There’s something about a nice Italian restaurant on Valentine’s Day. The two just seem to go together, the perfect match for a romantic night out.
Last year for our romantic splurge, we visited Mom Chaffe’s Cellarette, one of the oldest restaurants in Berks County. This year, we visited Salute Ristorante Italiano, one of the county’s newest.
Salute opened in November, taking over the former Frank’s NY Pizza in Sinking Spring, and bringing fine dining to the former take-out counter.
The aesthetic improvement is evident immediately as the entrance to the strip mall spot has been given a stonework facade. Inside, the restaurant is much-improved as well. Tables and booths line two seating areas, one raised a step above the other. When we arrived, a heart was tied to the back of each chair with lacey ribbon; the napkins beautifully folded into fans.
For Valentine’s Day, Salute offered a pared down version of its dinner menu in prix-fixe form: for $50, each person received an appetizer, entree and dessert. A small welcome cocktail was also included in every dinner.
The Love Potion was comprised of chocolate vodka, crème de cacao, fresh strawberry puree, and half and half, all topped with a chocolate covered strawberry.
We put in our appetizer order while we pondered the entree choices. As our starters, we opted for the Carpese salad and bruschetta. The Carpese salad was good, with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, but it paled in comparison to the bruschetta which was some of the best I have had.
The perfectly toasted bread was topped with mounds of diced tomatoes and shaved Parmesan cheese. It had just a hint of balsamic mixed with a very flavorful olive oil, and mixed with the tomatoes, it made for a sweet, tasty appetizer.
We were surprised to find that in addition to the appetizers, every entree also included a cup of soup or starter salad. We both opted for soup: I went with fava bean while Julie chose Italian wedding.
My fava bean soup was delicious. The consistency reminded me of a split pea where there is little broth to speak of and the flavor comes almost entirely from the vegetables. But the real highlight here was the homemade crouton: two pieces of fried bread. It was dark and crispy like melba toast, but absorbed a lot of flavor from the frying, giving it a unique flavor that was perfect for dipping.
Julie’s wedding soup was also interesting (and excellent) as it was more of a cream base than a broth base, which made it extra hearty.
My main course arrived with a special Valentine’s Day touch. I ordered the norcina ravioli¸ a potato and ricotta ravioli with sausage and mushrooms in a cream sauce, all topped with a heart-shaped piece of dough. For added style, the plate was brushed with blue and yellow coloring. I knew what the norcina ravioli would include, but I didn’t expect it to be constructed quite as it was. There were four small ravioli buried beneath a mound of mushrooms and ground sausage that provided most of the flavor. It was a much heartier dish than I was expecting.
Across the table, Julie decided to spoil herself with lobster. The lobster half was served atop a bed of linguine in a light sauce with tomato slices, freshly chopped basil and minced garlic. Again, the chef +went the extra mile on presentation by painting the plate red and black. The linguini had a little extra texture which allowed the sauce to better stick to the pasta, making for a delectable dish.
Of course you can’t take your sweetheart out to Valentine’s Day dinner without enjoying some sweets, and Salute did not disappoint. Our waitress brought out a plate with both of the night’s featured desserts: almond parfait and a puff pastry with custard and wild berry reduction.
The puff pastry was good though I would have liked just a little more custard to cut through the concentrated sweetness of the reduction. The almond parfait was on an entirely other level. Made from almond ice cream topped with chocolate and crushed almonds. The semi-bitter dark chocolate hardened atop the ice cream, creating a contrast in texture and flavor.
On a normal night, we would have never ordered so much food, and our bill would have probably been significantly less. But for our one-night-a-year splurge, it was well worth the $100 price tag.
It was a near-perfect night out: incredible food in a great atmosphere making for a memorable Valentine’s Day.
Here’s a salute to Salute, a great addition to the Berks County restaurant scene.