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Munch goes to Enrico Biscotti Co. Ristorante

Friday, October 24, 2003

It's impossible to have too much of a good thing. Munch, notoriously decadent, lives by this code. Good things -- love, lager, playoff hockey, Gerber daisies, fat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies -- should be chomped, quaffed, reveled in, replicated, taken in repeated doses.

So Munch was totally psyched to hear that Enrico's Biscotti in the Strip -- a bakery/cafe Munch has spent hours talking up and writing about lovingly -- now has a sister cafe on Shadyside's eclectic Ellsworth Avenue.

The new site has none of the rough-hewn funkiness of the original. It's far plusher -- anything would be -- with sunshine flowing in from every angle, an undulating marble-topped bar and petite linen-topped tables. Munch is quite certain Enrico's Ristorante even has an electric dishwasher, instead of a surly kid pressed into Saturday service.

If you're intimidated by the disorder of the Strip Enrico's cafe, you'll be relieved to know that at the Shadyside restaurant, it's clear where you order and where and when you pay (through your waiter or waitress, and when your check is served). No need to jostle for a corner of a trestle table: there's a host wearing a smile and an apron to seat you at your very own table.

Munch, with no FOM in attendance, clambered onto a stool at the bar. Looking around, Munch noticed several solo diners: like Eno down the street, Enrico's Ristorante is one of precious few good places to dine solo in Pittsburgh. There are plenty of small tables and seats at the bar, and it's a friendly, casual atmosphere.

There's a long menu of lunch, supper and dessert items and -- like the original Enrico's -- a chalkboard full of choices, which change daily.

Munch ordered favorites from the Strip District: a bowl of white bean soup ($4) and a Little Big Fat Salad ($5).

The waiter decided on a different menu and brought Munch a cup of the Italian green bean soup ($3), which contained white beans, too. Munch ate it without protest -- after all, a bean by any other name smells as sweet. The soup was thick with Parmesan and asparagus, and came with a thick slice of fresh, plush Tuscan bread.

The ample salad of mixed greens was topped with chunks of tender rosemary chicken, whole walnuts and big crumbles of a mild white cheese -- not the ripe, veiny gorgonzola Munch loves on the Strip salad. There was a bit less of the balsamic vinaigrette Munch likes to sop up with the bread.

The coffee, though, was the same: tepid and turpentine-strong as always.

Enrico's Ristorante also does sandwiches and pastas and imports all the sweet goodies from the Strip bakery: chocolate radicals, brownies, biscotti, lemon squares and cookies. On the dinner menu, la-di-da entrees include filet, pork medallions with yams and fig and mushroom-stuffed chicken.

You can get a very nice wine by the glass. The quality of the wine justifies the price, $8, not the itty-bitty pour. Munch sipped a hard-to-get-in-Pennsylvania Lacrytia white from a graceful, girlie wine glass, a wide flute with a long stem.

So Munch wasn't offered the dessert menu. Service was still solicitous. One waitress wore flirty rosebuds and feathery herbs in her hair, reveling in one of those luscious fall days before winter breaks over us, creaky, cranky and sore as rheumatoid fever.

It's a good place. Thing is, Munch likes to jostle, to sit by strangers and make friends. Munch likes to carry in wine and, in the drafty Strip location, keep the coat buttoned while tucking into a steaming bowl of soup. Munch likes to sit in that narrow mew where the metal tables rock, glancing nervously upward when there's the threat of a quick rainstorm.

More is better, but nothing beats the original.

Enrico Biscotti Co. Ristorante, 5863 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside. 412- 661-1050.

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