The "magic trio" of La Ciambella Bar à Vin has managed to create a new postcard: that of the growing and ever-changing Urbe, because Rome has much more to tell beyond the walk of fame of gricia and supplì.
*Photos by Andrea Di Lorenzo
"Mamma Roma" has an age-old problem that consistently troubles both locals and food enthusiasts bystanders: iconic places are a gastronomic enigma, where finding the right address becomes a Fast and Furious remake, complete with acrobatic slaloms through the crowd and the "sampietrino aggravation" adding flair to the frenzied quest for a free table. Trastevere, Via del Corso, or the Trevi Fountain? In the end, it's almost better to flip a coin: the challenge will be tough, and victory far from guaranteed.
Not surprisingly, Piazza Navona adds its own touch, bustling 365 days a year (ignoring weather phenomena and the descending curve of winter's "dead months"). But if you happen to be in that area to take in some fresh air mixed with the aromas of a fryer, sneaking into a quiet alley away from the Pantheon crowd, with a bit of luck, you might spot the modest entrance of La Ciambella Bar à Vin, different from the usual "tourist trap" restaurants. Stop right there because you've probably turned the evening around in a few steps.
Despite being off the radar, here the essence of the dinner revolves around popular sentiment, in the sense that everything you’ll taste will seamlessly blend with the setting. Yet, everything will appear different from the preconceived idea of typical menus.
A sign combining two actions; one extended hand in a friendly greeting and the other vigorously kneading al dente tonnarelli. This is Mirka Guberti and Francesca Ciucci, secret allies at a distance, united by a fluid synchrony.
The first, an Emilian, with a graceful walking in the dining room perfected through years of experience at Glass Hostaria and Pascucci Al Porticciolo, after foreign travels and a natural pre-training landing in France; the second, a native with roots and intentions, part of a family entwined with the myth of origins and the founder of the first "fraschetta" in the historic center of the Urbe.
It is from this mosaic of roots and assorted characters that the "Ciambella-thought" takes shape: an unspoken philosophy characterized by welcoming grace and culinary identity, because Rome wants to be remembered but still has much more to tell beyond the walk of fame of gricia and supplì. And indeed, Francesca, rather than preserving gastronomic relics, shapes the experience as a tour through streets and neighborhoods, polishing the taste monuments scattered along the way.
The Venue and the Menu
Cream-colored interiors, curtains and mirrors reminiscent of an antiquarium, an open kitchen with a small team: that's how it starts, and you get lost in the traces of intersected flavors, exploring what a simple map might not be able to show.
If you ask for "prosciutto and figs," you'll find them both on a plate of steaming fusilli: from white pizza toppings to unconventional pasta toppings; the vignarola, on the other hand, becomes the herby filling for the Tuscia Leprino Rabbit, while coffee appears on the Duck Breast.
Cooking and proportions are carefully managed, for clarity in every bite: you always know exactly what you're eating. For everything else, there's Radion Girleanu, a valuable support for the curious customer who, under thirty, along with Mirka, manages the service with palpable attentiveness that makes a difference in a place dedicated (also) to entertainment between courses.
While those who want to "eat with their hands" will find a menu entirely dedicated to that (a kind of table street food in 5 acts for €50), we chose - and we'll tell you about it - the "Rome, our way of tradition" journey (more elaborate, priced at €85); equally rich are the à la carte options, with interesting focuses on the “fifth quarter” (offal) and fresh/dry pasta.
Free-spirited fraschetta, fragments of the past bonding together thanks to a new-generation. The welcoming is a bit like the disassembled portrait of Francesca: you gradually get to know her, one turn at a time. Then there's porchetta, promptly degreased by yogurt sauce and made finger-friendly by an Italian-style taco; there's the vaccinara (ox tail), immersed in the little black dress of a pastry truffle that, for the occasion, turns savory; there's the bignè, but with butter and anchovies, and the slightly gummy coppietta to bite into while already grabbing the hand pulled grissini.
While waiting for the grip to loosen, Mirka arrives with Leclisse, Lambrusco di Sorbara Doc "Cru" by Paltrinieri: the pairing you wanted without knowing it; a sparkling regional crossover regardless of Roman pride. Just when the aperitif seems to have run its course, here comes an olive oil focaccia with beautiful dimples, plus the "fake tripe" that drives foreign guests crazy: a simple omelet seasoned with tomato, pecorino, and mint, evoking the "monastic cleverness" of housewives in lean times.
In this case, and also following, the "simple" ingredient remains itself: no overly imaginative changes to undo the fabric of tradition. So the Animella escapes the vacuum thanks to a precise old-school browning, crisping up the exterior and marking the contrast with the tender interior. It's lightly touched by a hint of pecorino to break the roundness of the brie sauce, chased by the spicy tones of chicory.
"Bold" choices? Nowhere to be found. Francesca reinterprets the Gricia from scratch and opts for tonnarello to change the finale: "I believe that egg pasta is written in the Roman DNA. So it completes the recipe, with its addition of Parmigiano and Pecorino on the sizzling guanciale." The result is a dense tangle ready to unravel slowly under the teeth; the meaty inserts popping at intervals, celebrating the success of the cream.
Two different dishes, an arrow shot from the same point: Mirka hits the target with the Vitovska Vodopivec 2019, macerated for 6 months on the skins and evolved in terracotta amphorae; deep and lively for the iodine that emerges in the finish. Present since the beginning and now a "historic" item at La Ciambella is the stuffed Quail, dry-aged through progressive growth. "I started with the basic version, with the meat stewed over low heat in the classic cast-iron pot with spices and a splash of Marsala; then I added dried apricots for the freshness of the filling, Jerusalem artichoke cooked in milk instead of the usual mashed potatoes, and finally, licorice powder" - that aromatic comma that gives rhythm to the rest, as if it were the punctuation that was missing.
When it's time for dessert, the question brings a smile: "Sweet or savory Maritozzo"? The doubt is legitimate, between comfort zones and a hunger for surprise. The chef offers both with a balanced mixture of citrus and Maldon salt, to lighten the buttery soul. In the first, strictly unsweetened cream, straightforward and sincere; in the second, the solid duo of butter and anchovies, or lamb leg alla cacciatora. We asked for both in their hardcore simplicity. And when you think back the next morning at breakfast, you realize that yes - you've found a place to return to..
La Ciambella Bar à Vin
Via dell'Arco della Ciambella, 20, 00186 Rome RM
Tel: 06 683 2930