Nestled just off the pizza slice shaped piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, which is the place in the Centro Storico for an aperitivo, is Matricianella. Not too much needs to be said about this trattoria: it's in virtually every guidebook's best of, The Grey Lady's Mimi Sheraton wrote a gusher of an article about Matricianella back in 2006, and if I recall correctly The Light Brunitastic loved it too. Matricianella is not the "cucina creativa" of Fabio Baldassare or Carlo Cracco of Cracco-Peck. It's Roman classics on each menu page and a little caramelized pancetta and a generous helping of pecorino romano never hurt anyone.
These guys can deep fry to an almost unbearable tempura-esque lightness. The fiore di zucca is stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and served piping hot on a small plate with a paper sheet and a lemon wedge. Unreal. The carciofo alla giudea is a classic must have on a trip to Rome, on par with a tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. It's a smallish purple artichoke flattened and fanned out, pan fried with a generous amount of sea salt and has a most unsubtle crunchiness.
Pasta is the thing to order here...all the classic sauces are done just right and the portion is correct, not too much that you don't have room for a meat course. Bombolini alla Gricia are fat half rigatoni in a white wine, butter, pecorino and pancetta sauce; Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe is almost too rich and overbearing here, each bite tasting the same. Delicious but slightly dull. The Bucatini Amatriciana here is a jaw puncher and served with a choice of rigatoni or bucatini. Just curl up under the table after finishing this dish and go to sleep, it's all right. The Spaghetti Carbonara is excellent and gives this much maligned classic a rebirth. Not too eggy, not too peppery or porky, but all three in harmony. Matricianella uses pancetta in its Carbonara (as well as the Gricia and Amatriciana). No guanciale, as Italian foodie arrivistes proclaim authoritatively is the proper pig meat for these classic Roman pastas. There is some way Matricianella draws out the smoky salty notes in the pancetta to an irresistible and crispy crescendo.
Matricianella also does the "quinto quarto" dishes. I was a little wary of the Rigatoni alla Pajata and I lack the courage of Jeremy Parzen who put a garish closeup image of a forkful of this offal dish from the restaurant Perilli a Testaccio on his Do Bianchi blog http://dobianchi.com/tag/perilli/. Pajata are baby lamb intestines with the mother's milk still inside, and the milk curdles to a cheese like consistency when sauteed. Take that, PETA.
Of the secondi, I only tried the Agnello Scottadito, which are broiled lamb riblets served so hot you burn your fingers (scottadito) when clutching them ravenously. There is also a deep fried lamb cutlet, called agnello dorado. They do a decent steak, so I've heard, and I noticed a couple of tables ordered roasted chicken and potatoes.
A nice touch at Matricianella is the daily changing wines by the glass. Staying within the confines of Lazio, I had the Cesanese del Piglio from Casale della Iolia 2006. Cesanese is generally medium bodied with a bold pepperiness, not too tannic. This particular producer seemed to make an "international" Cesanese: I felt it was a bit fruit forward and a tad oaky, but not overwhelming. I can imagine this wine selling well at good price points at wine bars Stateside. The other Cesanese that I tried, my bad for not writing down the producer and year, was a bit more restrained and traditional. The wine snob in me wanted to like it more than the Casale della Iolia, but the latter is more drinkable and less angular, versatile with the lusty offerings at Matricianella, but equally enjoyable without food.
Because of its notoriety, Matricianella is always packed and a Stallone clone stands outside with a clip board checking rezzies, like he was in MePa in the NYC. Matricianella is quite a mix: a 20 something Japanese guy lost in thought over a bowl of carbonara and a glass of Cesanese, an upper crusty Roman foursome on a double date, a mom and her two teenage daughters, who while being slim, ate everything in sight. And yes, don't worry about the clichè of ordering tiramisù. It is outstanding.
Buon appetito e buona bevuta!