Two reasons not to dine where the locals do

 

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.

 

Ristorante allessandraelle

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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13 Comments

  1. Italian Notes
    September 26, 2011

    Great idea to cross check restaurant reviews. Thanks for the good points.

    Reply
    • Hasan
      July 30, 2012

      I lived in Rome for about 6 months and I have to say the MUST SEE plceas are:The Roman ForumThe Trevi FountainIf you like flowers (The Municipal Rose Garden)The Protestant Cemetery (in Testaccio a burb)Ostia (a burb that you need to take a train to) has a beautifulbeach and amplitheaterThe ColiseumThe Jewish Ghetto is a nice place to walk through & is featured ina bunch of movies (such as Roman Holiday, La Finestra DiFronte).Villa Borghese is the largest public garden in the city. A greatplace to have a picnic. There is also a small museum there inthe park.Vatican City (the Sistine Chapel) this is a most see. The museumis quite large and takes quite a while to go through. You willalso need to check ahead of time because they have been doinga lot of construction which leads to odd hours and closing.Vatican City St. Peter’s Basilica and forum.I am sure that there are more plceas but right now I can’t think of them.Gelato the BEST gelato in town is made about a block from the Trevi fountain. I can’t remember the name of the store but if you are looking at the Trevi Fountain take the street that goes straight away from the right front corner. Take the first left hand street that you see and the store is on the right. The store has been on International Food Channels Best in the World list because the gelato is made daily with NO preservatives right there in the store.

      Reply
  2. Madeline
    September 27, 2011

    Glad you found it useful. Thanks for your comment!

    Reply
  3. Addicted2Italy
    November 27, 2011

    Very good post, but I think you will find that additional service charge for tourists more of an option in the northern cities, and in the tourist zones. If you go in the smaller towns, I don’t think you’ll find that as often. It’s also true about the food vs. service aspect. A true Italian meal can linger for a few hours. Many Americans would be impatient with that aspect of eating in Italy. Great post.
    Larry

    Reply
  4. Madeline
    November 28, 2011

    thanks for your comment, Addicted2Italy! Totally agree, the restaurants in smaller towns won’t be ready with that menu with the extra service charge (and I’ve seen it on English menus, which they probably won’t have either). The example I linked to was from Rome, so not sure it’s just in the north….. Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Reply
  5. Pietro Franco
    December 14, 2012

    Been in Italia several times. You get surprised by some restaurants. In Roma , a small out of the way one was Giovanni,s and a delight. Can’t recall the address but in an area where there were students and near a bridge. Not too far from Piazza Navona. Also was delighted with a small place called “The Three Muscateers”. Not far from where I stayed at the (La Residenza)
    and close to the American Embassy.
    Some places visited posted entry fees by country you were from. Guess who was always the most expensive when this happened? The USA!!
    Enjoy your letter/comments.

    Reply
    • Madeline
      January 17, 2013

      Pietro thanks very much for your recommendations and comments.

      Reply
  6. Sabrina
    October 12, 2014

    The Gelato place mentioned in Hasan’ post is IL GELATO DI SAN CRISPINO. Enjoy!

    Reply
  7. Italian hospitality, home-cooked food and new friends - Italy Beyond The Obvious
    November 5, 2014

    […] exciting for us, as we clapped and cheered, and truly memorable for the newly engaged couple. Dining out in Roman restaurants is fun especially around the Pantheon, but after a while I was certainly missing some good home […]

    Reply
  8. N little
    May 10, 2016

    Perilli’s was a wonderful dining experience when I was there in 2012. Walked in with no reservations at 8pm on a Thursday and we were kindly seated by the owner. This is a small family operated neighborhood trattoria with fabulous food. Generous portions. The owner and staff were most gracious. Prices were in line, indeed less than hotel cafes.

    Reply
  9. Andrea
    January 15, 2017

    Hi! I came across your website after we had a terrible dining experience at Trattoria Perilli and thought I would share our experience.

    I really wanted to like this place. It was recommended to me by an Italian friend, and after reading all the great reviews we had high hopes. I dined here with my boyfriend who is Swedish and doesn’t speak the best English, so I did most of the speaking (made the reservation, asked questions about the food).

    After being seated and asking the waiter a few questions about the food, he turned to my boyfriend and asked him, “Does she make all the decisions for you?” My boyfriend looked at me with a puzzled look. The waiter continued, “If you want something specific you can tell me, she doesn’t need to order for you.”

    We were both a bit shocked and didn’t know what to say. I understand by some of the other reviews that this is a very “old school” place, but there’s no reason to be downright sexist.

    When the waiter returned he brought our appetizer, put it in front of me and then said, “You make the decisions, and walked away.” Things only became more awkward after that.

    When the main course arrived he sat the food down, looked at me as if waiting for specific instructions and then said, “Do you have anything else to say?” At this point we just wanted to finish our food and leave.

    When he saw that we were done he came back with the check and placed it in front of my boyfriend. He said, “Here, the men pay.” My boyfriend then said, “Well, we usually both pay.” I finally broke my silence and said, “I’m not sure what we’ve done to offend you, but I don’t see why it’s so strange that a woman asks a few questions about the food. Where we live women are allowed to speak.” He ignored me, stood at the table and waited for my boyfriend to pull out his credit card, when he brought it back he waited for him to sign it.” We got up and left.

    Neither one of us have been treated so poorly at a restaurant before in our lives. We were in and out of this place in less than 40 minutes. It was totally awkward and pretty unnecessary. After we got back to our place I looked up some reviews and saw a few from other women stating similar experiences, or that the place really hates foreigners. I’m sure others have had great experiences here, but unfortunately we did not.

    As far as the food, it was good but not mind-blowing good. I feel like there are so many other places that serve pasta that is just as good, if not better, and aren’t disrespectful to their guests. It’s just really disheartening as a woman to have that type of experience, not just in Italy, but anywhere in 2017.

    Reply
    • Madeline
      January 15, 2017

      Wow. Thank you for sharing your experience Andrea.

      Reply
      • Andrea
        January 17, 2017

        Of course. I’m still upset about this even After a few days. I really wish we would have just gotten up and left. No one deserves to be treated like that. I understand some cultures tend to be more patriarcal than others, but this was just absolutely ridiculous. It would have been so embarrassing if I had gone there with a male colleague or friend.

        Reply

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