Food Experience

Four Happy Hours

Sarto resurrects the Italian tradition of aperitivo

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Sarto’s combination of simple decor and a sophisticated menu immediately won me over. Add inventive dishes like their Gem Salad with smoked bluefish and a sprinkling of crunchy seeds, and it quickly became my go-to choice for downtown lunch. The bright space, with geometric tiles and chairs reminiscent of a mid-century schoolhouse (but more comfortable), has a casual lunch-counter feel during the day, but the space just as easily hosts an elegant dinner.

In between lunch and dinner? That’s when you can sneak in an aperitivo, the Italian equivalent of happy hour. Sarto serves aperitivo from Tuesday through Friday from 2pm to 6pm. Aperitivo is meant to stimulate your appetite for dinner with bitter drinks and small snacks – that is, if you can avoid ordering most of the menu like I did.

I appreciate a cocktail that’s light on alcohol, and I’m a fan of bitter and herbal spirits like Campari or Amaro, so Sarto’s aperitivo cocktail selection is a dream for me. The Bicicletta, with Campari, white wine, and club soda, may be the archetypal aperitivo drink. My husband enjoyed the Sbagliato Rosa, made with Campari; Punt e Mes, a vermouth; and Scarpetta Timido, a sparkling rosé. I also liked the Carciofo, with Cynar, Prosecco, and grapefruit juice. All of these drinks were as refreshing as we expected. Of course, if aperitifs aren’t your thing, you can still order from the regular cocktail menu, an Italian-influenced selection with creative flavor combinations. In addition, Sarto has an intriguing selection of Italian beers, which can be difficult to find.

With our appetites piqued, we ordered from the menu of aperitivo snacks… and kept ordering. The ‘Nduja Deviled Eggs may be the best I’ve tried. ‘Nduja is a spreadable pork salumi; mixed with the egg yolk, it made for a smoky, faintly spicy deviled egg. The Spicy Pickled Vegetables were a much better version of the jarred Giardiniera I’ve picked up at the supermarket–crunchy and piquant. The Arancini, each stuffed with a little meatball, were as tasty as they were adorable.

My favorite aperitivo menu item might be the Fried Squash Bagna Verde, a variety of winter squashes sliced and fried tempura-style with bright green herb dipping sauce. The Calabrian Honey Wings had a sweet, warmly spicy sauce, sticky but definitely worth the mess. The Lobster Tramezzini was like an Italian version of a lobster roll, with an abundance of lobster meat dressed in a creamy sauce and sandwiched between slices of buttery white bread.

What I especially liked about these menu items is their flavor variety. The contrast of salty and sweet, creamy and herbal, fried and vinegary, makes for a dynamic afternoon snack. At five, when Sarto starts serving the regular dinner menu, you might have awakened your appetite enough to order an entree – or if you overindulged on the temptations of the aperitivo menu, maybe you’ll just finish with dessert and call it a night.

86 Dorrance Street, Providence • 270-0790