We wandered into Enzo, a new fine-dining place in downtown Newburyport, on a whim. We hadn’t seen it advertised, and no one had mentioned anything about it to us.
We’re glad we went.
The economy can be rough on new restaurants, but we predict Enzo will flourish.
The restaurant, open since March, occupies part of a 19th-century factory building adjoining the Tannery shopping complex. The space has a retro industrial feel, with huge windows, exposed ductwork, and chic metal cafe-style tables with large sheets of paper draped over them in lieu of table cloths.
We arrived near 8 p.m. on a Friday night, not knowing what to expect. (Enzo takes reservations only for larger parties.) We were seated immediately, but soon people were being seated in the bar to wait for tables. Despite the high ceiling, the dining room was on the noisy side, and we found ourselves leaning forward to talk.
The menu was small but choice. There were just three entrées proper the night we visited (priced from $25 to $28), plus a few pasta dishes and a slew of unusual appetizers. Many of the menu items specify the local organic farm or dairy the ingredients come from. Some diners may find that pretentious, but we mentally award a gold star when we see it.
Enzo’s cuisine is a combination of northern Italian and new American. This is not a place to come for chicken parm or spaghetti and meatballs.
We tried a medley of off-beat appetizers. The deviled eggs ($6), prepared with smoked trout, were pleasantly smoky rather than fishy. “One perfect cheese’’ ($6) was a slice of hard raw cow’s-milk cheese with a diverse assortment of go-withs, including candied pistachios, a hard cracker, and delightful tiny pickled red onions. As for whether all those flavors actually go together, who are we to say?
A plate of crispy fried fish cakes ($9), made of local pollock, came with a pair of high-calorie accompaniments: a creamy lemon mayonnaise sauce and a pungent pesto made with parsley. An appetizer of salumi di casa ($11) was house-cured duck prosciutto alongside a pâté made from local pork. The prosciutto meat was fine, but we didn’t love the prosciutto fat. As for the pâté, its flavor didn’t jump. Might the hog have been a low-fat animal?
Enzo has a welcome policy of offering some of its dishes either as small plates or at full size. A half-serving of linguine with wild ramps — leeks, basically — and chewy mushrooms ($10, or $18 full) was terrific: very rich and buttery, with thick, al dente linguine and bits of spicy meat. Half or no, it was plenty filling.
Our one entrée was “chicken under a brick’’ ($25). This was a pan-roasted, free-range half-chicken with focaccia stuffing on the side, along with rainbow carrots and baby turnips. It was spectacular: flavorful and succulent. A side of thick but juicy grilled asparagus spears cost extra ($5).
Desserts are usually a sugary punctuation mark that tells your stomach the meal’s over, but the two we ordered at Enzo (each $7) were triumphs of pastry-chefdom. A lemon posset (rhymes with faucet), which usually refers to spiced, curdled milk, was a tangy and not oversweet lemon custard with a crunchy light crust involving ginger-cookie crumbs. A steamy rhubarb tart was baked on a bed of sweetened ricotta and topped with a dollop of exotic ice cream, possibly pomegranate.
We never noticed a TV, and we never got any free bread. Some might gripe about these absences, but to us they were pluses. For one thing, if we’d gorged on bread, we’d never have tried dessert.
Coco McCabe and Doug Stewart