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A Taste of Roman Food In San Francisco

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A little one, at that

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Naseem Kahn

San Francisco is not known for its breadth of Roman food. Thus, a San Franciscan might ask, "What exactly constitutes Roman food, anyway?" The answer can be found in Tasting Rome, a new cookbook (available now) from author, ex-pat, and Eater's Rome correspondent, Katie Parla.

According to Parla, "cucina romana" is all about simplicity. And carbo-loading, since pasta is cheap, and the Italian economy is not exactly cooperating with everyone's dinner plans. Most people in Rome aren't dining out that much, she says, preferring to head out for a simple plate of pasta with friends instead of enduring the elaborate tasting menus that Americans crave.

Pizza, pasta, fried snacks and great bread are part of the appeal of Roman food, which is largely simple and traditional. "Cucina creativa" has not caught on there, says Parla, referring to the modernist techniques that flood the kitchens of America (and San Francisco). "It's as tough for them to translate as it is for us to translate the simplicity of Roman cuisine."

To learn more about the food of Rome, and how to cook it: stop by Omnivore Books tonight (Thursday, April 28) for a talk on the history of Jewish Roman cuisine and book signing from 6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Meanwhile, here's where to find Roman bites in San Francisco:

Fried artichokes at Locanda

Locanda

"American culture takes things are so simple, and makes them complicated," Locanda chef Anthony Strong told Eater. Thankfully, that is not the case with their Jewish-style artichoke, which in Rome is typically a twice-fried affair served naked on a plate. Strong's version is a tad bit lighter, poaching the artichoke before frying, instead of doubling down on the grease factor.

Also on the menu is vignarola, a Roman spring stew with fava beans, artichokes and peas. Roman tradition calls for cooking the vegetables into a gray pot of mush, but Strong uses restraint, and maintains the integrity of Northern California's gorgeous produce.

Image credit: Naseema khan

Pinsa at Montesacro Pinseria

Ellen Fort

Located on one of SoMa's grittiest corners, Montesacro is a diamond in the rough. Owned by a native of Rome, Gianluca Legrottiaglie, the restaurant is focused around pinsa, which is not pizza. It's a Roman flatbread made from a flour composed of several grains, which is apparently more digestible. Parla says that it was originally a peasant food, made with whatever grains were on hand. Toppings run the gamut but a popular option combines olives, prosciutto, a hard boiled egg, mushrooms, tomatoes and artichokes.

Image credit: Ellen Fort

Suppli at 54 Mint

54 mint

Sister restaurant of Montesacro, 54 Mint focuses more on Roman pastas and small plates, like suppli. Suppli are the Roman cousin of arancini, rice croquettes filled with cheese. 54 Mint's are composed of tomato risotto with "molten smoked mozzarella" inside. Though Parla says rice isn't a huge part of Roman cuisine, suppli have managed to become an ubiquitous snack throughout the city.

Image credit: Eater Archives

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