The idea of the “best trattoria in Rome” is an elusive one. Not only are tastes highly subjective, but even the most reliable establishments in town are plagued by a lack of consistency. Try the cacio e pepe one day, and it is exquisite. Come back the next and it is served in a pool of loose, watery cheese sauce. Or worse, order the “wrong thing” and suffer dire consequences. (Yes, most Roman restaurants are only really good at a fraction of things on the menu.) Consequently, for a place to be the “best” in Rome, it doesn’t have to be perfect. But Cesare al Casaletto comes pretty close.
This long-established trattoria was taken over by Leonardo Vignoli in 2009. With new ownership at the helm, the food and wine list were pulled out of obscurity and Cesare al Casaletto is now lauded by Roman gastronomes for its quality and value (rapporto qualita-prezzo is of supreme importance in this city).
It is both of these factors which appeal to me, but particularly the former. Over the past year, it has become my go-to destination when seeking to achieve bella figura. If I need to impress a Roman friend and convince him Americans know good food, I take him to Cesare. If an out of town journalist is in Rome reporting on pasta, I take him to Cesare. If chefs come to Rome in search of that fantasy trattoria they dream of, I book us a table at Cesare.
In all of the above cases, we start with the fritti misti, some of the lightest fried foods you will ever encounter. Crisp cod fillets and squash blossoms are served in paper cones, while golden gnocchi nuggests are strewn atop a thick cacio e pepe (pecorino and black pepper) sauce.
Perhaps the greatest expression of the fried genre is achieved in the form of polpette di bollito (spheres of breaded shredded veal) and poplette di melanzane (eggplant croquettes). Supple and delicate, their thin crusts give way to soft, flavorful interiors.
The parade of fried things is inevitably followed by a traditional pasta dish: carbonara, cacio e pepe, gricia, or sugo di coda. Choose your sauce and preferred pasta form and indulge in the carby classics.
But the feast isn’t over yet. Indeed, it gets even better. The secondi are among the best menu items. Again, classics reign: trippa alla romana (tripe with tomato and mint), coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtail), abbacchio fritto (fried lambchops), and involtini (meat rolls) are just some of the highlights. Follow these with a seasonal vegetable side dish to aid digestion and move on to dessert. Leaving without panna cotta would be a grave mistake.
As if the food weren’t enough to attract diners to Cesare, there is the sensational wine list where excellent, moderately priced bottles provide the rare occasion to pair complex wines (many of them natural) with thoughtfully prepared food in a completely unpretentious setting.
But the casual nature of Cesare doesn’t mean the service is overworked or inefficient (a frequent flaw of its competitors). On the contrary, the servers are polite, professional, and accommodating. In all, Cesare offers a rare combination of great food, excellent wine and easygoing hospitality. To experience it yourself, take the #8 tram from Largo Argentina to the last stop (€3 per person R/T). The restaurant is 100 yards from the tram stop.
Cesare al Casaletto
Via del Casaletto, 45 – 00151 Roma
Tel. +39 06536015