First Taste: Acquolina Hostaria


Angelo Troiani, the Michelin-starred chef at Il Convivio, said he decided on a dare to open a fish restaurant and to create one of Rome's best seafood places. For such a talented chef, that was easy, but the other half of the challenge—keeping prices low—sounded daunting. His partners, though, simply saw no reason why they couldn't procure the best fish and create sublime dishes for half of what the star restaurants in town were getting.

To everyone's surprise, they've done it.

Acquolina Hostaria, in a trendy section north of the historic center (near Renzo Piana's music auditoriums and Zaha Hadid's spectacular Museum of the XXI century, which opens next year), is a smash hit. More laid-back than the pretentious Il Convivio, Acquolina is spread over two levels with a lovely leafy terrace. But it's the menu, which changes every evening when the catch arrives from Anzio and Civitavecchia, that is the real draw. The flavors of fish here are rich and true, with a few creative dishes like octopus salad spiced with curry. A carpaccio of red snapper with celery, fennel, and tartare of green tomatoes tastes so fresh that I don't have to be convinced when the sommelier Andrea Dal Monte assures me that this fish was in the  water four hours earlier). The chef even does a seafood carbonara using fish eggs and, in place of bacon, chunks of tasty homemade bottarga. If only the desserts were as original as the fish recipes. (The best bet is a carpaccio of  pineapple with lemon sorbet). Acquolina Hostaria, still very much a Roman secret, is truly acquolina ("mouthwatering"). At around $85 for a seven-course tasting menu, it's also one of the best bargains around.

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