ENO PANINOTECA | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
JASON: The first time I enjoyed this little dining garden, it was part of the Café Photo Forum, and it was intimate and sophisticated -- everything dining in Shadyside should be.

ANGELIQUE: Remember when it was Bellini? My waiter once spoke faux-Frenglish to me all night.

JASON: How irritating. Well, it was part of the first wave of outdoor dining on Ellsworth Avenue, which has become the city's center for cuisine au naturel. Now that it's the garden for Eno Paninoteca, some things have changed, but the sense of peaceful enclosure hasn't.

ANGELIQUE: Eno is the Italian outpost of Le Perroquet Bistro Francais. But the vase of lucky bamboo on every table inside and the garden of evergreens and Japanese maples make it feel more Asian than Adriatic.

JASON: There's certainly no mistaking the wine list for anything but Mediterranean. The name Eno is related to enoteca, Italian for wine bar.

ANGELIQUE: You mean it's not related to Brian?

JASON: As I was saying, the wine list is longer than the food menu, with predominantly Italian reds, whites and sparkling wines, available by the glass or bottle. The kitchen focuses on simple but richly flavored items that complement the wine choices.

ANGELIQUE: All without a heaping plate of pasta or gooey pizza in sight. Eno's menu of antipasti, salads, bruschetta and panini -- sandwiches toasted and pressed thin in a grill -- is perfect light-yet-satisfying fare for summer's dog days and nights. The emphasis is on traditional recipes and ingredients, so you won't find any trendy attempts to incorporate wasabi or anything else un-Italian.

JASON: Thank goodness. The ingredient lists are brief, the preparations straightforward (if not simple), and the flavors rich and rewarding.

ANGELIQUE: The portions -- and prices -- are reasonable, encouraging the mixing and matching of dishes, or the ordering of several to share. I couldn't wait to get my fork into Jason's asparagus antipasto.

JASON: Pencil-thin stalks were roasted and stacked Lincoln Log-style beneath olive oil and thinly sliced Parmesan cheese. It had a mellow, deep flavor, and the presentation was attractive without being fussy; snipped herbs were scattered on top, as they were on every other dish we ordered -- a simple but tasteful touch. Angelique's appetizer unfortunately had a less appetizing appearance.

ANGELIQUE: True, but the gray pallor of my marinated eggplant was redeemed by its texture -- neither rubbery nor mushy, but just right -- and toppings of fresh buffalo mozzarella and a smooth sauce of olive oil and lemon flavored with garlic and basil. But what I'll come back for is the cheese plate, with its Gorgonzola, mozzarella, fontina, goat cheese and taleggio (a strong, creamy sort of Italian brie). Ask, and this plate can also be prepared with a sampling of meats, including sopresatta (a delicate salami), mortadella (the original bologna), prosciutto, and Calabrese sausage.

JASON: Wanting to test the kitchen's mettle on a simple classic, we ordered bruschetta, toasted bread rounds topped with tomatoes, olive oil, herbs and garlic.

ANGELIQUE: And garlic. And garlic. We'll be repelling vampires and co-workers for days.

JASON: Neither of us is shy about the "stinking rose," but the strong, raw variety here was overwhelming, in contrast to the mellower flavor that graced the eggplant and the panini.

ANGELIQUE: In a town whose favorite sandwich comes plumped with French fries, the panini are a special delight. The thinly layered but savory combinations of Italian meats, cheeses and vegetables make overstuffed deli orders seem like the dumb jocks of the sandwich world.

JASON: My panini with Calabrese sausage, brie and mushroom was another triumph of moderate portions of strong flavors, happily joined in toasty harmony.

ANGELIQUE: Mine featured sweet sopresatta, fontina cheese and spinach, which tasted like it had been wilted in lemon juice, all brushed with garlic butter. The bread was grilled to the point of crispness, not char, on the outside, and the heat had melted the cheese so that it clung deliciously to its fellow fillings.

JASON: We ordered five dishes, expecting to need a doggie bag, but each tasty item demanded to be finished, and the servings were just right.

ANGELIQUE: Coming attractions include an outdoor bar and a dessert menu. As if we need an excuse to go back. Cheese knows no season.

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