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On your next trip, you might want to pick up Fernanda D'Arienzo's guide.
ROME — Fernanda D’Arienzo is not like other Italian food critics. She never reserves a table under her real name. She always pays for her own meals. And she sees her mission as saving the public — Romans and tourists alike — from predatory restaurant owners.
D’Arienzo and a dozen other anonymous food critics are trying to change Rome’s food scene one review at a time. The rap is that tourists can’t get an honest meal in Rome — but that’s because the city is infested with tourist traps, especially in the center. Fernanda’s annual restaurant guide, “Roma nel Piatto,” (also translated into English as “Eat as the Romans Do”), makes that an easier feat.
On a recent night out with D’Arienzo, she described her mission.
“I want to trigger a critical approach in people,” she said, while waiting for the restaurant owner to take her order. She pointed out that in a city like Rome with many tourists, restaurants can prey on uninformed customers and still have a successful business.
On this night, D’Arienzo was reviewing an up-and-coming place called Sacco, whose young owner is known for his boisterous and pushy personality. D’Arienzo, who isn’t easily manhandled when it comes to food, didn’t follow his menu recommendations. In turn, the resentful entrepreneur decided to make her wait.
“This is the classic annoying attitude of many restaurant owners in Rome, who believe the world revolves around them,” she said.
This owner’s attitude definitely begged for a bad score. However, the Roman-fusion menu written on a big blackboard boded well for the meal. D’Arienzo was armed with her well-trained palate and her BlackBerry, recording details of the meal in a series of text messages.
Her main dish, a creative cod and potato mix fried in a light batter with an olive sauce, was worth the wait. She savored every bite, talking herself through the flavors. The gnocchi, which had a promising aroma of porcini mushrooms, was too salty. D’Arienzo called the final dish, a rabbit roll in heavy cream sauce, “stupid.”
D’Arienzo’s reviews during her seven years as a food critic have been published under the independent label she started with her then-boyfriend, Simone Cargiani. Their company was founded on anti-conformist principles.
“It wasn’t an accident that we decided to call ourselves the Black Sheep,” said D’Arienzo.