In the middle of Rome lies a plaza where nobles once flooded the area and played war games at. Today, however, it is a simple plaza, and a popular tourist attraction. Just outside the plaza proper, however, is a small side restaurant well known to the locals – Navona Notte. Navona Notte serves quality Italian food for a good price, and isn’t crowded with tourists most of the time. When you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a try.
Like many other Italian restaurants, Navona Notte offers both indoor and outdoor dining. The indoor is decorated as if it were outdoors, and doesn’t offer much in terms of air conditioning – so why bother? For our visit, we sat outside, where tables were laid out on the side of the road. It’s amusing really, with cars whizzing by every so often while you’re eating, and it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
We were sat quickly, as it was around 12:30 and in Italy, that’s a bit early for the Italians to eat lunch. Some bread and water was brought out quickly, and a quick glance at the menu showed that the restaurant offered a wide variety of dishes in typical Italian fashion: appetizer, first plate, second plate, dessert. Service was prompt and courteous, even though many of them were not comfortable using English, to which I was very appreciative. These guys have served tourists before, and know that tourism makes up a big part of their earnings.
For the antipasti, I ordered a bruschette misti, or a mixed plate of bruschetta, a simple piece of toast with some vegetable toppings. The misti came with a wide variety of options, including pate, some olive tapenade, and the classic tomato and mozzarella option. With a hint of olive oil spread on top of each, the bruschette plate was quite refreshing, and a great appetizer. Each of the different pieces had its own unique flavor, and you can really taste the freshness of the mozzarella, tomato, and olives. Thankfully, the misti is not filling at all, so it leaves plenty of room for the main courses.
The menu at Navona Notte covers a wide range of Italian recipes, especially pizzas and pastas. Having Pizzeria da Baffetto close by, however, we kept mostly to the pastas. I was surprised that the portions at Navona Notte are not particularly overwhelming. Here is a quick rundown of what we had.
-Penne alla Vodka
Vodka isn’t something you’d associate with pasta very often (especially in college), but this dish is extremely simple in both presentation and taste. That’s not to say that it’s a bad dish; in fact, it is quite flavorful. With a small amount of cheese added, its simplicity lets you taste the homemade pasta’s flavor.
Another restaurant, another variation of gnocchi. Navona Notte has a much more earthy texture than other restaurants due to their homemade nature. Each piece is much heavier, however. Even after a couple bites, this dish is incredibly filling. It’s quite a shame too, because this dish is very good. The tomato sauce used is one of the tastiest I’ve had in a while.
When this came onto our table, I was surprised at the amount of oil in the dish. Saltimbocca, however, is usually made like that, so I can’t fault it much. Still, it does look a bit out of place. Unfortunately, this dish turned out less than satisfactory. The meat itself is cooked perfectly; it’s not too tough, and retains a lot of its flavor. However, it is quite salty, and it’s not the best dish for a hot day. The sauce is also incredibly strong, so it masks the meat to a point that it becomes unrecognizable. There is a delicateness around making saltimbocca correctly, but this seemed like the chef approached it with two sledgehammers and tried to hammer out something instead.
-Linguini with Clams
Again, the simple dishes shine at Navona Notte. Homemade pasta are cooked al dente, with a hint of salt accenting it. The clams are steamed well in a garlic butter broth; the meat hidden inside the shells are not too rubbery, and do not suffer from the fishy taste some clam preparations might suffer from. The lack of tomato sauce also allows the full flavor of the clams to show through, instead of competing with each other. A touch of parsley finishes an Italian classic dish. Of all the pastas, this is the one I would label the ‘must-try’ of the menu.
To bring a fitting end to an Italian dinner, a myriad of desserts are presented, from creme caramel and cassata to tiramisu. We tried the tiramisu, which does not come in typical cake fashion a la American-ized Italian restaurants. Instead, it comes as a small yet moist piece of coffee cake, and placed with a thick layer of flavored marscapone cheese. This is the true Italian tiramisu, and the one at Navona Notte should not be missed. The coffee has the flavors of a European brew (not strong, like Starbucks), and the marscapone cheese adds sweet accents that work well together. We also tried the cassata, which is basically a hard Italian ice cream. With vanilla surrounding a core of stracciatella (chocolate chip), it’s not as light as the tiramisu (though honestly, no Italian dessert can be called light), but offers a strong, creamy flavor with a rich chocolate tone.
Navona Notte does a very good job with their pasta dishes, creating simple Italian classics that bring out the flavor of each ingredient they use. I don’t think the saltimbocca is representative of their main dishes’ quality, considering their capability with the pasta. However, I can’t draw any conclusions since I didn’t have anything to try with it. Their desserts are also worth trying if you haven’t been anywhere else in Italy yet. For a lunch with another person, I would recommend the bruschette misti, a pasta, and a dessert, which would run your tab to about 20 euros. Pretty good for a tourist area.
**Quality ingredients and homemade pastas
**Easy access from a popular tourist spot
**Sitting outside can be dangerous with cars zipping by
**Main dishes are a tad oily
Navona Notte: Ristorante Cucina Romana
Via del Teatro Pace, 44
Tel. 06 6869278