Cristina Bowerman

The plan, says American-born chef Cristina Bowerman, was to spend six months in Rome, fail, then go back to America to open her own place. Things didn’t quite go to script. In 2020, Bowerman celebrates 14 years at the helm of Glass Hostaria, a Michelin-starred restaurant daring to be different in a city renowned for upholding tradition. Her favourite places in Rome are a similar mix of new, old and delicious.

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A New-Wave Roman Wine Bar

One of the things that people don’t talk about enough is that not everyone goes to restaurants. There are a lot of places in Rome wearing different hats that serve food, including wine bars. Fafiuche in Monti is one of my favourites. It’s very central and very easy to reach with the metro subway. Just get off at Cavour and it’s right there. Other than the wine selection which is really good, the cuisine is influenced by Roman cooking, but it’s half from Piedmont and half from Puglia. I’m from Puglia so I like it. I like it a lot. You have these two extremes of north and south that meet in the middle. It’s genius. You might have carpaccio or tartare which is from Piedmont and then you’ll have orecchiette which is presented in a modern, share plate sense. Everyone is creating sharing food now but here they’ve been doing that for quite a bit. They were smart enough to see the trends. The environment is really nice. You have nice service and very, very friendly staff.

A Benchmark For Traditional Roman Food

As far as traditional-traditional Roman cooking goes, Armando al Pantheon is one of my favourite restaurants. First of all, one of the things I look at all the time – other than the food, which is totally traditional and absolutely awesome here – is the happy atmosphere. It is very nice and very welcoming. The Gargioli family has run the restaurant for three generations. Claudio, the father, is the chef, and his daughter Fabiana is the sommelier, and her husband is in the front of the house. The restaurant is literally like 20 steps from the Pantheon. It’s an amazing location and you just get to eat real traditional food. Unfortunately Rome has this problem of having a lot of fake traditional restaurants. This one is not. This one is for real. You get to see Claudio preparing the ragu or coda all vaccinara [oxtail stew] the same way that old people would traditionally prepare it. The panino with culatello [Italian salami], offal and artichokes is to die for. You absolutely need to make a reservation. The place isn’t that big, maybe 35 seats. The last time I ate there, I thought I could drop in and there might be a table. They had me eating right next to the kitchen counter on something that was more of a shelf than a table.

Elegant Roman Cooking

One of the places that I like that’s still Roman cuisine but has a more elegant approach is La Ciambella which means “doughnut”. It’s called doughnut because when you walk out of the restaurant, there’s the arch of the doughnut. The street it’s on is Via dell’Arco della Ciambella. It’s very downtown. You take the bus to Largo Argentina, get off, walk 100 metres and you’re there. You have to get the sweetbreads. The chef Francesca Cicci is also well known for making a mean, mean, mean, mean amatriciana. If I had to choose Rome’s most popular pasta, it would be amatriciana. Amatriciana is prepared with cured pork cheek which is typical from Lazio, so it’s the pasta I would say is most rooted in Lazio. Mirka Guberti, Francesca’s wife, is in the front-of-house and is considered one of the best sommeliers in Italy. They have a great wine cellar that has everything: biodynamic, natural, French and Italian wines.

Playing And Cooking With International Flavours

Zia is one restaurant with a modern approach. The chef’s name is Antoni Ziantoni and he’s like my protégé. The restaurant is in Trastevere which is the same area my restaurant in. I’m in the more touristy part but he’s in a quieter, completely different area. He does a sort-of modern Italian influenced by different cultures, in particular, Asia. He studied French cuisine, too, and is a disciple of Anthony Genovese who owns Il Pagliaccio – the only two Michelin-starred restaurant in Rome. Genovese is from Calabria but he’s half-French and he’s travelled quite a bit and worked in Japan so he has an international approach. I like Zia a lot. Antoni serves things like gyoza (Japanese dumpling) in an aromatic broth, but it’s generally stuffed with something very local like Roman-style oxtail. You find yourself thinking you don’t know where you are, which is good.

