Tucked away down a narrow cobble stoned street between the river and Via Giulia, one of Rome’s most picturesque streets, sits a Neopolitan restaurant frequented by Roman locals and those in the know. I stumbled upon the trattoria situated inside a 16th century house one gloriously sunny afternoon when all of the terracotta colored buildings were at their most vibrant, and via Gonfalone remained blissfully in the shade. A few wooden tables on the uneven cobblestones gave the restaurant away, and I ventured through the wide, dark-wooded door into a cozy room not yet filled with late-lunching patrons. A charming copper-hooded fireplace separates the intimate main room from a few additional tables and the kitchen beyond.
‘Ciao!’ I called out to the deep male voices I heard bellowing from the kitchen. A dark-haired Italian appeared. He showed me the menu and told me how the cuisine is of Neopolitan and Puglian styles. I promised to return that evening for ‘la cena’ with a friend.
By 7pm the city had grown dark, and after perusing a charming bookstore on Via Giulia in order to kill time before my friend arrived, I settled into the cozy dining room at Il Gonfalone next to the copper fireplace. February can be a very chilly month in Rome, and I relied on the fireplace for warmth rather than the central heat that ancient Roman buildings so often lack. The restaurant was quiet, an ambience uninterrupted by sirens and car horns, and not yet fully inhabited by locals who often eat later in the evening.
Always encouraged to order both a primo and a secondo, I decided to take the plunge. Full steam ahead, I started with the orecchiette and mixed seafood. Cozze (mussels), vongole (clams), gamberetti (shrimp), and the standout of the dish, seppia (cuttlefish), accompanied cherry tomatoes, a scattering of parsley, and a light but intensely flavorful wine and fish reduction. My hesitation and tentativeness with the first seppia did not last long, and I found myself saving the best for last and running the thumb-sized winter fish across the simple white plate, sopping up the last of the sauce. The Neopolitan meatballs were divine and simply dressed in a none-too-heavy red sauce. Sustaining myself on mostly fish and vegetables, a strictly meat dish was warmly welcomed. A drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of parsley littered the plate, and though I had fully devoured my orecchiette with seafood, I left no volpette behind. Nearly at our tipping point, my friend and I forged on with the hot chocolate souffle. The twenty-minute wait was well worth it, and as we climbed the narrow staircase up to the road along the river, I felt for the first time in my life that I could truly understand the meaning of ‘food coma.’
7 via Gonfalone, nr Via Giulia