Natalina Italian Kitchen
Words: TJay Photos: Rich Callahan
Natalina Italian Kitchen is small and cozy with just enough greenery to allow the feeling of escape from the mall. The smell of caramelized cheese and yeasty dough waft lazily from the open pizza oven near the entrance. Pictures of Frank Sinatra’s mother, Natalina, hang on the brick wall. Soft cushions line the banquets. This is a place to relax, a place to simply enjoy.
Natalina Italian Kitchen
The menu is Roman-inspired, innovative Italian. The specialty is meat and fish cooked on a coal-fired Josper grill. Chef Diego, a third-generation chef from Rome, has taken inspiration from the recipes his mother cooked at home. The connection of mother to son is a strong theme here.
Although the menu is not extensive, it is well constructed, allowing easy ordering from every section. From the antipasti, we started with Eggplant Parmigiana (RM37). It’s a nice twist that is lightly smoked, adding an exciting depth of flavour. The mozzarella cheese has a nice tang that shines through, and the reduction of tomato sauce brings out the salt.
Imported Burrata (RM48) served with cherry tomatoes, tomato confit and wild rocket is equally light. A twelve-year-aged balsamic cuts the cream and fat from the cheese. Flecks of freshly cracked pepper highlight the rocket.
Paper-thin slices of beef tenderloin, Parmesan, wild rocket, sea salt and a lemon wedge create the classic and straightforward presentation of Carpaccio di Manzo (RM48.) Extra virgin olive oil plus a generous squeeze of the lemon wedge brings out the sharp nuttiness of the cheese. The meat is tender and nicely chilled.
With wine-lover Mon at the table, we’re treated to an off-menu selection of Primitivo Strabone Salento 2019 (RM175). This wine hails from the southeastern province of Italy, Puglia. The colour is deep red and has a pronounced taste of berries and thread of balsamic. It pairs well with the slow-roasted beef cheeks and the pecorino in the Amatriciana coming up.
Which leads to one of my favourite pasta dishes, Paccheri Amatriciana (RM50). My nanna used to prepare the Roman style as well. She used bucatini and guanciale in her version. Chef Diego has done a great job capturing the essence of this dish by using duck bacon. I love the sharpness of pecorino Romano in the sauce and the hint of spice.
Gnocchi al Tartufo (RM50) are potato dumplings sauteed in sage butter and truffle paste. They are like little pillows floating in an emulsified butter sauce.
The slow-cooked and incredibly tender Guancia di Manzo (RM110) is an excellent second course. The beef cheeks are slightly gamey, the truffled mash potatoes cut the richness of the meat. The eggplant caponata has just enough acidity to balance everything together. I would ask to see if there is another bottle or two of the Strabone in the wine cellar.
The Pescato del Giorno (fish of the day) (RM98) is Malabar red snapper. Cooked over the Josper grill, the fish retains its moisture while creating a nice charcoal element. A Josper grill is a charcoal oven combination. It cooks at an extremely high temperature and produces terrific food in a short amount of time.
A lesser-known version of the classic cocktail Negroni Sbagliato (RM45) translates to broken or maybe more appropriately mistaken Negroni. It is based on Campari, sweet vermouth and prosecco. The addition of gin with prosecco creates a much lighter drink while still maintaining the taste of the classical Negroni.
The sweeter name (pun fully intended) of Tortino di Cioccolato (RM39) is tortino al cioccolato con cuore morbido. The translation is chocolate cake with a soft heart. It really is an endearing way to say chocolate lava cake. The taste of the chocolate is nice and has just the right amount of “lava.”
It is a Sunday tradition in Rome to eat Crostata con Ricotta e Cioccolato (RM30), a ricotta pie with chocolate chips. The combination of cheese and chocolate reminds me of the cannoli my nanna would make when we lived on Grand Ave in Chicago. I know it’s not the same thing, but I cannot stop my own food memories.
Reasons to visit Natalina Italian Kitchen in Avenue K: easy access to Avenue K by MRT; the adjoining Frank’s Bar (find the hat); Roman cuisine passed down from mother to son; excellent wine by the glass list.
Natalina Italian Kitchen Opening Hours
Daily 12 noon – 10:30 pm