Ara Pacis – La Capricciosa - Rome

It never snows in Rome. Actually, it almost never snows in Rome. I can count the number of Roman snow days during my lifetime on just one hand. There is one day in particular—January 6, 1985—that is forever etched in my memory. I was a 14-year-old middle school student at one of the English-language schools in the Italian capital. My parents urged my brother and I out of bed to an unforgettable spectacle. We awoke to a whitewashed cityscape made of cupolas, obelisks and cobblestone streets.

Rome was instantly paralyzed on that day as planning for snow-readiness was never in the cards. Airports rerouted planes, schools shut down and even Roman drivers, in a rare display of self-doubt, suddenly lost their moxie faced with a few scattered patches of road ice. Romans everywhere dug through their closets to exhume their best winter wears including colorful sweaters and wooly après-ski boots. In a giant collective fashion show, residents descended on the city center to see and be seen on this most glorious snow day alla Romana

The Larner family (including my dog at the time) was happily among them. We walked through the Villa Borghese gardens throwing snowballs and making snow angels. We went over to the Spanish Steps where I remember seeing a guy on cross-country skis coasting by the frozen Baroque-style Fontana della Barcaccia. We headed down Via dei Condotti that was covered in slush and muddy snow. Midway through our extraordinary day, our feet were wet, our hands were cold and we were thoroughly exhausted. The family dog looked miserable. At this point, we had but one destination left on our itinerary. This was our favorite restaurant, La Capricciosa, located just behind the Ara Pacis or the Roman alter dedicated to the goddess of Peace. 

Each year since 1985, I have returned to La Capricciosa. This family-style restaurant remains one of my favorite go-to destinations for a solid Roman meal. The outdoor terrace makes it a great choice for lunch al fresco. The restaurant’s clientele has changed over the years, and I definitely see more tourists now. They usually just order a quick pizza and a soft drink, overlooking all the great fish choices on the menu, before heading out for more sightseeing. Sadly, all the great Roman restaurants in the city center share this same fate. Fortunately, La Capricciosa maintains some of its old Roman clients and I see familiar faces each time I return. To this day, the same waiter always greets me. He is the same man who found a warm table for my family and who produced an old blanket for our wet and trembling dog back on that unforgettable day in January 1985. 

On my most recent trip to La Capricciosa, I ordered all my regular dishes. I started with an insalata di mare with steamed calamari, shrimps and mussels dressed in lemon juice and olive oil. A freshly-oven baked pizza bianca served as delicious substitute to the standard breadbasket. I ordered one of my favorite lunchtime wines: Jermann’s simple, crisp and fragrant Sauvignon (an IGT wine from Northeast Italy).

Next came a heaping plate of spaghetti allo scoglio with added cherry tomatoes to make the sauce even sweeter and tastier. The pasta was mixed with shellfish, crustaceans, garlic and chopped parsley. On this particular day, the chef had sourced extra telline (tiny wedge shells) from the fishmonger so he generously added those to our sauce as well.

To finish, I ordered a simple cup of wild strawberries (fragoline di bosco) topped with a scoop of neutral gelato alla crema. A frosty glass of limoncello was brought courtesy of our waiter. Come rain, snow or shine, La Capricciosa is always a safe refuge at the heart of Rome.

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