Stepping off the Pearl Street Mall into Boulder’s Antica Roma, one immediately notices the pains taken to recreate a Roman Holiday-worthy street facade. Exposed brick and other architectural details rendered in earthy reds and browns give this interior a retro, back alley feel. However, a few contemporary Italian real estate signs and a lingering scent of cleaning fluids undermined the desired effect during a recent lunch visit with friend Lisa.
Nevertheless, sitting down at a heavy rustic table, as well as studying the menu, helped us return to our Mediterranean fantasy world. The lunch offerings consist of the usual suspects, a mix of panini, pizzas, pastas and entreés ranging from an ambitious smoked salmon pizza to a more traditional chicken marsala.
Our meal began promisingly, with a basket of crusty bread and a substantial dip of oil and pureed sundried tomatoes. While Lisa’s not one for tomatoes, I enjoyed the tang and depth of the scarlet dip, a better alternative to the low-quality oil that often crops up in Italian restaurants. This blend delicately balanced the sweet and almost smoky tones of the tomatoes, and with the bread, would have made for a perfectly acceptable light meal on its own.
Less pleasing were our $3 cups of soup. Lisa’s minestrone tended towards a watery consistency, which unsurprisingly weakened the taste. Longer cooking to help the soup reduce down would have helped, as would the addition of a flavoring agent such as a Parmesan cheese rind. The soup of the day, cream of onion, had a thicker texture, but suffered from a similar deficit of flavor. A dash or two of white pepper and sherry could have effectively addressed this problem.
The $11 rotolo dipasta was Lisa’s main course. This dish consisted of a sheet of pasta spiraling around a filling of ricotta and spinach and sliced to resemble a savory jelly roll. Two sauces are available as an accompaniment, and nightshade-averse Lisa avoided the tomato basil version for the al burro, composed of butter, sage and Parmesan cheese. In contrast to the soup, this was a hearty and flavorful choice. A sprinkle of nutmeg, coupled with the creaminess of the cheeses, evoked the nuanced flavor of fettucine Alfredo. Sage can be pungent, but it was evened out by both the milder taste profiles of the butter and spinach. Lastly, the spinach’s softness created a pleasing contrast to the silky, al dente pasta.
I gambled a bit with the $9 fritto misto, a platter of fried zucchini, eggplant, shrimp and calamari sided with marinara sauce for dipping. I figured it would either be really good or really bad — that’s the nature of this dish. I’m happy to report that while the vegetables were a tad limp, the seafood arrived hot, with one of the better fried coatings I’ve recently encountered. The seafood tasted clean but also assertive enough to work well with the brightly flavored marinara.
We ended by sharing a smooth and not-too-sweet $5 Perugina dark chocolate mousse, satisfying but not too heavy. As I took my final sips of a potent $3.50 espresso, I noted that the décor here paralleled the dining experience. While the modern Roman advertisements may have been as out of place as the so-so soups, the overall experience here isn’t at all bad.
Clay`s Obscurity Corner: Pilfering Peruggia
The confectioner Perugina is located in Perugia, Italy, not far from Florence, the one-time home of Vincenzo Peruggia. He was arguably the 20th century’s greatest art thief. He was supposedly offended by the notion that the Mona Lisa, an Italian masterwork, was on display in a French museum, the Louvre. Disguised as museum worker, he sauntered into the Louvre in the summer of 1911, and made off with the painting tucked under his uniform. In the aftermath, the police even took to questioning Pablo Picasso. The Mona Lisa was recovered in 1913 after Peruggia tried to sell it in Florence.