Aug. 24 2011 12:00 AM

Enso has ample ambiance and some fine dishes, but certain elements could use a bit of polishing


Enso promises global fusion on the menu
and exudes modish stylings with a trendy nightclub ambiance that becomes
more pronounced as the evening matures.

A red carpet greets diners at the front
door and sets the upscale mood. The patio, perhaps the best in the area,
is a distinct dining space — not just a slab of concrete with some
patio furniture, like so many others — complete with outdoor bar, fire
pits and giant torches.

The décor inside is contemporary,
minimally ornamented and warmly lit with Asian-inspired light fixtures.
The bar space is saturated with red-orange lighting where big screens
and backlit rows of liquor bottles form a separate identity from the
more elegant dining space. A waterfall wall at the front of the
restaurant brings exterior elements inside, creating an atmosphere that
invites the outdoors in and vice versa on the well-furnished patio. 

An extensive wine list ensures diners that revelry and celebration are encouraged at Enso.  

The fusion theme becomes pronounced on
the menu. American sushi options include a tenderloin and bleu cheese
roll ($12.75) and BLT roll ($10.75).

My dining companion and I began with the
excellent goat cheese and beet salad ($12). Alternating layers of
burgundy beet and bright white goat cheese, along with a few leaves of
baby romaine and sprigs of frisée, made the dish visually striking. A
rose-colored vinaigrette and candied walnuts brought contrasting flavor
and texture elements to the creamy, tangy cheese and earthy-sweet beets.

Soft focaccia bread, baked at Mama’s  Kitchen
(Enso’s sister establishment, which is located a few doors down)
accompanied our meal, along with a fine dipping mixture of olive oil
with drops of aged balsamic; the gentle sweetness nicely tempered the
natural acidity.   

With many sub-menu options, from
“Handhelds” and “Shared” to a couple of dozen entrées and a listing of a
la carte items, we had plenty of choices.

The calamari ($12.50) sounded interesting
and began nicely enough. Breaded rings and tentacles were joined with
pepperchinis and peppadews in a large bowl, all tossed with a sweet Thai
sauce. The mix is interesting with spicy, sweet and acidic elements
coming together, but the breading on the squid brought some fryer oil
with it, weighing down what would have otherwise been a well-executed

Likewise, the asparagus risotto ($9) from
the a la carte list started off well. The steaming, creamy mixture of
risotto and asparagus passed as excellent comfort food, but my companion
wasn’t entirely satisfied with the gummy texture of the rice. 

From the entrée menu, we selected the
filet mignon ($19.75, 4 oz.). Cooked as requested to a medium rare minus
(a suggestion from our helpful server), the thick, tender,
medallion-shaped beef did not disappoint.

The “smashed potatoes,” like the beef,
were naked and relied on the wine glaze to deepen the flavors. Slices of
summer squash and zucchini were cooked well and seasoned with pepper,
the rind retaining a bite without the flesh disintegrating.

For dessert, the flavored mousses in chocolate cups ($8) looked fun.

The orange mousse was a favorite, with
tiny bits of zest accentuating the orange essence. Like the orange, a
raspberry mousse, two chocolates and a lemon mouse were served in little
edible chocolate cups, along a long plate drizzled with chocolate and
little red dots of syrup.

And the search continues for a decent cup
of coffee to accompany dessert. My companion could stand only a couple
sips of a shockingly bright espresso ($3.50), which seemed suspiciously
similar to the slightly burnt coffee ($2.50) I ordered.

While the service was competent, we did
notice a bit of the helicopter server effect: service so efficient that
plates were removed before final bites were finished.

Granted, the restaurant was noticeably
slow for an early Friday evening, and that might have contributed to our
server’s over-attentiveness, but feeling rushed is a culinary turn-off.

While the cosmopolitan, fusion-inspired
atmosphere feels like an attempt to transport guests to a big city on a coast or in the desert, Enso remains firmly entrenched in Midwestern
restaurant mores.

So if you want a well-cooked, slightly
overpriced meal with decent service and nice environs, head to Enso for a
really good time — just don’t expect Vegas nightlife.

16800 Chandler Road,
East Lansing
(517) 333-1656
11 a.m.-close (kitchen closes 10 p.m.) Monday-Saturday
Closed Sunday
TO, P, FB, OM, $$$$