Enrico's doesn't sacrifice assertive flavors

April 26, 1991|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

Enrico's

Where: 808 Westminster Pike.

Hours: Open for dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays,

5 p.m. to 10

pm. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sundays.

Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.

Features: Italian dishes, pasta, pizza, subs.

Non-smoking section? Yes -- separate room on weekends,

separate area on

weekdays.

Call: 833-6301.

***

"Family" dining. Uh oh.

Nothing against families, mind you. But when this childless reviewer is in search of fine dining, she tends to shy away from the kind of place that prominently features the F-word in its advertising. Family-style restaurants can be usually be depended on for four things: an unadventurous menu, bland flavors, a minimum of soft lights and sexy music, and the strong possibility that there will be a yowling toddler somewhere on the premises.

At first glance Enrico's, the family-style Italian place that has replaced the Fiori on Westminster Pike, confirmed these fears. A little boy with astounding lung power was kicking up a ruckus at a corner table. And the menu offered few surprises.

Our biggest surprise, in fact, was food that definitely wasn't seasoned for sissies. Bold flavors and the assured, assertive use of herbs and garlic were not the exception but the rule in this restaurant, managed by the Country Fare Group (which includes King's Contrivance and the Brass Elephant but not, any longer, the Country Fare).

We were also cheered by the comfortable old building's country-inn charm -- how does a restaurant on a busy highway maintain such a pastoral feel? -- and we liked the blue-and-white checked tablecloths, which recalled the archetypal Italian restaurants of our childhood.

A sip of minestrone ($1.50) demonstrated that while the food might sound generic, it tasted anything but. The broth had a smoky, meaty taste, well-fortified with Parmesan and the singing flavors of rosemary and other herbs. The Caesar salad ($3.25) was so laced with garlic that it made us gasp -- not a complaint! In mild tempura-like batter, fried calamari ($3.25) were shy on taste, but their chunky tomato dipping sauce was both savory and spicy. When the squid were gone, we finished the sauce off with a spoon.

A special, zuppa de pesce ($12.50), was a melange of shellfish moistened with a well-spiced marinara and served over spaghetti. The seafood was fresh and tender; only the inedibly salty Alaskan crab legs disappointed. The portion defied our attempts to finish it -- but it was fun trying.

With its al dente vegetables (squash, broccoli, spinach) and its wealth of ricotta and mozzarella, the vegetable lasagne ($8.50) was a tempting combination of healthy vegetarian virtue and decadent richness.

While Enrico's is a good value for everyone, families are especially well served. Before 7 p.m., kids can eat from the children's menu for free. Their choices (chicken tenders, grilled cheese, fish sticks and the like) aren't likely to be adorned with all that glorious garlic. But we suspect the kids won't mind.

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