Our Rome-based friend D hipped us to a common trick played by no-reservation restaurants in Rome: whoever answers the phone at the restaurant, whether or not it is the owner, will insist you just come on down, that you'll be seated no problem, regardless of the no-res policy, as long as you mention that you spoke to the owner on the phone. Upon arrival, naturally, the owner is either absent or has no recollection of you, and you get stuck milling around with all the other anonymous tourist cattle waiting for tables.
Ristorante Da Enzo, a noted destination for traditional Roman home-cooking on Via dei Vascellari in the eastern Trastevere, does actually take reservations. At least for their first seating. For their second seating they perform a variation on the above ploy, by merely claiming to take your reservation, at which point they note your name on their hand, or something, and then wash their hands.
In the end we were seated about an hour late for a 10h30 reservation - time we spent circling the same sleepy block of the Trastevere, having long since had our fill of the aperitivo options further west in the livelier parts of the quartier. One can really only drink so much before dinner before it starts to feel like some kind of Dante-esque punishment for hedonism in a past life.
Of course, it's normal for restaurants to cultivate a wait for tables. It builds anticipation for the meal, when it arrives. But suspense is by nature very double-edged, and in the case of Da Enzo, it served only to cast the simplistic cooking and uneven wine list in high relief. "I waited for rigatoni?" was my puzzled reaction.
All the pastas are rigatoni at Da Enzo. Even carbonara, the nature of which preparation is totally unsuited to the wide flat surfaces of rigatoni, on which the egg / parmesan mixture quickly bunches and dries in a manner resembling certain skin conditions.
But first came a round of stuffed zucchini blossoms, oversalted with poor quality salt. These were satisfying only to the extent that food is always satisfying if you have been drinking all day, and particularly food that is just a slim vegetal vehicle for melted cheese.
The artichokes, while picturesque and grilled to a truly immaculate crisp, suffered from undersalting, and a massive oversaturation of oil. They were like something dredged up after the BP disaster. I'd ordered them in full awareness that, due to the effect of artichoke enzymes on the palate, it would be a twenty minute trade-off on wine enjoyment. I'd wagered they'd be worth it, but no luck.
I had marginally better fortune with the hand-scrawled wine list, which, while overloaded with supermodern export-market wines like Planeta, was not totally without interest. We began with a Casa d'Ambra Ischia Bianco Biancolello, from Ischia, a tiny little island off of Campania that is - fun fact - a sister city to Los Angeles.* The coastal Campanian varietals are grown there - Biancolello, Forastera, Aglianico, Piedirosso - along with red oddities like Guarnaccia and Per' e Palummo, which latter grape is bound to have an interesting etymological backstory. (Anyone?)
When the wine arrived I was slightly crestfallen to see that it was a) a wine I'd actually already tasted in LA several times, and b) a 2009, which is perfectly fresh when dealing with most of the world's white wines, but another story entirely with obscure Italian village bianci, which at times seem to have a lifespan comparable to that of gnats.
The first pleasant surprise of the evening, however: the wine was showing wonderfully, all mineral, white pepper, and agave - far better than any of the bottles I tasted stateside, which in retrospect might say unsalutary things about that importer's shipping practices.
My enjoyment of the wine was soon tempered, however, by the realization that since neither D nor our other friend K were drinking, and since the NC prefers reds, I had actually made a total boob of myself by ordering an entire bottle. Ah, well. These things happen.** Somewhat rouge with embarrassment, I picked out a red, and by lucky chance there was a genial older French fellow at the next table, red-faced for a different reason, who helped us make some progress with the new bottle. (We didn't finish either, just corked them back up and saved them for later.)
The NC and I then shared a plate of marvelously simple tripe in tomato sauce.
Vivid, silky, and tremendously fresh-tasting, it was probably the culinary high point of the meal. It also retroactively justified the Biancolello which was still on the table, which made for a surprisingly effective pairing.
I have limited experience pairing wines with tripe, because it's something I almost never think to order. I'd been slightly stunned that night when the NC cast her vote for the dish, over various other more universally palatable secondi options, because she has a peur bleue*** of anything not cooked to a char, and in my experience many people who avoid raw things also avoid offal of any kind. (And risks, and motorcycles, and fun.) Not the NC, apparently. She says it's because she's half-Polish - her grandmother used to fix tripe all the time.
It's fitting that Da Enzo got this one thing very right, among much else that was ho-hum, because, as evidenced by the children's drawings posted on the garish yellow walls of the place, it's a place people where come for an archetypal Roman home-cooking experience.
What confounds me, though, in retrospect, is why the ideas of authenticity and genuine home-cooking seems to justify, for many people, basic incivility. Duplicitous reservations, a malicious seating policy, rushed service. What's the reasoning? Da Enzo, finally, is like a enjoying a simple, inexpensive, home-cooked meal in the house of one's preoccupied enemy.
|Dessert was actually quite dreamy. Tiny tart wild strawberries atop an egg / mascarpone pudding.|
* I don't really see what twin-towns or sister-cities ever provide each other in the best of cases, but this one seems like a particularly imbalanced relationship. I assume the whole tradition is some kind of mayoral rigamarole for slow spells in the legislative schedule.
** My readiness to forgive myself in this instance probably had a lot to do with the wine's price - 14€. You can feel like a real high roller when dealing with dewy coastal nothing-whites.
*** A colorful (ahem) French expression meaning 'a mortal fear.' I like it because it seems to imply a sort of Terror Alert Code of human emotion. "Today my fear is rated Level Orange," etc.
29, Via dei Vascellari
Tel: +39 06 5818355
N.D.P. in Roma: Obikà
A glowing profile of Da Enzo @ AtHomeInRome