Steak, Italian Style
At Sapore Steak House, homemade pastas share the menu with
beef, seafood, and exotic game
By Judith Hausman
If you’ve ever wondered what giant elk tastes like, or if cold weather means venison to you, head for Sapore Steak House in Fishkill, Dutchess County, which just celebrated its first anniversary as that town’s newest steakhouse. And if your fellow diners aren’t such committed carnivores, you can tell them about the homemade pasta and piles of tasty seafood, too.
Sapore is a first on the east side of the Hudson for restaurateur Sali Hadzi, who established his reputation with Il Cena’colo (one of the region’s highest rated spots), the popular Cena 2000, and Cafe Pitti, all in Newburgh — and all serving updated yet classic Italian fare. This latest venture is housed in the building where Union House (another steakhouse) used to be, so Sapore’s downtown location is a plus.
There are several well-appointed dining rooms, providing a much larger capacity inside than the outside suggests, yet there’s still a cozy feel. Decor is understated Generic Bistro: hardwood floors, dark wood, rich colors. Hadzi is adept at creating just the kind of comfortable atmosphere suitable for a casual dinner for two or for larger family and business groups.
The wine list is lengthy and wide-ranging, with more than 300 wines priced from $25 to $275, but I had to nudge to get information on wines by the glass. When I did, though, our well-meaning waiter was eager to talk wine. He brought over a bottle of Cartlidge & Browne’s inexpensive and lovely 2004 California Pinot Noir ($28) for us to inspect. Service overall was both attentive and professional.
Sapore is billed as an American steakhouse with Italian influences, with a menu that incorporates New York steakhouse style and familiar Italian favorites. What that means is that there’s something for just about every taste.
The long list of recited daily specials is where the action is: foie gras with mango ($14), cold seafood platter ($22), Dover sole ($28). The standard menu of core offerings includes venison, elk, and tuna, along with the filet mignon and the popular porterhouse (for one or two). Appetizers on the menu are steakhouse basics like fried calamari ($10), crab cakes ($14), and buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad ($12). A family-style salad bowl is included with the entrÃ©es, but it’s filled with chopped iceberg and a somewhat bland, creamy dressing. Blue cheese served on the side didn’t really save it.
Several homemade pastas are available nightly. It was hard to skip the rich five-cheese ravioli ($18) and the broad pappardelle with rabbit ragu ($18), but I was attracted by the tagliarini with bottarga ($19), flaked dried tuna from Sardinia that is sometimes referred to as the poor man’s caviar. Thick, rich mascarpone balanced the lively, sharp flavors of the deliciously salty fish flakes. While it’s novel to find this bright red, peasant-y product in a restaurant, $10 for a half-dish of simple pasta seemed pricey.
In classic steakhouse style, our elk ($27) and the grilled prime rib ($28) our waiter recommended came sitting alone on the plate. A choice of potatoes was included (the baked ones are huge; other options include French fries or rice pilaf), but vegetables cannot be substituted. We tried a side of delicately creamed spinach ($4.50), neither oversalted nor over thickened.
Unfortunately, the elk was no more than a forgettable “exotic,” and lacked the heartier game flavor of venison. The 18-ounce grilled prime rib ($28) was better: properly medium as requested, it was chewy and on-the-bone flavorful with a creamy horseradish sauce on the side. For diners who prefer seafood, the ring of five large grilled shrimp ($28) ordered by those at a nearby table looked attractive, and the sesame-crusted tuna ($25) is a best-seller.
The desserts are house made at Sapore by pastry chef Jocelyn Pacheco (who also makes them for Il Cena’colo). But less would have been more in the case of the generous slice of apple crumb pie that we shared ($7). Less caramel drizzle, less sugary streusel, and a crust half the thickness would have yielded a still special but less cloying sweet. Cheesecake, crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e, and chocolate mousse (all $7) complete the dessert list.
While a dinner at Sapore did not make a dramatic impression, it’s a roomy restaurant with a competent staff where diners can count on a pleasing, predictable meal. And though Hadzi set out to create a departure from his other successful eateries, this marriage of traditional steakhouse fare and the Italian cuisine he’s best known for represents a successful bridge, and a surefire way to please just about everyone.