My recent visit to Sassi (irritating website alert) can be summed up in one simple sentence. Great surrounds, inconsistent food, and mediocre service. I had high hopes for Sassi, I really did, but I digress... You see, yesterday was my 8th wedding anniversary. Since we do so much cooking at home, Pere and I almost always go out to celebrate really special occassions. After last year's relatively uninspiring experience at T. Cooks, we decided we were going to go back to Kai, but unfortunately, they are closed until September for renovations. We were just about to book dinner at one of our other favorite spots, Vincent's on Camelback when I remembered that I had been meaning to try Sassi, a Southern Italian restaurant next to Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale. Forgoing a sure thing at Vincent's, we made reservations for Sassi.
Not knowing how traffic was going to be, we left our place a little early and ended up arriving at Sassi about 20 minutes ahead of our 7pm reservation. It wasn't a problem at all as the place was huge and there were only a few other diners that we could see. The hostess greeted us warmly and lead us back to a large table for two in the garden terrace room, with a nice sunset view. At the time, there was only one other table occupied in our small dining room.
Our waiter came by with menus and asked if we would like water, as well as if we wanted anything from the bar. Their drink menu had a few interesting "martinis" on it, so we decided to sample. I chose a limoncello martini while pere went with the "Bella Berry". Both of us chose to have our martini's "slushy". Each drink came in a martini glass with three round snowballs. Think of this as an adult version of the snow cone. When the waiter arrived with our cocktails, he accidentally started pouring my drink into Pere's glass. This wouldn't have been a problem except Pere's drink had a different garnish, and her rim wasn't sugared. Instead of correcting the problem, the waiter simply said "ooops", changed shakers, and filled the rest of her glass with the correct drink. Both drinks were pretty good, although next time I would probably order sans the slush.
While we looked over the menu trying to decide what to order, our waiter returned with a basket of fresh breads and a bottle of olive oil for dipping. The basket contained several breads including a crusty loaf, olive, walnut, focaccia, and flat bread. All were quite good.
While we were enjoying our cocktails, the hostess showed back up with a party of four and sat them at the table right next to ours. Why she did this in a mostly empty restaurant, when we were practically the only other people there escapes me. To make matters worse, they were obnoxious - typical Scottsdale hipster wannabe's with too much money and not enough taste. Our waiter only compounded the issue when the other party was trying to decide on drinks and he pointed out that we were drinking the martini specials. This prompted a lot of staring and attempts at humor. Normally, this wouldn't have bothered me so much, but we specifically chose to come to Sassi because we wanted to celebrate our anniversary in a romantic, intimate setting, and let the staff know this in advance. Pere summed it up pretty well when she remarked that she really didn't appreciate the overly familiar attitude our waiter had. When you're dining at a place like Sassi, you expect a certain level of professionalism that just wasn't on display during our visit.
There were so many interesting items on the menu that Pere and I decided to share a few in order to have more variety. We started our meal off with Sassi's calamari. Not to be confused with it's deep fried cousin, Sassi's version is made from small squid slices, celery, spicy peperoncino oil, almonds, and lemon zest. We also tried the barbabietola, a small salad of wood roasted beets and mint dressed with Agrumato tangerine olive oil and 20 year old balsamic vinegar.
For a pasta course, we shared a bowl of the gnocchi al funghi. Pillowy ricotta gnocchi with a wild mushroom ragu and shaved pecorino romano. The pasta was perfectly cooked. The mushroom ragu was excellent as well. There was one small problem. For some reason, the pasta and the ragu just never came together. That is to say, the "sauce" just wouldn't stick to the pasta. It was like oil and water. It didn't ruin the dish, but it did detract.
To accompany our meal, we chose a bottle of 1999 Selvamaggio Villa La Selva, a Super-Tuscan Cabernet. The wine was dark ruby in color, and was fairly fruity, with a long finish. Being bottle aged for so long, I think the wine would have done better had it been decanted (my fault for not asking). Overall, we both enjoyed it.
For an entree, Pere selected the Pesce al Cartoccio. In this case, the fish was salmon and was prepared by steaming in a paper bag with lemon, sage, ginger, and scallions. The presentation of the dish was very nice. Unfortunately, the filet was awfully thin and came out a bit overcooked. It was also overly lemony. We really liked the concept of the dish, but unfortunately, the execution just wasn't there.
The only other entree on the menu that really caught my eye was the stravaganza di agnello. The menu described the dish as Browns Orchard naturally raised lamb served three ways with local ratatouille. When the dish arrived, the "three ways" were a lamb chop, lamb rib, and shredded lamb mixed in with the ratatouille. The lamb chop was extremely flavorful, although a bit salty. The lamb rib was mostly fat, but still had good flavor. The shredded lamb with the ratatouille was good, but didn't stand out.
We declined dessert as we were both stuffed by this point. Our waiter wouldn't hear of it, though, and brought out an order of custard with fresh strawberries for us to share - on the house.
All-in-all, our meal at Sassi didn't live up to my expectations. That isn't to say that I'd never eat there again, but I think they still have a long way to go before I'd consider them a really great restaurant. In the meantime, I'm more likely to pay a return visit for happy-hour and either dine at the bar, or perhaps try the patio and make a meal of the excellent antipasti.