In my searches for vegetarian recommendations in Italy, the two restaurants that came up every time were Il Margutta and Arancia Blu. So, on our third night in Rome, we ventured out on a No. 14 tram far outside the city center to the ‘hood to find it. Don’t worry though; there’s really no need to go there.
It’s not the service – the staff were quite attentive and friendly. It’s the food. My theory is that they are trying too hard to prove that vegetarian food can be fancy and filling. They seem to try include as many concentrated flavors in each dish as possible, without regard for balancing heavy with light and mild with pungent.
To start, our very kind Swiss server asked if we’d like to try the fried vegetables. We agreed as we were both quite hungry. My appetite began to fade when instead of the crispy bites I had imagined, we were presented with this plate of stale, grease-laden sadness.
No need to give up, though, I thought, as I perused the menu of first courses and pasta (pictured here, though somewhat blurry). I decided on the spaghetti with red pesto. The menu listed the pesto ingredients as sundried tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, parsley, basil, pistachios, and aged goat’s milk ricotta. That’s an impressive list, and I should have guessed it would be overwhelming. On top of all of this, something in the dish was smoked. I wish I’d been forewarned as I’m really not on board with that. The spaghetti itself was quite hard, but that might just be the way it’s done.
Eric was smart enough to choose the one good dish we ordered: the buffalo milk ricotta ravioli with tomatoes, scallions, pine nuts, and olive oil. You can’t lose when you keep it simple and use the best ingredients.
We were already full by this time, but I think we both took pity on our server, who had just moved to Italy and was struggling with both English and Italian (we tried to remember some of our German for her sake). So, we made selections from the second course menu.
It looked like a frozen pot pie, which is a pity considering the hard work that likely went into it. The pastry was bland and too thick, and the filling was just an odd combination of textures. Not hating, just saying, as I’ve definitely done the thing where you cook all day and produce a flop.
I ordered the stuffed courgette flowers, since I can’t resist squash blossoms if I see them on a menu. They were stuffed with “potatoes and pesto and rolled in crisp spaghetti of rice and sauce with string beans and with mustard.” The sauce was ok and the filling was pleasant, but again, the fried stuff seemed stale. Do they fry it all ahead of time and re-fry to order? I also would rather have tasted the squash blossom rather than having it covered in tough, chewy strands of rice pasta.
Eric wanted to order something from the dessert menu and chose the lemon sorbet. It was intensely tart and a bit sweet, as lemon sorbet should be, and made me feel a little better about life.
So, if you do plan to visit Rome, I hope I’ve saved you a trip to the outskirts. Trust me, go to Il Margutta instead.
Via Prenestina, 396
Rome, Province of Rome