Reimagining The Trattoria

Trattoria Pennestri is a modern trattoria with a really fun, young approach and the chefs have a light touch and make everything themselves, from the bread to the pasta. There’s the typical cannelloni and carbonara, but then you can find artisanal pasta such as pici [a thick, hand-rolled pasta that looks like fat spaghetti] with broccoli, bread crumbs and anchovy. They roast veal brisket and use all the tripe such as offal, kidneys, liver, lungs and pajata [cooked calves’ intestine]. There’s also a good selection of wines with most of it focussed on Lazio. The prices are very much contained and you can walk out very satisfied having paid very little money.

Rome’s Best Beer Bars

I love wine but I also love beers. One of the places that I really enjoy going is Bir & Fud. It has a great selection of beers and make very good pizza and typical Italian beer food like deep-fried salt cod and polpette di bolito: a peasant dish that’s made by taking the meat left-over from making broth, mixing it with whatever else is around, shaping the mixture into meatballs, then breading and deep-frying them. It’s served with a green sauce and is one of my favourite beer foods. Manuele Colonna is one of the partners at Bir & Fud and is without a doubt one of the biggest beer experts in the world.

Right across from Bir & Fud is Manuele’s place called Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà, known locally as Macchè. It’s impossible to translate the name, but it means something like “what the hell did you come here for?” He travels all over the world to taste beer and has the biggest, most impressive artisanal beer selection with Italian beers and beers from outside Italy. On Sunday mornings, it plays the soccer. It only serves beer. No other drinks. If you ask for Coca-Cola, they’ll beat you up and kick you out. It’s such a fun place. It’s become famous all over the world and has been awarded the number one beer places in the world. He’s one of the top references for beer. That’s somewhere I like going to after service. Last month, it happened three times. It’s just a three-minute walk from the restaurant.

Appreciating Roman-Style Pizza

180g Pizzeria Romana is a really good place. The name comes from the weight of the dough used for making the pizza. It only makes Roman-style pizza. Roman-style is completely different from the Neapolitan-style: the dough is different, the temperature it’s cooked at is different, it’s thin, it’s not as thick. The cornicione – the part around the crust – is much thinner than Neapolitan pizzas. The pizza that I like very much is the cacio e pepe, I really like this. There’s also a spicy one with ‘nduja sausage with buffalo mozzarella, parmigiana and basil.  

The Italian Capital’s Green Bistro

Aromaticus is another place doing something new and different. When it first opened, it only had a couple of tables and was selling its own herbs, salads and cold food. Now it also has a very, very good selection of artisanal beer and kombucha and fermented stuff they do themselves. My son and I went there during the Christmas holiday. It’s open all day. In the kitchen, they serve very traditional food cooked with new techniques. We had deep-fried salt cod which is a typical dish in Roman cuisine but the breading was amazingly crunchy, totally dry and not oily. I was talking to the chef Nicolo Cini and said, “wow, you really did a number with this.” He told me he was working with a Japanese guy who said the secret was to use glutinous rice flour. He used it and it was just amazing. I was really impressed. He also uses very high-quality ingredients. The thing that I really like which is what I also do is that he gets all his vegetables and ingredients from Piazza San Cosimato.

Why Rome Is Home

My restaurant Glass Hostaria is a different counter-current restaurant. It was the first restaurant without tablecloths in Italy to be awarded a Michelin star. Trastevere is still the most traditional area in Rome: cacio e pepe, carbonara. Here it is. My restaurant is totally modern in style. It breaks the rules with a different kind of cuisine to the others that finds itself in the nest of tradition. Tourists aren’t the only people who eat dinner. Romans go out too and, sometimes, they want to have a different kind of food which is the reason they come to my restaurant. We serve a la carte dishes as well as three tasting menus. There is a vegetarian menu that, I’m very proud to say, we’ve been serving for five years; a traditional but not too traditional tasting menu; and then the creative menu.

Pasta at Glass Hostaria. Photography: Courtesy of Glass Hostaria

Guide last updated February 2020

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