Thursday, July 18, 2024

Fritto misto at Bar Enza in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Fine Italian seems to be all the rage these days in Camberville. Every few weeks it seems we have a new entry to the list. Gufo and Josephine are two recent What We’re Having stops joining well-established faves such as Pammy’s, Giulia and Gran Gusto. The folks behind Giulia opened sister restaurant Benedetto in the Charles Hotel’s old Rialto space in 2016. It was a popular, well-trafficked spot, but during Covid – just as ownership was getting ready to reopen – the Charles canceled the lease. Bar Enza opened in Benedetto’s place under the culinary stewardship of Belmont native and Michelin-starred chef Mark Ladner, who toiled at Todd English’s Olives before a stint in New York and a return back to Massachusetts to launch Enza with the backing of the Lyons Group (of Summer Shack and Sonsie). By some definitions, Enza means “giant,” and that’s what Ladner was all about: a ginormous meatball – near cantaloupe size – and a single, plate-size lobster ravioli. Ladner’s moved to the biz side of the house; taking over the kitchen is Tony Susi, who also served up food at English’s Olives and at Geppetto, another one of those Camberville fine Italian spots, in Cambridge Crossing. 

For the Bar Enza reboot, gone are those quirky bigs. In their stead are subtle spins on classic Italian, and plenty from the sea. The pasta and mains sections change, but there’s always a fish, poultry and steak option. If what I sampled is an indicator, Susi has a rich palate and one I can get on board with.

For starters, the burrata and prosciutto: a glorious white orb, creamy and rich, surrounded by lean and paper-thin cured accented by a drizzle of wildflower honey – a sticky-finger-making mess, but so worth it – with grilled points of housemade filone (a light, porous Italian yeast bread akin to sourdough) to pile it on. The serving looks Ladner-size, but it’s easy to nosh your way through and not be full for round two. The one must-have is the octopus appetizer, which comes with pepper and a sweet vinegar peppers atop roasted potatoes. It and the burrata together is a slam-dunk win.

The Bar Enza brodetto. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Over on the mains, there’s more of that tender grilled octopus to be had as part of the brodetto, a southern Italian fish stew similar to a cioppino that comes with a flaky chunk of monkfish fillet as the centerpiece with large, succulent head-on shrimp (seems to be a trending thing; see Gufo) and some of that octopi in a tomato-and-saffron crab broth; and grilled crostini to soak it all up. A great medley of flavors and textures from the sea with broth that is, while being middle of the road in consistency, not creamy or heavy. I also sampled the fritto misto, the house take on fried calamari that throws in chunks of shrimp and cod with cherry peppers and fried lemon slices (who knew). I was told it was light like tempura, and I’d say: close, but not quite. It’s still a nice version, and a noted improvement over what I recall as just squid caps served with garlic butter when it needed marina. (We wrote about them as part of our culinary tour of Enza 1.0. We also extolled the top-to-bottom pleasing virtue of the secret parm sandwich, which sadly is no longer an option.)

As was true with Rialto and Benedetto, the Enza space is open and neat with a cosmopolitan touch, the epitome of a high-end hotel eatery. The bar is a pleasant place for business travelers to have a glass of wine and some burrata while working on their laptops, though the lighting is low. The service is a little quirky, but amiable and well informed, and you can see and taste the pride in the kitchen on your plate. The one thing I’m looking to go back and try are fried zucchini flowers with lobster mascarpone mousse. What’s not to want there? But fried zucchini sticks are the best thing bars and restaurants don’t serve. Get on it, people.

Bar Enza, 1 Bennett St., inside The Charles Hotel, Harvard Square, Cambridge

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.