Enotria makes a surprising return to the Sacramento dining scene

Enotria, the fine-dining restaurant and wine bar that won raves for its modernist cuisine before closing abruptly in January, will reopen Friday with a different business model – as a wine bar and event space, with comfort food provided by a catering company.

The surprising news came indirectly on Wednesday via an email from the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership, which stated that Enotria would have a “welcome back” opening night event on Friday. The announcement was later confirmed by the restaurant’s longtime owner, David Hardie.

Brianna Fried, who answered the phone at Enotria on Wednesday and identified herself as the general manager, said the new concept will focus on re-establishing Enotria as a wine bar and developing the space as a venue for events such as wedding receptions or large parties.

Matthew Lewis, the former sommelier at Enotria who left more than a year before the restaurant closed, will now handle monthly wine events and will be involved in wine sales through his consulting company, wineCentric, according to Fried.

The food will come from a new catering company, Chef & Baker Catering, owned by Gabriel Glasier, the highly regarded chef who once worked with Lewis at the former fine-dining destination Slocum House in Fair Oaks. Most recently, Glasier was the executive chef at Maranello, a casual restaurant in Fair Oaks that was sold to Dad’s Kitchen.

The new concept has been in the works since before Enotria closed, according to Lewis.

“The day Enotria closed, David Hardie called me and said, ‘Don’t believe the hype about us closing.’ He reached out to me and asked if I would be interested if he would re-create Enotria as an event space. Of course, it piqued my interest.”

Lewis said he will host monthly wine events there. The first one will be April 26 – a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon retrospective featuring an array of top labels from that year. Dinner with the wines will be $165.

Lewis said he has been Hardie’s personal sommelier for several years and helped him build the wine inventory at Enotria, which he says consists of about 3,200 bottles worth about $100,000.

Glasier is in Vietnam for a month, according to Fried, so the food will be handled for now by the company’s sous chef, Mark Junge.

Fried was hired by Enotria as an event planner just two weeks before it closed suddenly, leaving the staff out of work. That included general manager Jenny Yun and chef Pajo Bruich.

A week later, Fried said, Hardie contacted her about a new role. Months later, a new and vastly different Enotria is opening.

Under Bruich, Enotria had found a niche as a top-level restaurant serving impressive, often beautiful food. But the prix fixe menu may not have been as inviting as the restaurant had hoped, and there were many nights when the dining room was half empty.

“We weren’t making money,” Hardie said. “The food was cutting edge and exceptional, but there were not enough customers for that style of food to support what we were doing. We had lots of pride in Pajo’s food and his culinary program, but it was just not working.

“Pajo and I still have a good relationship.” Hardie added. “I love his food and I wish him the best of success.”

Reached Wednesday evening, Bruich said he wished Hardie the best with his new endeavor.

Hardie, who lives in Nevada, had said in January that it had “become increasingly difficult to be an owner from a distance.” Enotria’s latest incarnation will require less overhead and fewer full-time employees, he said.

Enotria plans to host events such as wedding rehearsal dinners, graduation parties and corporate gatherings, according to Hardie. The entire restaurant can be rented for $7,500 a night for up to 225 people (catering not included). For smaller parties, Enotria has six rooms available, with prices starting at $500 for a private space that seats up to 20 people.

According to the announcement from the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership, the “welcome back” event will kick off at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

“Unwind after the work week with a glass of wine or a specialty cocktail,” the email states. “Also enjoy a delicious bite to eat, like a Smoked Gouda & Gruyere Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Roasted Tomato Soup or Fried Polenta with San Marzano Tomato, Aged Balsamic and Parmesan. Yum!” No price is listed.

The email continues about a second event Saturday: “Enjoy the beautiful weather and a wine tasting on Enotria’s gorgeous shady patio. $18 includes Wine Tasting, Cheese & Charcuterie, Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs & Grilled Crostini Trio. Divine! sommelier Matthew Lewis of wineCentric will be presenting six wines including a ‘Cellared Selection’ decanted via Coravin. Wines will be available for retail purchase the day of the event.”