Do you pepper your pasta? (Restaurant review: Cacio e Pepe)

Woohoo, date night!  This is something I adore about our time in Rome.  Back in DC, we didn’t go out a ton without the kids.  First, it was tough to find people.  Even once we found people, when I was working at the law firm, I just didn’t want to leave Henry.  It wasn’t that I didn’t trust people.  It wasn’t that I felt guilty.  I just really felt like I needed to grab all the time I could with him.  Even though intellectually I knew we got good quality time together and an evening out would be no problem, I just didn’t want to go.

Fast forward to Rome, now I have oodles of time with the adorable weirdos and I have no qualms about some time away.  We’ve also “discovered” the practice of having the sitter come when the kids are already in bed.  This way we get our evening family time, I can feed Mac, and a sitter isn’t trying to juggle the bedtime routine, one of the more complicated aspects of our day.  It works great in Italy when things don’t open until later anyway.  We’ll probably change it up when the kids are a little older, trying for more day outings and handing over the reins on bedtime.  But for now, it’s just easy.

We now have a weekly sitter.  In practice, it doesn’t work out every week because of our schedule or her schedule or illness or life, but most weeks we get to hit the town.  Which is awesome because I want to try everything.

I took to the internets for some date night inspiration and stumbled across Rome’s 6 Must-Eat Dishes.  A closed list that I can methodically pick off?  Yes, please.  We’ve been to Armando al Pantheon but neglected to try the saltimbocca.  Oops, I guess we’ll be back.  But for this adventure, we headed across the river to Cacio e Pepe.

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For our purposes this evening, Cacio e Pepe is both a restaurant and a dish.

This pasta dish couldn’t be simpler: pecorino Romano cheese and fresh black pepper are swirled with cooking water from the pasta to make it creamy (and then, obviously, swirled with the pasta — cooked al dente, of course — itself). But the fewer ingredients and steps to a dish, the more important it is that they’re all perfect, right? And no place does it more perfectly than Rome, where the dish originated.

Try cacio e pepe at (big surprise!) Cacio e Pepe, which has managed to remain a surprisingly hidden gem, given its easy location in Prati and its local reputation for solid Roman classics.

So pepper on pasta . . . As Henry would say, “that’s weird.”  Right?  But don’t knock it until you try it.  The three ingredients in the dish pack a creamy, spicy punch.  Here’s a little more on how the dish came to be.

And the the cacio e pepe at Cacio e Pepe is LEGIT.  I hearted this restaurant.  They have a tiny interior with full view of the tiny kitchen, complete with bubbling cauldrons of pasta on the stove, and a bathroom up stairs that look like they lead to a hay loft.  The real action is outside in the spacious patio area out front.  Thankfully, for our February trip, it is covered and equipped with heaters.

This is a place where they don’t hand you a menu; you just order one of the three house pastas, five if you count two specials that evening.  This is a place where you just order some vino della casa and enjoy your carafe out of tumblers.  This is a place where they have secondi, but coming for those would just be silly.  Checked tablecloths?  Check.  It was great.

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I opted for cacio e pepe, for obvious reasons.  Somebody had to do it.  James got the carbonara.  Picture similar but less pepper, add bacon and egg.

Just look at this pasta.  It was a heaping bowl of delicious.  I’ve had cacio e pepe at other restaurants, but this is my fave so far.  I think other places didn’t add enough pepper.  Or cheese.  Not an issue here.

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The heaters were my only knock on the place.  They kept me plenty warm, but the pasta cooled off fast.  This meant my first few bites were pure heaven, and the rest was just really good.  I don’t think James and I said anything the whole meal as we wolfed our pasta down in a race against the temps.

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I’m certainly not knocking the price!  I think this was our cheapest date night yet.  With water, a half liter of wine, bread charge, and two pasta dishes, our total was 23 euro.  Not too shabby.

I’m not sure I’d make a special trip over to this restaurant, but if you find yourself out its way, I’d definitely recommend.  And if you find yourself looking to jazz up your pasta at home, maybe think about reaching for the pepper grinder.  (Or the honey!)

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Cacio e Pepe
Via Giuseppe Avezzana, 11
06 3217268

UPDATE:  Anthony Bourdain says cacio e pepe is the number one thing you should eat in Rome.  He also recommends Cacio e Pepe.

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