I cannot imagine an evening at Il Gatto e l’Uva without Marcello. Is he related to the Marcello? Possibly. He is just as charismatic, what with his mischievous smile, his tall Roman stature, and his swift movements around his recently opened restaurant above the Via Veneto neighborhood. When I first read reviews that described the ambience as romantic, the food refined, and the plating more ‘modern’ than other Romani favorites, I wondered if this was going to be one of those ‘trying too hard’ uncomfortable restaurants, where the single spear of asparagus is a whole 4 inches away from the carrot. Phewf, this could not be farther from reality. Il Gatto e l’Uva is as convivial as it gets, with tasty Roman cuisine beautifully presented yet still rustic and simple, and a warm prosecco/bruschetta greeting. The whole restaurant is run by two incredibly fun, bewitching hosts who make for a stellar evening.
The bread rests under a blanket, and when the two varieties arrive at our table, we devour the contents in under five minutes. One variety is baked in-house. It is dark with some kind of subtle herb flavor. It is goldilox consistency: not too hard, not too soft. The other is a white bread which is also warm and just grazing the midpoint between hard and soft; it tastes almost like dessert. Marcello offers us another basket. (I wish he wouldn’t but I don’t object).
We decide to go the seafood route. We start with light, fresh calamari served with cherry tomatoes, celery, pine nuts, herbs, and a few other simple but flavorful ingredients which make for an excellent antipasto. Then we have grigliata mista, a plate of gamberi, calamari, and gamberetti. It is fresh Roman fish as I remember it, flourished with herbs. My branzino is seductively covered with layers of porcini mushrooms, which I daresay have been sautéed in butter, but it is light nevertheless. The menu changes with the season and the rotating food calendar of Lazio, although there are a few standbys which look divine coming out from the pass.
Beyond the bread, the fresh fish, the colorful decor, what truly buoyed the evening was the service. Marcello and Diana, with her wild Roman brunette hair and her great laugh, fly about the restaurant as it begins to fill. Patrons are coming through the door as Diana is uncorking wine bottles; she steps away, cork in hand, to offer them the warmest of greetings. As she is carrying a wooden board filled with delectable antipasti to a large table, the phone rings. She passes it to Marcello, who after turning a few walk-ins away, takes a seat at the head of a table to discuss his customer’s dinner. With pen in one ear, the phone unforgotten in the other hand, he holds court. Laughter all around, vino for everyone. I love any host who sits down at my table to take my order, as long as he is Marcello (Mastroianni or not).
Via Brescia, 20, Roma
06 9970 5247