The Buonsante name has been synonymous with traditional Italian cuisine in La Jolla since 1988. Located on Herschel in picturesque downtown La Jolla, Sante serves classic Italian fare in a setting that is warm and welcoming. Amidst terracotta-colored walls, functional fireplaces, and starched tablecloths, you will notice that Sante Ristorante is a step above the rest. Try the Ossobucco, which melts like butter, or the creative and savory Lemon Fettuccini. When it comes to cuisine, the Buonsantes believe that tradition has been around for a long time for one reason-because it works.Read More ...
The Buonsante name has been a staple for traditional Italian cuisine in La Jolla since 1988. Tony Buonsante, originally from Mola di Bari, Italy, started working his way up the restaurateur ranks in New York City. Twenty-two years ago, Tony left his successful restaurant in New York and moved west to establish Sante Ristorante. Now Tony, the visionary, runs the business with his gregarious son, John Buonsante, who adds personality and pizzazz to the place.
The restaurant is located on Herschel, at the corner of Silverado, in picturesque downtown La Jolla. The restaurant effuses a Tuscan ambiance with warm terracotta walls, cheery Italian music and Venetian glass lighting fixtures. Brick walls, wooden beams, and working fireplaces give the restaurant a welcoming, old-world feel. But that’s not to say it feels old-far from it. The Buonsantes have completely revamped the restaurant in the last couple years, creating a space that matches modern desires with traditional style.
We saw mostly couples enjoying the romantic ambiance the night we were there, but Sante would also make a great location for a family dinner, a professional business meeting, or a large celebration. Diners were generally dressed for a nice evening out.
When it comes to cuisine, the Buonsantes believe that tradition has been around for a long time for one reason-because it works. Their classic menu includes many Italian staples and focuses special attention on seafood dishes. John mentioned that whenever they remove a menu item, regulars request those dishes. Just as he tells them, if you don’t see your favorite on the menu, don’t fret, Sante will make anything to order.
The celebrity photos lining the walls of the full bar showed that even Clint Eastwood and Richard Gere have stopped by for some traditional Italian eats.
Knowing any good Italian meal is incomplete without wine, we reviewed the extensive wine list. While it specializes in Italian wines, it also features California selections. In addition, Sante has been awarded Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence several times.
Tucked throughout the restaurant are a number of various rooms and patios that would be great for many different kinds and sizes of special events. The main dining room is bright and spacious, fitting up to 65 guests. If you’re looking for something, The open and festive back patio is great for 16-30 guests with a fountain, heaters, and lots of natural light. The front patio, although less private, does provide more outdoor room, appropriate for up to 30 people. For a more intimate gathering, try the wine room, which is warmly decorated and fits 16 diners. To increase the size and make a more interesting, multi-functional space, consider opening the wine room out onto the patio.
Deciding it was about time to settle in and start enjoying some cuisine, we started with Carciofi Fritti: six fried artichokes served with a blue cheese sauce. Expecting a crunchy bite, I was instead met with a soft, light breading surrounding artichokes that simply melted in my mouth. The blue cheese dip was a strong, potent contrast to the fried artichokes and was served whipped.
The waiter brought us a selection of homemade focaccia and olive rosemary bread. To dip, we were delighted to try the olive oil infused with sun-dried tomatoes as well as their vegetarian spread, which was a blend of carrots and bell peppers. The olive bread was served straight from the oven and was soft on the inside with a crunchy, crispy crust. The warm focaccia’s flavors popped with the tasty olive oil, and the vegetarian spread, a warm orange color, was deliciously sweet and reminiscent of hummus.
The smell of the Cape Sante, fresh sea scallops sautéed in garlic and served with a wine sauce, arrived to the table before the plate. The browned scallops were stacked on small slices of bread, topped with chives, and surrounded by a deliciously rich sauce. The simplicity of the scallops was expertly countered by the richness of the wine sauce.
Moving on to our primi piatti, or first courses, we had to try one of the specialties of the house, the Lemon Fettuccini. You won’t find it on their dinner menu, but you’ll find it every night on their list of specials. This is one of those dishes upon seeing the celebrity ingredients you know that it’s going to be a blockbuster. The fettuccini was made fresh at the restaurant and prepared with prosciutto, pancetta, basil, and parmesan in a lemon sauce. I was first delighted by the large shavings of parmesan and super-thin slices of prosciutto lovingly layered atop the pasta. The fettucini was thick, fresh, and almost tasted of the time and effort put into its preparation. Having never experienced a lemon pasta dish I was a bit apprehensive, but it was quite a hit! The pasta was cooked al dente and the creamy lemon sauce was both light and rich, with all the excellent ingredients successfully working together to win over my taste buds.
Thinking the Lemon Futtuccini could not be topped, we were proved wrong by the Agnolotti d’Astice, or fresh Maine lobster-filled ravioli in a sherry, tomato and shrimp sauce. The pasta was homemade and thick, making the ravioli itself just as big a part of the dish as the lobster filling, which was generous, with large, tender pieces of sweet meat. The sweet sherry sauce added such a luscious smell and flavor.
With our ravioli we enjoyed a Gavi, from the Piedmont region of Italy, a white wine primarily made from the Cortese grape. A wonderful compliment to our lobster, this straw-colored 2006 Araldina Batasiolo was fruity, dry, and had a neutral, mild aroma.
The Ippoglosso alla Siciliana, a steaming Alaskan halibut topped with a caper olive tomato sauce, genuinely made me feel like I was back in Palermo, enjoying fresh seafood on the Mediterranean coast. The halibut was expertly cooked, well salted, and the strong capers and olives enhanced its flavors. The addition of the fresh carrots, squash, and zucchini to the sauce made this a classic, fresh dish.
To compliment our halibut, John sent a 2005 Badiola from the Castello di Fonterutoli, a family-run estate that has been perfecting its viticulture for six centuries. The Badiola was a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot, and while I was surprised to be served a red wine with fish, it was an excellent addition, full-bodied yet never over-powering.
Wanting to take our experience up a notch, they served us their famous Ossobucco, complete with bone and marrow, with Pappardelle pasta served on the side. The Ossobucco, the chef’s specialty, literally fell off the bone into a pillow of mouth-watering, delicious meat. The freshness of the Pappardelle, lovely sheets of thin long pasta, was only topped by the freshness of the sauce of purred tomato, celery, and other vegetables as well as crunchy garlic and lemon zest. We reached the marrow inside the bone with a tiny marrow fork and surprisingly tasted all the deliciousness of the Ossobucco, only amplified by ten! Tony Buonsante assured us of the health benefits of the marrow, which include being a good source of vitamins, and also, he said with a wink of his eye, its potency as an aphrodisiac.
The 2006 Barbera d’Alba Souvrana wine that accompanied our Ossobucco was also from Piedmont, and tasted exceptional with its rich, fruity flavors. The fruitiness bounced remarkably well off the rich, earthy flavors of the meat.
Sensing we couldn’t manage even one more bite of savory cuisine, the kitchen sent out two desserts to complete our meal. First was the Coffee Mousse: two cushions of bronzed mousse topped with a coffee bean resting beside a beautiful sauce of mascarpone etched into which were delicate chocolate hearts. The mousse was light, a great choice after a heavy meal. Next we were served a classic Tiramisu, a tower of layered espresso-dipped cake and mascarpone, all topped with cocoa powder. The dish was garnished with a dollop of whipped cream with walnuts and raspberries on top. The tiramisu was cool and airy and it simply melted away in my mouth.
Finally, they offered samples of a couple of their liquors and digestives. We started with a Nocello Liqueur, which was walnut flavored, warm, and powerful. Understanding the mass quantity of delicious, hearty food we had consumed, John Buonsante then recommended the Fernet Branca, a potent mint-flavored digestive, which, after consumed, magically made me feel as if I had eaten only a simple dinner salad.
If you’re in the mood to get back to Italian roots, to enjoy a romantic dinner, or just to eat a fine meal, Sante is a great choice. Overall, the traditional recipes, the quality of ingredients and the expertise of preparation make Sante a winner in Italian cuisine.
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We came here, on our one year aniversary, it was great. The food was amazing! and the dessert...even better! Its a great atmosphere, not too loud, but still able to have a conversation without feeling like your yelling in silence. They had a piano player that night, and it was excellent background. The lighting and seating is great as well, although it did get a little chilly every now and then. Service is great, they give you enough time to look at what you want, and you don't feel rushed at all durning or after your meal. There isn't a whole lot to complain about, they were not rude or pushy in anyway. It is a little more on the expensive side, but you get what you pay for. We've been back twice since our first time there, and love it every time! would recommend the four cheese gnocchi, its so good! but is very very filling! as a salad the Avacado salad is wonderful, it has a nice dressing and avacado and little mozzarella balls. And dessert the tiramisu is some of the best tiramisu ive ever had, takes me right back to Italy! LOVE IT! you wont be disappointed if you try this place!