As you saw in my earlier post Agrodolce: Our favorite Roman trattorias ten years on, we spent six weeks in Rome in the spring and early summer of 2013. During that time we revisited many of our favorite restaurants from when we lived our version of la dolce vita back at the turn of the centry. In that first post was a review of La Carbonara in the Campo dei Fiori. In a followup posting called Agrodolce: Infinitely Curved Pizza we reviewed Sora Margherita. Both of these old favorites were a disappointment. And the bad streak continued with Agrodolce: Gastro-Deletion on the Accretion Disk where we reviewed Costanza Hostaria. Things turned around, though, with two visits to one of our all-time favorite restaurants, Casa Bleve, reviewed in Agrodolce: Rinascita Gastronomica. And we were relieved to find that our favorite fish restaurant in Rome, Baia Chia, was also as excellent as ever (see Agrodolce: Pesce Così Succosa Dolce) as was Trattoria Da “Oio” a Casa Mia in the Testaccio (see Agrodolce: Unfairly Besmirched by a Blogger). And some old favorites, such as Da Enzo (see Agrodolce: Of By-Gone Burberi and Burrata) even improved with age. Another that falls into this latter category is Tram Tram.
Lucullus is constantly threatening to install Fulvia in a San Lorenzo insula so as to re-live their lost undergraduate years Roman style. This student district is the oldest neighborhood outside the Aurelian Walls with an equally ancient culinary history that dates to the martyrdom of it namesake. It seems that St. Lawrence so angered the pagan authorities that he was executed on a large wood-fired grill. His famous last words, “I’m well done. Turn me over!” secured in perpetuity his status as patron of cooks and chefs. San Lorenzo was also the temporary custodian of the most famous culinary implement in history, no less an artifact than the cup employed at the Last Supper to institute the Mass, or the Holy Grail as it became known.
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Hours of operation: Tue-Sun 12:30–3:30 pm, 7:30–11:30 pm; Closed Mon
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Rostra rating: 4
Fulvia’s favorite restaurant in Rome, Tram Tram, is located amidst a clutch of streets in southeast San Lorenzo that are named after ancient Italic tribes (e.g., Volsci, Marsi, etc.). Tram Tram fits right in, specializing in Puglian cuisine and thus making up for the lack of a street dedicated to the Messapi. The restaurant’s name refers to the near-by tram tracks, but over the years we have come to refer to the establishment as “Trattoria You Can’t Get There From Here,” because it is simply impossible to catch a tram that will take you to this part of San Lorenzo from anywhere in the Centro Storico. The food is well worth the cost of a taxi, but we prefer to walk to Tram Tram passing through the Aurelian Walls near the Stazione Termini and then following them through San Lorenzo until we reach the via dei Sabelli, which intersects via dei Reti near the restaurant.
Based on recent reports from a trusted source (my father), we had little doubt that standards were still high at Tram Tram, and our initial impressions were confirmatory. The staff, from the kitchen to the front of the house, was identical to that from years gone by . The same whole wheat Puglian bread with its salty crust came to our table and the tap water was still aerated on site to produce aqua frizzante. Most importantly, the house white wine—dry with citrus/melon fruit notes—was still the best VFM plonk in the city. Fulvia mixed hers with aerated water Roman-style and pronounced it perfect for the hot afternoon that had the room’s diminutive wall-mounted air conditioning system working at maximum pitch to little effect.
We began with a very good and unusual parmigiana melanzana, which should put to rest the common denunciation of this dish as an unauthentic dumbed-down Italo-American interpolation. The eggplant had been sliced, lightly pickled, and preserved in olive oil. Drained slices were combined with tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, and sheep cheese in layers. Served room temperature, this Pugliese eggplant parma had great flavor and texture.
Next came mussel and octopus soup. The soup base was composed of tomatoes and a good medium-bodied fish stock. The small muscles were fresh and correctly cooked. Par cooked octopus tentacles were added to the soup as small rounds just prior to service. Salty, crunchy croutons were a very nice touch, but we still used additional bread to sop up all the soup.
My main course was an endive and fresh anchovy torte with tomatoes, breadcrumbs, parsley, and pine nuts. The endive was sautéed to an al dente texture and the tomatoes were salted and partially reduced in an oven prior to assembling the dish. Using alici as opposed to salt cured anchovies produced a light and delicate dish that was served warm but would also have been excellent at room temp. It was a very nice secondo on a hot day and perfect with the wine.
Fulvia’s pasta a la norma was made with bespoke orecchiette (from orecchio (ear) + etto (small)), had wonderful flavor and texture, and was sauced with roasted eggplant in a quarter-inch dice, rich sweet tomato sauce, and ricotta salata. Restraint on the eggplant and salty ricotta allowed the pasta and the sauce to shine through—all in all a very different and excellent Puglian take on a Sicilian classic.
We rounded out our secondi with friggitelli and cicoria. Friggitelli are an Italian version of pimento del pardon. Mild Italian peppers are pan-fried to a golden green/brown and then finished with sea salt. Ours were vegetal, bitter, salty, and had a great mouth feel from the rich Puglian olive oil used for frying.
The cicoria was made from fresh chicory, not par boiled and at the beginning of the week and then consigned to the reach-in. The ingredient’s very good texture and flavor, however, could have been improved with more heat and a little less salt.
We ended the meal with some of the best gelato we encountered in our six-week stay, even though it was not house-made, nor sourced from a local gelateria, nor fresh that day but came pre-packaged from an outside source. The pistachio was very good with a nice creamy mouth feel and plenty of nutty flavor, but pride of place went to the chocolate—a perfect bitter sweet.
Verdict: The folks at Tram Tram have not merely rested on their significant laurels, but have significantly upped their game by adding interesting new dishes to their main menu such as my anchovy torte and baccala with chickpea cream and polenta chips that I will get to next time. In addition, they have added an aperitivo/tapas menu from 7:30 PM to 10:30 PM at the cozy bar adjacent to the dining room featuring Puglian nibbles to go with wines by the glass.
Which reminds me: Don’t neglect Tram Tram’s extensive wine list of spectacular Puglian reds and whites. It is easy to forget about the wine list when most of the locals are drinking the excellent vino de la casa, but if you have time for only one meal, or time for more than one after trying the house wines, you should avail yourself of excellent and hard to find reds made from Uva di Troia, Bombino Nero, Primitivo, Negroamaro, or Aglianico varietals as well as interesting whites based on Bombino Bianco, Greco, Fiano, Malvasia, and Chardonnay grapes