I sometimes wonder if I’m more happy or sad that this restaurant opened up across the street from my old house five minutes after I had moved away. I generally conclude that I’m both: happy because I get to — sort of — keep my waistline and sad because if I was still living there I could just nip over any time for a bowl of soup or whatever. In my fantasy life, I’m eating at Le Coq every night in my bathrobe and slippers. Not that it’s much trouble to get there from where I live now. The restaurant is the required 10 lazy minutes or less from my place, in the heart of lovely and increasingly epicurean Monteverde (Take that Monti!).
I’m at a loss to remember what was there before Le Coq arrived. Possibly a Mom and Pop grocery store. I know, awww. I hate to see the Mom and Pop shops go under as well, but in this case I believe the sacrifice was for the greater good.
Le Coq is super cozy (which is why my fantasy involves bathrobe and slippers). The front room is cute in a French bistro-y sort of way. The back room has a low ceiling covered in bamboo and strung with tiny white lights. There are some colourful wacky paintings on the wall and maybe six tables. I love that room.
We started with an amuse-bouche: a tiny panino stuffed with smoked guanciale (pig’s cheeks) from Friuli, which is super famous for porky products, and slathered with puree of baby spring peas and lots of mint. My mouth was very amused indeed. Before I proceed, a Public Service Announcement. Listen up, Americans! In my continuing effort to help you not make fools of yourselves when travelling abroad, here is a little tip (I fully realize that the means at my disposal are sadly limited: there’s not much I can do about Colombian prostitutes): panino is a singular noun, panini is plural. Do not ever order a ham and cheese panini or, for that matter, a chocolate biscotti — same deal. Thank you.
My antipasto was a poached egg that was lightly breaded and fried before being deposited on puddle of parmesan sauce upon which floated a bed of asparagus. The egg yolk was so red — on account of coming from a free-range chicken — that I first thought it was tomato sauce! Delicious!
Jane opted for a pasta special that cleverly combined two classic Roman preparations: ravioli stuffed with cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese and black pepper) and sauced with amatriciana (more guanciale, tomato and pecorino).
Next up was the main course. I had a tuna cheeseburger. This was fantastic. It was fresh tuna tartare formed into a patty and lightly seared. Served on a black bun with tomatoes and carmelized onions, sour cream and cheddar cheese. The burger was accompanied by pinzimonio: raw veggies like fennel, carrots and zucchini, which usually come with olive oil for dipping. This pinzimonio arrived with something called maionese all’acqua di lattuga: mayonnaise of lettuce water. It sounds really odd I know. But man oh man was it delicious: light and super fresh tasting. I won’t lie: the burger was filling. But it was balanced by the raw vegetables and that amazing dip.
Jane had cereal-crusted lamb with puntarelle, served with a yoghurt-wild fennel sauce. That was also great. I love lamb.
I practically never order desserts but Le Coq is famous for theirs, so we decided to split a pistachio cake with chocolate sauce. That somewhat pedestrian description on the specials board cannot even begin to do this creation justice. You know those molten chocolate cakes with the warm melted chocolatey centre that were all the rage some years ago? Imagine that with warm melted pistachio cream. The cake came with a thin wafered chocolate halo atop its little head and, as we watched, the halo descended the hot dessert until it rested on the plate where it transformed the cake into a cowboy hat. Delicious and entertaining!
My minor quibble with Le Coq would be the Musak, which featured almost unrecognizable ambient versions of big rock and roll hits from the 1960s, 70s and 80s (Think Magic Carpet Ride, I Will Survive and Purple Rain) sung by a breathy chanteuse with no inflection . On the other hand, like all Musak, it wasn’t too intrusive and it was sorta fun sorta trying to figure out which song was which.
Musak or not, I’ll be back soon. I need to try the new tasting menu.
Osteria Le Coq. Viale di Villa Pamphili, 35 00152 Rome, Italy
06 5833 5146. Open for dinner Monday through Saturday. For lunch Saturday and Sunday.