At first glance, Enoteca Roma seems like the kind of charming Italian restaurant you’re pretty sure New Yorkers walk by every day, and are probably taking for granted. It’s small and narrow, with only a few tables and a bar on the side of the room. The atmosphere is simple and even kind of sparse, with copper pots hanging on the wall and a large chalkboard with daily specials making up most of the decor.
But like Mary Poppins’ magic bag, this place has hidden utility. For example, there’s a huge tree-lined back patio that’s not visible from the street - and a bakery next door that’s owned by the same people, which has extra seating when the main restaurant gets busy. So the initially small-looking space works well for everything from a big group dinner, to a quiet date night, to a solo meal of wine and pasta at the bar when you don’t want to interact with more humans than strictly necessary.
Given how small and cute this place looks, there’s also more on the menu than you might expect. You’ll find a long list of pastas (some housemade), bruschettas, polentas, antipasti, pizzas, entrees, risotto, and daily specials. Focus on the pastas - they’re the ideal delivery system for some very good sauces, like a rich venison bolognese or a flavorful pork sugo. The polenteria section of the menu is worth your time as well - you’ll get polenta poured onto a board tableside, topped with more of the excellent sauces we mentioned. And if you’re with a group, go for some bruschetta, too - they have toppings that are simple-sounding but really good, like apple, honey and brie, or goat cheese and red pepper. Plus, you can mix and match five kinds for $12.
There are a few things here you’ll want to skip, though. For example, the Roman-style pizzas, which have disappointing toppings - like cheese that tastes like it belongs on a frozen pizza, or an incredibly vinegary housemade giardiniera. There’s also an overcooked, mushy lasagna that’s only saved by its delicious venison bolognese sauce. Luckily, on such a long menu, these things are easy to avoid. Stick with the dishes we recommend in the rundown, and you won’t have a bad meal.
It’s easy to think that New York has us beat on the charming-little-Italian-restaurant front. But this place definitely qualifies, and like a fold-out couch or a dress with pockets, it’s also more versatile than it might immediately appear. So keep it in mind for just about any occasion that will be improved by great pasta you don’t have to plan a month in advance to eat.
The bruschetta here come in 10 varieties, and you can get a flight of five for $12. Our favorites are the “Vinny” with caramelized onion, the “Calabria” with goat cheese and peppers, and the “Emilia” with prosciutto, tomato, and basil.
You’ll find a rotating menu of specials written on a chalkboard, and if something sounds good to you, get it. Especially if it’s the spaghetti with shrimp and saffron that’s served in a parmesan bowl. That’s excellent - tell it we said hi.
The polenta is poured tableside onto a slab, and topped with a sauce of your choosing. All the options are good, but our favorite is the corvario, which comes with an incredibly rich and flavorful venison bolognese.
The campanelle pasta is cooked perfectly, and topped with the same delicious venison bolognese.
This has a nicely spicy tomato sauce and pieces of fantastic housemade sausage.
The ravioli is filled with pear and ricotta, and topped with a walnut cream sauce and gorgonzola. It’s great - not too sweet or too heavy.
You should probably get some housemade gnocchi while you’re here, because it’s extremely fluffy. We like the version with herb gnocchi and an outstanding pork sugo.
If you order this, you’re not calling anyone afterwards to tell them about it. It’s fine - it has a nice rosemary and lemon sauce, and the chicken breast is juicy. If you cooked it for yourself, you’d feel very proud.
The arancini changes daily, but the one thing that doesn’t change is that it’s dry and not very interesting. Skip this.
There’s no way around it - the pizzas here aren’t good at all. They’re Roman-style, and the focaccia-like crust is very dry.
As we mentioned, Enoteca Roma’s owners also have a bakery next door, called Letizia’s. That’s where the desserts come from, and you should get the chocolate cake. It’s rich, sweet, and a good way to end things.