Overall impression: Saltimbocca is, traditionally, a method of preparing a veal or chicken cutlet so irresistible that it "jumps in the mouth." The food at Saltimbocca Italian Bistro in Delray Beach is, indeed, irresistible. Why, then, has so little attention been paid to creating a welcoming ambience? The storefront operation's front windows have been blacked out, making one wonder if the place is even open. Once inside, the diner is confronted by a sea of cream-colored booths and beige walls containing no art or any kind of decoration. There are some archway treatments in the back as a nod to the Mediterranean cuisine, but the atmosphere is so like a lunchroom that a visitor is predisposed to expect another overpriced eatery featuring stale rolls and heat-lamped, assembly-line cuisine.
What a relief, then, that the menu boasts such imaginative delicacies as shrimp sambuca ($12) and walnut-encrusted rack of lamb (market price). Maybe the place deserves a chance.
And it does.
Starters: Saltimbocca is all about sauces. They are exquisite, whatever dish one may choose, and each beautifully suits the food it adorns. A shining example is the braised-beef-short-ribs appetizer ($12) that is served with leeks, carrots and crimini mushrooms in a bordelaise reduction that is naturally sweet, and rich with flavor without being thickened by flour. The ribs are so tender they disintegrate on the tongue. At the opposite end of the taste spectrum is spedini ($10), which consists of prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiched in white bread, pan-fried in egg batter, and covered with a garlic, anchovy and caper sauce whose saltiness is the perfect complement to the sauteed cheese and bread. We had to try the Maryland crab cakes ($12) because of their inexplicable presence on an Italian menu. While they were unremarkable by themselves, the pommery Dijon mustard sauce they swam in was so marvelously tart and savory that we found it necessary to sop up the remains with garlic bread.
Entrees: The entree list is helpfully divided into three categories: Chef's Specialties, Italian Favorites, and Steaks and Chops. From the first, we chose the shrimp and scallop porcini ($32), which was devoid of shrimp (and we inspected the dish carefully). It was a big hit, nevertheless, with huge, plump scallops , asparagus and the omnipresent porcini mushrooms over pappardelle in a sublime cognac and tarragon cream sauce. We couldn't do the place justice without testing the prime veal chop saltimbocca ($42). It didn't disappoint, though the dish was quite heavy. An enormous, bone-in veal chop arrived nestled on a bed of spinach with creamy mashed potatoes on the side, and was topped with a generous amount of prosciutto and melted mozzarella. Again, the white-wine-garlic sauce made the dish exceptional, but we do not recommend ordering an appetizer beforehand. The blackened rib-eye Gorgonzola ($38) was a top-notch cut of meat, perfectly prepared with a nicely singed exterior and a pink and tender center. A clever touch was the pairing of a sweet Madeira sauce with the blue-veined Gorgonzola. The polenta was so-so, and a little dry, but it was easily ignored because the steak was so substantial. All entrees came with salad, and a choice of raspberry vinaigrette (a little too sweet) and an excellent champagne mustard dressing.
Sweet! Dessert is a must. The tiramisu ($9) was a standout, served imaginatively in a large martini glass. The best cannoli is always very fresh, with the sweet, ricotta-based filling pumped into the pastry tube at the last moment. This was the case with Saltimbocca's cannoli ($6), and the pastry crust, when broken into shards, created a perfect textural contrast to the filling, providing a feast for all the senses.
Service: It was adequate, but we expected more personal attention considering the high cost of the food. Admittedly, the restaurant was full on the night we visited, but our waiter was stretched a little thin and the management should have staffed accordingly.
Saltimbocca Italian Bistro
14820 S. Military Trail, Delray Beach
Bar: Full service, wine list, specialty cocktails, Italian beers
Sound level: Noisy
Hours: Lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, dinner only Saturday and Sunday
Deals: Early-bird special from 4 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. daily, priced from $12 to $20
Kids: Full children's menu available. Highchairs and booster seats.
Reservations: Recommended, particularly on weekends.
Outside smoking: NoCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun