In my Roman neighborhood there has been a recent boom of new, inventive restaurants, cafes, bakeries and small specialty street food shops, but some old school classics such as Enoteca Molinari are surviving and still attract locals, especially young people for its affordable wine and beer. This area is near Piazza Fiume and Via Nomentana, which is where the MACRO museum of contemporary art is located and which draws both art and food lovers.
In this increasingly popular area is Marzapane, the brainstorm of two gourmands, Mario Sansona and Angelo Parello, who were inspired by the atmosphere of a Parisian bistrot. They brought the idea to Rome and hired the young Spanish chef from Alicante, Alba Esteve Ruiz, who had just won the prize for best emerging chef at the Gambero Rosso cooking school: the Cordon Bleu of Italy.
Not a bad idea at all! The cuisine incorporates Roman seasonal traditions with the modern and on the plate there is an aesthetic that jives with the museum nearby. During warmer months there is an appetizer of seafood tartare with raw, finely chopped prawns topped with creamy burrata cheese, smoked eggplant and a pistachio brutti ma buoni (‘ugly but good’) biscuit. This is one of Alba’s signature appetizers. Also, for meat aficionados there is a similar mix that has chopped raw meat, cheese, giardiniera sauce and cumin for an exotic kick. There also is a tasting menu that is highly recommended.
The pastas are beautiful and range from the Roman classic carbonara to treats from the sea like linguine with cuttlefish that is flavored (and colored) with it’s dark black ink, and in season also fresh artichokes. A real delice.
As an entrée, given Alba’s roots, there are Spanish flourishes according to the season, like a mix of Iberian ham, mushrooms, balsamic vinegar and legumes. It’s a hearty meal that warms the stomach and the heart when comfort food is needed. She also makes lamb, duck, langoustine or scampi too and a good wine list rounds out the meal.
For dessert lots of inventive sweets await—from licorice, chocolate, hazelnuts, apples and more—but my favorite is her ricotta tartlette with cherries, which is a Roman classic. It is really an experience for the palate and the eyes and the ambience is warm, smart, and welcoming. The chef is in the kitchen but will often come out to greet diners: as it should be in a great restaurant.