It’s a balmy night, and the newly renovated plaza at Waverly Place is alive with people drawn by the landscaped park-like setting with fountains and a play area for children. It doesn’t hurt that a frozen yogurt shop and a café/gelateria are among the new tenants bordering the plaza.
Without doubt the most popular of those new tenants is Enrigo, which opened in February and features authentic fare from chef Meri Serpillo’s native Tuscany.
Tonight, the fair weather has allowed owner Gabriele Danzante to open the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows, transforming the dining room into a quasi extension of the patio. We’ve managed to score a prime table outdoors, and are fueling our people-watching with glasses of pinot grigio from a thoughtfully chosen, strongly Italian-leaning wine list. We’ve ordered coccoli, a dish I confess I’ve never even heard of (and naturally, as a foodie, just have to try), as a shared starter.
In a few minutes, the eye-catching appetizer arrives: a large plate laden with petals of prosciutto, airy pillows of fried dough and a small dish of stracchino, a cow’s milk cheese with a texture somewhere between mascarpone and cream cheese, but an infinitely more complex flavor. Our server delivers it with directions: Smear a little of the stracchino on one of the dough puffs, tear off a piece of ham and place on top. Pop it into your mouth. Repeat.
We do just that. Maybe it’s the striking presentation, or maybe it’s the satisfied smiles on our faces, but a strolling couple stops by our table to ask, “What IS that you’re eating? It looks so good.”
It is indeed, and it’s by no means the only reason to brave the crowds (waits of 40 minutes or more for a table are common) to dine at Enrigo.
If you can resist the allure of coccoli, you’ll find ample rewards in bruschetta topped with a vibrant tweed of chopped tomatoes and basil. Or a fritto misto of calamari and shrimp, whose delicately battered delights are tempered only slightly by the paucity of shrimp – just three of them when I ordered the dish, albeit large ones and properly cooked.
The only outright disappointment I’ve encountered at Enrigo is the Caprese salad, which teases you with a dramatic presentation only to let you down with a cold, mealy tomato. As we’re entering the peak of the local tomato season, it’s an especially big letdown at $9.99.
If it’s a salad you’re craving, you’ll be much better served by the Mediterranean (olives, capers, tomatoes, red onions, hearts of palm and feta) or chef’s distinctive take on a Caesar, garnished with homemade croutons, diced tomatoes, chopped parsley and a single anchovy.
Pizzas are authentically thin-crusted in the Italian tradition, though the crust sometimes falls short of the blistery, lightly charred ideal. Be advised that the Margherita isn’t what you’re likely expecting. Chef Serpillo’s Tuscan take on the classic pie is, as our server aptly described it, “basically a cheese pizza with basil.”
But the Enrigo (prosciutto, arugula and diced tomatoes applied post-baking to a base of mozzarella and mascarpone) is an unqualified hit.
The menu lists just five options under the “secondi piatti” heading, three of them variations on the “alla parmigiana” theme. Enrigo’s main entree attraction is its list of pastas, most of them homemade, which are offered with a mix-and-match selection of sauces. Among the many winning possibilities are spinach-and ricotta-stuffed ravioli in a classic marinara, potato gnocchi in a mushroom cream sauce and rustic tagliolini in a hearty bolognese.
There’s also a handful of baked pasta dishes to choose from. Even if you find lasagna and stuffed cannelloni a bit heavy for summertime eating, you won’t want to miss crespelle alla fiorentina. Florentine-style crêpes stuffed with spinach, béchamel and parmesan in a light tomato sauce, this is one baked pasta dish that will hit the spot any time of year.
At lunchtime, panini take center stage. Though these are not the grill-pressed panini you’re likely familiar with – these sandwiches are served on crusty European-style buns – you won’t be disappointed. Options range from chicken breast with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes to fine-textured homemade meatballs in a garlicky tomato sauce.
A native of southern Italy, Gabriele Danzante’s resume is the classic dishwasher-to-restaurant-owner success story, with a global twist. He’s currently a partner in restaurants in Puerto Vallarta and the San Francisco area.
The affable Danzante, who sets the tone for a friendly and knowledgeable wait staff, will likely stop by your table at some point.
Ask him about the coccoli, and he’ll tell you that the dish originated in post-World War II Italy, when food was scarce. Ham and cheese were relatively plentiful, though, and pizza dough trimmings rounded out the inspired combination.
In short, it’s a culinary rags-to-riches story – a gratifying echo, you might say, of Enrigo’s owner.
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