A Restaurant Named
A Roman Hotel Named Raphael
Some thirty-five years ago, Spartaco Vannoni, a Roman painter and art
connoisseur opened a 51-room hotel in a seventeenth century building near
the Piazza Navonna. He named it, aptly, Hotel Raphael and filled its
public rooms with objects from his collection of art and antiques. A
popular destination from the start, it continues to dazzle visitors who
enter under a jousting canopy monitored by two life-sized statues from
classical times and encounter en route to the registration desk medieval
wooden as well as 20th century paintings, antique furniture,
even a sleigh that could have slid out of the pages of a Tolstoy novel.
||A particular passion of Vannoni (who died in 1980; his family
still runs the hotel) had been Picasso’s ceramic paintings; a
collection of them is showcased in the lobby. They also inspired the
motif for the hotel’s restaurant named, as one might guess,
Picasso. When we entered on a chilly January evening, the sight of
an enormous breakfront of wood carved in the shape of tree trunks
wrapped in grapevines and bearing a collection of plates and bowls,
platters and pitchers painted in extravagant Picasso-like design set
a joyous mood which permeated our entire dining visit.
It was a mood enhanced by our meeting Jean Francois Daridon,
Picasso’s smiling, good humored chef whose warmth and exuberance made it
hard to believe he was not Italian. “No, no. I’m from
Brittany,” he demurred – a good enough heritage for any chef, even in
a Roman restaurant. “But my wife is Italian. She wanted to come to
Daridon has been chef at Picasso since 1996 where, he told us “I’ve
had opportunity to learn not only the Italian cuisine, but the Roman
cuisine which is quite rich in its own right. And I have the total freedom
to create what I want; I add my own particular touches to the plate.”
The chef prefers Italian to French cuisine (“It has more variety”),
olive oil to butter. He stresses the use of market-fresh products,
adjusting his menu to take advantage of seasonal specialties. Some of his
dishes were elegantly simple. Artichoke leaves on a bed of chopped celery,
green onions and flat parsley, were dressed only with olive oil, lemon,
salt and black pepper. “It’s enough,” Daridon said. The grilled sea
bass he seasoned with coarse salt, rubbed with olive oil, and served
surrounded by cherry tomatoes, green onion, and citron. And his spaghetti
carbonara was irresistibly true to form. But his Treviso red chicory
(radicchio) salad is an invention. He begins by sautéing the radicchio
quickly to make it tender and then finishing it on the grill. Tasting like
very mild onions and served with roasted goat cheese, walnuts and little
toast triangles, it was a wonderful starter. And there is the chicken
fricassee, which Daridon sautéed first and then baked with potatoes,
cauliflower, broccoli and a lot of olives. Served in a lemony sauce
surrounded by squash, it was an example of unusual elements combined into
a pleasant harmony of flavors.
|We drank a dark and full bodied Chianti with these dishes having
discovered there’s more to this wine from southern Italy than the
bottles in straw carafes we remembered from our undergraduate days.
Picasso’s maitre d’ Stefano Aceto was on target when he promised
“You will taste the sunshine on the grapes,” as he uncorked a
Villa Antinori Chianti which was not only a perfect match to our
meal but cost a reasonable $23.
Picasso’s maitre d’ Stefano Aceto (left)
and chef Jean Francois Daridon
Desserts arrived on dinner plate-sized dishes, hand painted by
Daridon’s wife, Franca Vit, with figures of fanciful birds and flowers.
The orange cake was drenched in orange liqueur, tart red currants
providing an intense contrast in color and flavor; the meringue cake with
pureed chestnuts was light and lemony.
“This is the very heart of Rome,” Stefano told us, “a very
happening area.” And to prove his point, he beckoned us to follow him up
a spiral staircase and through a hallway that opened up to the roof
garden, Bramante, which overlooks the city, its great monuments lit up in
the evening sky. The breathtaking Cloister of Santa Maria della Pace,
famed for its Raphael-decorated nave was in the foreground. Across the
Tiber, we could see the Vatican and the Castle St. Angelo just beyond. The
Parthenon was close by as was the Roman Forum.
“We put the tables with big umbrellas out here,” Stefano said.
“By the end of March when the weather is nice, we do a brunch. Then we
begin to serve lunch and dinner. It’s very busy in the summer, 30 for
lunch, 50 at night.”
How wonderful it must be to dine overlooking the rooftops of Rome, we
thought. Still we felt some sense of loss when Stefano told us there are
plans to move the entire restaurant up to this level. In its present
space, lit by the glow of candles and red bulbs in crystal sconces, its
windows and chairs covered in lush red velvet, its vividly decorated
pottery providing such joyful accents, and Pavorotti singing Puccini areas
in the background, Picasso had seemed the very embodiment of the Roman
Raphaël Largo Febo
2 Rome 00186 Italy
Phone: +390 668 28 31
Fax: +390 668 78 993
Photos by Harvey Frommer
About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
You can contact the Frommers at:
This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights