Lower in profile but more authentically Italian in its menu is Bellagio Ristorante. Located on a neat and unassuming strip of retail and office space across from Payne Park on Washington Boulevard, the restaurant has attracted loyal regulars eager to indulge in chef-owner Dante Tassotti’s wonderfully prepared Italian cuisine.
This restaurant is deceptive. It looks small from the street, where an outdoor dining section dominates. But the room extends back towards a bar at the far end of the space. It’s comfortable rather than stylish, the kind of place where you know the minute that you walk in that it could be mediocre or a real find. It’s the latter, and with the help of our waiter, Antonio, dining at Bellagio developed into the quintessential dining experience—a relaxing evening of good food, wine and company.
A great way to begin at Bellagio is with an antipasti platter. Ours included aged cheese (Parmesan Reggiano), fresh cheese (buffalo mozzarella) and meats like sopressata and prosciutto di Parma. Center stage were pickled eggplant and peppers, a specialty of the house. Tell them to make it small so you can enjoy the bruschetta. Chef Dante uses the herbs from his garden (you can visit it adjacent to the back parking lot), and besides the requisite garlic and tomatoes, you’ll detect the refreshing addition of mint as well as basil. Appetizers range from $7-$14.
A long list of includes several traditional dishes not to be missed. Dante delights in using shrimp, and his fra diavolo is a classic. The shrimp are sauteed in olive oil with garlic and hot peppers into a white wine sauce, then tossed in capellini, the classic angel hair pasta. For those desiring a little less heat, the panzerotti al porcini offers an earthy, mouth-filling richness. Ravioli are stuffed with porcini mushrooms and a touch of ricotta cheese. The sauce is cream-based, flavored with truffle oil and enough tomato sauce to turn it a pretty pink.
There is also a fruitti di mare. The fruits of the sea at Bellagio are mussels, clams, shrimp and calamari, sautÈed in garlic with fresh herbs from the garden. Specify red or white sauce—either will be tossed with linguine.
Other entrÈes—the range in prices spans $18-s$25—include a delicious New York strip steak, which Dante serves with a heavily garlic-infused herbal sauce, and several chicken creations.
Desserts run the usual gamut of tiramisu, cannoli and gelato, although we weren’t able to generate the energy to eat one more thing.
322 S. Washington Blvd., Sarasota
5:30 p.m.-close, Monday-Saturday
All major credit cards
Parking in rear of restaurant or street