I was researching Sunday lunch options in Rome for clients recently, looking for a traditional experience (Sunday lunch is big in Rome!), but in a part of town that worked with their itinerary and within their budget. At first, I thought Trattoria Perilli would be a great fit. Just look at the evidence!
- Elizabeth Minchilli a food writer in Rome, puts it on her list of four favorite places for Sunday lunch in Rome and lists it as “her all-time favorite place for Sunday lunch”.
- Fred Plotkin, in his book Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, says Perilli probably has the best pasta alla carbonara in the city.
- Travel and Leisure magazine, in its October 2011 edition, includes Perilli in its list of 9 recommended Rome restaurants.
Trusting the experts is a good start, but it’s just a start. I always cross-check recent reviews, in both Italian and English, from several review sites before making a recommendation. Even if I’ve personally eaten at the restaurant, I want to make sure nothing has changed (the chef, for example) and that the dining experience is pretty consistent for other travelers (often I showed up as a guide with 25 other people). And I always keep an eye out for evidence of the two things below. So it was during this part of my research that I realized I couldn’t recommend Perilli to my clients.
1. Don’t eat anywhere foreigners are treated differently than Italians
There’s nothing better than being caught up in the all-Italian cacophony of a buzzing restaurant at the height of the dinner hour – in that sense, you definitely want to eat with the locals. But not if the restaurant doesn’t appreciate your business. Some restaurants may appear friendly but try to take advantage of the traveler by putting an additional service charge on the English version of their menu. And some don’t try to hide it at all, and are just plain rude (if you’ve eaten in restaurants near Piazza San Marco in Venice in high tourist season, you may have experienced this).
Honestly, I was expecting stellar reviews of Perilli, and indeed many of the reviewers described the restaurant as “full of locals” – it certainly seemed to be a place that locals love. So I was surprised when several Perilli Tripadvisor reviewers complained that “they hate foreigners, especially Americans”, and others concurred. A Fodor’s reviewer said the waiter gave them “the cold shoulder”. Every restaurant gets bad reviews sometimes, but when there are multiple reviews on different sites about the same issue, it’s a red flag.
But what about the consistent fantastic reviews by the experts? Although the experts who recommend Perilli are not Italian-born, consider that both Minchilli and Plotkin have spent decades in Italy, and the author of the T&L article starts with “Rome and I go way back.” To 1974. I’m sure none of these authors is perceived as foreign when they eat out, and would have received the “Italian” treatment at Perilli.
2. An Italian’s criteria for a “great” restaurant may be different than yours
In a nutshell, and to generalize, Italians value food over service and North Americans value service over food. It’s not that Italians don’t value service, it’s just that their expectations are different. And it’s not that North Americans don’t value food, it’s just that most haven’t eaten pasta alla carbonara once a week their entire lives – so the carbonara that only scored 7/10 for the Italians may still elicit an over-the-top enthusiastic review from a North American.
When I started reading Italian reviews of Perilli, I noticed consistent complaints about overcooked (scotta) pasta – their famous carbonara no less, what?!; and that the restaurant is too expensive for what it is. I didn’t read anything in Italian about bad service, nor did I read anything in English about overcooked pasta, but all in all, even the Italian reviews support the fact that I’m not exactly sure what kind of dining experience my clients can expect.
I’m not trying to slam Perilli in this post, really. It just happens to be a great example of a place many people seem to love but that I’m not sure I want to recommend to foreign travelers. I should also point out that the majority of the reviews about Perilli are positive – in both Italian and English – and that most of the bad reviews about service (but not pasta) are a year old or more. So I will keep monitoring the reviews and if they are consistently good, I may yet send a client to Perilli, or at least visit the next time I’m in Rome. Meanwhile, there are many, many other great options.
Photo by Alessandraelle
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