Locale Profile: Sarto: Tailor-made Italian dining

SartoAt Sarto’s Grand Opening in early November, they rolled out the red carpet — quite literally — along Dorrance Street, on the Weybosset corner of the Providence G building, to welcome Rhode Island’s brand new Osteria and Salumeria. Gathered by the doors, a crowd of prominent RI folk stayed warm with the help of outdoor heaters, listening intently as Chef Robert Andreozzi gave a touching speech about returning to Rhode Island to open this restaurant. Cheers erupted, and everyone toasted glasses of champagne while Mayor Elorza cut a festive, sparkly ribbon. Then the anxiously hungry crowd filed inside, where they were treated to an assortment of salumi — slices of soppressata, bresaola, prosciutto wrapped breadsticks, even wild boar — as well as pickled vegetables, risotto, homemade focaccia and of course, copious amounts of wine.

How I ended up among this crowd is still a mystery, but I raised my glass of champagne, and chianti, and Aperol Spritzes with the rest of them, and admired this brand new addition to Downcity. Although the grand opening was indeed grand (it even included a person dressed like a tree, whom I thought was a tree until she blinked), most of sights, smells and tastes were absorbed in a blur of new-restaurant bliss. It wasn’t until I came back a couple of weeks later for dinner that I was able to grasp the everyday Sarto experience.

First, let’s talk a bit of history. Built in 1860, the Providence G conglomerate was once home to separate buildings, the evidence of which can still be seen by the exposed brick walls inside Sarto where one building ended and another began. Before becoming the Providence Gas Company, the corner space housed an apothecary and later a haberdashery.

“A haberdashery!” exclaimed Brendan Roane, the director of marketing and communications at G Hospitality. “How cool is that? It got the wheels turning for us … a haberdasher is sort of like a tailor. So we looked up the word for tailor in Italian. And of course, it’s Sarto.”

It’s the perfect name to suit their concept: It incorporates RI roots, an Italian expression and their vision to create “tailored” dining experiences.

I was impressed. I love a great name story, and I also love a great interior, which Sarto also has. The moment I walked in, I felt transported to Italy. The design is simple yet classic: black and white tile floors, brick walls, rustic wooden hanging shelves, tealight candles on every table.

There are several different sections to the restaurant. Beside the entrance is the Salumeria and the café, where you can order a pound of salami or a warm cappuccino with a side of monkey bread as a quick breakfast. (Breakfast is offered Mon – Fri, and lunch Mon – Thu, a small but diverse selection.)

To the right of the entrance is the dining area, the apex of which is an open kitchen. The chefs work skillfully in full view, looking sharp in their white shirts and black aprons. Chef Andreozzi can often be seen moving back and forth from the line to the dining room, greeting customers, explaining dishes, checking to see how everything tastes.

The bar is straight back, with long marble countertops and a robust list of wine, grappa and amari, as well as Italian and Rhode Island beer options, and a creative selection of cocktails. And overlooking the bar is the second-floor soffitta, a small elevated dining space perfect for business meetings and private events.

Although this place feels special — it’s a great location for a date night or a milestone birthday dinner — it also has a casual feel, the perfect place to relax after work with a drink, where anyone can come as they are and feel welcome.

Frank and I started the night at the bar — he’s the benevolent person who had invited me to Sarto’s grand opening, and it only seemed appropriate to try the full menu together. Frank was easily sold on a red wine from Abruzzo, the region of Italy from which his family emigrated, while I examined the cocktail list. I couldn’t decide between the Bari Sunset (I saw “beets” as an ingredient and was intrigued) and the Valente (rum, blood orange, chili and ginger), so I consulted Mike the bartender.

“The Bari Sunset is probably our most popular drink. It tastes similar to a sangria … it’s one of the best drinks we do here. I think you’ll like it.”

The color was a vibrantly dark red — the beets! — and the candied blood orange made a perfect garnish. It did taste like sangria, but better. When I asked Mike what he would order, however, he said the Valente.

I was able to try a sip of the Marinelli Foundry, a mezcal drink served in a champagne saucer, roughly the color of a pink flamingo, and wow. The taste does not match the expectation, and it is intriguing and distinguished. It’s a definite must-try for mezcal drinkers.

In keeping with a true Osteria, the menu was small with localized specialties. The idea is to bring rustic Italian cuisine into modern day Rhode Island, utilizing ingredients from both Italy and the Ocean State. Since Frank and I had gorged ourselves on all of the fresh cut meats at the opening event, we really wanted to focus on the pastas,  along with a small plate or two.

So we started with the Gem Salad (puffed grains, smoked bluefish, buttermilk vinaigrette) and a Caesar Toast (burrata, grilled broccoli rabe, and curred egg yolk). I ended up stealing extra salad when Frank excused himself from the table; I was surprised by the contrasting textures and by how much I liked the buttermilk dressing. The toast was a little harder to eat than I foresaw — the broccoli rabe required serious knifing, but I will never complain about a burrata dish. God bless extra creamy mozzarella.

We found ourselves in a huge conundrum when it came to the pastas because every single one sounded delicious and intriguing: the ravioli stuffed with braised oxtail and kabocha squash; the Bolognese, made with pappardelle pasta and a lamb sauce; caramelle pasta, which were shaped like candies inside of wrappers; the chestnut gnocchi made with rabiola cheese, brown butter, and fried sage. Chef Andreozzi came to the table to help us decide.

In the end, we chose all four. (Side note: The pastas can be offered as half plates.) I could not name a favorite because they were all so good, but different. What they all shared was how light and fresh they tasted, the flavors simply popping. The Bolognese was memorable because it was a classic dish with a twist: the lamb made it taste different from the norm, but not overpoweringly so. As someone who typically doesn’t like lamb, I scraped the plate clean.

The most standout dish for me, however, was the chestnut. I had never conceived that gnocchi could be made from chestnuts — even though I’d read it on the menu, it wasn’t until I took a bite that I realized, These are chestnuts! This dish is sweet and savory all at once, and I called it dessert pasta. I couldn’t stop raving about it.

It’s clear that behind Sarto is a dedicated team of people filled with experience, talent and heart. So whether you’re seeking breakfast on the run or a new downtown lunch spot, a mid-afternoon aperitivo or a swanky business dinner, or even just a relaxing place to unwind after work, Sarto has you covered. The experience, after all, is tailor-made to meet your needs.

Sarto, 86 Dorrance Street, PVD

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