Monday, January 28, 2013

pasta nirvana

Lunchtime at Da Enzo's
Photo by A.V. Crofts

There will be no hyperlinks in this post.

This update is about a restaurant that has no website, no menus, and no sign hanging outside their entrance. You either know it exists and where to find it, or you do not.

Luckily, I now fall into the former category.

For nine years, my friend Arielle has been singing me the praises of Napoli. It's a magic city, she assured me, don't let Naples be defined for you by the stereotypes of mafia and mountains of garbage thanks to sanitation worker strikes.

So I took her advice to heart. I advocated hard that we travel there with our students. The UW Rome Center, though initially skeptical, came along. A scouting trip was in order, so this past Friday and Saturday, my colleague and I crisscrossed the city, eating our way through Naples.

Yes, we had sfogliatelle, the delicate pastry that crumbles in your mouth. Yes, we sipped un caffe of seriously high-octane goodness at Cafe Mexico with the statue of Dante looking down on us from the piazza that bears his name. Yes, we sipped falanghina white wine. Yes, we indulged in a pizza margherita from the hallowed pizza haunt "Gina Sobrillo."

But the meal we'll never forget was at Da Enzo's. Arielle's favorite pasta in Naples.

Da Enzo's is a mom and pop operation tucked away on a cobblestone side street. We had only a few instructions to go on: the neighborhood, its location relative to an ospedale and a mercatino, and the fact that you entered the restaurant via a storage room. We had no street name, no phone number, and no question in our minds we were going to find this place. I love a challenge.

And find it we did.

This place feeds the neighborhood. Tables are set with blue and white paper tablecloths and the menu, recited in person when you sit down, consists of four pasta dishes, two vegetable side dishes, water, and house wine. A basket of fresh bread is also provided. The kitchen is the size of a closet.

My spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) was the best I've ever tasted. Each dainty clam was the size of a locket necklace, split open as if clapping for me as I twirled the pasta on to my fork. Napoli peppers gave the dish some heat and the butter garlic sauce disappeared thanks to the chewy and wonderfully salty bread--perfect for sopping up the sauce. My colleague got the ultimate comfort dish photographed above: cannelli beans and tomatoes with macaroni noodles.

The space was filled with regulars. Orders were shouted in lively and congenial fashion as patrons entered the dining room. An enormous octopus sat on the kitchen counter, as if taking a nap.

I slurped my last spaghetti noodle, patted my chin with a paper napkin, and marveled at the wonder of it all.


  1. I love your blog Anita!! Now I want to find this pasta place in Naples :)

  2. Why thank you, Vero! If you are very lucky, I just might tell you. ;)

  3. Oh, how I love this: "Each dainty clam was the size of a locket necklace, split open as if clapping for me as I twirled the pasta on to my fork. "

    If I close my eyes, I can alllllmost taste the dish. Unfortunately, when I open them again, I'm no longer in Italy.

  4. Cheryl, we must go to Da Enzo's one day. I keep closing my eyes and opening them and finding out I'm also no longer in Italy. It's the pits.