The Story of One of the Best Meals I've Ever Eaten

As part of my Rome series this week (make sure you check out my weekend guide to the city here) I'm including this bonus story about one of the best all-around dining experiences I've ever had.

This occurred on our last night in Rome at the restaurant La Pianostrada. My friends heard about this restaurant after meeting some cool kids from USC (California not Carolina) who were studying in Rome for the semester. They insisted we go to this restaurant and that it was absolutely incredible.

When I hear recommendations like this, I'm never one to object. Because I was staying with my friend Ricky and not with the rest of my friends who I traveled to Rome with, we agreed to meet at the restaurant at 9. Ricky and I got there first and guys, I was a little distressed.

You see, this restaurant was the hole-in-the-wall joint of my dreams. There was just one problem. We were dealing with a group of nine loud, hungry, slightly buzzed American dudes and this place had about two tables and a small bar that seated about six or so. And all those seats were filled.

  Nope, there's not more restaurant hiding in the back. What you see it what you get at this place. Photo by Max Siskind.

Nope, there's not more restaurant hiding in the back. What you see it what you get at this place. Photo by Max Siskind.

We waited until the rest of our friends arrived to let the restaurant know that we would be attempting to come in with a large group. One of the four women running the place who we talked to saw our large group and her eyes went wide. In her best English she said "I'm not sure we can do this."

We were understanding and began to walk away, our stomaches empty and heads hung low. But then she said "Wait! You can come back in about 20 minutes and we will figure something out." That was good enough for us.

So we walked around a little bit, had a little bit more to drink and headed back over to the restaurant. Lo and behold, most of the people in the restaurant who were there when we first got there were gone and they had put the tables together and took just about every seat in the place and put them around the table for us.

Talk about service. As I said before, this place is run by four women. I'm not sure if they're family or just friends, but what they are doing in this place is nothing short of miraculous. It's four of them back behind the bar cranking out an entire menu of sandwiches and dishes of the day on a bunch of hot plates and one or two ovens.

And they make their own homemade bread. Need I say more? I don't really need too, but I'm definitely going to. They also change the menu pretty much every day, handwriting each plate on a piece of construction paper and taping it up around the restaurant.

  Three out of four of the lovely ladies behind the bar. You can catch a sneak peek of some of that homemade bread I mentioned behind them. Photo by Max Siskind.

Three out of four of the lovely ladies behind the bar. You can catch a sneak peek of some of that homemade bread I mentioned behind them. Photo by Max Siskind.

What's on that menu basically depends on what they can carry back from the market on that particular day. These ladies aren't messing around. The restaurant is also run out of the bottom of an apartment building. I saw a guy hanging up laundry while we were waiting to go inside.

When I asked to use the restroom, I was shushed and hurried to the back of the restaurant, "You can use it, but don't let anyone see you because it's our personal bathroom." Literally there was a washer/dryer, a shoe rack and makeup on the sink guys. I've never taken the phrase "make yourself at home" so literally before. But I loved every second of it.

  The construction paper menu in all of its glory. Photo by Max Siskind.

The construction paper menu in all of its glory. Photo by Max Siskind.

The dedication and love that these ladies put into their food and the care they show to their customers was something I've never seen before. The woman we were dealing with for the night, the same one from earlier, took her time and patience with us and walked us through the entire menu, which was written in Italian of course.

Once I heard there was homemade bread in the mix, I knew I had to get my hands on some. However, I was faced with a moral dilemma when she mentioned the special of the day, meat slow-cooked in red wine served with potatoes. Luckily my friend Ricky agreed to go halvsies on that with her most highly recommended sandwich, swordfish on black bread. Also, the meat didn't come with bread, so you know we had to order some focaccia bread for the table. Great move.

  The extensive sandwich menu. I didn't even know where to begin. Photo by Max Siskind.

The extensive sandwich menu. I didn't even know where to begin. Photo by Max Siskind.

Onto the dishes though. I've never had swordfish before, but I'm always the first one to try something new, so I gave it a shot. Best recommendation I can make for eating by the way. Be adventurous. Especially if you're abroad. Trust me, you'll regret it if you don't get outside your comfort zone at least a little bit.

That's why when the nice Italian lady says get the swordfish sandwich, you get the damn swordfish sandwich.

If the atmosphere and the service weren't enough for you, take my recommendation that the food is also straight fire at this restaurant. The bread, both black and focaccia (they actually had baked goods for dessert too, but we didn't try any) were warm, fresh and delicious.

All the food also came on plastic plates with plastic silverware, keeping with the restaurant's "street food" theme that has won them some accolades you can see displayed in the window

I also think I like swordfish now. The sandwich came on the black bread with buffalo mozzarella cheese, arugula salad and some sweet glaze/dressing that I couldn't for the life of me pin down. Whatever that glaze was though definitely made this sandwich and the bread took it over the top.

  The sandwich. If only Ricky wasn't so greedy and let me eat the whole thing. Photo by Max Siskind.

The sandwich. If only Ricky wasn't so greedy and let me eat the whole thing. Photo by Max Siskind.

The meat special was also incredible. I personally liked the sandwich better, but again here the bread stole the show. I'm also a sucker for roasted potatoes, so I was happy with those little guys on the side. The sauce on this dish was also the bomb, perfect for mopping up with the focaccia bread or potatoes.

  The slow-cooked meat and the potatoes. Complete with its very own plastic plate. Photo by Max Siskind.

The slow-cooked meat and the potatoes. Complete with its very own plastic plate. Photo by Max Siskind.

  The perfect bite. Potato on top of the meat on top of the homemade focaccia bread. Photo by Max Siskind.

The perfect bite. Potato on top of the meat on top of the homemade focaccia bread. Photo by Max Siskind.

I am not joking or messing around with any of you when I sincerely say that I would travel back to Rome specifically to eat at this restaurant. It was that good. I'm also a firm believer that eating out isn't solely about the food.

Sure, it's obviously important to have a great product that people want to eat. But if you're in the restaurant business, you're selling yourself just as much as you're selling that food. You're also selling your space. 

  Pots, pans and utensils hanging on the walls also contributed to the great atmosphere in this place. Photo by Max Siskind.

Pots, pans and utensils hanging on the walls also contributed to the great atmosphere in this place. Photo by Max Siskind.

So, if it's just four women on some hot plates in an apartment building in the middle of Rome cranking out great food and they can convince you to come back, you've got a winner in my book.

It also didn't hurt that I was enjoying this place in the company of great friends in this great atmosphere.

Great food + Great service + Awesome atmosphere + Good times with good friends = 9/10 or 4.5 stars.