Sunday, October 14, 2012

Review: Forno Marco Roscioli, Rome, Italy

Before our trip to Italy, I did some pizza research. We could not squeeze Naples into our busy itinerary, so the focus shifted to Rome for finding great Italian pizza. Using the net and especially the accumulated wisdom at Slice – SeriousEats, I scouted out four places in Rome, most of which were walking distance from our hotel near the Coliseum. We set out one day through a neighborhood that featured two or three of the targeted pizza vendors.
The pizza counter at Forno Marco Roscioli

From the street. Click any pic to enlarge

All of the pies on our list were of the thin, crisp crust style – Roman pizza. Although our guide the night before had steered us to some places offering Neapolitan (softer, puffy leopard-spotted crust) pies, I stuck to my research, my own preferences in America for thin/crisp NY/Trenton pies over Neapolitan, and my intuition. So many people have come back from Italy saying “you haven’t had pizza until you’ve had it in Italy” and it was time to see how pizza in America compares to pizza in Italy.
The other baked goods at Roscioli

Navigating is difficult in Italy, on foot or by car. Street names like “Via Madonna Dei Monti”  often seem longer than the actual streets twisting at random, and the names change after 2 or 3 blocks. Maps are notoriously inaccurate. It’s generally not a problem for the tourist, because each wrong turn takes you down yet another delightful cobblestone street or alley with a new set of surprises. 
Scenes from the nearby Campo di Fiori Farm Market

Anyhow, after several wrong turns en route to the Campo di Fiore Farmers Market, we found ourselves standing outside a bustling bakery/pizzeria at lunchtime. To my delight, we realized it was Forno Marco Roscioli. Even though we’d had a big breakfast, we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

Inside, maybe one third of the space was devoted to counters with huge rectangular pizzas. The brusque counterman was lopping off two-slice servings, with a quick waxed-paper wrap. We chose some of the simpler offerings – one that in the USA would be called “tomato pie” for its lack of cheese, and one more conventional looking slice with mozzarella and some bright red sausage. I forget what it cost, but prices were moderate for this pizza sold by weight.

There is no seating inside this attractive space, but there were a few tables (no chairs) outside. We stood with other patrons on this busy (foot traffic) street to eat our pizza.
Slices/sandwich, not ours

My sausage slice. 

The crust was thin and crisp, but not as thin as, say, Pepe’s in New Haven or Papa’s Tomato Pies in Trenton. It was rigid enough to support its toppings with no sag at all (of course, that is always easier with square slices) but there was a delicate chewiness to the interior. The red sauce, vibrant, looked fresh and tasted that way. 
The olive oil, judiciously applied, gave a glisten

Here we had an experience that was repeated throughout Italy – the crust and the sauce are so good that the cheese is a distraction. My slice with cheese and sauasge was wonderful – great bread, fresh sauce, olive oil – but the cheeseless slice one was better. This is opposite of my American experience, where even the best tomato pie seems to be missing the cheese. It makes me eager to re-assess some of the top tomato pie makers here.

The pie at Roscioli was wonderful, fresh, crisp, savory, oily, delicious. It was the best pie we had in Italy. The critical question is comparing it to DiFara, DeLorenzo’s, LaPorta, and the other best pizzas I’ve had in America. One trip to Italy, without even getting to Naples, did not provide sufficient data for unimpeachable conclusions, but I’ll say that my overall impression is that the best Italian pizza is not like any American pizza I’ve had. But even with pronounced differences, my sense is that the best Italian pizza stands alongside the best American pizza.

The pie I had at Roscioli surely is among the Top Ten of my experience. I often rate the separate elements of a pie – crust, sauce, cheese, toppings – to help arrive at an overall rating.  Here, the crust and sauce are 10 or real close, but the cheese can be omitted! This is wonderful stuff and I’d eat a LOT of it if I could find anything like it near my home.

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