Published On: Tue, Sep 11th, 2018

Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante 

“The best (and only!) authentic Sardinian cuisine  around”

By Kenny Spahn

When it comes to south Florida restaurant cuisine, Italian still reigns supreme. There’s certainly a preponderance (arguably an overabundance) of Italian eateries in the area. And for the most part, they’re all pretty good – and fairly similar.  In fact you can basically predict most of the menu items even before you ever see the menu. With so many Italian restaurants around, it’s hard to find one that really stands out — as not only exceptional, but more importantly, truly unique.  Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante in Delray Beach is such a place.

Chef/Owner Pietro Vardeu set out to bring a true taste of his native Sardinia to south Florida.  And along with Co-Owner Tony Gallo, he’s done just that with the aptly named Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante in Delray Beach (and his original venue in Miami Beach). After visiting his charming Delray venture, all I can say is: Mission Accomplished. The Delray team is led by Managers Esther Clep and Nino Rifici, and Executive Chef Roberto Basile.  Expect the unexpected here; you won’t see your typical Americanized “Italian” dishes. No spaghetti & meatballs, penne all’ vodka, fettucine alfredo, or the seemingly obligatory fried calamari at this ristorante. Instead, you’ll find authentic and unique Sardinian specialties, some of which you may never have even heard of – much less seen anywhere in south Florida.  There’s just so many fascinating aspects of Sardinia Ristorante, it’s difficult to summarize them in just one article – so let’s do this systematically:

Background: Sardinia is an island (the second largest in the Mediterranean Sea), so fresh seafood is a prominent player in its culture. But the interior is rustic countryside, with its own comforting ‘Sardinian soul food.’ The island is uniquely positioned between western Italy (Rome), Sicily, Corsica, southern France, Spain, Algeria, and Tunisia – and its cuisine and culture reflects influences from all these diverse regions.  Sardinia is technically part of Italy, but it’s considered an autonomous region, with its own language, customs, climate, and even its own president – and of course, its own distinctive cuisine.

Setting:   Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante is attractive, graceful, and inviting. A warm color palette highlighted with light tile floors and soaring wooden wine racks convey an understated relaxed elegance, without seeming stuffy or pretentious.  The comfy main dining room is flanked by the lively full bar, an open kitchen where you can watch chefs in action, and the signature wood-burning brick oven, accented with bright blue tiles evoking images of the Mediterranean Sea (more about that oven below). Your Sardinian adventure commences quickly, with a complimentary basket of house-made breads: Focaccia, Ciabatta, and thin crispy Pane Carasatu (a hollow flatbread, which puffs up like a balloon when baked, not unlike Indian papadum), accompanied by some unexpected and completely irresistible whipped Pecorino cheese in lieu of butter for spreading on the still-warm breads (like I said, this place is special!).

        

Mozzarella Bar:  Speaking of cheese, the housemade Fresh Mozzarella is an absolute Must-Try.  Fresh mozzarella is simply worlds apart from that rubbery pre-packaged imposter found at grocery stores and pizza parlors.  Although “Fresh Mozz” is becoming increasingly popular at trendy bistros, very few restaurants actually make their own.  And Sardinia not only make its own fresh mozzarella by hand every day – they make six different kinds! (Where else will you see that?).  Options include classic Fior di Latte, Affumicata (smoked in the wood-burning oven), Treccione (braided), and even the heavenly Burrata, with its creamy interior that gracefully oozes out like an angelic lava flow. Parmigiano Reggiano may be dubbed “the King of all Cheeses,” but Burrata is certainly the Queen.  Can’t decide? Then try the Grand Tasting – all six for just $28.  There’s also seven artfully crafted side accompaniments, from roasted peppers and sautéed broccoli rabe, to Caponatina (the Sardinian version of eggplant caponata).

             

 

Salumeria:  In addition to the Mozzarella Bar, the Salumeria also offers nine types of other Italian cheeses, plus eleven charcuterie meats, including the prized Prosciutto di Parma, and even a Salami di Cinghiale (wild boar) — and all this is before you even get to the appetizers!  Meat and cheese selection are offered a la carte, or as tasting plates of three ($21) or five for $28.

         

 

Antipasti:  With so many enticing options, it’s difficult to choose just one — so grazing your way through some made-for-sharing Antipasti is highly recommended, and can easily make for a meal in itself.  Chef Pietro’s unique rendition of Arancini (stuffed rice balls) illustrates Sardinia’s North African influence, made with Fregola (small pasta pearls, similar to Israeli couscous) instead of rice, and filled with lamb instead of beef or pork. (Yum!).  That same fregola appears in the Fregoletta, a soup/ seafood/ pasta delicacy, with fresh baby clams swimming in a seductive saffron broth (“more bread, please?”).  Other Antipasti ($10-$16) include three different treatments of Polpo (octopus), Salmon Carpaccio, Carciofini (baby artichokes with egg), and Quail wrapped with guanciale and broccoli rabe.

