The delicate white arch of the Porta Latina cut into the ancient Aurelian Wall, resembling the entrance to a sepulcher. All appeared shady and quiet within, contrasting sharply with the sounds and activities of modern life. Late morning sunlight played on the treetops, warming the earth and casting shade over the road ahead. I stepped forward and passed under the archway to begin my walk down the Via Latina. I discovered the world from another time, far different from the one I knew.
The long narrow road was lined with large shade trees. No sidewalks existed. The only sounds were the flutter and chirp of birds in the trees and an occasional car passing by. Known as the “archaeological walk,” the Via Latina was a popular place for villas and funerary monuments in early Rome. Its beginnings go back to the 8th century BC. It served as a trading route between Rome and the ports of Brindisi on the Adriatic and Pozzuoli on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
My stroll took me past the 5th century Church of S. Giovanni and the Tomb of the Scipios. Toward the end of the road, it touched the Via Sebastiano, which is actually a section of the Via Appia, renamed because of the S. Sebastiano catacombs.
As I came almost to the end of Via Latina, I noticed a stunning villa set up from the road. It looked stately and inviting. Over the entry threshold were the words, Ristorante Orazio. I had found one of Rome’s oldest restaurants.
I was hungry and eager to explore, so I stepped up through the threshold and onto the graveled garden area. I admired the neatly trimmed shrubs and clay pots of flowers and palms. My steps made a soft crunch across the gravel as I made my way toward the restaurant entrance.
As I looked the menu over, I noticed a plate of appetizers that had just arrived at the neighboring table. Cured meats, cheeses, tomatoes, bruschetta, fresh figs, and a carafe of great looking wine.
My waiter returned with a bottle of Frascati Cantina Villafranca 2013 DOC. As he poured a glass for me, I noticed the pale yellow wine shimmer and pick up prisms of color from my surroundings. Smooth and refreshing, it was the perfect summer wine
When I first arrived, I was the only one on the patio. After fifteen minutes, a rush of diners began to fill the empty tables. The tablecloths were neat and crisp, with vases of fresh cut flowers.
I ordered a seafood salad and fresh Sea Bass. It was a hard decision. I almost chose the Veal Scallopini Limone, but the Sea Bass won. I was not disappointed. The salad was a tasty cool mixture of clams, muscles, fish and octopus with a touch of lemon. The sea bass soon arrived at my table in one whole fish. I watched as my waiter expertly discarded the head and bones, laying it open and dousing it with a good amount of extra virgin olive oil.
Tender, flaky and flavorful, I consumed the entire fish. The liberal splash of olive oil was the perfect touch, enhancing the fragrance and texture.
Sunday lunch is when the locals fill the restaurant. Three to four generation families come to enjoy a long and leisurely meal together. Groups of sharply dressed elderly ladies and priests with relatives are a common sight as well. Authentic Roman cuisine and professional service are what brings them to Ristorante Orazio. The waiters are from the old school, exhibiting sharp manners and a keen focus.
Only a 15 to 20-minute walk from the Colosseum, the Ristorante Orazio is a great place to relax and escape the pace of the city center for a time. The large green expanse of lawn and gardens surrounding the restaurant is cool and refreshing. From the antipasti all the way to the digestive, it is a place to take your time and enjoy the quality and elegance of old Rome.