By Charlene C. Giannetti
Sandro Fioriti has never managed to keep a low profile on the Manhattan restaurant scene. For one thing, there’s his height. At six feet, four inches, patrons can’t help but notice him when he strolls through the dining room of his restaurant, which he does often. More importantly, however, Sandro’s early restaurant, located on the Upper East Side near the 59th Street bridge, focused on the cuisine of Rome and attracted a loyal clientele. When he closed his restaurant and seemed to disappear for a time, his former customers could only fondly recall his spaghettini al limone and his fried artichokes.
There’s good news, however. Sandro is back on the Upper East Side, opening a restaurant on 81st Street, near Second Avenue. And this time, he vows to stay. “The customers are coming back,” said Sandro’s wife, Anna. “We have a lot of followers.”
Open since April, Sandro’s has already become a sought after reservation, particularly on the weekends. A bright yellow awning, sporting a caricature of Sandro, juts out from the restaurant’s entrance. Once inside, Anna is quick to offer a warm greeting and offer to show you to your table.
A bright red commercial meat slicer stands near the entrance to the dining area. Soon after being seated, its purpose becomes clear. A plate of freshly sliced mortadella, Italian Bologna studded with pistachio nuts, is placed on our table along with homemade bread sticks. We enjoy a martini and glass of rose wine while contemplating Sandro’s menu.
For appetizers, we decide on the Roman-style fried artichoke. Although this dish is a standard for many Italian restaurants, few prepare it as well as Sandro’s. The leaves are crisp without being dried or tough. After watching a neighboring table enjoy baby eels, cieche, we put in an order. Served in a terra cotta bowl, the contents were still sizzling. The cieche, resembling short strands of spaghetti, were surprisingly mild, the overwhelming taste coming from the olive oil and garlic the eels were cooked in.
We split an order of Sandro’s homemade pasta, fagottini al tartufonero, small bundles of pasta resembling a beggar’s purse, served with a generous sprinkling of black truffles. (On an earlier visit, we couldn’t resist the spaghettini al limone, and the dish didn’t disappoint).
After considering the menu and Sandro’s specials, we reached a split decision: from the menu, tagliata, sliced steak served with roasted potato and salad, and from the list of specials, ricciola, a white fish that was served with a spicy tomato sauce. We ordered a bottle of Duca d’Aragona Candido, a light red wine we were told was one of Sandro’s favorites, preferring it to pricier Brunellos and Amarones.
Granita di café con panna, coffee ice served with whipped cream, was refreshing and the perfect end to the meal. After dinner drinks, including grappas flavored with rosemary and peperoncino, are available. And good news for late-nighters: Sandro’s serves until 2 a.m., Monday through Saturday.
Several times during our meal, Sandro himself stopped by to inquire how we were enjoying our food. What could we say except, “Welcome back to the neighborhood!”
Type of food: Italian
306 East 81st Street, near Second Avenue
Romantic—4 Child Friendly–2
Girls’ Night Out—4 Solo Dining—4
Business Dining—4 Visitors Welcome—4
Dress Code—Business Budget—Expensive