   

 

Pasta:  As with any true Italian meal, next come the Pasta, and here again Executive Chef Roberto and his team excel. Note: All pasta dishes are offered in a “small” version ($12-$15), or a full portion, for a surprisingly low $18-$20; and Gluten-free pasta is also available.  Spaghetti con Bortagga di Muggine (salted cured fish roe) is a distinctive Sardinian specialty that you probably won’t see anywhere else in Florida.  Other notable pasti include Gnocchi Verde (spinach dumplings) with Lamb, Orecchiette with Cinghiale (wild boar) Sausage & Rapini Pesto, and the sacred Bucatini all’ Amatriciana.  Amatriciana is a rustic, yet complex tomato sauce heightened with sweet onions, pecorino, a slight hit of red pepper, and (the real test) authentic house-cured guanciale — cured but unsmoked bacon from the cheeks (rather than the belly) of the beast. Or as I call it, “Face Bacon.” The result is an intensely flavorful ‘tomato sauce,’ that artfully permeates the Bucatini (“hollow spaghetti”) from the inside out, thus creating an entire gustatory sensation that will have your taste buds thanking you for bringing them to the party.  I try Bucatini all’ Amatriciana wherever and whenever possible, and Sardinia’s rendition is about the best I’ve had outside of Italy.  Yeah, this chef knows what he’s doing…. 

           

 

Pizza:  Another sure hit is the pizza.  Not just your standard pie, mind you — we’re talking fresh, hand-made dough (made with authentic Italian 00 Caputo flour), hand-tossed to order with specialty toppings (including of course, Sardinia’s housemade fresh mozzarella), then fired in the genuine wood-burning brick oven, imported straight from Italy.  Coal-fired pizza may be trendy in Florida – but, as the Italians know, only real wood can imbue that natural, earthy, smoky magic that no petroleum-based coal (nor gas or electricity) can ever match. The result is a perfectly baked pizza, emblazoned with the telltale caramelized, slightly burnt (but not burned) blistered crust of the ultra-high temp brick oven.  Options range from the classic Margherita, to Wild Boar Sausage with Broccoli Rabe, to Prosciutto Cotto e Funghi with wild mushrooms and Italian ham.

    

 

Entrees:  Everything so far has been excellent, but it gets even better with the entrees!  A full array of land and sea mainplates showcase the unique offerings and complexity of Sardinian cuisine.  Coniglio is tender braised rabbit (reminiscent of duck or game hen), slow braised in a succulent reduction, with fresh Brussels sprouts and olives; while Chef Roberto’s Polpo alla Griglia (grilled fresh octopus), rivals any Greek restaurant in town.  For a true adventure, try the Branzino al Sale — fresh Mediterranean Sea Bass baked whole in a sea salt crust. The salt ‘shell’ is then cut open tableside, revealing an incredibly moist and tender fish, with a perfectly firm-yet-flaky texture. No fancy sauces to obfuscate its delicate natural flavor, just a simple squeeze of lemon and hit of Italian EVOO  – a true Mediterranean vacation on your plate. Lamb Shanks, slow-braised to tender perfection and teamed with porcini mushrooms and Cannonau wine risotto, is true comfort food with an elegant upgrade.  Other more familiar choices include Veal Scaloppine, Diver Scallops (over pesto fregola), Free-range Cornish Hen, and a prodigious 24-oz. bone-in Ribeye.

 

Paella!  The real star of the Sardinia show however, is the signature Paella – which again sets Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante apart from all other Italian restaurants.  Paella is the quintessential Spanish dish, and not usually associated with Italian American fare.  But Paella is common in Sardinia, evidencing the Spanish influence on the island. What makes Sardinia’s paella so unique is that instead of using rice (which tends to get dried out and hard), the Chef uses that wonderful fregola (North African influence), thus keeping the dish moist and tender. The Paella di Mar is a bountiful array of fresh, perfectly cooked seafood. The shrimp alone were notably exceptional, and ‘suck the shell’ delicious.  My dining companion and I (both of whom are Paella fanatics) both agreed, this was the best paella we’ve had in Florida – and joyfully proclaimed, in our most professional food critic opinions, “This is so damn good!”  Other versions include Paella di Angello, with lamb and wild mushrooms (double yum!), Vegetarian, and even a ‘black paella’ (Nero di Seppia) with fresh octopus and cuttlefish cooked in its own ink, thus infusing the dish with intriguing flavor and mysterious jet black color.

Dolce:   Desserts are also made in house, and of course, delicious.  Options include three different kinds of Tiramisu: Traditional, Strawberry, and Beer (called Birramisu!); Millefoglie, a delectable confection with layers of puff pastry, vanilla cream, chocolate, and Nutella; heavenly Profiteroles, and of course Gelato.

 

             

Others: Space precludes me from doing justice to the fresh Salads, housemade Soups, wood-oven baked fresh vegetables, full bar with creative cocktails, nightly specials, Chef’s tasting menus, and wonderful weekend Brunch  – but suffice it to say, they’re all equally outstanding.

