Situated on the highest floor of the gorgeous hilltop Waldorf Astoria hotel called Roma Cavalieri, La Pergola has been run by Heinz Beck since 1994. Heinz has a series of successful restaurants throughout Europe, but one could safely call his 3-star Roman restaurant the headquarters. Hilarious to me that Rome's only 3-star is run by a German.
Mentored by the famous Heinz Winkler (whose outstanding achievement was to become the youngest 3-star chef in the world, and now runs his own 2-star restaurant in Aschau), Beck is unique among his cadre of elite chefs in a few ways. First, he spends time thinking about the scientific and medical implications of his fare—he claims to have spent five years researching how food interacts with human physiology and metabolism. Another uniqueness: he openly shares recipes, mentors young chefs, and generally tries to build his profile by friendly means.
PRICE PAID: $268 PP (INCLUDING CHAMPAGNE- LIST PRICE IS ~$55)
FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10
I am greeted at the host stand and immediately seated in the gorgeous, extremely classy dining room. Candles, silver, flowers, and stemware abound. The feeling I get is similar to Bareiss- polished, formal, country-clubbish.
The waiters at La Pergola wear vests and bow ties but no jackets. Some have the apron thing, and some don't. Only the head of service and maitre'd have jackets, so there's some kind of odd rank thing going on with the outfits. It looks a little disorganized that everyone has their own sartorial strategy.
I decline the offer of an aperitif and am handed... A water menu? It’s organized by region and quantity of total dissolved solids, and each offering is accompanied by a lively description. Most bottles are €8-12, but a handful of exceptionally brazen choices can be had for €340. It is a really special person who feels comfortable shelling out most of a €500 note for a bottle of fucking water, and unfortunately for the benefit of my audience I am not that kind of person.
First up, a small series of light bites. We begin with some deliciously fresh sardines on sponge bread. The bread is surprisingly firm and the fish has a strong taste—it's almost buttery it is so smooth. Black olive powder rounds it out nicely. 8/10.
Next, some completely awesome cheese reduction "cupcakes" with veal. Rich, thick, spongy. It follows the flavors of the previous dish nicely. 8/10.
What the kitchen labels a "Pasta brick" tastes like pure carbs. Creamy, fresh, and excellent. 9/10.
The bread tray rolls up next, and I'm offered a choice of baguette, "naturalist bread," focaccia, and a few others. In what turns out to be a rich and buttery choice, I pick the baguette and focaccia. Some excellent fresh butter accompanies. 8/10.
In a nice bit of show, the bread and butter are accompanied by a large selection of salts from Hawaii, France, Nepal, and elsewhere. It kind of reminds me of the salt-stars at Thomas Keller's Per Se and French Laundry.
The last of the introductory appetizers—mussels with a pecorino "puff." Creamy and cheesy, like a Mac and cheese with mussels. 8/10.
The first main dish is a gorgeously presented foie gras powder with duck and a red fruit mix on bottom. Maybe a quick presentation note: the powder is shockingly easy to breathe in, which doesn't feel great, but melts easily. There is more foie hidden at the bottom of the dish, and the strawberries play the foie off perfectly! A great early-summer dish. 9/10.
Kind of a cool story here. So Heinz (who does not play sports) was visiting some of his new restaurants in Portugal a few weeks prior and was taken aback by the gorgeous, symmetric, well-kept lines of the golf course nearby. He decided to create a dish with lobster, fennel, and parsley layers that would mimc the perfection he observed. An indulgent idea, perhaps.
The "ball" is scampi with crispy amaranth, and the main portion of the dish in green is lobster with dill. The dish is roughly room temperature when it arrives, and the lobster is fresh but doesn't leap off the plate exactly. The green powder dries everything out considerably, and it makes it feel a little like you're working your way through a shitload of salty bread crumbs. 7/10, with a huge boost built in there for creativity and presentation.
Next, some red prawns marinated with raspberry, caviar, and potato. The prawn itself is decadent and fresh, and the chopped vegetables (mostly carrots) add crunch. Marinating in raspberry is a great idea, and reflects the red fruit ideas from earlier. 8/10.
Probably the best individual piece of pasta I have encountered on my whole adventure. Full stop. It's basically rigatoni with a liquid center of bacon and cheese, with a boost of richness from some whipping cream and guanciale (basically super-fine bacon) in the sauce. The chef actually shares the recipe and discusses how to prepare it yourself in a video (it's on my shortlist of weekend activities). A warm explosion of richness and zucchini; this is the absolute pinnacle of delicious comfort food. 10/10.
It's safe to say that any dish that showed up that pasta had a hard act to follow, and this seafood medley did not even come close. A collection of red prawn, scampi, lobster, and bok choy presented in a lawsuit-hot glass dome. The fish sticks unattractively to the metal grill, and the flavors and textures all feel washed out in this hyper-hot cooking pot, yielding a dish that is pretty plain. A few lemony notes but that feels like an assist from a marinade. 6/10.
Next, some cod with kidney beans and "frozen parsley snow" added last. The cod itself flakes off in big crispy chunks (see right) and is incredibly fresh; everything is perfectly cooked. The kidney bean sauce tastes a lot like an aioli or mayonnaise, and doesn't add much beyond making the fish richer, so I'd argue it would have been better off without. 7/10.
For the main course, lamb served with artichokes in a rich, rich sauce. The flavors and textures of this lamb were disappointing—not to say it wasn't fresh or well-prepared, but everything did not harmonize well together. The artichoke flavor was very strong and overwhelmed the normally grassy, farm-y lamb flavors. 6/10.
La Pergola's cheese cart, which embodied the spirit of a delicate rolling grandfather clock, focused heavily on Italian cheeses. When in Rome, as they say, so I chose a selection of five different cheeses- two creamy cow's milk from Abruzo, a lesser-known region on the Adriatic coast. This was accompanied by a delightful, light cheese from Piedmont, as well as the classic product of Valle D'Aosta, Fontina. Cheese courses can do a lot to showcase a country or a region's terroir, and this is a great example. 9/10.
As we head into the final dessert courses, a new candle-lit centerpiece, napkin, and plate are brought over. Few restaurants do this even in the 3-star category, and it's a really nice touch.
I have to be honest, there's some really bizarre psychology at play here. Near the conclusion of the meal, diners are invited to consume "the Sun," which is served on a special backlit plate that reminds me a little of the lightning plates at Schauenstein. Think about that for a second- the chef gives you a miniature version of the star responsible for all life on this planet. For dessert.
As far as flavors go, it's basically a sugary fruit paste with some chocolate powder spread across't. Super original, but it felt a touch creepy and egotistical. 7/10.
A collection of small dessert bites and petit-fours; raspberry-on-a-stick, rose macarons, etc. 8/10.
What, in a burst of verbosiveness, the menu describes as an "iced sphere of pomegranate on gianduia cream and cannelloni filled with salty pine-seed Chantlly" came next. You get to crack open the pomegranate sphere in a rather satisfying way, and the chocolatey, savory flavors play well together. 8/10.
And, very very lastly, a lovely silver box of desserts with different items (mostly chocolate items) hidden in each shelf. I am completely and overwhelmingly stuffed at this point so I skip a few, but it's a charming last gesture. 9/10.
As I wrap up the meal, I'm invited to take a walk on the gorgeous rooftop patio and admire the views of the Eternal City. It's surprisingly flat and forested, and lovely. I recommend a solid half-hour with a good demi-sec or cigar up here.