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Trattoria Roma - Badabing Badaboom

1447 Grandview Ave. Columbus, OH 43212 (614) 488-2104

The unassuming façade of Trattoria Roma profoundly belies the essence of the restaurant itself. There is no question that this joint vastly exceeds any expectation that the hapless diner might glean from its locus square in the middle of a strip mall. Remember that in Columbus almost everything is in a strip mall, because we’re really low on quaint stone cottages. So, please forgive Trattoria’s proximity to the walk-in hair salon and the corporate coffee place. Give them a chance. They’ll show you that it doesn’t matter where the outside of the building is, if they’ve got it all tricked out like Tuscany on the inside. Plus, if you’ve got your wits about you, you’ll stop caring about anything any farther away from you than that bottle of Gavi before the Cozze con Pancetta even get there.

Actually, if you’re gonna sit at the bar and have a drink or so and wait for the rest of ‘em to show up, the whole strip-mall thing actually works to your advantage. Sit up in the corner of the bar and watch the freshly-shorn and recently-caffeinated scurry. Sip on a glass of Rotari, while you look at the rest of the wine list. Converse with the waiter or waitress while he or she points out some stand-out Italian reds and tells you about the specials. Then, when your friends finally get there and you already know which bad-ass Super Tuscan shows best with the Osso Bucco, you look like a rock star.

The friends are gonna need a drink, too, and a look around the little lounge, which, like the large dining room, is adorned with original artwork by Italian artist Taburi. It’s calm and delicate, but strong enough to be pivotal in the conspiracy to make you forget where you are – or, more accurately, forget that you are anywhere. The earthen-toned walls help a lot with that, but most effective by far is the myriad aromas wafting around – oh, and the glass of sparkling wine. There has to be a parlor game (like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, B is for Boticcelli, or something like that) in the identification of all the constituent elements of that something that smells really delicious. The tricky part is, whatever it is that smells so delicious seems to be constantly changing, so player one may actually smell roasted garlic and white wine, but it may be replaced by something a little sausagey by player four’s turn.

The long, comfortably candle-lit dining room sets an unassuming stage for the adroit and nimble service of some really Italian stuffs like Linguine alla Vongole, Polenta con Funghi, and Braciole. It’s the kind of thing you gotta eat over the course of many courses, and ought to share family style. That way everyone can eat all kinds of different things and try all kinds of different wine. Roma has light, starter whites, like Grecco Di Tufo and Terre Di Tufi that pair well with the salads: caprese, spinach, Caesar and della casa, and starters like the Fritto Misto. There are some sweeter and fuller-bodied whites that would be a good way to transition to something like the Antipasto Misto or the Polenta with gorgonzola, and, of course, there are plenty of reds.

The tomato based pastas, which make great middle courses, go perfectly with the Gattinara or something made out of Sangiovese. Take time with the pastas, even though your palate is asking you to hurry up. Pasta can sneak up on you, besides that bottle of whatever you’re drinking should be empty or pushed to the side before moving on to the fuller and fullest reds that just kill with the meat courses. Tommasi Amarone or Campaccio’s Super Tuscan start asking where the Beef Braciole and Osso Bucco are as soon as they are poured into the glass. You can make either of them wait it out through the Saltimbocca or Vitello Rosso, though. They will do just fine, then truly shine when the really red meat shows up.

Again, time must be taken with a meal like this, in order to savor all of the stimuli and avoid the full-up sensation before getting dessert. If that full feeling is reached before dessert, simply pour another glass of wine and relax for a while. Maybe order a coffee. Order dessert when ready. There’s no hurry, but make sure to order dessert.

O.K., if there is a hurry, or if dinner doesn’t need to be an all-nighter, Roma does the hell out of the three course and has plenty of bottles versatile enough to get you through everything from appetizer to dessert. The thing about that is, you’ll have to come back a lot to try everything you want. But, there are certainly worse things to come back to than lovely authentic Italian food, good wine, delightful service, beautiful artwork and the olfactory omnipresence of delicious things like sage, garlic, scallops, and that one that smells a little like pizza and a little like salad dressing – whatever that’s called.

In fact, we recommend going back as often as possible. Someone see if there is a point at which you are no longer surprised to find yourself standing outside a strip mall after dining at Trattoria Roma. Wager there isn’t.