By Jennifer Moulaison | Photos by Manny Espinoza
On a brilliant, sun-drenched Saturday, Enzo Pagano, owner of Enzo Ristorante Italiano in Carmel-by-the-Sea, hiked near Fort Ord with his four-legged companion, Ciccio. While enjoying the morning, he discussed his journey from Southern Italy to becoming firmly rooted in what he calls a beautiful life here on the Monterey Peninsula.
Born and raised in Diamante, a town located in Italy’s Calabria region and whose name translates to diamond, Enzo was accustomed to living among beauty. He spent earlier years of his life traveling from one exciting destination to the next. Experiencing locations like Paris, London, Rome, Milan, and Athens, Enzo was thoroughly enjoying all that Europe has to offer and was in Crete when he met his future wife, Caroline. The two were married in Paris and lived there for a time before making their way to San Francisco to be closer to Caroline’s family. It wasn’t long before the Peninsula’s magnetic beauty drew the couple further down the coast, where they set down roots, grew their family, and built lasting friendships.
“We would host our friends for dinner often, and I have always loved to cook,” Enzo explains. “It was Nico who, little by little, made me realize my passion for food, and we eventually went into business together,” he continues. Enzo’s partner of fifteen years and former restaurant’s namesake went on to pursue other projects, and Enzo renamed the restaurant Enzo Italiano Ristorante.
A close-knit team of family and colleagues helps Enzo craft this authentic dining experience. Enzo’s cousin, Italo Martinetti, serves as executive chef and Piero Carusi is the restaurant manager. Both Martinetti and Carusi are natives from the same region of Calabria as Enzo. Carusi brings nearly 40 years of restaurant experience to the table. His resume includes running successful eateries around the world, from Italy to Southern California and Telluride, Colorado. “When it came time to come back to California, I knew I wanted to be farther from the bustle of Los Angeles, and the Carmel region was ideal,” says Carusi. “Then I met Enzo, and there was an instant connection.”
“My philosophy is great ingredients, quality, and uniqueness,” explains Enzo. “Most, if not all, of our produce is organic and locally sourced. Of course, it’s more expensive, but you can do it, or you can do it right. Zero Kilometers is an Italian term, which means it’s from the region, which is something we strongly believe in.” says Enzo. For Carusi, the focus is on offering a superlative experience through service. He explains, “Good service is paramount. My goal is always to please the customer.”
That focus is precisely what guides the future of Enzo Italiano Ristorante, according to Carusi. “We’re continuing to go up, up, up with quality and service. We serve a discerning community, and our service and offerings must deliver,” he says. As for Enzo, he feels fortunate to be able to enjoy both his passion for food and family here in this unique destination, stating, “When you find paradise, you stay there."