This is the story of how I found my favorite restaurant in Rome.
In 2002 my wife and I decided to get each other a trip to Rome as a Christmas present. From my perspective, this turned out to be a great idea as it removed the pressure of having to think of a gift on my own.
One night we thought we would try a pizza place near the Campo De Fiori, one of the most famous public squares in Rome. Fortunately (as it turns out) the pizza place was closed. As we were walking back to the Campo we came across this little restaurant called Taverna Lucifero. They weren’t open yet, but they said would be in about an hour. We asked to make a reservation and the owner agreed. The reservation system consisted of a yellow Post-It with our name on it, stuck to the underside of an ashtray (yes, smoking was allowed in restaurants in those days).
At the appointed time we came back and the smell was incredible. Lucifero does a few dishes with truffle and the undertone of umami was in the air. We sat down and were immediately presented with a glass of Prosecco (free wine is always a good start to a meal – and they still do this today). I asked to see the wine list and the owner said, “I am the wine list, what do you like.” We described what we liked and he came out with a selection, it was delicious. In hindsight I probably should have asked about the price, but not to worry, it turned out okay.
At some time during the process it became obvious that they only accepted cash (they take cards now). I told my wife I didn’t think we wanted to be limited in what we ordered so I set off to find an ATM. Apparently I had been gone too long because my wife called me on my cellphone. In effect, the call went from Rome to Boston back to Rome only to find out that I was 50 ft from the restaurant – roaming charges be damned.
Back to the dinner. It was delicious, as was the wine, the desert, everything. After dinner we asked for some Limoncello. The owner came back with two glasses which he filled and then plopped the bottle on the table. I asked my wife if were supposed to drink the whole bottle. She advised me that he was probably saying, “if you want a little more, go ahead.” Darn.
After a very pleasant evening we asked for the bill. I recall thinking, “okay, here we go the most expensive dinner of the trip”. As it turned out, nothing could be farther from the truth. The bill came to 77 euros and he rounded it down to 70 euros. He rounded it down! Unbelievable. And as it turns out, I probably had enough cash in the first place.
We have been to Lucifero a few times since. The owner has come to know us and we even get the Italian cheek-kiss when we arrive. On a couple of occasions (when we knew we were coming back for dinner later on in the visit) we asked him to open a nice bottle of wine for us. When that happens, there will be a bottle sitting in a decanter on the table, ready to enjoy. We leave it totally up to him and we have neither been disappointed, nor felt taken for a ride.
As it turns out, the owner’s son is also a restaurateurs. A few years ago, the owner opened Cantina Lucifero just around the corner from Taverna Lucifero. The owner’s son took over the Taverna while he ran the Cantina. Since then Taverna has moved to a location that is directly beside Cantina Lucifero. The restaurants are now located at Via del Pellegrino 53 in Rome near the Campo De Fiori.
If you go, the dishes I most highly recommend are the meatballs, lasagne, Brasato, and tomino cheese.
TripAdvisor now has Lucifero rated at number 68 in Rome. This is great, but I am also torn because I don’t want them to get so popular that I can’t get in. I want Lucifero all to myself, at least when I am in Rome.
Jeff Zapfe is the Acentech’s fifth and current President. Besides being an expert in noise and vibration and the leader of our company, he is also an avid traveler and regular contributor to our blog. Read more about Jeff here.