As we approached the half-way mark of Savor Sarasota 2015, it was high time to go exploring anew, and visit a restaurant that’s been highly recommended by several chefs in town. In only a year and a half since opening, Chef Dino Carta has established Sardinia Restaurant as the prime example of classic, fresh Sardinian cuisine prepared expertly.
The Savor Sarasota menu for this year’s restaurant “week”, showcases Chef Dino’s roots, and features some of the dishes found on his expanded menu, only sized slightly smaller so you can sample two entrees instead of only one.
Even though it was a weeknight, we made reservations and arrived to a half full restaurant then seated immediately. Good thing, too. What followed was a steady stream of patrons, and Sardinia Restaurant was 100% full in a few short minutes!
While this might be a harbinger of the meal to follow, I believe you can tell a lot about a place with the first bite, whether it is an amuse bouche, or a simple bread basket. In this case the “simple” bread basket stopped us in our tracks. In addition to hot, sliced bread was a house baked Sardinian carasau bread, or pane carasau, a thin and crispy flatbread hailing from (you guessed it) Sardinia. Topped with a little fresh, creamy butter and we were amazed by the flavor.
You may be thinking “c’mon Mart, a cracker? Really? REALLY! Taste for yourself when you go there! We could NOT stop eating the carasau!
With three selections for each of the three courses, we naturally gravitated toward all things Sardinian. Jill’s first course, was a wonderfully tender Octopus Carpaccio, graced with peppery arugla, and dressed with a housemade bottarga, a delicacy of salted fish roe.
The savory balance of those three ingredients might seriously whisk you away to the Mediterranean, which is why we adore our bounty of wonderful international chefs in this beautiful city.
My 1st course was a Sardinian Pecorino Cheese, brick oven roasted over the aforementioned crazy-good carasau bread . . . another triumph of “simple yet perfect.” The slightly sharp pecorino atop the enticing char of the carasau had me hooked and understanding why other Italian chefs recommended we dine here. Seriously, if the bread is this good, what else is in store for us?
In a quick discourse with our all-pro server Michael, we learned that, aside from a prep person, Chef Dino was a one-man army in the kitchen. Turning out food this good for a full house is absolutely amazing, as anyone that’s ever worked even one day in a restaurant can attest!
Thoroughly impressed, it was only onward, and upward, from there.
The chef-made Tagliolini with salmon, zucchini, and (more please!) bottarga was an absolute winner. The tender tagliolini is an egg pasta that is somewhere between a spaghetti and linguine, and had that unmistakable silky mouth-feel that only fresh pasta can deliver. When married with the other fresh ingredients, this hits all the notes I could ask for.
Jill goes for the Veal Ravioli (yes, another pasta hand-crafted by the Chef) with butter, sage, and walnuts. Perfectly cooked pasta, with savory veal and fresh sage, along with the richness of butter, and the complementary crunch of walnuts – is there anything about this dish that doesn’t tempt the foodie in you to get your car keys and head on over to Sardinia? I didn’t think so.
Now, as people all over town are finding out during this 10th annual Savor Sarasota, anything worth doing is worth over-doing – as in our superb three course meals!
Jill’s Mediterranean Seabass Fillet (a.k.a. branzino) was served atop of a fregola salad. Fregola, a bead shaped pasta, not unlike its couscous cousin, is another dish that claims its roots in Sardinia. Severed with some grilled tomato, the seabass was seared, skin on, which added some texture to the delicate, mild fish.
My Mixed Seafood Ciopino, in a tomato-based lobster reduction, made me smile. Actually, the words “lobster reduction” made me smile. I could eat seafood almost everyday, but I would probably eat just about anything, everyday prepared with a tomato and lobster base.
With so many great restaurants, and impossibly so little time to make a dent in trying them all, we asked Michael to thank the chef, whereupon he insisted that the chef loves to greet people in the kitchen while he works (that’s not something you’ll hear just anywhere,) so we followed him through the swinging door and exchanged pleasantries and thanked Chef Dino for our wonderful evening.
Smiling and relaxed – remember, he’s got a full house, doing things on his own, and he’s not even sweating, so it’s easy to understand great food when it comes from someone so proudly committed to his craft.
Bravo, Chef, bravo!