Tasteful Teaching: Sapore

There are a lot of big flavors coming out of the tiny Chesterland restaurant Sapore. But that should be no surprise, given that it sprung from the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking.

This is no traditional six- or seven-day-a-week restaurant. For starters, Sapore is only open Friday and Saturday nights. It’s situated in a small house on Mayfield Road next to the Paganini School. And although Sapore comfortably seats a mere 40 guests, it provides more room between tables than most restaurants twice its size.

The concept was born out of collaboration between Loretta Paganini and executive chef Matthew Anderson more than a year ago, when Paganini asked Anderson if he would be interested in running a small restaurant next to the cooking school, where he teaches. Anderson agreed, but on one condition: He wanted the cuisine to be French rather than Italian influenced to provide a broader experience to the culinary students.

“She said, ‘absolutely,’ ” Anderson recalls. “There are too many Italian restaurants in the area.”

The two-day-a-week schedule was also agreed upon by the culinary minds in order to balance the schedules of a full-time cooking school and a restaurant. So Paganini and Anderson chose Friday and Saturday — testing the market on the two nights of the week that tend to draw the largest dinner crowds.

It wasn’t easy finding a staff that would work just two days a week. In fact, it was easier for Anderson to find a sous chef than it was to get reliable servers. He eventually found three — one worked as a medical equipment manufacturer, another was a college student, and the third was simply intrigued by the business.

At Sapore, all dinners are four-course affairs. Diners can choose between two options from each course. Many of the diners during our visit took different options and then switched plates halfway though each course. That isn’t a bad idea — though there are times when someone likes a dish so much they renege on the trade.

While not an Italian restaurant, Sapore makes a nod to the cuisine by always including a pasta dish among the menu’s selections. The rest of the Continental specialties are mostly served with a French accent.

Sampling the pasta is definitely a great idea. I thought the ethereal gnocchi I ordered couldn’t be outdone — until I tasted the exquisite and spicy ink fettuccine with tomato caper relish and basil oil. It was one of the best plates of the evening. Unfortunately, it was my wife who ordered it. But she was a sport, and we split our two courses.

The main courses, a moist plum-glazed pork loin with bok choy atop a sticky ricecake and a free-range chicken with bacon, corn and yellow bean succotash were artfully presented. The chicken was juicy and very flavorful, and the pork was a pleasant surprise with its Asian twist.

One dessert, a pear tatin with ginger caramel frozen custard, was good, but the warm mocha souffle overshadowed it. The souffle was punctured and filled with a rich chocolate sauce that was so intense, it made this sweet a grand finale for the evening.

What I like about the restaurant’s four-course program is that chef Anderson provides his guests with plentiful plates of delicious food but is careful not to overstuff his diners. When they leave, guests feel they had just the right amount of food: no more, no less. And that is a trick that many chefs are unable to accomplish.

Sapore’s wine list has some excellent choices at very reasonable prices. I especially enjoyed the Arneis and Barbera from Italy. A glass of Arneis, a mineraly, fruity wine from Piedmont, was a perfect starter, and the Barbera, with strong tones of plum and berry fruit and a rich finish, was perfect with both the pork and chicken dishes.

All meals at Sapore are a prix fixe at $55. Most of the menus change completely after three weekends. But occasionally, Anderson will mix things up when he is unable to find fresh ingredients for his set dishes. What steers the menu, he says, is availability of quality products.

“Our food isn’t complex,” Anderson says. “I buy good quality products and they speak for themselves.”

Sapore, 8623 Mayfield Road, Chesterland, (440) 729-1110; Fri & Sat guests seated 5:30 - 8:30 p.m., saporerestaurant.net
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