Santino's Restaurant and Bar is a fine new addition to the 71st Street sprawl of restaurants. Both restaurant and bar are next to each other, but each has its own entrance. This separate door approach is reminiscent of the years past, where the restaurant and bar are two-in-one, so families can go into one side and the over 21 crowd can hang out at the bar for drinks and eats.
In the restaurant, the interior décor is saturated with an Italian theme, with grape vines floating about. Though the décor is tasteful, it borders on being overdone. It is a cozy atmosphere with booth seating, making the dining experience more intimate.
My friend and I were immediately seated on this weeknight evening. There was a good crowd, with relatively few open booths. After opening pleasantries from our server (who did a fine job but seemed a little preoccupied with her other duties), we were brought warm French bread with a plate of olive oil splashed with a little balsamic vinegar, dried spices and crushed fresh garlic. We enjoyed nibbling on bread and oil as we reviewed the menu.
Any good Italian meals begin with Antipasto, and at Santino's, this includes Bruschetta, Italian Breaded Portabella, Vegetable Antipasti, Fra Diavolo Calamari, Mussels di Napoli, Garlic Breaded Provolone, Spinach Artichoke Crab Dip, Roasted Cabbage, Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops and Santino's Knock Out Buffalo Wings. Prices range from $5.99 to $13.99. We estimated that some of the non-traditional Antipasto was geared more for the bar customers than the restaurant diners.
Described as extra large sea scallops wrapped in prosciutto, deep fried and served with celery and balsamic reduction, the Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops ($8.99) caught our attention. The presentation of these scallops was impressive, as the warm scallops rested on triangular crostini around the outside of the plate, with a little mound of iceberg lettuce in the center. We both enjoyed the scallops. These mollusks were soft and fleshy in texture; the delicately mild sweet taste of the flesh was juxtaposed with a slight peppery kick.
Next, we were ready to settle on what we would have for our entrees. Menu selections include Insalata (Wilted Spinach Pancetta Salad, Las Casa Regulari, Santino's Chef's Salad, Blue Cheese Wedge), Pizza (Margherita, Carne, Five Cheese), Pesce (Salmon Rosato, Tilapia), Santino's Speciale de Casa and From the Grill.
The House Specials include a fine variety of Italian favorites, such as Chicken Marsala, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Lasagna Bolognese and Pasta Primavera. Grill selections include Roman Ribeye, Sirloin Italia and Santino's Signature Chop.
My friend and I both selected from the House Specials, the Shrimp Scampi ($15.99) for me and the Veal Piccata ($15.99) for him. The Shrimp Scampi is a popular dish of large gulf shrimp sautéed with tomatoes and basil in a garlic white wine sauce and served over linguini. I enthusiastically enjoyed this selection. The five shrimp were plump and very fresh (delicately crisp with each bite).
The sauce was light and flavorful, with a pronounced garlic taste. Little pieces of tomato were scattered around the al dente pasta. It seemed the pasta was cooked in salted water (often not the case at restaurants) which added a fuller taste.
My friend's Veal Piccata was lightly breaded and then pan seared. This was served with wilted spinach and linguini. The dish came with lots of spinach on top. The veal, my friend relayed, was large, tender and "very nice." Piccata is a term that describes meats sautéed in slices and served in a spicy lemon and butter sauce. My friend said this "piccata was piquant," adding that he is used to having it with more capers than what came with this dish. Artichokes were in the sauce and oddly, my friend said, most of the "tang" in the dish came from them. Overall, he said it was more subtle than others he has had.
What better way to end an Italian meal than with Tiramisu, but unfortunately they were out this evening. We both settled with the Cannoli ($5.99). We were both surprised to learn the Cannoli shell was made with chocolate; the creamy filling, though, was the authentic sweet blend of ricotta cheese, cinnamon and vanilla. This was exceptionally good. Other Dolci include New York Cheesecake, Chocolate Torte and Gelato and Sorbet.
Santino's Restaurant and Bar
7875 E. 71st Street
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