Usually a great meal is about more than just the food. For years the memory of a meal we had in Rome has stayed fresh in our minds.
We had arrived in Rome late, tired, and hungry. Beth’s cousins, Susie and Tom, were with us. We checked into our rooms quickly and were out the back door of the hotel in minutes in search of a good meal. Look no further! Straight ahead of us – across the narrow alley – was the door to a little neighborhood gathering place, Trattoria Boccon Divino. The place was crowded and cheery. The smells that wafted our way were heavenly. Perfect. We started to go in, but Tom held back.
He wanted to see a menu. Would he be able to find something he liked? Was it affordable? The rest of us tried to reassure him, since we were so hungry and tired, but he wasn’t buying it. The owner approached. No menus in English, he said, just tell me what you like. We did. Tom was still skeptical. The owner turned to Tom. “I will bring you plates, and you will like them, I’m sure. If there is anything you don’t like, we won’t charge you for that dish. Agreed?” Tom agreed.
Many plates came out of the kitchen – warm and soul-satisfying food. We ate happily. Had we ever had a meal this wonderful? One dish was hardly touched but only because we’d all run out of room.
The owner materialized and swept away the almost full plate with a “no charge”. We insisted that it was very good, and we wanted to pay for all the dishes, but he wouldn’t hear of it. No, he would not permit us to pay for the one half-eaten plate of food. The bill was so reasonable and the food so good that, if ever again in Rome, we had to return….
Ten years later, the two of us did return. We strolled into the neighborhood, found the little side street, Via Del Pavone 30, and there was Osteria Del Pavone. It was spruced up, had a new name, but it was definitely the same location.
One feature was the same. The menu was written in Italian on a board on the wall. A very nice woman, who spoke some English, waited on us, and we discussed the menu. We chose two very simple dishes to share: pasta with tomato sauce and a plate of mixed vegetables. It sounds ridiculously basic, but seemed just right for that night.
A true test for a chef is getting a simple dish to taste heavenly. With basic dishes there is nowhere to “hide”. Ingredients and technique need to be flawless, because anything less than perfect is so easily detected. The chef had done it. Our meal was marvelous, really excellent! A second great meal in that memorable place justified our return.
We talked to our server after we’d eaten and told her of our visit ten years ago. She said the current owners had come five years ago, and she didn’t know anything about the previous restaurant that had been there, our much-loved Trattoria Boccon Divino. So, there is no going back (in this case). The trattoria from ten years ago, with the kind owner and terrific chef, is gone. In their place was the wonderful little Osteria Del Pavone. If we come back to Rome, we’ll have to return….