Face it, when you talk about Italian food, it’s easy to fall into the discussion of love. Remember that Rat Pack crooner, Dean Martin? What do you think inspired the lyrics: “When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool, that’s Amore!”
You got it! Amore! Amore means love in Italian, and in Sarasota, Amore means all things delicious from your apertivo to your dolce while enjoying live music on the outdoor patio or the genteel luxury surroundings of the Madonna Room.
I was so happy to hear that the managers Tito and Liana Vitorino, who opened Amore on Longboat Key in 2016, had relocated to the Burns Court district of downtown Sarasota. Additionally, Amore brought in a new Executive Chef from Torino, Italy and invited a small group of us to sample his new menu. Chef Nicola Simone is as Italian as it gets . . . he needed a translator when introducing us to the six dishes we were so lucky to try.
First off was a Vegan Vellutata di Carote (Creamy Carrot Soup.) I could not fathom how Chef Nicola infused it with such light, velvety and almost buttery texture without using any dairy. When asked, Chef explained how he cooks the carrots slowly over 35 minutes in water and olive oil until they are delicate and tender. Then he mashed them to an emulsion with ginger, orange juice, salt and just enough additional olive oil to make it lusciously smooth. Tasting like it came right out of the garden, I would have guessed Chef has somehow incorporated oxygen into the broth, it was so light and flavorful.
With the soup, we also enjoyed a bread course featuring an olive loaf with three flavored kinds of butter, kalamata olive butter, garlic butter, and roasted red pepper butter. Each one was on point and unique in flavor.
Salty and sweet would be the description of the next course, Involtini di Asparagi con Fontina e Prosciutto di Parma (Asparagus rolled in Fontina cheese with Prosciutto di Parma – the gold standard of Italian prosciutto.) The micro greens added a brightness, the asparagus had an al dente tenderness to it and the fontina cheese was creamy and savory. I even liked the little heart-shaped micro greens! (We are in Amore, after all!) To the side was a swirl of mint jelly and strawberry coulis that we encouraged Chef to make a standard part of the dish. Mint and asparagus are a dynamic duo!
My next dish was so amazing I had to box up half of it so that I could take some home to Mart. The Trancetti di Branzino al Pesto (Mediterranean Sea Bass fillets with pesto sauce) was expertly prepared with a pesto that I could eat all day, every day! Made with pine nuts, basil, extra virgin olive oil and Grana Padano cheese, the pesto didn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the fish, instead, it enveloped each bite with a nutty, savory goodness that I don’t have words to adequately describe. Grana Padano cheese is similar in texture to parmesan, but it is so coveted for its unique and grainy consistency that 2/3rd of Grana Padano never leaves Italy. I learned that little tidbit from fellow guests, John and Sarah Lansky. (On a side note, it’s great to dine with a fine wine consultant! Sarah has an excellent palate and could describe each dish with words other than “delicious” and “good.” She calls herself a “cork dork” but I think she more of a foodie thesaurus!)
Carpaccio is always a favorite of mine, so Chef Nicola Simone’s Carpaccio di Polpo (octopus) was destined to please. Starting with a broth of red wine, onion and bay leaf that have cooked for 55 minutes, Chef lets the broth cool and then soaks the thinly sliced raw octopus for another 20 minutes in the red wine broth. The result is a tender, sweet meat that paired so nicely with the tang of the oranges and peppery arugula. Again, I just had to save a bite or two to take home to Mart. This is one of those “you HAVE to taste this” dishes, and I wanted Mart to enjoy it as much as I did.
Jumbo Tiger Shrimp with seafood in tomato sauce was our final savory course. Just ask for Gamberoni Alla Griglia di Mare and the wait staff at Amore will bring an order to the table! Imported from North Africa, the Tiger Shrimp is an elusive delicacy. It took Chef over a month’s wait to get some in at Amore, so I’m guessing this will be on the menu, subject to availability. If you’re lucky enough to get an order, you’ll enjoy a homemade spaghetti with middle neck clams, mussels, and Tiger Shrimp in a fresh tomato sauce made from Marzano tomatoes. Chef Nicola cooks the sauce for several hours, leaving the tomatoes whole until they open/bloom naturally. Then, and only then will he break them up, and season with olive oil and black pepper and a few secrets creating a rich marinara sauce.
Everything up to this point has been consistently on point and delicious. Yet even when you think you can’t eat anything else . . . out comes dessert and you somehow find room for just “a bite” more. Mousse Alla Fragola su Letto di Pan di Spagna (strawberry mousse on a bed of sponge cake) was the ideal dessert for a flavor-filled dinner like the one we had just enjoyed. The sponge cake was light and airy, the strawberry had a tart bite to it and the coulis was just the right sweetness to bring an “OOOoooh!” to your lips.
Although I didn’t order any, I was tickled to see Tito preparing a table-side dessert, Bananas Foster. It’s always a pleasure to enjoy someone else’s dessert without worrying about the calories, and nothing is more fun to watch than a flambée. He even did the sprinkle of cinnamon at the end to create sparkles that rose up to the ceiling. Definitely a fun presentation.
All in all, I think the owner, Howard Rooks, has done a great job “keeping the band together” as it were, bringing Amore Restaurant from its iconic location on Long Boat Key to downtown Sarasota. The open-air patio dining celebrates our wonderful weather while the romantic styling of the Madonna Room reminds me that this intimate setting was once someone’s home.
But what I like the most about Amore Restaurant are the two lovely people who manage it – Liana and Tito Vitorino. I can’t imagine Amore without you! You set the tone for the restaurant, and I hope your new location is here to stay.
Baci e abbracci Amore! Baci e abbracci. . .