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GLOBAL : CORRESPONDENTS' COURSES : Times writers around the world reveal the names of their favoritelittle-known restaurants : ROME

October 20, 1985| Don A. Schanche

Romans scorn guides to the city's restaurants for the sensible reason that such brochures rarely include the unpretentious neighborhood trattoria , pizzeria or osteria , where--everyone knows--the food is better.

Every neighborhood has one or more, and the best are known throughout the city by way of an underground grapevine that, for obvious reasons, excludes tourists and Guide Michelin tasters.

I shudder to think what the other regulars will do to me for this revelation, but my favorite is Grappolo d'Oro, at 80 Piazza Cancelleria, a cobblestoned block from central Rome's most mouthwatering open-air market, Campo del Fiore.

The ambiance is strictly neighborhood, but what a neighborhood, jumbled with some of the ancient city's oldest buildings and richest Renaissance palaces. The decor is eclectic--an odd mix of old photographs, prints and paintings facing strings of garlic and sausage dangling above the service counter, all given a splendid dignity by hand-hewn 16th-Century beams supporting the ceilings of the restaurant's two modest rooms.

The owners--and waiters--Carlo Maggi and Andrea D'Angelo, together with their chef, Ponziano Piconi, are locally celebrated for producing perhaps the Eternal City's best spaghetti con vongole (tiny clams served in the shell over pasta, with a sauce of olive oil, garlic and a dash of hot pepper).

They specialize in seafoods, but the menu offers a full range of excellent meat dishes. And the overburdened table beneath the hanging sausages bears one of the most imaginative arrays of antipasto in Italy, offering varied concoctions of fish, shellfish, meats, salads and vegetables, along with the usual mix of mushrooms, sausage, olives and other cold-table enticements.

And when the citrus fruits from Sicily are at their richest, every meal must end with what is unquestionably the world's greatest caramelado , an exquisite caramelized orange.

Grappolo d'Oro, Piazza Cancelleria 80; telephone 656-4118.

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