We all know that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Indeed, Rome is a layer-cake of history built on seven hills, and it is appropriately nicknamed “The Eternal City” because visitors can see monuments and art from almost every period of her c. 2,700-year history: Ancient Greek, Republican Rome, Imperial Rome, Medieval (if not so much), Renaissance, Baroque, Art Deco, Fascist, and Contemporary.
In all fairness, the Janiculum, across the Tiber from the other seven hills — the Capitoline, Palatine, Caelian, Aventine, Esquiline, Viminal, and Quirinal — is Rome’s “eighth” hill. It’s crowned on its crest by the American Academy in Rome designed by the turn-of-the-20th-century architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White. Its base is ¾ encircled by the artsy neighborhood of Trastevere (meaning across the Tiber) and the other ¼ by Vatican City. At its summit, two blocks from the American Academy, is the magnificent church San Pietro in Montorio, a Roman favorite for weddings, and the Tempietto Bramante built on the site where one tradition holds that St. Peter was crucified (the other tradition holds that he was crucified just next to the left side of St. Peter’s Basilica). Other nearby monuments include the monumental fountain, “Acqua Paola,” which commemorates the reopening by Pope Paul V Borghese in 1612 of an aqueduct originally built by the Emperor Trajan in 109 AD, and the hill-top park dedicated to Garibaldi’s Republicans who in 1849 fended off the greatly superior French forces for weeks, until the Italians were overwhelmed.
During the 1970s, I was the associate editor of the American Academy in Rome’s ancient studies and archeology publications and lived a 15-minute walk away through the Villa Sciarra Park.
My husband loved (and still loves) to cook, but when we dined out it was almost always at Il Cortile, two blocks from home at the crossing of two tree-lined streets: Via Aurelio Mario and Via Felice Cavalotti in Monteverde Vecchio, a residential neighborhood particularly popular with artsy and intellectual ex-pats (tel. 06-5803433, closed Sunday evening and Monday, www.ristoranteilcortile.it).
Throughout our marriage of 44 years it’s often been the site for important family events: First Communions, 25th wedding anniversary dinner, and the place where one daughter and her fiancé told both sets of parents of their intent to marry (to name a few).
Il Cortile had been founded a generation earlier than our first meal, nearly 100 years ago now, by Grandpa Giovanni from Amatrice, and Grandma Maria from Norcia, when Monteverde Vecchio was still outside the city.
They served home-made fettuccine and vegetables to accompany their wines. Today it’s run by their welcoming and witty 80-year-old son-in-law Dario, whose daughter Laura is the pastry chef, and his nephew Simone, whom I remember in short pants. Simone’s father Aldo died young, but not before he’d turned his parents’ rustic osteria into a neighborhood institution.
Although my family has moved closer to St. Peter’s and the restaurant’s two historic waiters, Tino from Sardegna and Francesco from Amatrice, have retired, little else, including the loyal clientele, has changed. Everyone is on a first-name basis. A home away from home! The tables are still rustic with red-and-white checked tablecloths; the open grill still spits away; the centrally-placed self-service antipasti table is still a must.
For pasta dishes I heartily recommend those with seafood or Dario’s homemade pesto, and for the main course, grilled fish. Il Cortile is also one of the few places where I trust the chef to prepare authentic fried brains, liver Venetian-style, tripe, coda alla vaccinara and other innards. They’re Roman specialties, but not to everyone’s taste.
Whatever you order beforehand, be sure and leave space for the sweets. Aldo’s stewed pears and Laura’s crème caramel and her variously-flavored zabaiones are to die for. Other popular choices are zuppa inglese, chocolate mousse, and vanilla pudding with a topping of assorted berries. Dario has also built up an admirable list of Italian wines.