Among the hundreds of mediocre Italian restaurants in this town, there has always been one that people claim to be a cut above the rest -- Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante on Purdy Avenue in South Beach. Actually, this is the one Italian restaurant that locals rant and rave about. Do a search in Yelp, Open Table or Urban Spoon, and be prepared for a tsunami of stellar reviews -- 4 stars, 5 stars, "Very Good," "Outstanding." Even our very own Lee Klein wrote a beaming review about Sardinia when it opened.
Granted, Sardinia is attractive. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows wrap around the space, a sexy wooden wine rack adorns the center of the dining room, and the wood-burning hearth is inviting. Clusters of large format wine bottles as well as Italian products like olive oils, vinegars, and saba are scattered through the dining room and along the bar.
But what about the food? The food, the food, the food...isn't that what going to a restaurant is all about? Bad service is less important. Bad food, on the other hand, should be punishable by law. Too man business owners rip customers off. After eating at Sardinia numerous times and never having a good experience, my recent visit there with a friend broke the camel's back.
The carelessness used in the preparation of our two plates of past overwhelmed us. It was a total whiff.
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Strike #1: Soggy, chewy, day-old bread... As the adage goes, "The devil is in the detail." Bread is the first edible item. With it, guests begin forming an opinion about a restaurant. Wouldn't it make sense to assure freshness? Sardinia offers a country style, slightly sour loaf that is supposed to have a nice thick, crusty exterior and an soft, airy crumb. They totally missed the "thick, crusty" part.
Strike #2: Chewy potato gnocchi... With the numerous styles of gnocchi available, one thing is for sure, "Mamma" didn't shoot for dense and tough. These gnocchi were closer to oversized pencil erasers than anything else. The person who ordered them, honestly not a fussy eater, pushed them aside because he couldn't swallow; they kept getting stuck on the way down.
Strike #3: Bland spaghetti with mussels... This pasta preparation could not be any simpler; it only has 7 ingredients: shallots, garlic, white wine, mussels, tomato, olive oil and then of course, the pasta. So what happened? The cook added too much pasta water to the mix. Pasta water is an essential component used in thinning out or building sauces, but when there is too much, it completely dilutes the flavors. The effect amplifies exponentially when dealing with delicate ingredients like seafood; mussels only have so much jus in them. On top of that, the haphazardly chopped tomatoes were a mottled shade of pinkish orange. Mamma mia!
After the third strike, Sardinia was outta here! Or rather, we were outta Sardinia. There wasn't a reason to stay to peruse the dessert selection or have an espresso. Two bowls of pasta, one glass of falanghina and $50 later, a revisit is unlikely.