Rome’s Leading Oyster Aficionada: Emanuela Gismondi of Tuna

By Rand Hoch, Travel Editor

Italy has so much coastline and so many lakes. How could the country not produce great oysters?

That was out thinking when Michael and I planned our summer road trip from Rome southward to Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

We knew we could find oysters on the menus of  Italy’s leading restaurants. But when we first arrived in Rome, we found only Bélons from Brittany.

While Bélons happen to be among our favorites, after last summer’s road trip through Halifax and Prince Edward Island, we longed for some variety.

Unfortunately, Our concierge at Hotel de la Ville Roma  did not have a clue where to find a restaurant with a selection of oysters in the Eternal City.  So Michael and I  spent our next few days wandering around the city, inquiring – in vain -- about oysters.

One evening over cocktails at our hotel’s Emperor Terrace bar, we watched the sun set and the stars emerge. Enjoying the view of Saint Peter’s in the distance, we began to eavesdrop on our fellow guests.  Soon, we overheard a local businessman giving restaurant advise to clients who were staying at the hotel. 

Should we admit to eavesdropping and ask for advice? 


Tuna in Rome
We picked the right man, as he frequented a restaurant called Tuna, which specializes in shellfish and seafood.

“You need to speak with Emanuela Gismondi,” he said with an air of certainty.  “She knows more about oysters than anyone in Italy.”

I sent Emanuela an introductory e-mail message and she quickly responded, inviting us to Tuna the following evening.

Located on the Via Veneto just off Piazza Barberini, Tuna is simply Tuna Romealluring.  The ice filled window display of today’s fresh offerings from the sea beckons you in.  Elevated just behind a huge steel basin of seafood, the chef is busy working his magic – much to the delight of people strolling by.

Tuna restaurantThe restaurants all-white interior removes any distractions from the purpose of your visit – the most creatively prepared raw shellfish and seafood in Rome.

Minutes after a waiter seated us on white couches in the Oyster Bar – just across from the chef’s station, Emanuela came out to greet us.

“I apologize.  I only have four varieties of oysters today.  We usually try to have at least seven,” she told us.  “It has been a busy weekend.”

I assured her that we would be delighted with “only four.”

Suggesting we pair the oysters with champagne, Emanuela selected one of our favorites:  a nonvintage Gosset Brut Excellence.  Although Tuna has one of Rome's best wine lists, we stayed with champagne throughout our visit.

As we sipped the Gosset, we asked Emanuela about her clientele.

“We have a lot of politicians and business leaders.” she said.  “They deserve the very best
seafood.”  And, relying on Emanuela and her staff, that is what they enjoy at Tuna.

“One of our clients was so impressed with our oysters, he insisted I write a book about them,” she mentioned.  The book is due out later this summer.  (Unfortunately for us, it will only be available in Italian).

On the day of our visit, the featured oysters included Bélons, Marie Morgans, Speciales d’Utah Beaches and Royale d'Isigny.

Brittany Royale d'Isigny Bay VeysStarting from the top of the platter were a pair of Marie Morgans from Brittany.  Meaty and crunchy, strong and flavorful, the oysters were perfectly complemented by the Gosset, as well as Emanuela’s ruby red mignonette sauce.

Moving clockwise, the next pair were the Royale d'Isigny.  We loved the uniquely sweet taste of these soft meaty oysters from the Bay of Veys in Northern Normandy.

Next were the plump Speciales d’Utah Beach from Normandy.  They were  were succulent and briny, with a sweet, almost creamy taste.

And finally, a pair of the petite Bélons from Southern Brittany, These firm fleshy oysters were immensely flavorful, very briny yet slightly sweet, with a almost gentle flavor.

Each type of oyster was uniquely different – and wonderful.  We were definitely in the right place

Tuna’s well deserved reputation is due in great part to Emanuela’s meticulous talent in selecting the items which appear on her ever changing menu.  Three times a week she gets up at dawn and makes her way to the Mercati Generali.  There she has her choice of the freshest shellfish and seafood from all over Europe.

Although we had planned on just sampling the oysters, Emanuela insisted we try some of her amazing house specialties.

Carpaccio di Pesce BiancoHer first offering was a beautifully plated Tartare di Ricciola (amberkack) and Carpaccio di Pesce Bianco (sea bass).

The nicely chunked pink amberjack in the center of the plate presented an incredibly sweet flavor.  The tartare perfectly complemented the thinly sliced sweet sea bass.  Truly a remarkable – and beautiful - combination of fish and flavors.

Carpaccio di GamberoniWatching us savor the carpaccio, Emanuela asked, “Have you ever had shrimp carpaccio?”  Before we could answer, she nodded to the chef, who began to prepare.

From across the room, Michael and I watched as the chef selected, prepared, butterflied and marinated the shrimp, before he gently pressed them down between the sheets to shape his Carpaccio di Gamberoni Rossi.

The waiter bought the dish over for Michael to photograph, and then offered just a hint of fresh ground pepper.

I meant to ask Emanuela about the marinade – specifically about the olive oil she used.  But after my first sweet mellow taste of this elegant carpaccio, my mind wandered.  The freshness of the shrimp was distracting. 

Another glass of the Gosset appeared as if by magic.  Again, the perfect complement to this wonderfully presented house special.

Drawing our evening to a close, we thanked Emanuela for a truly remarkable experience.

“But, how can you leave without trying our pasta?”

Obviously, we could not, especially since all of Tuna’s pasta is hand made.Pasta alle Vongole

In minutes, a plate of Pasta alle Vongole, wonderfully plated with an abundance of fresh clams, appeared at the table.

Rand HochWhile Michael was fascinated with the rhomboid shaped pasta, I was impressed with the abundance and the freshness of the claims.  And again, I was so distracted, I forgot to ask about the olive oil that brought it all together.

That just gives me yet another reason to return to Tuna next time I am in Rome.

Tuna Restaurant
11, Via Veneto - Rome
Phone:  +

All above photography by Michael Ira Thayer.

Old Ebbitt Grill - The Place for Oysters in Washington, DC

By Rand Hoch, Travel Editor

When I was a student at Georgetown back in the 1970s, every now and then friends and I would gather at Old Ebbett Grill near 14th and F Streets, Northwest.  While the restaurant had been a local institution since the 1850s, by the time I arrived in town, it had fallen on hard times.  Still, we would sit at the great mahogany bar, enjoy burgers and beers, and relish in the history of Washington’s oldest tavern.

So when a friend and I were attending a White House conference last week (I just love saying that!), he suggested we stop by Old Ebbet Grill for lunch. 

I didn’t know what to expect and started to head over towards 14th Street.  Steering me in another direction,  he informed me that the restaurant moved in the early 1980s.  It is now conveniently located in a beautiful Beaux-Arts building on 15th Street, across from the Treasury Department.

The restaurant, which is now flourishing, is simply amazing and its Oyster Bar is Washington’s best place for oysters. 

Once seated, our waiter handed us the Oyster Menu, which he explained changes daily. 

Today’s menu featured six northeastern varieties, so we ordered two of each – a dozen for $23.95.

As can be expected, Wellfleets were on the platter and ours were just perfect, quite plump and briny.

Ever since last summer’s road trip to Prince Edward Island, I have become extremely partial to the island’s oysters.  So I was pleased to find Rocky Bays, Conway Royals and my favorite Raspberry Points on the platter.  They were all almost just as sweet as they were last summer when we would get them fresh from the water. 

New Brunswick was represented on the platter by two small, brown-shelled St. Simons, which slightly less briny than the PEI oysters, but tasted almost as sweet. 

The final selections were nicely sized East Beach Blondes from Ninigret Pond in Rhode Island.  These were crisp, with a sweet buttery finish.

If we did not have to head back to the White House, I would have spent a little more time exploring more of the menu, and the restaurant.  But that will have to wait until my next visit.

Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20005-5702
(202) 347-4800