Like the service, however, the cooking here is uneven. You can begin with a fine Caesar salad, or a red- and green-leaf salad, mainly baby arugula, in a nicely tart Chianti vinegar dressing. A simple plate of first-rate prosciutto is served with exquisite, ripe peeled figs. But the shower of crunchy julienne vegetables on the carpaccio malatesta overwhelms the beef. There were no fried artichokes available on the nights I went, alas; instead they were served alla romana, stewed in white wine, and sadly lackluster.
I get the impression that more attention is devoted to some dishes than others. When the food is good, it is stellar, and that’s why Sandro has his fans. But there were times when it seemed to be coming from two different kitchens.
The spaghetti al limone was great, seriously al dente in a subtle, creamy sauce with Parmesan. I also liked the fettuccine tossed in a rich, meaty Bolognese. But another Sandro signature, ravioli with sea urchin roe, was a disaster. The ravioli, served in a light tomato sauce laced with slivered scallops, were tough, and the filling had an unpleasant fishy taste.
“It reminds me of linseed oil,” commented one of my friends. Our waiter never inquired why I had barely touched my plate.
I had no complaints about the broiled branzino with roast potatoes, which was very fresh and cooked just right. It was a better choice than the flat-tasting salt cod with tomatoes. The veal milanaise, a special, was terrific: juicy meat under a light crust. The straccetti di bue—thin, tender slices of lightly grilled beef with olive oil, garlic and lemon—was also good, served on a bed of broccoli rabe sautéed with spinach.
The dessert list is short: “grandmother’s” apple cake, tiramisu, granita and ice cream. At the end of dinner, the waiter set down a plate of butter cookies hot from the oven, another freebie. Just the thing to go with a glass of any of Sandro’s seven flavored grappas, one of which is made with tobacco.
If you come here after midnight and order a drink at the bar, you can get free pasta (cacio e pepe, made with cheese and pepper), and later, free warm cornetti with Nutella. Sandro has a big heart; you can’t not be won over. Judging by the packed tables, maybe this Sandro’s, third time lucky, will be here to stay.