il quinto quarto, Rome

January 15, 2009

On January 12, 2009, Linda, Sue and I dined at il quinto quarto, a small restaurant in the Farnesina district northwest of central Rome. The name, the fifth quarter, does not refer to overtime in a football game, but to offal and the various innards of a meat animal. 





The friendly, young director seated us at a table with a view through a glass window into the small steamy kitchen.

She was very helpful and full of information about the cuisine. The small menu was printed with today’s date. After considerable discussion we ordered our food and a bottle of local (Lazio) wine, ferro e seta, a syrah merlot blend which was as hearty as the food. 


Linda’s antipasto was
Crostino con picchiapò
(bollito di vitellone ripassato con pomodoro e cipolle.)
Strangely, the toasted bread was so hard it was inedible. The topping was boiled veal that had been shredded and stewed with tomatoes and onions.

Sue and I started with
Carciofi alla romana

Roman artichokes had been stewed in white wine, garlic, sage and olive oil. Volcanic salt from Sicily was sprinkled on top. A fine starter.

Linda and I then went on to
Carbonara tradizionale

There are few dishes which create more controversy about the proper ingredients and mode of preparation than spaghetti carbonara, so we were excited to have it in a restaurant that is the essence of Roman authenticity. One thing not in dispute is that spaghetti carbonara originated in the Roman region, but just when and how is debated. This version is as unadorned as it could be, but relies on an exceptional ingredient, guanciale from Rieti, a town northeast of Rome. Guanciale is salt-cured, unsmoked pigs jowl. It has a particular porky taste. Here it is shredded and pan-fried, yielding fat and meaty bits. A thick dry spaghetti is used to give substance. After boiling the spaghetti is coated in beaten egg yolk, no whites, and then tossed in hot guanciale fat. The meaty bits, which have crisped up in cooling are added along with freshly ground black pepper. It is topped with grated pecorino, no parmesan. I thought it was delicious and finished all of it despite the portion, which was large for a pasta course in Italy.    

Sue’s primo was
Gricia con le pere

Sue thought that the rigatoni were too large to be eaten comfortably. They were tossed in a guanciale sauce with fresh black pepper and chunks of cooked pear.  She thought that the pear makes a better refreshing contrast to the richness of the guanciale if it is uncooked as she has had in the past. It was topped with grated pecorino. This pasta was lighter than our carbonara.

Linda’s secondo was
Coniglio su crema di patate, ceci dei solco dritto e salsa di olive di Gaeta alla cacciatore

The upper part of a rabbit thigh had been roasted and served on top of very creamy pureed potatoes with chick peas.  The topping was chopped olives. She thought the dish was succulent, flavorful and a good combination.

Sue and I had
Abbachio al forno con ramoracce e il suo cervello fritto in panatura di polenta

The piece of young lamb had been roasted so that the skin was very crisp. It was served on a bed of braised wild chicory and lambs brains coated in polenta and deep fried; they didn’t have the crispness I was hoping for, but the dish was nice.

We skipped dessert, but enjoyed the grappa or vin santo with a biscotto offered by the house.


Linda and I were very glad we had come to il quinto quarto for our first meal in Rome in over twenty years. The authenticity and unpretentious friendliness were just what we needed. Rome is known for good food, but not restaurants with great ratings in the guides. Amazingly, the one which is generally the most highly rated is La Pergola atop the Hilton Hotel. We are not going there. But we have five more days ahead of us to try what we find under Sue’s excellent guidance. Stay tuned.

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