No Discount, Just Decadence at Sarto's Happy Hour
The unique cicchetti concept at Sarto's is mandatory accompaniment for after-work beverages.
To be fully honest and up front, the happy hour at Sarto's isn't, strictly speaking, a happy hour. But it is indeed happy. The cicchetti bar in place at this gleaming Italian spot in Jefferson Park is built around the Venice-born tradition of tapas and drinks humming in that city's briny watering holes. Like Rioja, Sarto's uses the cocktail hour as a way to show off its faculty with small plates while pouring Italian cocktails well calibrated for a summer interlude.
After initially promoting the cicchetti bar as a 5 to 8 p.m. evening treat for a lucky few, Sarto's recently decided to open up the experience to all comers, seven days a week. The concept works because it has enough variety and flexibility to make it perfect for anyone finding himself within the restaurant's fashionable white walls, from curious locals to sharp-dressed citizens marking a special occasion. While other high-class restaurants shun substitutions and changes, Sarto's, named after the Italian word for "tailor," will suit many of its plates to your tastes, with additions of proteins, gluten-free noodles or even a sunny-side-up egg. And even if you stick to what's on the rack, you'll enjoy inventive preparations like roasted beets with fennel and bagna càuda drizzle ($9) or a tangerine-flavored semifreddo ($4). The standard of service is high, as well, and you won't have to let someone measure your inseam to get a fit tailored to your needs.
Sarto's bar practically begs you to glug down an apéritif.
Sure you can order any mixed drink that comes to mind, but better still to sample from the bar's "Tailored Classics" ($9 to $12). Or simply open with a thematically appropriate aperitivo. A Campari Americano ($9) offers nothing but the classic combo of Campari and sweet vermouth, topped with club soda and a rasher of orange peel. From the beaches of Salerno to the cityscape of Milan, this is the national drink of Italy (or a close enough version), and should be ordered with the appropriate respect. Sweeter tastes might turn to the rosso spritz ($9), which pairs Aperol with Prosecco and a strawberry liqueur. Beyond an already impressive wine list, Sarto's stashes special bottles of vino above the $75 mark and champagne-like bottles of Italian Bruton beer for $21.
The cicchetti selection ($7) changes daily, but it's always poised as a light accompaniment to drinks and conversation. After the chef places the heavy marbled platter and informs you of the selections, the dialogue begins. Start with the Calabrian chile-spun deviled egg or perhaps a slice of pickled beet. Spear the orange beet for its toothsome flesh and a sweet balsamic reduction, and follow its yellow friend for astringency balanced with a melting spread of chèvre and herb.
The strangest and most fleeting bite is a sliver of Parmesan balanced against a pickled almond, at once salty and softly accommodating. One item I hope will make repeat appearances is a pork-shoulder crostini with harissa sauce. It could be split between two, but only with grumbling and scrabbling over another taste of ultra-tender pork and the blunt slam of peppers and coriander. Light enough to accompany any meal, cicchetti is a beacon for any Sarto's visit.
Pizzette is a snack you serve yourself at Sarto's.
But you're not just going to leave it there. Not after twisting and poring over the menu like it's a chapter from House of Leaves. True to the theme set here, there are a few small plates that can be combined with an entree or enjoyed on their own, like Brussels sprouts ($8) or risotto ($8), but I tried a pizzette ($12) straight out of the oven. Arriving with the overwhelming scent of yeasty dough, this is one appetizer you can share with a loved one — or, failing that, fend them off with the knife provided. The mini-round carries a spread of mozzarella, Gorgonzola, fig and prosciutto, perfumed with the lightest touch of truffle oil. If you dig the funky cheese, there's plenty of blue poking out in a smear of ingredients leading to simple satisfaction.
Sarto's is still tweaking things in an effort to be many things to many people. If a fiesta at the bar isn't your bag, there's weekend brunch, or grab-and-go sandwiches from the attached deli. Sarto's doesn't need a traditional happy hour if it can offer a new twist on bar snacks that takes cues from the interesting fittings happening in the dining room. It's a smart gimmick that could keep you coming back to see just what they're doing next.
Don't Miss: Sarto's freely admits that brunch is not exactly a phenomenon in Italy. That doesn't mean that one of Denver's Best Brunches can't be found here, with sexy works like bombolini, duck-egg ravioli and calzones.
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