Learning to season correctly is the most important skill a cook can learn.

Marcella Hazan, Ingredienti

A few years ago I wrote a love letter of sorts to Armando al Pantheon, my favorite restaurant in Rome. I have to do it again. I’m here in Rome for one night on my way to teach two weeks of cooking classes in Bologna, and once again I was just blown away by the meal I enjoyed at Armando. I have had the pleasure now of introducing many clients to Armando over the past few years, but I have not dined there alone in a while. No restaurant is perfect. Last year they seriously undercooked our pasta. But I know of no restaurant in Rome that more consistently delivers perfection time and again than Armando.

What’s so amazing about it is that being a stone’s throw from the Pantheon, they could do a great business without caring at all, just dishing out mediocre food to tourists who would be delighted to eat anything while on vacation in Rome. What’s amazing is that Armando still cares. They understand the elusive quality of good cooking, and they deliver time and again. They understand that cooking is personal, not something one can just train anyone to do well. Good cooking must have character. And as Marcella has emphasized, good cooking must be seasoned properly.

When I think of Armando, seasoning is what I think of. I’ve written a lot about salt, and rightfully so. What has so impressed me about the cooking at Armando is the perfection of their seasoning. It is tempting in restaurants to go overboard, to ensure that the first bite is overwhelmingly delicious but to create the problem that the more one eats the more one finds the dish too intense. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten food that is so correctly seasoned as at Armando. It gives the illusion that the food hasn’t been salted at all. It is so discreet, so much in the background that it never draws attention to itself. Yet, the seasoning is playing the key role in the deliciousness of the food. The other key is moderation. The first dish I ever ordered at Armando years ago was Spaghetti alls gricia (with guanciale). When it arrived I was surprised to see an extremely lightly dressed pasta, with just a few pieces of guanciale. And perhaps the first bite underwhelmed. But unlike many restaurant dishes, the more I ate the better it got. Armando understands the principal that it is just as important what you keep out of a dish as what you put in. The result is cooking which is light, balanced, and clear.

We still have seats available for our next culinary tour to Rome in March. If you’d like to join us for a week of cooking, culture, and fellowship, e-mail me: justin@oldtiogafarm.com. You too can discover the magic of Armando.

Spaghetti with truffles

Spaghetti with truffles (Sorry for the poor photo quality. Smart phone in low light.)

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Grilled lamb (Sorry for the poor photo quality. Smart phone in low light.)

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Braised artichoke (Sorry for the poor photo quality. Smart phone in low light.)

Chocolate mousse, not sure the whipped cream is necessary. (Sorry for the poor photo quality. Smart phone in low light.)