Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ahò, e daje! Magna a Taverna de' Mercanti!

[It's Food Week at AHIR: all food, all drink, all week, leading up to World Nutella Day on February 6! It's going global, folks: RSVPs from Argentina to Australia; Nutella Day Parties already planned in Houston, San Francisco and Milan; and we've even got a fan singing the joys of Nutella in French, all the way from Paris!]

Forgive me, I lapsed into Roman dialect in my title today, but it's only because where we're going now just brings it out in me. This place, IMHO, wins hands-down for Rome's most fun and authentic period building and atmosphere to dine in. Naturally, it's in Trastevere, where else?

First off, it's in what I consider one of the most charming piazzas by night: Piazza de' Mercanti. Imagine those places that Disneyland or some other theme park tries to recreate: a cobblestone square surrounded by quaint houses with flower boxes in the windows; big, hulking medieval buildings with flaming torches out front; ivy lazily creeping down the sides of the brick walls. Eating at Taverna de' Mercanti is definitely like stepping back in time, and even though they do play up the uniqueness of their location (most likely a former stable building from the 1400s or thereabouts, although I'm not really sure on this), luckily it doesn't feel too "touristy" or put on.

Take the front door, for example. After you walk through the heavy door whose entrance is flanked by two flaming torches, you climb this staircase to reach the dining area.

See what I mean? It's one of those places that looks fake because it is so authentic. Does that make any sense?

Now take the menu. When you arrive at your table, you'll find this rolled up into a scroll, waiting for you on your plate. It's about 2 feet tall by 1 foot wide.

I can't tell you how many times I've taken mine home with me, intending to frame it and perhaps hang it in one of our vacation apartments here in Trastevere, but I've never gotten around to it (yet). The fact is though, it makes for a special (and free) souvenir. It's printed on really nice paper and has sayings in Roman dialect.

As for the food, well, it's always excellent. Nothing too fancy. They specialize in "carne alla brace," grilled meats, and they have a large open grill in the dining room, so there's a real rustic feeling to the place, in addition to the period furnishings they have hung on the walls and from the ceiling.
(I can assure you that their chefs are not under the influence of anything; I just happened to catch this poor guy at the wrong moment.)

They also have a nice range of pizze (yes, folks, that's how we say "pizzas" around here). Per esempio:
Now, this is a pizza that's got way too much going on for me to ever eat it (I mean, hello, fried egg in the middle?) but Ale loves it. It's the capricciosa. Usually it's half of a hard-boiled egg, but who knows, I guess they got creative here.

I didn't manage to get a shot of any of the waiters, but they wear traditional period dress, complete with blousy shirts and neckerchiefs.

All in all, it's a fun night out, and a great place for couples and families alike. The place is huge, so reservations generally aren't necessary, but in the summer it gets crowded so you might want to go by early (7:45-8 pm) or call ahead. One of the most coveted spots is a table on the piazza--definitely worth it if you can manage to book one. Pizza is a bit pricey, ranging from €10-€15, while the meat dishes go from €10-€48 (and you can even have grilled quail if you really have a craving). We usually end up spending about €25-€30 per person including the house wine.

Piazza de' Mercanti 3/a
Closed Sundays
Tel. 06/5881693


Annika said...

That looks like an amazing place, and if we find ourselves in the neighborhood while in Rome, I'll make sure to try it. Thanks for telling about it!

Tracie P. said...

wow! the last time i heard of a pizza costing more than 7 euro (max! sitting down!) was in venezia...

but then again, the best margherita in town here costs 4 :)

Anonymous said...

What an incredible place !
Never went there but in your neighborhood I was a big fan of the "Ciak" ! yummm

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Annika: Prego!

Tracie: OMG, eating out in Rome is super expensive. Before the Euro, a margherita here was the equivalent of about 2 euro (4,000 lire). Now it's out of control. The margherita is 10 EURO, which is outrageous. Average for a margherita here in Rome is probably around 6-7 Euro I'd say.

Isabelle: Where's Ciak? I've never heard of it, tell us the secret!

Anonymous said...

Their specialty is bistecca alla fiorentina ! It's the best I ever had (outside Firenze ;-), and hey're quite good at other meat-tuscanese dishes too...
Here's the adress (I can't believe I still have it in my notebook ;-)
Vicolo del Cinque 21 - Quartiere Trastevere – Roma ; Tel: 065894774

Go and tell me if it's still as yummy as I remember it ! (around 30€ /pers and you'd better make a reservation, they used to be fully booked every night !)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

A pizza used to be 2 Euro? Wow.

Coming from L.A. food seems cheaper (and fresher) in Rome. A glass (that is right a glass) of good wine in L.A. 15 dollars. Same wine in Rome 5 Euros.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

NYC: Ale has a heart attack every time we buy wine in the States, it's so expensive compared to here. Rome I think has become one of the most expensive cities to eat out in. We are always so excited when we eat somewhere out in the country and the pizza still costs just a few euros. We feel like we're really getting away with something...when in reality the truth is that we're just always being robbed blind here in Rome... sigh...

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Isabelle: Grazie mille! Vicolo del Cinque isn't far from my house. That's a high compliment about the bistecca. I will definitely have to check it out!

Me and Him said...

okay, I'm not reading your blog again until after World Nutella Day. You are making me drool too much.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to write to say how much I am enjoying this "Food Week" and all of your posts. Your commitment to posting frequently is truly appreciated -- I read your blog to escape to Roma and you make it easy and fun! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

It seems me and Ale have the same taste about a good pizza, I like my egg on it!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Shelley,

I am new to your blog and found it very refreshing and informative. I will be visiting Rome for the first time next month and cannot hardly wait. I saw this entry and just absolutely love the atmosphere you described. I was wondering if you can tell me how to get to the restaurant from the Termini using public transportation? Thanks for you help in advance.


Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Ciao Chloe

I don't have an email address for you, so I'll respond here:

First, thanks for the nice words about the blog.

There's a great website: that you can use to plan your routes in rome. Just enter in your starting address and arrival address and it will plot the route for you.

From Termini you can take Bus H and then walk from there. I recommend a good map with an index.

Have fun...buon viaggio!

Chloe said...

Thank you Shelly for the advice!

I tried to check out the site was can't seem to find an English link. This might be a stupid question but does the site have a translated version?


emeliehealy said...

ciak is definitely worth the $$$. i recommend the entre cote - ask for it cooked how they want to cook it... and, seriously, don't argue with them. if you like your beef well done, don't bother going. on the other hand, if you don't mind a little pink, then don't miss out on one of the best meat restaurants in rome (maybe bistec wins that one, but it's a close call!)!