Those in the fine culinary ranks view the creation of food as an exercise of quality, depth, precision and experimentation. They sample and breathe exotically-named cheeses like one does wine. They spend excessive time preparing dressings and glazes, searching for a complex, yet subtlety sophisticated flavor. They habitually use words like sophisticated and complex. The problem with enjoying the product of their meticulousness is doing so with a modest budget.
Sam-Bucco Bistro in North Naples attempts to fill this niche, with gourmet food and the décor, obedient yet confident man-servants, and atmosphere amenities that add up to a total dining experience. The restaurant specializes in nebulously-titled cuisine, Mediterranean, which I believe is loosely held together by olive oil.
Though it is probably best to reserve a table, particularly on weekends, if there is a wait, a full bar immediately greets you, and the friendly bartender will make you a cocktail to pass the time. The soft-lighting in the restaurant accentuates the sandy walls and floors and explodes just enough off of the white tablecloths to keep from being too dim. The hum of an Italian tenor is barely audible over the buzz of the full room’s conversations.
Appetizers and salads are reasonably priced. The array of creative salads ($6-$8), include, for example, the Roquefort Salad ($7), prepared with baby greens with roasted pears, Roquefort cheese, pine nuts and a red wine lemon vinaigrette.
The appetizers ($6-$10) span a wide breadth of the Mediterranean: Turkish grilled calamari ($9), Mediterranean classics hummus ($6) and ba ba ganooj ($7), and numerous Italian-inspired antipasto. We started with an Italian offering, carpaccio ($10). The dish begins with a bed of arugula and endive, topped first with a layer of delicately-cut raw filet mignon, then with shaved slices of grana padano cheese, and finally with olive oil. The first-rate ingredients layered together taste as fresh and appetizing as the description—the filet tender, the greens crisp, and the grana padano pungent.
Sam-Bucco places a heavy emphasis on service and the wait staff offers unobtrusive yet attentive gang service—one gentleman took our orders, another exchanged dishes and silverware and kept the water glasses full, and the third delivered the food. Before our entrees, he brought a small warm loaf of sliced Italian bread served with a robust and unique dip of olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and anchovies.
Like the appetizers, the entrees are modestly priced ($16-$28). However, the main courses focused more toward the Italian, with the exception of the kabob entrees, which are served over basmati rice and offered in chicken ($17), shrimp ($21) and fillet mignon ($23). Selecting from the variety of pasta, chicken, seafood, steak, and veal courses required some thought and discussion. Everything had its charm. Ultimately we decided on the snapper with Spanish saffron ($22) and the veal champignon ($22).
The colorful presentation of both dishes immediately stood out. Each was served with sautéed green beans and strips of carrots, a golden-charred rectangle of potatoes au gratin, and garnished with the saturated deep crimson of a dollop of mashed beets. In the veal champignon, the tender sautéed veal was covered in fresh porcini and shiitake mushrooms and a brandy cream demi glaze sauce that was immediately recognizable as a variation of the Italian Marsala wine sauce. The cuts of veal were tender and slid apart under the pressure of a butter knife. Press and slide, elbows in, I was once told. You don’t want to appear a sweaty savage, hack-sawing away. Sophistication. Subtlety.
In the snapper with Spanish saffron, sautéed snapper and baby shrimp are presented in a saffron white wine sauce. The snapper and shrimp were expertly prepared and wonderfully enhanced by the saffron white wine sauce.
Both dishes were delicious, and so sophisticated, complex, yet subtle in their flavor, we were satiated quickly. We left quite pleased with a dining experience that extended out the front door as an owner walked with us and implored us to return again.