ome of you will hate me for saying this, but, in my opinion, Cincinnati is not an Italian restaurant town. Sure there are a few high-end, really good places (love you, Vito’s, Primavista and Nicola’s!), but reasonably priced, quality Italian is hard to find in these parts. Yes, I am jaded as I previously lived in Italy. But I really miss not having quaint Italian pizza and pasta joints that are always reliable.
Trattoria Roma, which for years was directly across Walnut from the Aronoff Center, recently moved around the corner to join the new Cincinnati Restaurant Row on Sixth Street. It’s nestled between Bartini and Mr. Sushi, and seems to have settled in nicely to its new digs. Honestly, I wasn’t a big fan of the old Trattoria Roma, but my opinion has changed after a couple of visits to the new location.
Trattoria Roma truly has the feel of an Italian eatery. It’s homey and comfortable inside — sure, they kept the kitschy red checkerboard tablecloths and the candles in the Chianti bottles, but the menu and the food now seem to be more sophisticated, fresher and much more inviting.
On my first visit, after being seated in a booth in the bar area and ordering wine, we were presented with hot, delicious, clearly homemade dinner rolls. The rolls are reminiscent of ciabatta bread, but slightly less dense and way more flavorful. We were on our second basket when the appetizers arrived.
I ordered Bruscetta ($8.95), just because it has become so common on menus around here that I wanted to see what Trattoria Roma’s take would be. In a word, it was stunning. The flavors were crisp, as the bread was perfectly grilled and topped with fresh roma tomatoes, basil and red onion, drizzled with just the right amount of olive oil. This is a non-pretentious but exquisite version of bruscetta and quite possibly the best in the city.
Our entrées were both extremely well made. The Veal alla Trattoria Roma ($21.95) was a generous portion of veal medallions with artichokes, roasted red peppers and mushrooms in a silky tomato sauce served over fettucine. The veal was tender, the vegetables were crisp and delicately seasoned and the pasta was a perfect al dente.
My friend ordered the Mediterranean Pasta ($14.95), which featured sun dried tomatoes, black and green olives, artichokes and roasted peppers. Unfortunately, the menu failed to state that this dish was in a cream sauce and my vegan friend therefore couldn’t eat it. Our server, who by the way was excellent and quite professional, apologized and within minutes had a new version of the dish, now in a marinara sauce, at the table. Again, the ingredients were fresh, the pasta delicious and every bite was devoured.
The only stumble of the meal occurred with the soup. I chose Cream of Broccoli ($4.95), which was thin, watery and extremely salty. Trattoria Roma claims to make all of their soups homemade; I don’t doubt this, but it seemed to me they used frozen broccoli in the soup, which would explain the wateriness and lack of flavor. However, after speaking with owner Sal Aracri, he assured me that only fresh ingredients were used in every dish, thanked me for the feedback and promised to look into this problem.
Usually if I feel the need to go back a second time to complete a review, it is because the first visit was bad. In this case, however, my first visit was so much better than my previous experiences at Trattoria Roma that I decided to go back to make sure that the high quality was consistent. The answer? Without a doubt, “Yes.”
On this visit, I tried the Eggplant Parmagiana ($15.95). This classic Italian dish is so often mangled in its execution, but Trattoria Roma makes sure that the eggplant is lightly fried so as to maintain its integrity. The texture was perfect and it was topped with an abundant amount of provolone, which made it delicious and cheesy. This is a far superior version of eggplant parmagiana and an indication of the love that this kitchen puts into its food. I can’t recommend this dish enough — you have to go try it!
We also decided to sample a chicken dish and tried the Chicken alla “Guiseppe” ($16.95). I don’t know who Guiseppe is, but he makes one helluva chicken dish. Succulent chicken breasts were married with Italian sausage, new potatoes with oregano and tomatoes in a bright white wine sauce. This dish was light but extremely satisfying.
Trattoria Roma has now become my new “go to” Italian restaurant. The owner and kitchen staff are committed to only using fresh ingredients and making almost everything from scratch. They have a really nice menu and have many items I can’t wait to try. Next time I’m going to have the Cioppino. Or the pizza. Or maybe lasagna. Seriously, treat yourself to a great, reasonably priced Italian meal in Cincinnati.
Go: 580 Walnut St, Downtown
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Friday. Dinner: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. (Open Sundays when there are shows at Aronoff.)
Entrée Prices: $15-$25
Accessibility: Fully accessible