Sans noisy neighbors, Sale e Pepe delights

Where: Marco Beach Ocean Resort, 480 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, 393-1600, sale-e-pepe.com

Hours: Dinner, 4:30 to 9 p.m., until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; there is a brunch available on weekends as well

Cuisine: Elegant Italian

Atmosphere: Sophisticated, with a view overlooking the Gulf of Mexico

Service: Attentive

Prices: Expensive. Appetizers are $8 to $13; pastas $17 to $22; entrees $22 to $25 for grouper, salmon, tuna and more, and New York steaks, chicken with porcini mushrooms and veal Milanese. The restaurant offers tasting menu ($65, $100 with a wine pairing). It has a wine list that has won the Wine Spectator magazine Award of Excellence the last four years, with a number of good Italian, French and a few selected U.S. wines.

Verdict: Even with unfortunate seating, the outstanding food won us over with Sale e Pepe’s fresh, quality dishes.

I have a “bucket list” of restaurants I want to frequent in my lifetime; some are far away, like Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago or the Russian Tea Room in New York, but one, Sale e Pepe on Marco Island, was a local eatery I’ve been eyeing since its opening. Just like Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, I ,too, couldn’t wait to cross it off my list.

Sale e Pepe is high-class dining, with a personal crew under Chef Alberto Varretto dedicated to making our experience a memorable one. Since reservations are suggested, I called ahead and requested a table for two on the outdoor patio, but because there was a wedding scheduled for that evening, my husband, Rama, and I got a table inside. When we arrived, I noticed a nice and secluded table by the window, but it was reserved in advance — although I did, too — so we were sandwiched at a table in between a table for 20 and a party of six. My advice: Request a table overlooking the patio, opposite the bar.

The dining room is separated into two distinct parts and our server was in charge of our “side,” and was a little overwhelmed by the large party . Further, the acoustics in the bar made it difficult to hold a conversation with Rama, probably because of the large party. Eventually, she greeted us and scooted off to enter our drink order of two Cokes. Between roars from the howling group, Rama and I scoured the menu and settled on our three courses.

We dined on the restaurant’s new winter menu, so I, a conservative diner, decided to be adventurous and try new things. I ordered scallops for an appetizer; Rama ordered one with shrimp. My scallops were roasted and served with sweet onion confit and lobster sauce — I felt they were a tad mushy (I don’t do mushy), but Rama said they were prepared to perfection. The flavors were astounding and the presentation was stylish and elegant. Rama’s dish was marinated sweet bell peppers with roasted shrimp and basil; he loved the simplicity of it.

For the main course, Rama requested a New York strip steak, which was marinated with fresh herbs and served with sautéed spinach and shaved Parmesan cheese. When it arrived, Rama was somewhat taken back because his steak was thinly sliced and fanned out lengthwise on the plate. Somehow he felt cheated since it was sliced. But once he took a bite and the steak nearly melted in his mouth, he got some vindication. I loved the tenderness and flavors, too.

My order of sea bass was grilled with herbs, olive oil and lemon; fresh vegetables and a side of potatoes accompanied it. The sea bass was tender, flaky and the hint of lemon gave it an added zest. I devoured every bite, barely leaving a taste for Rama.

I’m a chocoholic. I admit it, so it should come as no surprise that I chose the chocolate cake with a dark chocolate center. It came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that nearly melted from the warmth of the cake. I would have licked the plate clean, but my mom taught me better table manners than that. Rama tried a few bites of the dish and concurred it was delicious as he sipped his espresso.

My report: Sale e Pepe surpassed my high expectations, aside from the large party that made it almost impossible to hold a conversation. I won’t hold the restaurant at fault for that.

Sale e Pepe is one restaurant to add to your bucket list.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features