Enzo Mauri

Executive Chef


In recent years, the popularity of Italian food in this country has risen to the same plateau as American cuisine. It's become safe and familiar in the eyes of Americans and a good bet if you're aiming to please a lot of different people. Consequently, many Italian restaurants have sprung up around San Diego, nay, the country. Little Italys everywhere have capitalized on this growing trend, resulting in many establishments that cater to the Americanized Italian food that natives and locals alike have come to love. One could say that there are plenty of fine Italian restaurants around San Diego; but Chef Enzo Mauri wouldn't.

Chef Enzo is the newest chef to grace Chianti's kitchen, having been there for only 3 months. The reason he's so particular about Italian food is because he grew up in Terni, just over 70 miles from Rome and the resting place of St. Valentine. Though, Chef Enzo points out, "We don't get as crazy over him as you do here. All we have is a sign." From a very young age he was immersed in traditional Italian cuisine by his grandmother who owned a trattoria, and his mother who worked there. He spent much of his childhood in the kitchen, playing and helping his matriarchs with random tasks. Running the restaurant was a family tradition, he explains, and the traditional food served there differed greatly from the Italian food we eat in America. Portions are different, food is served differently, and it's often not as elaborate as the food you can order in most restaurants.

He eventually left his grandmother's trattoria and moved to Rome, refining his culinary skills and broadening his views. He cooked in many different places around Central Italy before coming to the United States in 1991. He worked at many San Diego restaurants including Tuscany and Sante Ristorante before partnering up with Pasquale Angelotti at Pasquale on Prospect, a hugely successful restaurant in La Jolla that recently closed due to failed lease negotiations.

After Pasquale, Chef Enzo made a connection with Chianti through a friend at La Strada, who recommended the association to both parties. When I asked him what he enjoyed most about Chianti, he replied "They let me make real Italian food, and they're nice people. They leave me alone." I then asked how - since he has been a San Diego favorite for quite a while he bought all his ingredients, and if Chianti's distributors helped him at all: "I have a lot of distributors through the restaurant, but I also have a lot of friends at Italian markets who get me what I need." As an example he told me about his favorite cheese, crescenza, which was present in the house-made gnocchi I had tasted. "It's a rare cheese to buy in the States, and he can get his hands on it, but the market price is pretty steep. "I wanted to put it on the focaccia and all the pizzas, but it's so expensive that I can't because the mark-up would be too much." In conversation, I asked if he uses pancetta in his carbonara. He gave me a funny look and replied The only things I put in my carbonara are pecorino, olive oil, and pork cheek.Where you find the cheek of a pig, I still don't know."

The other reason that the Chef likes Chianti so much is because he says it's the only real Italian restaurant in town. Confused, I listed at least a dozen Italian restaurants owned by reputable local restaurant groups and families (none of which I'll name specifically because I like to work), to which he only shook his head. He explained that most of the owners of Italian restaurants are 3rd or 4th generation, and have learned Italian techniques to cook Americanized Italian food. Chef Enzo went on to say that real Italian food is simple, but still flavorful. "Whereas in America we add herbs, spices, complex sauces, and other ingredients to create as much flavor as possible, Italians use a few, simple ingredients alongside careful and meticulous preparation to bring out robust, basic flavors."

Chef Enzo explains that, not too long ago, Italy was primarily an agricultural nation. "The only food available was grown in country sides, so that Italian cuisine was based upon simple, organic ingredients. Meals were simple yet plentiful, and dishes we find simple like lasagna were handmade and took painstaking hours to craft from scratch. It's much better now, but back then things took a long time to make. It's only American decadence that has given Italian food the reputation that we know today. I asked him about Little Italy, thinking that there had to be a tiny, immigrant owned restaurant that stayed true to Italian cuisine; he almost became disgusted at the insinuation that there could be any good Italian food there. His approach to proper Italian food can be summed up in one brief statement: "Spending the time, using good ingredients, and not using too much good ingredients." He also has some advice for other Italian restaurants around town: "You have to master the hard dish first, and then you can do anything."

To end the interview, I asked him if he wanted to move on to other things, or if he liked working in place. He said that he enjoys just coming in to work and doing his thing, and as long as he can do that he'll be fine. I asked if he'd be interested in starting his own restaurant again someday, and with that he made another unpleasant face and walked away. I guess people will just need to keep coming to Chianti.


Restaurant Info

  • 644 5th Avenue
    San Diego CA 92101
  • Restaurant: Chianti
  • Address: 644 5th Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
  • Cross Street: Market Street
  • Location: Downtown | Gaslamp Quarter
  • Cuisine: Italian | Pizza | Pasta |
  • Cost: $$$ | Moderate | $50 - $75
  • Category: Fine Dining
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Meals Served: Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | MasterCard | Discover |
  • Corkage Fee: 20.00 | Per 750ml bottle.