There's a long history between Palombi Enoteca and myself. When I originally stumbled upon it, we were staying for the first time in Testaccio, the former slaughterhouse area of Rome. A blue collar neighborhood needed a good enoteca and Palombi was it. Located just across the street from the Mercato Testaccio it had the ideal location for convenience to neighborhood shoppers. I discovered Dalle Valle Grappa Melone there and have been searching for it ever since, but Palombi stopped carrying it at least 15 years ago. The cantaloupe elixir was smooth, clear and had just the right amount of sweetness to make it appealing but not cloyingly sweet. I even made a trip to Rivo in the Dolomites to find some, but I digress.
Palombi started carrying condiments some years back, along with pasta and other comestibles. Of course, they stocked wine and have become the place to go in Rome for imported beer; over 600 varieties. They evidently opened a cheese store too, which I still haven't found nor seen, but it was clear that they were serving food on my second trip there, as tables were set up in the middle of the wine shop in the evenings. I resisted, preferring traditional trattorie and especially Perilli 2 short blocks away.
On our prior trip in 2009, we sat outside for a glass of wine and enjoyed Palombi in a different way, since it was not just a shop anymore. Still we did not make a reservation for dinner at that time. Since Palombi was gaining a great reputation for its vast beer collection, hence the name Oasi Di Birra, we decided to go back this trip and see if we could find the Danish beer, Ceres Red Erik that we had tried earlier in Malta. The color is surprisingly red and the taste is more like a Belgian Trappist beer. Palombi had it. Red Erik is now my new favorite beer, that’s saying something, since I hated all beer before I tried the Belgians and realized that a sweet beer was just what I needed for my conversion.
The waiter asked if we wanted to have the buffet, but we turned it down. He then insisted that we take a look, so my dining companion went back to look. He returned with a big smile on his face and a plate piled high with salumi, cheese, olives, meatballs, pasta and various other antipasti. His second plate materialized about 20 minutes later.
This was surprising, since we had made a reservation for dinner in the Palombi restaurant. The justification was because he had skipped lunch and it was only antipasti. That was good enough for me, but I had not skipped lunch, so I had to pass on the antipasti. However, that did not prevent me from walking inside to photograph as much of the food as possible.
Never one to pass up a good deal, I made plans to return the next evening to make a dinner of the antipasti. Did I forget to mention the price? Five euro for as much antipasti as you could eat with the purchase of a 5 euro beer. I have no idea how they cannot lose money on that deal, since people were going back 2 and 3 times for more food. Ten euro for dinner and a drink has to be legendary in Rome, and the word is getting out, because people were lined up waiting for tables.
The interior of Palombi was much larger than I had remembered, I suspect additional rooms were added as soon as they were available to rent or purchase. The space had doubled or tripled, since I first stepped through their door. For dinner we were placed in the furthest dining room, which was occupying the corner of the block, so at least 3 buildings worth of ground floor space must have been added.
Salads in Italy were never very inventive, but times have changed and Palombi makes some wonderful combinations with generous portions for 7 euro. I tried the orange, artichoke, and black olive salad while my companion opted for the shrimp, grapefruit, blood orange and lemon salad. Neither of us talked during the salad course, since one should never talk with one's mouth full. We literally did not put our forks down; a complaint many Europeans express about Americans.
I decided to try another classic Roman pasta and ordered the Pappardelle with fave, pancetta and pecorino cheese. Home made pasta was not what I was expecting for 8 euro, but far be it from me to complain! The pasta was delicious and I think I will start mincing the pancetta when I make this at home. The minced pancetta seemed so much richer. It was nice to see that Romans don't peel fave either, since I have always considered it a waste of time.
The next afternoon I saw the young British couple I had offered my extra wine to at Alfredo & Ada during lunch on the previous day. They had just finished lunch in Testaccio as I was returning to the hotel, so I told them about Palombi. As chance would have it, we sat next to them for our antipasti dinner. We all agreed that this was a great value in Rome. In the above photo there are two polpette. The one on the right is made from fava beans and the one on the left is something I have only heard of before, but never seen on a menu. It’s basically made from egg and breadcrumbs, like stuffing or what we would call a dumpling. Served with gravy, it was very good and a nice vegetarian alternative to a meatball.