East End Eats: Serafina

Sheridan Sansegundo | July 17, 1997

The Sag Harbor Main Street site that was a bright yellow, soi-disant Catalan restaurant last year now has white walls, warm lamps, and the hometown food and friendliness of the Abruzzi region of Italy.

Serafina, named for the owner's grandmother, looks European and welcoming on a warm summer evening, with suntanned customers eating at a couple of sidewalk tables or having a drink at the polished wood bar inside.

No Ribeye?

The restaurant has a very Italian atmosphere - the staff members seem expansively Italian, even when they're not, and offer thoughtful little services, like explaining that the fra diavolo dish could be served as spicy as a diner wished and happily substituting olive oil for butter.

One of our company ordered a boneless ribeye steak. A waiter returned with an uncooked T-bone on a plate and offered it as substitute with the news that the chef "has decided that he cannot serve the ribeye this evening."

How exciting and temperamental that sounded! When we asked why that was that so, the waiter said, "Who knows? The chef is crazy, like all chefs."

Pinned down, he reluctantly conceded that, its being late on Sunday, all the ribeyes were gone. But his story certainly sounded better.

Over-Generous

Appetizers at Serafina range from $6 to $10 and include some of the lightest, crispest calamari around, including the lovely tentacle bits, served with two sauces.

The most interesting appetizer was a polenta cake with a wild mushroom ragout. It is perhaps a rather rich and over-generous starter for a warm summer evening, but it was unreservedly delicious.

There was a nice antipasto of prosciutto, soppressata, and provolone with cracked olives and homemade roasted red peppers and marinated eggplant and two salads which were refreshing and first rate.

The tomato salad came with mozzarella and prosciutto and basil-flavored oil and the "tricolore" salad was pungent and satisfying, made of very fresh endive, arugula, and radicchio with walnuts and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Moderate Range

Prices for entrees, ranging from $12 for a pasta dish to about $24, are moderate for the South Fork. There is a generous selection of specials daily.

On this particular evening, the winning dish was the capellini pescatorese, which came with large shrimp and scallops in a delicate and delightful tomato-based sauce, surrounded by a ring of local mussels.

Also a winner was another pasta dish - rigatoni Abruzzese with a veal, pork, lamb, and beef tomato sauce. My heart sank when I saw it, as it always does at the sight of that giant pasta that looks like plumber's offcuts, but my fears were groundless. Somehow, Serafina's rigatoni were light, and the sauce, which sounded intimidating, was excellent.

Huge Portions

The grilled T-bone and the Sicilian-style veal cutlets were huge and flavorful. They were served with fresh spinach and a helping of very good smashed potatoes.

Vitello Aida, veal medallions sauteed with fontina and prosciutto with sage, was another tasty, hearty dish that will be even better when Sag Harbor sinks into the doldrums of winter and you need some comforting solace.

Unfortunately, the halibut had taken that 50-second leap into the overcooked zone and also was rather too salty.

Criticisms

The varied wine list has white wines from $14 to $38 and reds from $14 to $63. We chose a delightful crisp Angoris pinot grigio at $21 and, at the same price, a South African cabernet sauvignon/merlot called Lost Horizons. It came in a blue bottle and was okay but not brilliant.

Criticisms might include the fact that the portions are almost too generous (not a criticism for some, I know) and that on this occasion the fresh fried garlic in the spinach had been scorched, giving a bitter taste.

Also, and at the risk of repeating myself, Serafina, like another restaurant reviewed recently, is too noisy. Maybe the new owners will take a little advice and do something about the acoustics of the place once they have settled in.

We tried three desserts - a carrot cake, which was fine, cannoli, which were fine, and a tiramisu, which was completely unexpected. It came in the form of a slice of cake, but was featherlight, not too sweet, and a good way to finish a Serafina meal - if you have any room.

All in all, it looks as if Sag Harbor has snagged itself another good, and good value, restaurant.