Sapori's plentiful veal saltimboca Photo by Isaac Harrell
Sapori might sound Japanese, but it actually means "flavor" in Italian. Located in an attractive new mixed-use development in Chester, this might look a bit like a chain restaurant, but it's really a comfortable family-owned, family-friendly bistro just off of Route 10. In two recent visits, one on a date and one with my children, I couldn't have been more nicely surprised.
The menu offers all the standard fare, including classics like lasagna and linguini with clam sauce, that satisfy cravings and ensure there is something for everyone. Their house-made soups range from a refreshing gazpacho, puréed but with chunks of watermelon, a twist that kicked up this summer classic, to the garbanzo-bean soup that my older daughter, Halle, ordered — earthy and bursting with "sapori." Our tasty bruschetta was served with toasted ciabatta bread. Coarsely chopped fresh tomatoes tossed in pesto were generously sprinkled with Parmesan for a first course that we thoroughly enjoyed.
The shrimp fritters were also a home run. All the portions are generous, and this appetizer could have been an entrée for someone looking for a small meal — like the pizza was for my younger daughter, Cary, who ended up with too much food for her 10-year-old tummy. Our personable waitress explained that her children do just that, ordering it consistently as their main meal. The shrimp fritters weren't greasy, and the dipping sauce made with horseradish, pepper and lemon had just the right amount of zip.
Contemporary light fixtures and flat-paneled sheers on the windows lend a sleek and modern feel, but the oversized bar and outdoor seating soften the atmosphere, creating a welcoming environment that matches the customer service, which is outstanding. With owners Giuseppe and Angela Amato manning the front of the house and sons Dario and Luca in the kitchen, the hospitality and genuine friendliness is palpable.
By the time Russ and I left on our first visit, it was late on a Thursday night. Giuseppe was sitting at the bar, finally relaxing and eating his own meal. While Sapori is barely a year old, it has the feeling of a neighborhood restaurant, and he noticed that we were new customers. He gave us a warm handshake and thanked us for visiting. Very few hosts know their clientele that well and take the time to demonstrate that level of care. I was pleasantly taken aback.
When we returned with the children a week later, Sapori was packed. It was Saturday night on a holiday weekend. While the food took longer to arrive than it did during our previous meal, the attentive waitress did a great job of communicating the timing and ensuring that our drinks were refilled, and we had plenty of yummy bread with olive oil and herbs for dipping.
The food wasn't perfect. Expectations were high from the first visit, but we adjusted them because we could tell that they were slammed. Halle's lobster gnocchi was slightly overcooked, Cary thought the house-made barbecue sauce on her chicken pizza was too spicy, and the tiramisu could have benefited from Marsala, but these were minor complaints when compared to the overall experience and the rest of the meal. A veal saltimbocca was an entrée — and lunch a couple of days later. With gooey mozzarella cheese, sautéed fresh mushrooms and spinach, and a Marsala wine reduction that was to-die-for, it was delicious, but also a great value.
Each entrée comes with two sides. Standard fare like a Caesar salad and a side of spaghetti marinara were spot on, but there were also surprises. Asparagus was wrapped in prosciutto and grilled, and Pasta Cacio e Pepe ended up being a sophisticated version of mac and cheese. The seafood cannelloni was so good the first time that we broke my rule about ordering different things on the second visit, and Russ got it again. Three house-made pasta sheets are stuffed with a simple blend of shrimp and lump crabmeat, then ladled with a dreamy vodka sauce dotted with caviar.
The panko-crusted chicken stuffed with Asiago and smoked ham was another winner. Topped with fresh mozzarella and baked in crushed tomatoes and onions, it epitomizes the food at Sapori. The dish had familiar components, yet the result was lighter and fresher than at comparable places. At $14, this entrée could have starred at a fancier, much more expensive establishment.
Sapori is open for lunch too, and many entrées can be ordered as smaller plates midday. The seafood cannelloni, for example, is only $9 for lunch. Pizzas and a variety of salads, including a grilled-chicken Caesar, as well as a list of 23 burgers and paninis, make Sapori an excellent lunchtime choice.
Expect the unexpected at this charming family-run restaurant. Sapori might mean "flavor," but it also translates to a terrific value, incredible service and food that is downright delectable.
Read more about the Amato family and Sapori here.