There are many ways to choose a restaurant: reviews, social network applications, advice from friends, outside food displays, number and type of clientele, etc. MudGuide has used them all at one time or another and we are always looking for a new restaurant-filtering algorithm. From time to time, however, Lucullus has been known to eschew rational restaurant search approaches because their results are always time consuming, inevitably imperfect, and invariably lacking in serendipity.
Telephone: +39 06 4547 8764
Hours of operation: Every day from 12:30–3:30 pm, 7:30 pm – 12:00 am
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Rostra rating: 4
Lucullus chose 3Quarti Ristorante solely due to its location. But it was not the establishment’s space-time coordinates within the Eternal City nor its adjacency to culinary or cultural landmarks that caught his attention one evening in June. It was the street name of via Attilio Regolo that demanded MudGuide’s attendance. Marcus Attilius Regulus (circa 307 – 250 BC) is a major character in the Mago Scrolls and one of Lucullus’ more serious historical obsessions. Fulvia instantly recognized his choice of 3Quarte as the functional equivalent of buying a bottle of wine because of a cool label, but acquiesced rather than opt for a second visit to the disappointing Prati outpost of Velavevodetto di Quirini located near-by (see Agrodolce: Unfairly Besmirched by a Blogger).
Being sans reservation, our party of three could not secure an outside table as we would have preferred, but the interior of the restaurant did not disappoint. The space is very modern with vaulted brick ceilings, cream-colored walls, modern art, mirrors, and lots of wood. Lighting fixtures are a combination of minimalist sconces mounted high on the walls with bare bulbs suspended from ceiling pendants for table illumination. Dark wood tables contrast with blonde chairs upholstered to match the wall color, as do the utilitarian table linens.
3Quarti’s cuisine is Mediterranean-Asian fusion. MudGuide is not a big fan of culinary fusion. For starters fusion is the wrong gastronomical description for such food. Fusion is about forming heavier elements from lighter ones. Culinarily speaking, combining widely differing ethnic or regional ingredients, styles, or techniques almost always results in a fission-like process; to be specific a “gun-type” fission wherein one type of cuisine is fired into another at high speed and the results of the collision are more or less artfully arranged on a plate and served up to credulous foodies.
The key to a very nice meal at 3Quarti lies in knowing what to avoid, which in turn involves utilizing the least useful of all Roman culinary artifacts—the menu. Fortunately the menu (available in Italian and English) is very specific about the various choices on offer. Fusion dishes and other abominations, such as vegetarian carbonara and meatless amatriciana, can thus be safely avoided.
The meal began with the establishment’s eponymous specialty. Three quarters refers to a trio of miniature pizzas (piccole focaccine) served whole or split and stuffed with various ingredients. Made with pizza dough allowed to rise for twelve hours then hand-stretched and fried golden brown, these puppies proved quite addictive. We sampled five stuffings distributed amongst nine quarti: an excellent tomato sauce accompanied by quality Parmesano Regiano; fresh buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and basil leaves; thinly sliced smoked salmon and arugula; quality olive oil-packed canned tuna with cherry tomatoes; and buffalo mozzarella with salt-cured anchovies.
We rounded out our antipasto with mussels and a trio of fish carpaccio. The mussels came sautéed in broth and white wine, wonderful, plump, and juicy. The carpaccio of Scottish Loch Fyne salmon, marinated in sea salt and served with fennel and dill was the best of the three. The dish had great contrasting textures of crunch and sinfully unctuous salmon oozing a deep dill flavor. Next in line was smoked swordfish with orange zest and calamata olives. There was a nice citrus/olive contrast to the entire plate, while the swordfish had a firm texture and a salt/smoke nuance that played very nicely with the acidic olive and sweet citrus flavors. Smoked tuna from Lampedusa with avocado cubes and radicchio was composed of very good ingredients that failed to provide any real textural or taste contrasts like the other carpaccio dishes.
