PROVIDENCE — For more than a year and a half, the tan shades were pulled down on the ground-floor storefront of the historic Teste brownstone. Those who hoped to dine at Sarto, the popular modern Italian restaurant on the corner of Dorrance and Weybosset Streets, could only peek inside the typically sunlit restaurant.
But the wait is over.
“We knew it was time. Time for us, and time for downtown,” said Karsten Hart, chief operating officer of Sarto and parent company G Hospitality.
Sarto has officially reopened to the public after “hibernating” in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when cases were rising and temperatures outside — and interest in indoor dining — were dipping.
But now, as people return to their offices in downtown Providence, and with new residents expecting to move in and arts and cultural events once again on the calendar, G Hospitality’s president Colin Geoffroy was ready to swing open the doors.
Hart and Gary Hatfield, Sarto’s culinary director, have combined old-world culinary traditions with a fresh look at what it means to be “authentically Italian,” offering an elevated menu of dishes that feature locally sourced ingredients that honor New England, but with a twist.
”We scripted the menu in such a way that there are some familiar touches, but we left room for innovation and playfulness,” said Hart, a longtime chef at luxury hotels like the Castle Hill Inn.
The buttery scallops for the crudo ($14) are sourced from the Gulf of Maine. They are thinly sliced and garnished with Calabrian chili, shaved bleeding-heart radishes, micro cilantro, and sprinkled with a housemade lime vinaigrette, sunflower seeds, and sea salt. The tuna crudo ($14) is 3 ounces of fresh, marinated and briefly seared tuna, sliced and garnished with capers, olive oil-citrus vinaigrette, orange segments, and Newport Sea Salt (made from hand-harvested seawater from Brenton Cove, along historic Ocean Drive).
The Zuppa di Vongole ($9) combines sweet and spicy sausage, clams, onions, garlic, celery, baby kale, and red bliss potatoes in a clam stock, white wine, and cream broth. It’s garnished with fennel tops and fresh thyme.
Their house-made focaccia works in rosemary, sea salt, and olive oil, and is served with several of their dishes, including the Spring Onion Toast ($14), where it is spread with a generous layer of ricotta from Narragansett Creamery. The ricotta is topped with sunflower sprouts, basil, plump halved tomatoes, and saba (reduced unfermented grape juice — a precursor to balsamic vinegar).
Of the four main entrees, the porchetta ($26) may be the most grand — a classic Italian roast made from a whole pork belly, seasoned with chili, fennel, rosemary, and garlic, rolled into a tight cylinder, and roasted in the oven until it’s crispy on the outside. It’s sliced and served on a bed of polenta flavored with salsa verde and pecorino romano, caramelized cipollini onions, and braised kale.
Their half chicken ($28) is roasted and served with Rhode Island Mushrooms, tri-colored baby carrots, black truffle, and polpetta di patate (think: meatballs made with potatoes instead of meat). The pan-seared diver sea scallops ($38) are served in a saffron broth with clam juice, white wine, basil, shaved carrots, and garlic.
Sous chef Paige Gilbert said the Ragu d Coda di Bue ($22) is her favorite. It’s pappardelle is coated in braised oxtail-sausage, ragu, with tomato, ricotta, and grana padano cheese. Another pasta dish, cacio e pepe ($22), also goes above and beyond. Instead of a simple sauce of cheese, ground black pepper, and pasta water, the chefs whip tonnarelli into the sauce with smoked mussels and garnish it with garlic bread crumbs.
Dessert ranges from scoops of pistachio, chocolate, mango, or raspberry-blood orange gelato ($4 each) to a brown butter cake ($9) with whipped honey-lemon ricotta, candied pistachios, and toasted honey and a dense, cupcake-size chocolate cake ($10) with macerated berries, strawberry sauce, and vanilla crumble. There’s also a Spumoni latte ($13) — a play on a Rhode Island classic — with Dumante pistachio liquor, Caffè Borghetti, espresso, and cherry juice (which you pour in yourself to increase the sweetness).
Rebecca Miller, G Hospitality’s director of operations, brought her bartending experience to the forefront of their beverage program. It’s shown off particularly in their Empower Sour cocktail ($14), which pays homage to Maria Scala (later Maria Branca), who took over Fernet-Branca’s distillery in the late 1800s as one of the first female entrepreneurs in Italy. It’s a bitter style of amaro, consisting of 27 various herbs and other ingredients, and regularly enjoyed by those in the industry (but also good for digestion). Sarto’s cocktail shakes Fernet, egg whites, orgeat, lime, and orange bitters and is garnished with tiny, bright flower petals.
Other bar drinks, like their Summer and Blood Orange Negronis ($14), use oversized ice cubes with Sarto’s logo stamped in. Their Dressed Down ($14) is a clean martini with vodka, rosemary simple syrup, and capano bianco with a smouldering rosemary sprig that’s torched in front of the guest.
Their wine list, which has won awards in the past, features Damilano Nebbiolo, Villa Rosa Gavi di Gavi Cortese, and Fuedo Montoni Nero D’Avola — all by the glass ($10-16)
“The menu is very unfussy. It uses regional ingredients and really showcases them on every plate. We wanted to do the same with our cocktail and wine program,” said Miller. “I really want to push people toward trying something new here, that they just won’t get elsewhere.”
Sarto is located at 86 Dorrance St. in Providence. They are open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 11 p.m., and Sundays from 4 to 9 p.m. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. sartoprovidence.com.