Brothers Luca (left) and Dario Amato with their father, Giuseppe. Photo by Isaac Harrell
There is no shortage of traditional mom-and-pop Italian restaurants in the Richmond area, but Chester's Sapori Ristorante Italiano has stepped away from the typical with a culinary philosophy focusing on fusion.
Giuseppe and Angela Amato, along with their two sons, Dario and Luca, opened Sapori Ristorante Italiano in the spring of 2011 in Festival Park Plaza off Chester Road. Sapori is a step up from the Amato family's previous establishments, Little Italian Pizza Man and Luca's, which offered more traditional Italian dishes in a casual setting.
Angela and daughter-in-law Amber run the front of the house, while Dario and Luca flex their culinary muscles as kitchen managers.
"In previous restaurants, we served traditional dishes, but at this one, we keep that traditional Italian and spice it up and with different parts of world," Luca says. "We are a Sicilian- American restaurant … and we don't like to be held down to just the United States."
Late nights in the family kitchen, coupled with some ideas thrown in by their mom, helped the two brothers create dishes that blended flavors from around the globe. "We feel there is a lot of Italian cuisine that you don't see a lot in Italian restaurants," Dario says. "It is traditional, but not boring."
The menu is based on "more of a fusion of American and Italian dishes. Things that we experimented upon … it took a lot of trials," Dario adds. "It shows in our menu."
Along with traditional dishes like lasagna and manicotti, the menu features items such as pork chops stuffed with cornbread — an American staple — and classic Italian pancetta, sautéed in chicken broth with a touch of apple cider vinegar. The unique combination of saltiness, sweetness, and tart creates an explosion of flavors that represents the restaurant's modern Italian flair.
"This keeps us challenged, involved, and passionate," says Amber, who is Dario's wife. "We don't want to just fall asleep at the wheel. That's what sets us apart. We're constantly revisiting our recipes, making sure everything is perfect."
Luca and Dario continue their family's cooking legacy, with their mother's and grandmother's recipe books to help them along the way. Luca, who just turned 23, moved to the United States when he was 5. He likens the kitchen to the heart of his family life. "My brother and I would always be in the kitchen with my mom and my grandma," he says.
Dario agrees. "Cooking is kind of a family thing," he says. "It came from watching my grandma and mother cook when we were young. We've always been in an environment where the family is cooking together."
Other popular entrée items include Chicken alla Griglia, served with fresh basil in a lemon-butter sauce, and grilled rib-eye chimichurri paired with a vinegar-laced parsley pesto. Entrées range from $12 to $23.
A host of dessert options offer the perfect finishing touch to a hearty meal, including traditional favorites like tiramisu and cannoli, as well as items such as Fruit Macedonia, crème brulee and a Napoleon that Amber describes it as "a cherry-topped cloud."
Future goals for Sapori include an outdoor patio and a jazz night. Visit Sapori on Thursdays for date-night specials.
Read our review of Sapori here.