Every so often Mart and I meet a restauranteur who just seems perfect for their profession. That’s how we feel about Marco Sforza. We’ve run across Marco when he managed Cafe Gabbiano and again when he was at Andrea’s, The Art of Food and Wine. Every time we met him we were left with the same opinion. What a great guy!
Marco grew up in northern Italy, where his culinary chops grew as a reflection of the restaurant his father owned. It makes me wish I could have met his dad so I could give him due respect for raising such a positive, energetic, gracious, and attentive gentleman. (Have I missed an adjective?) Truly, Marco has always treated his restaurant guests like friends invited to his private home, even when it wasn’t his own restaurant. So we were happy to see such an affable guy recently take over ownership of Angelo’s Restaurant, which opened with a bang several years ago but failed to retain their customer base. Your SarasotaFoodies are confident those days are well behind us at Angelo’s.
We like to eat early, in the hopes of catching natural lighting for our food photography, but natural light in early December wanes well before La Fiamma is open for dinner. So we picked a spot in the center of the restaurant, under a crystal chandelier and began a culinary tour of southern Italy, with Marco offering suggestions from his new menu.
Starting off with a shared appetizer of Baked Clams Oreganata, these fresh littleneck clams were lightly dressed with seasoned breadcrumbs, minced garlic and fresh herbs with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I appreciated the balance in this dish. The clams were not too big (this isn’t a sports bar) so each crustacean could be enjoyed direct from the shell, and we both appreciated the Chef’s spare hand on the olive oil, which left the bread crumbs toasted while the clams were warm and succulent. Garlic was also held back a bit, allowing the briny goodness of the clam to entice the appetite.
Next up was a wonderful Stuffed Artichoke. Mart had to ask “Where else have we had artichokes in Sarasota?” Knowing it’s a seasonal item, we were pleased that Marco suggested we enjoy one as a shared appetizer. Again, the garlic, while certainly in the seasoning of the artichoke, was light enough to enhance the natural goodness of what can sometimes be a bland vegetable. The artichoke is anything BUT bland at La Fiamma. . . I was pulling back the petals, dragging them through the garlic butter and pulling the petals through my teeth to get to the luscious pulp of the artichoke. I kept telling myself I was burning more calories eating the artichoke than could possibly be in it. It takes a bit of time to get to the heart of the artichoke, but boy, oh boy, is it worth it!
Not knowing if I wanted seafood or veal for an entrée, I am always happy when Mart is willing to order meat so I can order seafood, and then we share. Marco was kind enough to bring us two separate plates of the Filet of Sole Francese, which settled any issue I may have had with Mart wanting to eat “more than his share!” This sole was “roll your eyes back in your head” good. Dipped in an egg batter, the sole is sautéed in a white wine lemon butter sauce that was so tangy and delicious I wanted to lick the plate. Like our two appetizers, the Filet of Sole Francese was seasoned with such a graceful touch, allowing the sole to be the heart-and-soul of the dish. It truly almost melts in your mouth. Served with a side of pasta marinara or the day’s specially prepared vegetable, this is a well portion-sized piece of sole, one of the more expensive fish on any menu. We both loved it!
Our final entrée was one of Marco’s specials; Veal Saltimbocca with a side of potato and spinach seasoned with roasted garlic. This is another beautiful dish. The veal is pounded thin, on the bone, so it gained an even thickness that insured it was cooked to perfection. Lightly breaded and pan seared, the Veal Saltimbocca was seasoned with sage and prosciutto and served with hard-boiled egg wrapped in sautéed spinach and red peppers then garnished with black olives. Tender to a fault, this was beyond delicious.
Finishing off our meal we shared an order of tiramisu and were instantly reminded of the fact that the chef, Augusto Cafiero, was once at Casa Antica. It has been a long time since we’ve enjoyed Chef Cafiero’s tiramisu, which we instantly recognized once we bit into the billowy texture and delicate flavors. Good move, Marco, bringing such a talent to your new restaurant.
Taking that in mind, I’ll close with a personal note. It’s not often that we sit in a restaurant that appears to not be as busy as we believe it should be, and then we watched table after table walk in the door until most seats were filled. It was a pleasure to look at my SarasotaFoodie partner and say “Good. . . Good!” every time another guest walked in. We want to see good people succeed, and Marco Sforza is good people.
We’ll be sure to update you on the new name and interiors as soon as available. In the meantime, check out the new menu at Angelo’s SRQ.
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