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Enzo's forgoes the "Italianate" gimmicks for a creative menu with fair prices.

Tasteful Italian


Dining at Italian restaurants is a crapshoot. Most are adequate. Few are good, and happening upon an excellent one is as rare as winning a hop bet on a hard eight.

Worse than the uninspired cuisine is the recent trend toward Italianate-looking establishments. In these "fashionable" environs you dine in near-total darkness, surrounded by faux marble pillars and arches. The caterwauling waiters, who duck and weave through the pillars wielding 7-foot-long pepper mills, further distract you from the $25 plate of pasta you order. Fugettaboutit.

Sometimes, though, lady luck is with you. In craps, you make your point a time or two before you seven-out and leave better off than when you arrived. Such is the experience at Enzo's Restaurant and Cafe in Manakin-Sabot. Enzo's avoids the aforementioned pretensions. It offers creative food at fair prices and throws in excellent service in a pleasant setting to elevate itself above the pale of the Sicily Sideshows.

Enzo's offers a cafe for lunch and casual evening dining, as well as a more formal dining room for the candlelit experience. It's a regulars type of place where you are given your own sweet time to partake of Chef Julio Ayala's (formerly sous chef at Lemaire) inspired take on Italian cuisine.

The menu is extensive enough to accommodate both the classics, such as spaghetti Bolognese ($19) and linguini with clams ($18), and more adventurous offerings like the roast duck with pear and frangelico cream sauce ($21). There is plenty of choice, but not so much to keep you turning the pages. The wine list is short and could use some attention, which we were told it would soon receive when the tavern expansion is completed in early February.

We started with the calamari fritti ($7) and the zuppa di pesce ($9). The calamari is lightly battered and fried crispy. Tender and complemented by an almond and roasted red-pepper aioli, it was among the finest I have ever had. The zuppa, an Italian-style bouillabaisse, offers a few mussels, clams and shrimp bathed in a wonderful fish stock accented with garlic and white wine. Both were excellent.

The bow-tie pasta with smoked salmon and caviar is served in a spicy vodka and tomato cream sauce ($20). The veal vitello is cooked with herbs and sun-dried tomatoes, topped with a light lemon sauce and accompanied by sauteed vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes ($17). In this day of kitchen-sink potatoes, I was thrilled to find no juniper berries or chicken livers in my spuds. The veal itself was tender enough to pass the fork test, and the flavors were delicate with the sun-dried tomatoes and lemon sauce acting as fine foils. The pasta lived up to its spicy billing. As a whole, though, the salmon was a bit overpowering. A better balance could be achieved with a less smoky salmon.

Desserts are all made in-house and include cannoli, a hot fudge cake and a banana pastry. We were listing, though, and decided to limit ourselves to coffee and Grand Marnier. We'll be sure to save a little room next time.

It is easy to understand why Enzo's garners plenty of return business. Chef Ayala's cooking is creative and served in an understated and comfortable atmosphere. The service is at once efficient and accommodating — without hulking pepper mills. With a little tweaking, Enzo's could become an institution. Take the time this weekend to drive out to the West End and see why people keep returning to Enzo's. It's a safe bet that you'll go back too.

Enzo's Restaurant and Café ($$)
Broad View Shopping Center
36 Broad Street Road
Manakin-Sabot, VA 23103
Lunch: Monday - Friday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Monday - Thursday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.,
Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

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