Since the decline and fall of Trattoria Strada Nova Columbia has been without exceptional Italian food. Several restaurants in town are capable of serving inspired, quasi-Italian dishes, but none make it their singular focus. It’s a shame, and a singularly resounding lament for mid-Missouri’s food enthusiasts.
More than a shame, it is a disgrace. No one food culture is more revered by Americans than Italian. The simple, straightforward preparations and commitment to quality ingredients make it a naturally appealing option to value-conscious diners. That accessibility renders refined Italian cuisine a natural bridge between its lowest and highest forms (think Fazoli’s versus Boston’s Lucca). Still, the middle ground in Columbia is left vacant. Trattoria was, for a time, a worthy occupant of this niche (I still remember a simple beef carpaccio with capers, arugula, olive oil and parmigianno I had there) but faded long before its ultimate demise. For years now the space has sat, shuddered, in a wonderful location on Ninth Street.
I had some hopes that The Rome, with an admittedly more checkered-tablecloth vibe, might at least temper our good Italian needs. So much for all that. Instead, my experiences at The Rome have been a disappointing seesaw. Nice veal ala Roma spoiled by grease and gummy gnocchi. An utterly pathetic “antipasto platter” followed by a delicious lasagne. It’s been just good enough to warrant three visits, but bad enough to generate no real enthusiasm.
Let’s start with the menu, which manages to be simultaneously confusing and utterly devoid of imagination. Really, do I come here for buffalo chicken salad? Do we really need five kinds of fettuccine alfredo?
Then the food.
The marinated conch salad my wife and I shared recently was good enough. It came out with a generous portion of tender, tasty snails but was overdressed and served on “mixed field greens,” The Rome’s euphemism for romaine lettuce and a few lonely fronds of baby spinach. The veal parmigiana too elicits only grudging acceptance. “It’s…not bad,” Mrs. Show-Me Eats said, passing a taste my way. The dish came with a choice of pastas, in this case a congealed tangle of angel hair, the whole thing covered in red sauce and cheese. I agreed with her assessment. Nothing offensive, but nothing more than adequate.
Also ho-hum was the Italian salsicce pizza.The toppings – roasted sweet peppers, sausage and cheese – were actually quite good. But the thick, bready crust was supremely bland and could have come from the grocery store freezer section. Not bad for DiGiorno, but shouldn’t we expect a little more here? Whatever sauce was present barely registered at all.
Adding insult to injury was the wine-by-the-glass situation. Perhaps I should have taken it as a clue, but “Barbera” was misspelled on the wine menu. When it arrived I could taste every week it had been open. It was replaced by a decent chianti – clearly what I should have ordered in the first place.
Our bill for the evening, with tip, ran nearly $75. Judging by the cavernous and nearly-empty dining room, not many Columbians are willing to shell out $20 for entrees that may or may not be much better than those at Bambino’s, which at least affords the convenience of costing half as much.
Unfortunately, despite high hopes and eager, earnest owners, The Rome aims low and hits the mark.
And so our search for quality Italian food in mid-Missouri continues…
UPDATE: A dissenting opinion, at least with regards to the food.