John Arena’s Roman Holiday

ELV note: We’ve been to Rome twice in our life and enjoyed every second and every morsel. Unfortunately, due to the depression (and the depressed dollar), a trip to Europe has been out of the question for the past few years. Thankfully, we have foodie friends like John Arena with the palate and writing skills to capture the sweet and savory essence of the Eternal City for us, and make us hungry for another trip there (although from his conclusions, maybe it’s just as well we stay home for awhile and appreciate the buon gusto! we have at our doorstep).

Rome still stands… but Las Vegas may be gaining on it.

by John Arena

There is a famous quote that links the fate of civilization to the continued existence of the “Eternal City”. This idea may be an exaggeration, but Rome is certainly an international center of art, religion, culture, and of course food. After a 3 year hiatus I felt that a return to Rome was long overdue. Considering all that has happened on the local food scene I was curious to see how Las Vegas is measuring up to one of the world’s great culinary capitols.

As a long time operator of local Italian- American eateries, I would never comment on the efforts of my colleagues in that realm. However, I think many of ELV’s readers will be interested in some objective observations about how the best of Rome compares to our local “authentic” Italian venues.

First off, let me state that last week’s issue of Seven was justified in largely copying ELV’s opinions. Many of the Las Vegas restaurants I mention are going to be very familiar to readers of this site. So, here goes and let the controversy begin.

Coffee- Sant Eustachio il Caffee is a great coffee bar, but our own Sambalatte featuring freshly roasted small batch coffee from Colorado River Coffee Roasters is an adequate alternative.

Neapolitan Pizza- There are decent pizzerias featuring forno a legna (wood oven) pizza all over Rome. None of them are any better than Settebello, the Las Vegas stalwart of vera pizza Neapolitana.

Roman style pizza- Pizzeria da Bafetto, just off of the Campo di Fiore is a favorite for super thin crust Roman pizza. The truth is Las Vegas upstart Due Forni is just as good. Beyond the pizza this new Las Vegas pizzeria is creating outstanding side dishes and features a wine list that is far better than anything you can find in a humble Roman pizzeria.

Seafood- Not even close, Rome has never been considered a great fish city. La Rosetta, near the Pantheon is good but Bartolotta at the Wynn is great, for excellent Italian seafood stay here in the desert.

Locals and visitors alike love the food at Rosciolo if they can manage to secure a reservation. This Roman favorite is particularly renowned for beef provided by famous Italian butcher Franco Cazzamali. Their steaks are good but they don’t compare to Carnevino . Rosciolo does have a great bakery near their restaurant, so skip the snooty service and the sticker shock at the restaurant by visiting the forno instead.

For a traditional trattoria experience Romans flock to Felice in the Testaccio neighborhood. It’s very good but six thousand miles is a bit far to travel for carbonara. DOCG at the Cosmoplitan is doing a comparable job and Scarpetta may be better.

Of course Rome still has us beat in a few areas. We don’t have an Italian deli that comes close to Volpetti which is practically worth a trip by itself. Of course we do have Valley Cheese and Wine. The selection is much smaller, but the products they offer are always carefully selected and the service from owners Bob and Kristen couldn’t be better. Our local gelato shops simply don’t have the selection of Della Palma or the history of Giolitti. We are still lacking a great Italian bakery that compares to the simple il Fornaio off of Corso Vittorio Emanuele which makes a Neapolitan cheesecake that even my mother admits is a good as her own.

Looking for great bread in Rome is a hit and miss affair. Sadly much of the bread in Italy is now mass produced. Here at home Bon Breads is turning out crusty artisan loaves that are every bit as good as anything you will get in the best Roman restaurants.

So is Rome still a great restaurant city? Of course, as a center of food culture, style and living the good life Rome is one of the world’s premier destinations. But, as John Curtas has pointed out, Las Vegas is now living up to its celebrity chef-driven promise. The culinary superstars are no longer simply cashing in by attaching their names to branded imitation versions of their famous venues. We have a growing number of restaurants and suppliers that can compete against some of the best in the world. Go to Rome to visit Villa Borghese…stay in Las Vegas for the food.

4 thoughts on “John Arena’s Roman Holiday

  1. I’ll have to try that Settebella place sometime. If it’s anywhere near as good as Settebello then it’s a winner!

  2. Sorry, but I’ve actually been to Bafetto in Rome, Due Forni and Settebello, and while all are outstanding, it’s not even close. Bafetto is superior by far – and you can actually get speck on your pizza there, something that seems totally absent in the States. After Bafetto, Varasano’s in Atlanta is the best pizza I’ve had.

  3. Come on? You can’t be serious!?! Las Vegas doesn’t tie Rome’s shoe laces when it come to food. Italian food is all about local products and ingredients and unfortunately we do not get much here of any quality…Valley Cheese and Wine? A sad sad deli counter…

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