What is it with avocado and Italian food anyway? You see a lot of avocados thrown into Italian food for no reason other than that it is an unusual and non-traditional ingredient. The fact that avocados grow well in Italy, especially the south, is not reason enough to explain their ubiquitous presence in “modern Italian cooking” (whatever that is).
We gorged so fulsomely on the antipasti that we decided to skip the pasta course and go right to the main events. The star of the evening was baked salmon with a dense covering of fresh porcini mushrooms. This simple dish was 3Quarti’s take on a traditional “mare e monti” preparation, elevated via the employment of fresh wild Scottish salmon and recently foraged porcini from Calabria. Unlike so much salmon served in Italian restaurants (even very good ones) this was perfectly cooked, resulting in a wonderful rich melty slab o’fish. The porcini added woodsy meatiness to the soft and fatty salmon. Now that’s what Lucullus calls fusion cuisine.
The Danish boneless rib eye steak was a very pleasant surprise in a town not known for this type of beef preparation. The meat was served with a balsamic reduction made with the real thang and green pepper corns (another nice touch). The efficient and friendly wait staff also brought huge black pepper and salt grinders for the table upon request. The rib eye itself was cooked a perfect medium rare.
Lucullus fought a long and ultimately hopeless rear guard action against the final entrée. The table consensus was that MudGuide could not gratuitously trash Italian-Asian fusion cuisine without at least trying one of those on offer at 3Quarti. Fulvia stood foursquare for our gastronomic integrity and loyalty to our readers. In the end she decided to take one for the team and ordered sliced loin of tuna in sesame crust.
Lucullus’ pompous and condescending predictions turned out to be pretty much true, for once. The sauce was bland yet still managed to permeate the whole dish with a less than agreeable sesame taste. The sesame oil that anchored the sauce was not of great quality or perhaps too old. The kitchen did manage to cook the tuna rare, which saved the dish from total oblivion.
3Quarti’s wine list is very good and blessedly short. We began with my favorite Sicilian white, a 2009 Planeta Chardonnay. It did not disappoint: a nose of ripe medlar and flowering broom was followed by gobs of tropical fruit and a spectacular toasted almonds and butter finish. The tide went out on the Planeta shortly after our mains hit the table. The half glass Lucullus had with the salmon and porcini was great and he was a bit miffed to find that we had dusted the last bottle in the cellar.
Fulvia silenced his whining, telling him to man up and order another white before the entrees got cold. Lucullus quickly ordered a 2012 Falanghina Feudi di San Gregorio since any wine good enough for Trimalchio should be good enough for MudGuide. Fortuna smiled on Lucullus. Fulvia liked this bottle better than the Planeta Chard, which has a bit too much new French oak for her taste. Lucullus had to admit that the citrus, acid, and mineral notes from this ancient varietal (the Roman Falernum that graced both Julius and Augustus Caesar’s tables) worked even better with the fish entrees than the fat rich Planeta. It was even a pleasant companion to the rib eye, due in large part to the way it cut through the beefy sweetness that owed to the dish’s balsamic reduction.
All the desserts at 3Quarti are house made and very good. We sampled two types of panna cotta, one with a semi-sweet chocolate topping and one with coffee cream. Both were exemplary and served to reinforce Lucullus’ opinion that sticking to simple and straightforward Italian preparations is the way to go at this restaurant. The best dolce we tried, however, was an orange caramel semifreddo with walnuts, orange zest and orange liqueur reduction.
The last of the Falanghina went down particularly well with the semifreddo. Fulvia reasoned that this was due not so much to Lucullus’ wine selection acumen but rather to the fact that the ancient predecessors of these vines were under active cultivation in Regulus’ native Campania. Lucullus was more than happy to credit old Regulus with a superior wine and food pairing as well as introducing MudGuide to a very nice restaurant in an unexpected location. In fact, our street name algorithm worked so well that on our next trip to Rome MudGuide intends to refine it at one or more restaurants on via Lucullo.
We walked home late in the evening on deserted streets, passing by Castel Sant’Angelo on our way. Another great way to spend an evening in Rome.
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