You will probably walk right past this the first time. Glass fronted, with a single wood framed glass door that opens to a single dining room, with no waiting area. If it's full (it probably will be), wait outside and the nice young lady will come out for you. Tables are packed close, and reset with a plain paper cloth. You will be taken care of quickly, and your bottled water, wine and bread are there for you in a hurry. As Americans, we were given a menu. We noticed a few more tourist tables...the guidebooks, you know...but the families and tables of local workers gives this room an earthy Roman flair, with Antonio working each table with a real familiarity for his customers.
The young lady who seated us also took our order. It wasn't on the menu, but I wanted to try Cacio e Pepe, so I asked, and she was delighted to say yes. We noticed almost every table trying the slim Fall artichokes, and my wife ordered a plate of two. They are trimmed, steamed or braised, and served simply, bathed in a olive oil herbed lemon sauce. These begged that you take the time to savor the exquisite flavor. Since this was our first Roman meal, we later noticed these artichokes everywhere we went. Amazing!
We were out for right around 20 euros. A fantastic meal and delightful experience.
Favorite Dish: Cacio e Pepe. Made with a fresh pasta, tonarelli I suspect, long strands like spaghetti, but just a bit thicker. A generous serving, in a wide shallow bowl, it is a simple preparation tossed with lots of cracked black pepper and pecorino cheese. Just the right amount of olive oil at the bottom of the bowl for wiping up with the last crusts of bread.
This hidden restaurant in the heart of Rome is/was my favorite restaurant in the world. I have visited here 18 times since 1993 and each time was greeted with a smile and great service from a wonderful staff..the best "peasant food" in all of Rome and the best feel for what Italy and Rome is all about. This was a restaurant that was always filled with local Italians, no tourists whatsoever...and then Gourmet Magazine rated it as a hidden find in Rome. Last Monday, I went back and the place was teeming with tourists...I wanted to cry! My little hidden gem was hidden no more. The food was still great, the prices the best in town, but I only hope it stays that way.
Antonio uses fresh ingredients, makes homemade dishes, and doesn't garnish the plate with drizzle. It really is like eating at my grandmother's everytime I go there...just don't tell my grandmother.
***2 Feb 08 Update: Antonio Bassetti's is still as great as ever...hopefully when tourist season rolls around, it will remain so!*****
Favorite Dish: I have never had a bad meal at Antonio's.