Thursday, July 05, 2007

Menu Memories

Many, many years ago, while in exile in Florida, Cranky and I happened upon a swanky Italian restaurant in the town of Longwood, just outside Orlando. It was situated on a lake (there are scads of lakes, actually watered-up sinkholes, in Central Florida) rimmed by trees twinkling with tiny white lights.
The food was good, and the atmosphere was unintimidatingly upscale. In those days, the restaurant was called something like Enzo's Mamma something or other... Dear Enzo loved his mother. Enzo himself would handsomely greet us and make us feel special and smart.
It was almost a rarity in Florida then: a classy, local (read non-chain) restaurant with modern European touches and a whiff of Wise Guy presence. Seriously!
I became obsessed with a pasta dish served there, the bucatini with pancetta, peas, pepper flakes and grated parmesan. Today — I just looked up Enzo's website (the restaurant has changed its name to Enzo's on the Lake) — it's still on the menu! I seem to have forgotten that there were also bacon and mushrooms in the dish... or maybe they're a latter-day adjustment.
Anyway, that was always my dinner of choice at Enzo's. So debonair. So — unknown! Who'd ever heard of bucatini? I didn't really process the fact that restaurants love it when customers order the pasta, because it's so cheap to make. I'd simply pay a whopping entrée price for my beloved, exotic bucatini.
Well, let's just say that I'm still happy about that meal, even in retrospect.
But now I make it at home. Save loads of cash that way (have you seen the price for a ticket to Florida?). Because I can buy bucatini pasta at A.G. Ferrari, a local Italian food importer.
Ferrari's bucatini is almost peculiarly tender. If you're an al dente stalwart, you won't like it: it cooks up pretty soft. But it's so loving, so gentle, so virginal thrown in there with the beasts of red pepper flakes and manly bacon. A wicked contrast.
Just like dinner on a dewy, twinkling lake in Florida... with a Mafia guy at the next table.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, wow. I have been there. I used to live in Orlando and this was what I always ordered. I loved it! I don't suppose you would like to share your recipe?

P.S. I also used to live near Terra Linda in Novato, way back when...

Sean said...

Last weekend I was at a dinner alongside the owner of A16; bucatini was served with a Sicilian tomato sauce with tuna. He referred to bucatini as "the hardest pasta to eat," and I agree. You can't slurp it up, you can't twirl it on the fork. I'm always confounded by it. It's like the anti-pasta.

sfmike said...

There are still a number of Italian restaurants like that in Palm Springs with a surprisingly large number of traditional Italianate mafia dudes hanging out. It's like they've gotten stuck in some time bubble.

Dagny said...

It used to be there were certain bars in North Beach one could frequent ... *sigh* Those were the days. I never seemed to have any "problems" back then. ;-)

Stacie said...

what a love story! I especially liked that the pasta co. name was Ferrari... and there were mobsters... and food...

jeanne bee said...

just the mere thought of you and Cranky in Flordia makes me concerned--even if it was a long time ago! I'd like a serving of this dish. I'll bring the wine!

cookiecrumb said...

Anonymous: OMG, who are you? We share history.
My recipe is very loose: you cut up and cook the bacon; boil the pasta until done; cook your peas just so; (all separate). Then you grate the cheese and toss everything together with red pepper flakes. Proportions are up to you. So... see. This is not really a recipe. Wing it!

Sean: No, you can't slurp it. Or twirl it. It's *challenging*! (Use a fork. Cut it.)

SFMike: Oh, I can imagine. So Miami Vice, but in a SoCal way.

Dagny: You had, er, protection?

Stacie: Gosh, it *was* rather romantic in a Sopranos way! :D

Jeanne: Don't worry. We escaped.
You are on our dinner list. I know what to serve you.

dancingmorganmouse said...

bucatini - aka fat sketti or straws at our place. When we were little we used to steal bucatini stalks and drink through them (very, very slowly).

katiez said...

That all sounds heavenly: the restaurant, the lake, the pasta!
I can't remember the last time I was in an Italian restaurant.... I'm going to have to go to Italy!
I suppose I could make you bucatini at home, save money... boo!
Pizzerias don't count, do they? Please tell me they don't count....

KathyF said...

I love pasta, but never thought about the deal restaurants get when I order it. Hmmm.

I'm definitely going to veganize that one. I love peas. Have never tried bucatini, I must say.

cookiecrumb said...

DMM: If I'd had access to bucatini when I was a kid, I'd have done exactly that. But. Yuck.

Katie: Here's an idea I swiped from The Parent Trap (the original version, with Hayley Mills, yum): Why don't you re-create a little Italian trattoria for a night in your house? Corny accordion music, plastic grapes hanging from the ceiling, a candle stuck in a chianti bottle...
(Pizzerias don't count.)

KathyF: Totally you can veganize it. I'd say not to skip the mushrooms, in that case. And peas, of course.
Bucatini is fun!

Ed Bruske said...

Bucatini is our favorite. There used to be a restaurant here in the District of Columbia called Fio's, down a dank hallway in the Woodner Apartments. Fio was a cranky chef. But it was our destination of choice. He made the best bucatini carbonara.

cookiecrumb said...

Ed: It seems to be a pasta that makes memories.
Carbonara sounds good; bucatini is tough enough for that.
I'm gonna buy another bag.