The most talented Italian seafood chefs know that the best thing they can do to top-quality fish and seafood is to do very little. Let the delicate flavor of the fish shine through. Which is why a dish in the tasting antipasto of crudi (raw items) like the tartare trio is so enjoyable. We tasted three types of fish -- yellowfin tuna, sea bass, and amberjack -- cut into a small dice and mixed with extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of citrus, and a few fresh herbs. That's all the fish needs. The raw antipasto continued with one of my personal favorites, the carpaccio di gamberi rossi. They flatten the famous red shrimp from southern Italy into a paper-thin disc on the plate. It's then dressed with little more than olive oil, sea salt, a zest of lemon and a squeeze of lemon juice. It is beautiful on the plate and on the tongue. We proceeded with possibly my favorite of all elegant sea creatures: scampi. Don't be confused -- these are not the shrimp in 'shrimp scampi' (which makes no sense in Italian, by the way: it means 'shrimp langoustine' and does not exist as a dish in Italy).
These are crustaceans of their own category, known in various parts of the world as langoustines, or Dublin Bay prawns, or in Italy, scampi. They are the sophisticated cross between a shrimp and the most tender baby lobster you can imagine. They can be cooked gently on a grill or in a saute' pan, or lightly poached, but to me, they're best raw. Like the red shrimp, their delicate briny flavor is best experienced with a soft, pliable texture that you can only have before they're cooked. There's not much meat for all the work required to get at it, but patience is rewarded with unique flavor. I think it's worth it. The final plate of our raw appetizer tasting was, per our request, some delicious, fresh-from-the-sea ricci di mare, or sea urchin, shown in this posting's opening photo. Again, it's not about quantity of substance, but rather the briny, unctuous punch packed into the tiny, flame-orange pockets of the prickly shell. These are actually egg sacks and offer up a creamy, custard-like saline treat you scoop out. To note is that all of this was accompanied by some delicious, wire-thin grissini, and washed down with a delicious, crisp rose' champagne. To me, the best accompaniment to fine raw seafood is often something sparkling.
The pastas on offer here are delicious and well-balanced -- memorable is a long pasta with lobster in which the pasta is cooked in lobster stock for an added layer of flavor. We split a primo so as not to throw our meal completely off course, which was a lovely tagliolini with a ragu featuring my beloved gambero rosso, both cooked and raw, with fresh uncooked tomato and herbs. It was light and silky and the perfect portion.
Often, when a meal features spectacular antipasti, by the time you get to your secondo (main course), it can be a bit anticlimactic. Not here. There were so many options to tempt, and I know from past experience here that the simplest of dishes (a salt-baked spigola [sea bass], for instance) is anything but plain when done well. We decided on one simple main, and one less so. A delicious piece of Mediterranean sea bass was perfectly cooked, skin crisped, and set atop a bed of wilted greens and served on a clean, oven-roasted tomato consomme. We also thoroughly enjoyed the swordfish, marinated in soy and charred on the grill, which was plated on a brilliant spiral of sweet-and-sour vegetable sauce, garnished with frigitelli (small sweet green peppers) and pistachios. The two mains complemented each other well, and proved to be substantial enough that there was no way we had room for dessert! It's a shame because desserts here, too, are accomplished and decadent. But we had many more hours to go in our evening, and we didn't want to weigh ourselves down after an already grand meal. It turned out to be a good choice, all of it. My boyfriend said then, and continues to claim, that he felt as good after that meal as any meal he's ever eaten. It's quite a statement, but one with which I agree. Il Sanlorenzo makes you feel pampered with good service, well-fed and overwhelmingly happy with a delicious, fresh Italian seafood feast, and sends you off into the night, elated and satisfied. And really, what more could anyone ask of a great meal?
Ristorante Il Sanlorenzo
Via dei Chiavari 4/5 Roma
+39 (06) 686.5097