2 Chase Rd , Scarsdale
(914) 798-0550; savonarestaurant.com
Hours: lunch, Mon to Fri 11:30 am-2:30 pm
dinner, Sun to Thurs 5 pm-10 pm, Fri and Sat 5 pm-11 pm
Appetizers: $7-$14; entrées: $17-$32; desserts: $8-$10
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good
Once upon a time, going out for Italian food meant eating pasta in red, pink, or white sauce; chicken or veal “parm” with a side of ziti; shrimp scampi; or maybe a nice thick veal chop. But that was the dark ages of Italian-American food—before so many of us had vacationed in Italy or (can you imagine?) even heard of Mario Batali.
The new Italian restaurant wood-fires and grills, has at least one pasta shape you’ve never heard of, puts the chef’s name on the menu—which changes at least seasonally if not weekly. It’s casual but upscale enough to justify the prices; a little noisy and consistently good. It’s your go-to place, if you’re lucky enough to have one close by.
Savona fits the bill perfectly for residents of Scarsdale and the surrounding towns. The concept is no longer new, but “new” isn’t always what we want. It’s Savona when we’re craving simple, rustic regional Italian fare. Homemade pastas and pizzas, risotto, a selection of crostini, cheese and cured meat platters, and a handful of fish, poultry and meat entrées mean we can dine out with even our fussiest friends, and everyone can leave sated and happy.
The menu is chock-full of familiar and nearly familiar dishes. For the more adventurous diner, there is a sprinkling of less common ingredients or ingredients used in new ways, such as farroto, a risotto made from farro rather than rice.
It’s hard to go to an upscale Italian restaurant these days that does not serve creamy burrata, mozzarella’s oozy cousin. At Savona, where it was one of five crostini on the menu, it was served with sweet, roasted tomato and pungent, bright basil. Other crostini toppings include a classic dish of rich chicken liver pâté with fried shallots, and our favorite: pancetta, caramelized onion, and pecorino topped with a creamy-yolked fried egg. The crostini platter and a glass of wine make a lovely, relaxed start to the meal—more akin to nibbling on hors d’œuvres than starting right off with an appetizer course.
If grazing is your style, the menu at Savona makes it easy. All of the following can be ordered either in platters of three or five selections: cured meats (salumi), a lovely selection of Italian cheeses, antipasti, and the crostini. Throw a crisp-crusted salsiccia (house-made fennel sausage) pizza in the mix and you can graze the night away.
For those who prefer a proper meal with courses, try a starter of perfectly fried, golden-edged artichoke hearts. Don’t be intimidated by the big pile that arrives at your table—you’ll polish off these crisp, compelling, bite-sized veggies, topped with a hint of crunchy sea salt and a squeeze of lemon, with no problem.
Savona has nearly, but not quite, mastered the art of frying. Each item in the fritto misto—tender calamari, sweet scallops, zucchini, and lovely tart lemon slices—was tender and tasty, but more than half the flavorful seasoned crust fell off each item as we picked it up.
Two salads were flawless: An heirloom beet, apple, walnut, and goat-cheese salad sounds more ordinary than it tasted, thanks to a dressing that hit the perfect point between tangy and sweet. Walnuts also made an earthy appearance in an escarole salad with lots of grated pecorino and plenty of lemon to cut the bitterness of the greens.
Pasta is also, not surprisingly, a real strength. Mafalde lungo—wide, curly edged strands of pasta with white clam sauce—is our reason to return when “off duty.” We loved this classic dish with heartier pasta, and the sauce had a nice kick of garlic and just enough of a rich finish to keep everyone at the table busy dunking bread in it. Shrimp fra diavolo served over pasta was, in a word, perfect. The shrimp had just the right snap when we bit into them, the heat in the sauce was enough to be present, but not so much that it overwhelmed the other flavors, and the pasta arrived at the table al dente. It was fra diavolo nirvana.
Our experiences with seafood were mixed. On one occasion, grilled dorade smelled and tasted far too fishy. The waiter was apologetic and replaced it with moist, mild striped bass, which, in contrast, was remarkably clean-tasting. The fish was dressed simply with lemon and olive oil and accompanied by a wonderful assortment of vegetables: sweet roasted tomato, tapenade, roasted peppers, and charred asparagus. In contrast, the sides served with slightly fishy salmon were even more disappointing: pasty white beans and wilted escarole tasted old, as though they’d seen better days.
The asparagus we loved when served with the bass also made an appearance with a discreetly seasoned, juicy, tender heritage pork rib-eye served over buttery farro. Chicken under a brick was equally simple and just as tasty. The golden skin was thick and crisp, protecting a layer of tender, moist meat. Accompanying tender, flavorful vegetables had little bits of char as if to prove they were fire-roasted.
Desserts are worth saving room for. Incredibly creamy sorbet felt more like gelato in our mouths, and the cookie plate filled with pistachio and chocolate biscotti and chewy ginger cookies brought out the cookie monster in all of us. A cherry-chocolate flourless cake was chocolately enough for the most serious addict, but light enough—and sweet, not bitter—for the non-chocolate lover. But the s’more is hard-core, if only because it is made with dark chocolate and accompanied by a very grown-up, very dark demitasse of hot chocolate.
Savona hits all the right notes for this new breed of Italian restaurant. The fare is varied and sophisticated, but appealing to less adventurous diners and considerate to diners with dietary limitations. Here’s to hoping more like this are coming to a town near you.
FOR MORE RESTAURANT REVIEWS, VISIT westchestermagazine.com. And for more dining news, mini-reviews, and delicious gossip, sign up for Julia Sexton’s juicy dining newsletter, EAT. DRINK. POST. Click on “Newsletters” on our site.