Seafood and salad in the 'land of wine'

November 11, 1999|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,Special to the Sun

Enotria, a new Italian restaurant near Bel Air, is named for what the ancient Greeks called the rich grape-growing region of southern Italy. The word means "land of wine."

Wine bottles in a neat row serve as a partition between booths inside the restaurant, which is decorated with fabulous stonework and interesting lighting treatments. The look Enotria is going after is that of a winery in Tuscany.

But for all the emphasis on wine, we were surprised that the restaurant was out of our first three choices on the wine list, and our waitress was not much help assisting us in picking a fourth. So we chose the house red, a bottle of which was sitting on our table.

The wine was not as smooth as we would have liked, and the same could be said of the rest of our meal at Enotria, which owners Carlo Fortunato and Raymond Lubrano opened in May.

Still, Enotria is the kind of restaurant that is nice to have in your neighborhood. It handles seafood particularly well, and serves brick-oven pizzas, reasonably priced pasta dishes and a wonderful signature salad, complimentary with entrees. Be sure to try the house creamy Romano dressing.

We started with two appetizers that are standards on Italian menus, fried calamari and pasta fagioli soup, and two that were more inventive. The latter won hands down. We liked the garlicky undertones and simple freshness of the crab bruschetta. The firm, toasted bread slices were topped with a mixture of crab meat and diced tomato, and garnished with a bit of roasted red pepper. A velvety light lobster sauce spiked with sherry turned the shrimp della cantina into something special. There were only five shrimp, but the sauce was good enough to eat off a spoon.

As for our other appetizers, the portion of fried calamari struck us as rather small, though the individual pieces seemed kind of large. A few pieces were too chewy. The classic Italian bean soup, pasta fagioli, tasted more like a thin American variety, a tomato broth dotted with beans and chunks of carrots. We had to look to find the pasta.

We also had to look to find the eggplant in the eggplant parmigiana. In a way, that's a backhanded compliment. I love this dish when it's made with extremely thin slices of eggplant, dipped in a light batter, fried golden and layered with sauce and mozzarella. Enotria's slices were the thinnest I've ever seen, but all I could taste was the flavor of the fried batter. The eggplant was served with a side of spaghetti tossed in a thin marinara sauce that had a note of sweetness.

That slightly sweet flavor -- most probably from a splash of sherry -- turned up to better effect in other dishes. It gave extra polish to a light cream sauce with peas and roasted peppers served over tender chicken cutlets, and to a seafood and angel-hair pasta dish that was on the list of specials. The sauce, similar to the lobster sauce on our shrimp appetizer, was the perfect foil for a gorgeous fillet of salmon, lumps of crab meat and mussels on the half shell.

The biggest disappointment of the night was the penne agli asparagi, a pasta dish that sounded wonderful. What can go wrong with ingredients like pencil-thin asparagus, white-wine sauce and prosciutto? Oil. Bright-orange oil, probably from the sauteed prosciutto, pooled in the bottom of the plate, coated the penne noodles and made the Parmesan-dusted dish unnecessarily heavy.

If you're not a fan of sweet desserts, don't order the extra-sweet tiramisu topped with chocolate sprinkles, or the cannoli, filled with very sweet ricotta cream flavored with cinnamon. By comparison, an ice cream tartufo, cherry and chocolate ice cream wrapped in a chocolate shell, seemed understated.

Enotria

2 Newport Drive, Forest Hill

410-836-0200

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Prices: Appetizers, $4-$9; entrees, $9-$17

Food: **1/2

Service: **1/2

Atmosphere: ***

Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *

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