I haven’t had such killer bucatini amatriciana ($11) since the last time I was in Rome. The pasta—like thick spaghetti, but bored up the middle to facilitate boiling—came gobbed with a tomato sauce whose richness derived from guanciale, the cured jowl of pigs. Like snow on an Apennine peak, grated pecorino blanketed the top. Though the recipe originated in the small Lazio town of Amatrice, the Roman populace has clasped it to its bosom, and now there are dozens of variations—and the plate that sat before me was a particularly delicious and aggressive one.
I was dining with a friend in Quinto Quarto, a relatively new restaurant at the tail end of Bedford Street that styles itself an “osteria Romana,” which roughly means “Roman inn.” The place was launched by a pair of sibling restos in Milano, but our branch has received little attention, even though it’s been open for six months. “I feel like I’m in Rome,” my date observed, noting the flickering tapers, dark paneling, and utter unpretentiousness of the atmosphere, where guests feel free to linger over their glasses of wine. Besides, everyone around us was chattering happily in Italian.
The name of the restaurant means “fifth quarter,” which refers to the parts of the animal not mentioned in polite company. Organs and other offal are beloved in Rome, including such seemingly gruesome things as pajata—newborn lamb intestines cooked with the mother’s milk still in them. Indeed, Quinto Quarto probably set out to specialize in organs (the original menu listed coda alla vaccinara, an oxtail stew that contains all sorts of dodgy add-ins), but found the response of New Yorkers to be somewhat tepid. Now, the variety meat component of the menu is limited to guanciale and sausages. (But you never quite know what’s in sausages, do you?)
Indeed, sausages are one of the glories of the menu, and they aren’t grilled, as they are at street-fair sausage carts. Salsiccia vino bianco ($16) features two fennel-laced beauties poached in white wine, which tames the grease and renders the links grainy and chewy. They melt in your mouth, and so do the herb-roasted potatoes that come alongside.
Speaking of vino, the restaurant’s wine list includes bottles from several regions and at all price levels. If you want to get down like a Roman, grab the Cesanese dei Papi Colle Tocchio ($26). More properly known as Corte dei Papi Colle Ticchio, the wine is made from the Cesanese grape, which has been grown in the Latium region since before Julius Caesar’s time. The mark-up is scarcely twice over retail, and most of the wine prices on the menu are on par with that. Indeed, there are plenty of gems on the 30-bottle list in the $20 to $30 range, which is nothing short of astonishing.
The menu divides into the usual three courses, but, in contrast to eating styles in Italy, the portions are bigger, so you’ve got to share at least one of the courses if you want to go the distance. I recommend splitting one of the secondi, partly because the pastas are the best things on the menu. The noodles at Quinto Quarto (all $11) are simple and homely, like Roman moms make for their Roman children. One of the best is cacio e pepe—spaghetti twirled with its salty cooking water in the shell of a pecorino cheese, seasoned with black pepper. The restaurant tends to grind its pepper too fine—but that’s a small quibble.
The penne with pumpkin, garlic, and guanciale is another delight, and so is the tonarelli—like spaghetti, with squared-off sides. It gets tossed with a modest amount of sausage and porcini mushroom. Available as either an app or a primi are a series of very plain but enjoyable soups, all priced at $8, and all strangely beige. Leading the pack is passata di sedano, which features celery and celeriac flavored with rosemary. The regular antipasti are even cheaper, including the usual charcuterie plate and a wonderful warm salad of artichokes and black olives (both $6).
Apart from the sausage secondo mentioned above, most of the third courses seem like afterthoughts, with two further exceptions. Peposo ($17) is a zesty stew of boiled beef, which reminds us that, in medieval times, boiling was the usual treatment given to meat. Costolette di abbacchio scottadito includes a pair of expertly grilled lamb chops, which should get picked up by their bones and eaten without silverware. Share them with your date in this romantic setting, and you might get the postprandial result you so desire.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 6, 2009