Friday, November 24, 2006

Da Enzo: Down-home Roman cooking

Well folks, it’s Friday, and I’m feeling generous, so…while many of you figure out what to do with all that leftover turkey, I’m going to share another secret of cucina Romana (Roman cuisine) with you.

I’m letting you in on a place that I consider one of the last great strongholds of true Roman cooking in the city. It’s not just my opinion, but the opinion of many of my Roman friends as well. This is a place where you can get very authentic Roman cooking but not spend a fortune, definitely a rarity.

I give you: Da Enzo, right around the corner from my apartments here in Trastevere. This photo shows the wall where the owner has hung a bunch of drawings by his daughter, and the kitchen on the right.

This place is literally a hole in the wall: I think there are about 10 tables inside. Hence, if you don’t make reservations, you’re probably not getting in. For dinner they run two turni—one at 8 pm and one at 10 pm. Service is usually quick, no-nonsense, efficient and the whole ambience is simply down home.

Hungry people waiting outside Da Enzo for the 2nd dinner seating

I’ll let you in on another little secret: as an appetizer (antipasto) you simply must order the carciofi alla giudia.

My carciofo before I savagely attacked the poor thing

These are “Jewish style” fried artichokes (in ancient Rome, the majority of the neighborhood inhabitants were Jewish) and are a typical Roman dish that is becoming harder and harder to find these days. Lots of people will tell you to go to the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood to try them, at places like the overrated and overpriced Da Giggetto, but Da Enzo has them just as good and you’ll spend half the price for your meal, in a decidedly non-touristy environment.

For your pasta dishes, Enzo has a good selection of the basic Roman classics, like arrabbiata, amatriciana, and carbonara. I think one of their great selling points is that they know exactly how to cook pasta al dente, that Italian style of cooking the pasta so that it is firm to the bite.

See how there’s a white ring in the middle of the pasta when you bite it? That’s the part that remains uncooked and gives it that special al dente consistency that is the mark of a great Italian pasta dish. After getting used to this style of cooking pasta, it can be hard to go back to the squishier version we have in restaurants in the States, which Italians call scotta, overcooked.

Whenever we have visitors, this is one of the places we always try to take them. As the smile (and big bottle 'o house wine) will tell you, our most recent visitor and favorite houseguest Jessica definitely approved!

Da Enzo
Via dei Vascellari 29 (Trastevere)
Tel. 06 581 83 55
Open for lunch and dinner, closed Sunday
Reservations highly recommended
Average cost for dinner: approx. €25-€30 per person (appetizer, pasta, dessert, house wine)


gracie said...

It's always nice to read how much you appreciate the italian way of living, especially when you talk about our food! Thank you for reminding me how much it's good to be italian! Sometimes we need the eyes of a foreigner to see exactly things as the are.

avery said...

I love love LOVE Roman artichokes and so rarely are they on any menu. We did go to a hole in the wall in the Jewish Ghetto once and that's what got me hooked on them but I will absolutely try Da Enzo's. It looks so yummy...And how cute is Finney in that photo!?! Che carina!

Expat Traveler said...

I love artichokes as well! Do you have any idea how they make them?

The restaurant looks incredible of course...

My only question is why don't they try to do a 6pm feeding too? More money??? I guess people don't eat until later (except tourists)...

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Gracie: Grazie for the kind words. I feel the same way -- often I realize things I should appreciate about the States when they are brought to my attention by Italians who visit. The beauty of being a traveler with an open mind!

Avery: When hubby has a (rare) night off, let me know and we can go there. It's a fun place.

Expat: I linked in the post to a recipe (click on "Jewish style fried artichokes") but no guarantees--I've never tried making them myself so I'm not exactly sure of the procedure. Ale tried making them once and he has a tip: the oil has to be super hot, otherwise they don't get crispy. As for the 6 pm "feeding" (good term!), too early ... plus they're probably still recovering from lunch! ;-)

FinnyKnits said...

Of course, I LOVED it there. And clearly, I was loving the wine, too. Aside from the fabulous arabiata and carciofi, the fact that I could enjoy good white wine without the migraine made it all the better.

Plus, favorite houseguest?! Wow - I guess I'll have to come back!! Darn.

ginkers said...

It looks like a great place. Sometimes it is nice to be reminded that small can be beautiful and a restaurant does not need to seat hundreds to make it top quality.

Jack said...

Myself and my girlfriend stumbled on this place completely by accident in May of last year. We had a great meal there for buttons... a must if you're in the area, I would say.