Restaurant: ★★ | Pasta: ★ | Pepper: ★ | Cheese: ★ | Guanciale (‘pork cheek’): ★ | OVERALL: 1/5 Colosseums
With the exception of long term romantic partners, if you love something you want to share it. So I often encourage people to eat my culinary love Gricia. This can horrifically backfire. Some wounds need time to heal. The incident in question took place in Ottabrata Romana (the Roman phrase for how sunny it still is in October). It is now Februarino Romano McColdWind (not a phrase) and I have only just emotionally recovered enough to recount the tale.
My old university friend was in town with a few of her friends; she had read my first blog on Gricia. The perils of fame. Now everyone in her group wanted to try this mystical dish, ‘the Gricia’. What pasta could be so good that a fully grown 28-year-old man would move to Rome just to spend most of his time eating it and writing about it, unpaid?! So we all went out for dinner. Including me and my girlfriend, it was a table for five. Let’s call the others Friend 1, Friend 2, and Friend 3 to preserve their anonymity. Now let’s completely ruin that with a picture showing each of their faces clearly:
We were at VyTA , recommended to my old university friend by someone who had lived in Rome 8 years ago. I think the restaurant had changed management since then. Perhaps this was a sign. Gricia was not officially on the menu. Perhaps this was another sign. But Gricia is often less widely available compared to its Roman brothers Cacio e Pepe, Amatriciana, and Carbonara. This Holy Trinity look down on Gricia, presumably for its simplicity and its shameless belief that putting more saltiness into a dish is always a good idea.
My friends were crushed that Gricia wasn’t on the menu so I turned to the waiter and in broken Italian asked him if he could make a Gricia. He said ‘perché no?’ I had no answer. Of course, why not? 5 gricias, please! (Actually it was only 3 and people shared but you’ll forgive the embellishment.)
The Gricias arrive. Everyone beams with anticipation, my friends proud that they had been given an authentic off-the-menu Roman dish. Friend 1 takes her first bite. “It’s salty.” Friend 2 agrees. “Yeah…er…wow. Really salty.”
Why do they have such a problem with the Gricia? I look at my own plate and see the problem. Cheese, yes. Black pepper, yes. Rigatoni, great pasta shape. But the pork cheek, Oh my lord, what is that?! The guanciale is in cubes. CUBES! This is not the correct shape for pork cheek. How in the Holy Pope did it come out as a cube? The pieces have more corners than the Square Colosseum. I take a bite and I have a thought completely unfamiliar to me: there is such a thing as too salty. And this is it.
“It really is very salty,” reiterates Friend 2 as Friend 1 pushes some pieces of meat around with her fork.
“It’s supposed to be salty, don’t worry,” I say, trying to salvage the night.
“Can we have some more water, please?” Friend 3 asks the waiter.
I take another bite. This meat is gross. The cheese and pepper do their best – ‘don’t taste the meat, think about us! We’re still good!’. It’s useless. My friends sense my panic; they don’t want to offend the man who seems to be in love with a pasta dish.
“Actually I think it’s quite good,” says Friend 2, shovelling thick pieces of disgusting meat into his mouth. “Yeah. It’s interesting,” says Friend 3.
“It’s…it’s not normally like this,” I stutter. I consider making a complaint to the waiter and then I remember I’m British so I would literally explode with embarrassment if I tried. The meal proceeds in silence. They do not finish their Gricias.