Vino:  But enough about the Ristorante — let’s get to the Enoteca.  Enoteca denotes a “wine bar” in Italian, and Sardinia’s wine program rivals the excellence of its kitchen. Soaring rows of wine bottles adorning the dining room walls quickly confirm, this is a place for wine. A custom-built, climate-controlled wine room assures proper storage of the big guns.  And Sardinia is one of the few local restaurants to employ the Coravin System, a unique pressurized system that allows the wine steward to “pump” a glass of wine from the bottle without removing the cork, thus eliminating oxidation and preserving all the wine’s character and qualities.

  

The impressive wine list boasts over 300 labels from around the world, with of course a heavy emphasis toward the Boot – including some very rare boutique wines from Sardinia.  The wine list may seem a bit overwhelming, but fortunately Manager Nino Rifici is quite the wine expert, and happy to help guide you to the right choice.  There’s also 30 wines by the glass, including Prosecco and Champagne, plus a special call-your-own 3-glass wine flight, allowing you to sample any three wines of your choice. For those seeking a more generous pour, Sardinia also offers quartino, a half-carafe equivalent to one and a half glasses of wine.

We chose a Sciala Vermentino di Gallora Superiore (2016, Sardinia), with opening notes of ripe orchard fruit and a hint of green apple, leading to a palate of apricot, almond, and candied citrus zest.  Its creamy flavor is brightened by energizing mineral notes, followed by a soft, long finish. This beautifully composed white proved the perfect complement to seafood, and seemed to actually accentuate and ‘replay’ the clam-based Fregoletta and Seafood Paella.  Meanwhile, a gutsy Terrabianca Campaccio Super Tuscan paired magnificently with the hearty Coniglio.

    

Service:  Service was equally outstanding, under the solid guidance of Managers Esther Clep and Nino Rifici. Servers are well-trained to explain the intricacies of the menu to newcomers and veterans alike. Our server Sirena was quite friendly, attentive, and notably knowledgeable, able to field my tough food critic inquiries with aplomb, and equally able to talk wine with my sommelier guest. The affable Nino truly understands the meaning of hospitality, ever-present on the floor, managing to ‘touch each table,’ handle any special requests or questions (including wine recommendations), and ensures each guest receives personal attention and genuine Italian warmth.

Value: As you can tell, Sardinia is a true hidden gem – one of the best and certainly the most unique Italian restaurant around.  But it’s also remarkably affordable. Most entrees are $24-$35 including sides; most pasta dishes are only $13 for a “half” portion or $18-$20 for a gigantic full plate; and the Fresh Mozzarella Grand Tasting is only $28 for all six varieties. And the prices get even lower with the daily specials:  Sardinia offers Happy Hour specials every night, along with an amazing Half-Price Mondays, 40% off wine Tuesdays, $10 Pasta Wednesdays, 3-course meal w complimentary bottle of wine for only $30 on Thursdays, live music on the weekends, and specially themed Chef’s Dinners and wine tastings dinners.

Conclusion:   Sardinia is a complex story, comprised of many fascinating chapters. But with so many enticing pages, it’s a story you’ll want to read again and again.  So go experience a truly unique dining adventure – Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante. 

 

Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante is located at 3035 South Federal Highway (south of Linton) in the South Delray Shopping Center in Delray Beach, Florida.

Open for dinner every night except Sundays, with Happy daily Hour specials, and for weekend Brunch during the Season.  Private party facilities are available.

For more information, call (561) 332- 3406, or visit: www.sardinia-ristorante.com

Also visit the Miami Beach location, at 1801 Purdy Avenue in the Sunset Harbour area.

For more information about Restaurant Placement Group, visit: https://www.restaurantplacement.com/

 

About the Author

- KEN SPAHN is an award-winning Food Critic and Culinary Author, and a renowned restaurant & hospitality authority and consultant. He has authored over 800 food-related articles; appeared on numerous TV, radio, online, and print venues; served as Celebrity Judge at culinary competitions; taught Hospitality Management courses at local colleges; appeared as a guest speaker at industry events; consulted and recruited for hundreds of restaurant, hotel, and food service operators; and has been intricately involved in countless food, wine, culinary, and restaurant events. Mr. Spahn is widely recognized as one of Florida's most knowledgeable and well-connected restaurant professionals. Ken Spahn is also the Founder and President of RESTAURANT PLACEMENT GROUP, the exclusive recruiting, consulting, and placement firm for the Restaurant, hospitality, and food service industry. For more information, visit: https://www.restaurantplacement.com Boca Raton Tribune is honored to have Mr. Ken Spahn on its team!

Displaying 1 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Growing up in Italy left me with a profound love for Italian food…the authentic kind, as pictured on your website. My husband and I look forward to tasting and savoring the delights Sardinia Enoteca in the near future! Ci vediamo! Ciao!

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>