Our first review is about the newest restaurant in the Williamsburg area, Sapori Ristorante Italiano, which is located in New Town, our very own shopping mall masquerading as a town. We were excited, but not overly hopeful, when we heard Sapori was coming. We felt this way because we love Italian food and because even though we’ve got plenty of Italian restaurants in Williamsburg, for unknown reasons, we can’t seem to get a good one.
Now that we’ve eaten at Sapori a couple of times, our opinion is unchanged: Williamsburg still doesn’t have any good Italian restaurants. But we do have a prediction: Unless Sapori’s owners have deep pockets, we’d be very surprised if this joint stays in business long enough to celebrate its first anniversary.
We make this unkind prediction for two reasons:
First, even though there’s a long menu at Sapori and it’s really nicely presented in a leatherette cover and it’s printed on nice paper, you shouldn’t let it raise your expectations. Sapori’s food bears little relationship to Italian food—it’s way closer to the fare in a Greek diner. We’re not sure why Greeks think they can cook Italian food, but we suspect it’s because there are a lot more customers for Italian food than Greek food. Anyway, we checked out the owners and they claim to be Sicilian, which makes what they doing to Italian food even more egregiously heinous. In case that last bit requires a trip to the dictionary, don’t bother: It means the food is bad.
It’s ironic that sapori is the Italian word for “flavors” because the food here is the least flavorful Italian food we’ve ever eaten. Italian restaurants in Williamsburg are famous for two ingredients: salt and garlic. There must be a salt mine under the town—we take off our rings before we go out for Italian so we don’t lose any fingers. And we don’t go out for Italian if we are seeing anyone the next day—when we invariably reek of garlic. That said, there was no salt or garlic evident in the food we ate at Sapori. There was no seasoning at all as far as we could tell. We asked for salt! That’s a first in several decades of Williamsburg Italian dinners.
There were no clams—none—in the red clam sauce. This is very mysterious. How do you make a red clam sauce without clams? Isn’t it pretty prominent on the ingredients list—it’s in the name of the sauce, right? In fact, there was hardly any sauce at all. It was mangled chunks of tomato kinda chucked on top of a heaping mound of spaghetti from a box. There were about a dozen steamed clams and mussels (in a red clam sauce?) in a ring around the pasta. They were steamed perfectly, though.
The bread is also mysterious. We love bread, especially Italian bread. But this bread had nothing whatsoever to do with bread. It was cut in small, inch-thick squares, and it was dense and not fully baked in the center. It had that Bisquick taste – you know, that weird shortening taste.
On our next trip to Sapori, we discovered that the bread doubles as pizza crust. The pizza margherita features the thick Bisquicky crust, an ungenerously thin layer of sauce (which colors more than covers about two-thirds of the crust), a half-dozen or so small dollops of mozzarella, and a sprinkle of basil. We got a 10-inch pie, ate three slices, and then just sat and sneered at the other half. Usually we’d down a pie this size in no time flat and be looking to see if we could snatch another slice from somebody nearby.
The second reason we predict that Sapori is doomed is the prices. We in Williamsburg are on the thrifty side—hell, we did say we’d be honest—Williamsburgers are cheap. Unless you’re really feeding us right, it’s tough to get our money. That said, $140 before tip for a weekday dinner for 4 (one appetizer, 4 entries, 4 glasses of pretty cheap wine, and a big beer) or $40 for dinner for two (two 10-inch pizzas, a big beer, and a club soda) is gonna make wallets clench up around this town. Plus, New Town is off the main tourist trails, so Sapori’s owners can’t depend on a steady flow of ignorant out-of-towners to supplement the shortfall.
What else to say? Well, we don’t care that much about what the restaurants we eat in look like (as long as they don’t smell disgusting and our flip flops don’t stick to the floor), but you may, so we’ll describe the place as cavernous. It’s light-filled with high ceilings and stone-topped tables and fairly comfortable seating. You know the deal: It’s a strip mall-ish kind of restaurant where the owners aren’t some big chain with a big staff of cutesy designers and a big budget for all that junk that passes for ambiance.
Oh, and lest we give the impression that we are just miserable, rotten people who can only say bad stuff, let us add that, against all odds for an Italian restaurant, Sapori has great beer! There are a half-dozen craft brews—about half of them Virginian—on tap. For $8, you get a huge glass of icy-cold beer.
So, here’s the bottom line: We’re not going back to Sapori to eat, although we may head to the bar if we get thirsty for a tall, refreshing brewski.