Much to my mental chagrin, all outdoor plans this past weekend fell by the wayside, compounded by seasonal, nonstop gray and rainy weather, and after being stuck at home for 10 straight days, I pleaded calmly with Teko for a chance to go out on a midweek, school night dinner date. Prepared for the possibility he would say no, I came up with a place I knew he could easily appreciate – i.e. simple and cheap – and where I could not only regain my mental health, but also get a professionally-done carbonara (something I’d prepared to some degree at home), and continue feeding my ongoing Italian craving. Luckily for my sanity he said yes. Afterwards, a failed attempt via email and a second message sent through their website, neither of which the restaurant apparently checked, it took an old-fashioned phone call to get a table and a shot at a decent Italian meal prepared by Gustatio’s well-regarded kitchen (well-regarded by Google, at least). Unassuming as the place was and despite my anxiety about going to the city center, I looked forward to it with relish.
When the moment came, we lucked out on a parking slot right on the street next to the restaurant, benefited from a large window-side table far from everyone else, and got down to the business of honest Italian food.
A risqué appetizer of octopus, which I was sure Teko wouldn’t touch, and a glass of freshly uncorked Pinot Grigio were good to start though I was surprisingly proven wrong when Teko had not just one but two pieces of the polipo, and for one emphatic moment it felt like both of us were equally happy being there. Owing to my pent up excitement, the substantial appetizer, which could have been my meal alone, was completely wiped out, and once the big plate of carbonara arrived afterwards it took some effort to finish it all off, with the thought of ordering dessert completely abandoned. Teko’s veggie lasagna was fully gone as well and more than enough for him to call it quits. I was completely stuffed to the point of near gluttony and once the bill was taken care of, we quickly got to our car nearby and easily drove back safely home. Mission accomplished. Non-Dutch speaking staff aside, our Italian waiter was present the whole time we were there (such that our usual 1,5 to 2 hours for dinner was over in just an hour), not to mention more service-oriented than most Italian waiters we’ve had over the years. And if we were fortunate enough to have Gustatio as a neighborhood restaurant we’d surely go back several times over, if only to find out more about dessert.
So how did my personal attempts at Rome’s favorite pasta compare with a professional’s? While satisfying, I now know my version is a pale relation, with pancetta in place of guanciale, a sauce thick from too much pecorino cheese, and pasta that’s often a minute over al dente. If I ever dare to do this dish again, at least now I have an idea what I’m missing. And one thing’s for sure – more carbonara research is in my future.