurants in italy, and the new york times raved about the place this past march. here’s an excerpt from the times review:

“You could live in Rome your whole life and never find a place like this restaurant. On a street the width of a Mini Cooper, Da I 2 Ciccioni is marked by a graffiti-scrawled metal door and the boom of men’s voices thumping out on to the cobblestones. When you first find “Due Ciccioni” (translation: “two fat guys”), you may think it is some guy’s private kitchen where he hosts parties every night. You wouldn’t be far off. The owner is a round man named Gianni with a bushy mustache and belly laugh, who doesn’t speak a lick of English, has no restaurant license and would rather not give his last name. It’s only quasi-legal, but Gianni will cook for anyone who happens by.”

they delivered some deliciously crisp, house white wine, and then the meal began with three antipasti, pictured below — bruschetta with tomatoes; spicy mashed potatoes with onions, chili pepper and tomatoes; and some tasty beans. [sorry about the quality of the photos; it was a fairly dark alley, which made it difficult to get clear shots.]

ciccioni bruschetta
ciccioni antipasti

between courses, gianni’s super-goofy and well-fed dog, aldo, stopped by for some affection. more likely, he was just looking for table scraps.

ciccioni aldo

they kept the wine flowing during a short lull, then we choose between three primi [first dishes, usually pasta]. we had the cacio e pepe, which is a simple sauce of sharp pecorino cheese and fresh black pepper; our other pasta was a traditional carbonara, tossed with pancetta, oil, and spices.

cacio e pepe
carbonara

then we had secondi, the main course. one dish was tender calamari over peas; the other was an amazingly succulent mound of chicken, sautéed with white wine, garlic and rosemary.

calamari and peas
ciccioni pollo

at the end of the meal, they set a couple bottles of grappa and limoncello on the table for us to help ourselves. we did — generously. as the night grew late, gianni got rowdy. apparently, we weren’t the only ones enjoying the grappa. he sang bits of opera and italian folk songs at a nearby table of his friends, and later he serenaded us personally with his arms spread wide and his head thrown back. damn good voice. before we left, i slipped into the tiny kitchen and took this photo of gianni in his element. he prepares the entire meal on that little stove.

gianni in the kitchen

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