Big Fish

by Danilo Brunetti

Federico Schiaffino counts down the top seafood restaurants in the Eternal City, just in time for Christmas Eve.

La Vigilia, or Christmas Eve in Italy, is all about seafood. On the 24th, dinner tables along the peninsula groan with baccalà (salt cod), calamari, pasta with clams, and more. The custom derives from the Catholic practice of abstaining from meat in the lead up to the holy celebrations, though the feast is so gluttonous it hardly feels like a sacrifice. In honor of this December tradition, make sure to book at one of Rome’s nest fish spots—and if you’re here for Christmas Eve, even better.

Famous throughout the city, La Rosetta is located directly across from the Pantheon and is one of the very first restaurants in the city to propose a menu dedicated entirely to the sea. Main courses, often interpreted with creative flourishes, are strongly rooted in the Mediterranean tradition. Expect clean and streamlined dishes from a kitchen helmed by chef-owner Massimo Riccioli, a master of the sea. Via della Rosetta, 8/9. Tel 066861002.

Also near the Pantheon is another unmissable eatery for fish lovers: Fortunato al Pantheon, a decadent temple dedicated to Neptune and the sea’s bounty. Fish comes exclusively from the wild (not bred in captivity) and is prepared as simply as possible so as to not mask its freshness. Fortunato’s menu includes paccheri pasta with lobster, cherry tomatoes, and basil; risotto with asparagus, shrimp, and black truffle; and marinated salmon with pink pepper, among many others. They also serve meat dishes alongside seafood specialties. Via del Pantheon 55. Tel 066792788.

In the Prati neighborhood, Assunta Roma combines rustic-chic with the sea’s edible treasures, arriving exclusively from Terracina, a fishing village just outside the city. Diners can personally choose their own sea bass, gilthead bream, or sword fish, presented to them fresh before they order, to be prepared either crudo or cooked. Via Crescenzio, 2. Tel 0668307951.

Another address not to miss is Siciliainbocca, a Sicilian restaurant in Prati carefully tended to with passion and commitment by owner Vanessa Certo. Certo meticulously selects the fish and seafood and pairs it with seasonal vegetables and other ingredients, as Sicilian tradition dictates. An eclectic menu features star dishes like their sea bass encrusted in breadcrumbs and Bronte pistachio, and fresh raw scampi marinated in Verdelli lemon and extra virgin olive oil. Cap off your meal with a traditional cannolo, filled on the spot with sweetened ricotta and chocolate chips. Via E.Faà di Bruno, 26. Tel 0637358400.

Seafood lovers mustn’t miss Benito e Gilberto in the Borgo district, which shines in the art of fresh, minimalist seafood. An absolute must on the menu is their white fish crudo. The rest of the tempting menu is composed of sea bream, prawns, and shrimp, hauled from the sea just hours earlier. Clients are welcome to specify how they’d like their seafood of choice prepared. On a cold winter day, make sure to order their pasta e fagioli with shell fish, Italian comfort food at its best. Via del Falco, 19. Tel 066867769.

A quotation from Mark Twain in Porto’s menu is an invitation to leave the safety of the dock and explore. The writer’s famous words are certainly in line with the philosophy of the restaurant, which eagerly experiments with the flavors and aromas of the sea. Porto takes traditional seafood and turns it on its head, proposing a playful “fast food” approach to fish. Shrimp and calamari en papillote and cacio e pepe with shrimp and lime remain menu classics, as does the catch of the day. Via Crescenzio, 56. Tel 0645505797.

La Gensola in Trastevere is a restaurant frequented by seafood aficionados who seek only the best that the ocean has to offer: shell fish, crustaceans, and fish transformed into refined culinary masterpieces (most memorable is the Favignana tuna tartare with horseradish) prepared by the chef with an utmost respect for the protein. No sauces or unnecessary ingredients, just the pure freshness of the sea. Piazza della Gensola, 15. Tel 065816312.

Not far down the road is Le Mani in Pasta, one of Rome’s first big-name seafood restaurants. Come for their exceptional antipasti (raw shrimp and oysters among them) and dishes unapologetically rich in monk fish, lobster, red mullet fish, and gilthead bream. An open kitchen lets diners spy directly on the chefs as they concoct their meals. Make sure to reserve a table in advance; this place is always fully booked. Via dei Genovesi, 37. Tel 065816017.

Leave the historic center behind and head for the Nomentano quarter, home to Sardinian restaurant Eleonora d’Arborea. Known as one of the best seafood spots in Italy’s capital, Eleonora d’Arborea expertly plates shell fish, oysters, and crustaceans, all begging to be devoured, flavorful first courses (absolutely order the blue lobster with linguine), and a range of Mediterranean fish, prepared either Sardinian-style or to the client’s liking. Corso Trieste, 23. Tel 0644250943.

Ai Piani in Parioli is hailed for its Sardinian cuisine and almost maniacal selection of its raw ingredients. Fish, shell fish, and seafood of all sorts make up the menu; many dishes are dressed with extra virgin olive oil produced by the owner’s family. Spaghetti with clams and Cabras bottarga, and Alghero lobster alla catalana are just a few of the dishes that have made this restaurant famous in the city amongst seafood connoisseurs. Via F. Denza, 35. Tel 068075412.