Italian food is arguably one of the most popular – and misused – cuisines in the world. So no matter what a guidebook recommends or how many adjectives they use, the phrase “authentic home-cooked Italian” tends to incite mistrust. Even if it’s a restaurant in Italy. So on a recent trip, after almost 2 weeks of red-sauce-soaked dining (not to take anything away from marinara), it was my birthday in the Eternal City and I wanted exactly that – some authentic Italian. The pasta-free version.
Spirito DiVino is actually located inside one of Rome’s oldest synagogues. Built in the 2nd century A.D., it harbors, among other things, a gloriously dusty wine cellar boasting some of the oldest bricks in town (and if you know anything about Rome, that’s pretty old). But the highlight here is the day-to-day operation, which is truly a family affair. Shaking the raindrops off our coats and hungry from getting lost on our way, we were greeted warmly by Romeo, the charming owner, whose wife is the chef. Son Francesco rounds out the trio as the official sommelier. Romeo promptly poured us 2 glasses of spumante and without missing a beat, pulled up a chair and went over the entire menu, colorizing generic dish descriptions with anecdotal pieces of history and noting ingredient changes here and there (”we can’t use peaches in the fall, they’re not in season – tonight we’re making this with pears.”) And trust me, if you take their suggestions without question, you won’t regret it.
The menu is distinctly Roman, highlighted by dishes featuring recipes that date back to the time of the emperors. Paper-thin crepes stuffed with fresh goat cheese, grilled market-fresh zucchini and soft, handmade linguini noodles in a nutty almond pesto sauce are just some of starters you can choose from to stretch your tastebuds in preparation for the exquisite main courses. Try the slow-roasted pork shoulder – a recipe from Julius Caesar’s court served with an indescribable warm fruit topping akin to applesauce, spiced with honey and peach. Thick, cold Italian creme brulee will sound like too much indulgence afterward, but you won’t be able to say no.
And if you’re lucky, as we were, Romeo will invite you down into the old, storied cellar, whose damp, shadowy confines reveal aisle after aisle of dusty, pure wine bottles, aging to perfection in their crumbly dirt home beneath the muted footsteps in the packed restaurant above.
Spirito DiVino is not just an authentic culinary journey through old Rome, but a taste of open-hearted Italian hospitality, family pride and fun. Perhaps it was a foodie’s version of the coin-toss into Trevi that I left my umbrella at the restaurant that night: I hope I too will have a chance to return soon. No doubt, as in any visit to Italy, a trip back to Spirito DiVino will be like crossing an ocean to visit an old friend with that familiar old twinkle in their eye.
Ristorante Spirito Divino
Via dei Genovesi 31 a/b
00153 Roma (RM), Italy
+39 06 589 6689