Vincenzo and Agostino Gabriele reinvented the Louisville dining scene a generation ago. Now, Agostino’s sons, Carmelo and Michael Gabriele, have opened their own Italian restaurant in Germantown, named Sarino after the family nickname for another uncle, Rosario.
Will Sarino be something like Vincenzo’s Jr., then? I’m going to say: no. But that’s no slam. Sarino is delightful in its own right, but it is as different from Vincenzo’s as millennials are different from baby boomers, and as different as downtown is to Germantown.
The elder brothers reimagined fine dining in Louisville with their laser-like focus on elegance, attentive service that some find bordering on fawning and, of course, excellent, authentic regional Italian cookery. All this was new and exciting to then steak-and-potatoes Louisville when Vincenzo came to the fabled Casa Grisanti in the 1970s, and opened Vincenzo’s with Agostino a decade later.
But that was a long time ago. We know fine Italian dining now, so there’s no shock of the new as the younger Gabrieles move into the striking A-frame that briefly housed the short-lived Germantown Craft House and the even shorter-lived Goss Ave. Pub.
The third try on the premises may be the charm for the younger Gabrieles, based on a recent dinner visit that served up one Italian delight after another. Fine, authentic Italian fare follows the family tradition, but it’s in a younger, Germantown style now, in a comfortably-casual setting; service is friendly and competent with nary a whiff of smarm, and dinner pricing mostly in the teens makes it a good choice for a casual date night, not just a special occasion.
The menu offers main courses including nine entrées, a dozen pizzas (plus a build-your-own option). Pricing ranges from as little as $6 ( for a small order of spaghetti pomodoro, with tomato sauce) to a max of $25 (for a New York strip); and pizzas top out at $17 (for the Porker, a meat-heavy pie). A dozen appetizers and salads are $3 to $12 and a charcuterie-and-cheese menu offers a choice of 11 Italian meats and cheeses from $4 to $7.
The two large, connected rooms are both comfortably spacious — the striking, spare glass-walled dining room and the more-enclosed barroom with its long, brick-backed bar that forms an L around two sides of the room. The striking, spare space rises to high, vaulted, raftered ceilings, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls in the dining room. Heavy, undraped wooden tables are set with attractive flatware and soft, sizable cotton napkins.
The wine list leans Italian and isn’t overly long, with many items tagged at $50 and below. There’s a good selection of beer, too, and an interesting liquor list with a good mix of bourbon, Italian spirits and cocktails. We were happy with The New Fashion, Sarino’s take on an Old Fashioned made with Luxardo maraschino liqueur and a refreshing, lightly-bitter Campari and soda ($7).
Triangles of tender, crumbly foccacia ($3) come very close to the Italian original. Triangles of tender, wheaten flatbread boast a firm, dimpled crust scattered with fresh rosemary leaves, ready to be drizzled with fruity olive oil.
Roasted cauliflower ($7) made a very good starter, served in a small, black-iron skillet. A chunk of cauliflower, roasted sweet and caramelized, was topped with pine nuts, currants and shaved Parmigiano, drizzled with Calabrian olive oil and lemon.
A filling farro and arugula salad ($9), made good use of farro, an ancient Italian grain. Farro resembles wheat berries, but I like its subtle, nutty flavor even better. A generous portion was tossed with fresh, bitter arugula leaves, bits of toasted walnut, dried cherries, roasted red peppers, cucumber and crumbled goat cheese, tossed with a tangy champagne vinaigrette.
Sarino’s Neapolitan-style pizzas are made with tender Italian Tipo 00 flour, baked in a hot, stone-floored, Italian oven, and they come out crisp and very, very thin. A margherita pizza, the classic Neapolitan pie ($12), shows off Sarino’s authentic pizza skills. Lightly topped with just a schmear of San Marzano tomato sauce, dabs of sweet fior di latte mozzarella and a few snipped leaves of fresh basil, it presented a good balance of crisp bread and fresh flavors. It could have spent another minute or two in the oven for brown-freckled perfection, and a trip through the toaster oven with the leftovers made it even better.
Here’s a fun fact about Italian dishes styled Milanese: This culinary style goes back to the days when Northern Italy, including Milan, fell under the Austrian Empire, and Milanese style mirrors Viennese schnitzel in its lightly breaded, crisply-fried deliciousness. Pork Milanese ($15) featured a sizable center-cut pork chop, bone-in. The thick Milanese breading had a good, textured, fine bread-crumb quality. The meat within was estimable, neither too juicy nor too dry but just right. It came with perfectly cut roasted potato dice that were perfectly cooked, crisp brown and crunchy on the outside, creamy within.
Dinner for two came to a surprisingly reasonable $66.94, plus a $14 tip for our attentive, thoughtful server, Christian.