A bottle of red, a bottle of white,
Whatever kind of mood you’re in tonight,
I’ll meet you anytime you want,
In our Italian restaurant.
Do you remember when Italian restaurants changed?
It was the mid-seventies when I first noticed. The red or checkered tablecloths were replaced by white. The Chianti bottles with candles were scrapped for tea lights in little frosted glasses. Chianti even stripped the wicker baskets off their bottles and we learned new wine words like Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello.
Where noodles were once a choice of rigatoni or spaghetti, now there were words like penne, farfalle, fusilli and pappardelle. Where pasta dishes once had either a red sauce or white sauce, or perhaps Bolognese, Vongole or Alfredo, they now had names like Puttanesca, Pesto or Primavera, Arrabbiata or Amatriciana. They now served something called tiramisu instead of spumoni for dessert. And salad came before the main course instead of after.
The Mom and Pop owners retired and moved to the suburbs. Or returned to Abruzzi or Palermo. In their place were restaurants whose names ended in Inc. or Ltd. Restaurants with waiters that weren’t son-in-laws. Waiters that didn’t even wear black waistcoats and bow ties.
I liked the new Italian restaurants. And I frequented them. Often. But oh how I missed Guiseppe’s, Carlo and Adelina’s, Emilio’s, Capri and Vesuvius.
Until I came to San Miguel. For in San Miguel, stepping into most Italian restaurants is like stepping into 1975. And none more so than Antigua Trattoria Romana.
There are the braids of garlic buds swagged along the bar. On the pillars, the garlic is intertwined with peppers. Fat jars of olives and peppers and decorated biscotti tins with a touch of rust perch on window sills. Empty Pellegrino bottles serve double duty as vases on the tables. And there’s still one lonely Chianti bottle wearing its straw skirt looking down at me from on top of a cupboard.
The drapes and tablecloths are in a be kind to red sauce and red wine spills color which contrasts well with the pale mustard walls. Amongst the prints on the wall is the almost obligatory “Creation of Adam” that decorates the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As well as a second copy of it. And a third.
The speaker that’s perched in a corner and pours out romantic ballads looks like it might have already had some years on it when Antigua Trattoria Romana opened 26 years ago. A child sits alone at a table for two, almost definitely the child of the owners, playing video games on her phone.
And I love it. Every inch of it. Because it’s exactly like those Italian restaurants of 1975. The kind Billy Joel used to sing about. And I used to rave about.
The menu has changed a little from those menus of the mid-seventies. But not much. My favorite starter, circa 1975, prosciutto and melon is there. As is my second favorite, eggplant parmigiana. There’s no straciatella soup but there is minestrone. The Caprese salad is on the menu as is that classic with potatoes, insalata rustica.
Every one of the pastas from the seventies I fondly remember are on the menu at the Trattoria. Pomodoro. Arrabbiata. Amatriciana. Bolognese. Alfredo. Frutti di mare. Diavola. And my favorite and the one I had for lunch yesterday, linguine con vongole.
Traditional linguine con vongole contains fresh clams. The best linguine con vongole contains fresh clams and (I can hear the purists shrieking as they read this) canned clams. Antigua Trattoria Antigua makes the best linguine con vongole with fresh littleneck or manila or chione clams (sorry, but I’m too much of a landlubber to tell the difference), a few canned clams, white wine, butter (some minor shrieking amongst the olive oil only purists there), and parsley.
The noodles are, like every pasta I’ve ever had at Antigua Trattoria Romana (don’t you wish they had a shorter name), fresh, never dried, and, almost always, just a titch but not too al dente.
The pastas come with matchbook sized squares of bread that resemble a skinny ciabatta. They’re accompanied by the you can please all the people all the time duo of both olive oil and sweet butter. And they’re perfect for sopping up those last few dribbles of juice left in the bowl.
The linguine with clams would best be accompanied by a crisp white. But I just can’t order it. For on the wine list is that same Chianti that I ordered 40 years ago. Chianti Ruffino. One of the ones that, until about 40 years ago, came in the wicker basket called a fiasco. Yes, it’s a little rough but who cares.
I’m not the only person in San Miguel who thinks so highly of the Trattoria. Trying to get one of the 42 seats on a Saturday night early, late, or any time in-between has been a sorry we’re full situation lately. Even trying to make a reservation for Saturday at midweek is impossible. It’s no wonder that, in a town crowded with Italian venues, Antigua Trattoria Romana still finished as one of the top ten restaurants in San Miguel’s 2015 SMART Awards.
Sometimes I feel a little guilty living in the past. Listening to songs from 1975. Watching films from 1975. Going to restaurants that bring memories of 1975. Perhaps it’s because, at my age, I know I have more years of past to cherish than years of future to anticipate.
There are a few famous quotes that include the words “you can never go back”. The people who said them never went to Antigua Trattoria Romana.
Antigua Trattoria Romana is located at Zacateros y Codo #9 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open from Noon to 11:00 pm, 365 days of the year. Telephone 415 152 3790.