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Fairy-tale Italian

It was about 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and Enzo's on the Lake was in its glory. Most of the tables were filled. Waiters glided through the dining areas bearing trays of Italian delicacies that perfumed the room. As the sunlight faded over Fairy Lake outside, soft candles in the restaurant threw a golden blush on the pale walls, which were filled with Picasso-style portraits. The sounds of Sade struck a note of serenity that seemed, on the surface of things, to define the mood.

But all was not as it seemed. The couple at the table next to us were debating whether to get up and leave. Having been seated 20 minutes prior, they still hadn't received a bread basket or a menu. I've heard reports of long waits at Enzo's, but we received plenty of attention from our charming waiter during most of the dinner. It was later when we found ourselves waiting about 20 minutes too long for the check, something that's not easy to overlook when you're paying upward of $100 at a restaurant that maintains its reputation as one of the area's best.

Such are the apparent contradictions of Enzo's on the Lake, a stunningly beautiful and sophisticated restaurant, oddly situated on a section of Highway 17-92 in Longwood that's clogged with convenience stores, gas stations and supermarkets. The restaurant's culinary reputation is impeccable, and we tasted the proof. But it's also the lakefront setting, lush with old Florida foliage, that draws people from metro Orlando and beyond.

Our waiter had a crisp Italian accent, and it only whets the appetite to hear lilting, lyrical descriptions of zuppa del giorno (soup of the day) and to hear shrimp referred to as gamberoni.

We started off with a huge platter filled with cozze (mussels), peeking out of glossy, black shells ($9.80). There was a classic broth of white wine, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and a touch of red pepper. The simple treatment enhanced the tender flavors of the mussel flesh. Next we tried the traditional wedding soup (pastina in brodo, $4.75), a clear consomme in which floated delicate veal meatballs, pasta and chopped carrots and celery.

Gamberoni alla verdure is an excellent choice for shrimp lovers ($25). Four jumbo shrimp are accented by a sauce of Pernod French liqueur, served alongside a dome of moist spinach risotto. And the ravioli al sugo entree is notable mainly for the wide, flat pasta pillows that are lightly stuffed with spinach, chicken and ricotta ($17.50). The accompanying Neapolitan veal sauce is a specialty of owner Enzo Perlini.

Dessert would have been nice, but we grew tired of waiting for the check and settled for a cappuccino instead.

Although you may experience some delays in service while navigating the menu, Enzo's offers dinners to remember – visually, as well as tastefully.

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