Sauté, 775 S. Front St., has got to be the best-kept secret in Queen Village.
Tucked away among the row houses on Front Street, this contemporary American bistro, led by chef Nicholas Cassidy, is taking no prisoners with its simple, yet flavorful spring menu.
Diners can choose among the half-dozen options from the appetizer and entrée menus or select the four-course tasting menu ($35): Choose for yourself or let Cassidy choose for you. It makes no difference: The meal will be amazing.
The appetizer menu is full of familiar concepts with surprising twists. The sweetbread BLT ($12) was the most surprising and delectable of the choices. Normally we would have little love for sweetbreads, but this dish won us over. As much as this offering made us fall in love with sweetbread, the Bibb salad ($9) worked the same magic on us with beets. Sliced paper-thin and tossed with pistachio, cucumber, goat cheese and raspberry-sage vinaigrette, the salad was irresistible.
Sauté’s housemade charcuterie ($13) has all but ruined us for any other meat-and-cheese platters we have had in the past. The quality and volume of the platter puts similar offerings from other restaurants to shame. On offer: pancetta, chorizo, duck pâté, chicken, olive tapenade and a seriously rich and addictive truffle chicken-liver mousse topped with clarified butter. The last option is a sinful indulgence and we recommend having a friend with you while partaking of this delicacy — both to share it and to keep you from going overboard.
You have been warned.
The tempura squid ($11) shook off any comparisons to the fried calamari most are familiar with, offering a sesame-oil sauce to dip the perfectly fried pieces of squid into instead of the de-rigueur marinara or sweet chili sauce.
The entrée menu was an even bigger, but pleasant, shock to the system.
The monkfish ($24) was excellently prepared with lemon verbena bur fondue that complimented the fish without overpowering it. The accompanying gnocchi melted in the mouth. The Spanish mackerel ($22) was also a home run, delivering a spicy, pan-seared punch.
The chicken ($20) was fall-off-the-bone tender and spiced quite nicely with basil, lemon, zatar and red pepper. The fried green tomatoes that accompanied it amounted to a few slices of heaven.
Elsewhere on the farm, the pork chop ($26) was an absolute delight, properly cooked and resting on a bed of malanga and spinach with a flavorful tomato escabeche, giving the dish a Mediterranean kick.
Sauté’s dessert menu is another minefield of temptation.
The flourless chocolate cake hit all the right spots with a warm, brownie-like texture made all the more pleasant by the raspberry and caramel on the plate. The peanut-butter chocolate tort, a graham-cracker crust loaded with peanut-butter mousse and chocolate ganache, looks like it’s ready to drop the sugary hammer of the gods on you, but one bite put those fears to rest. The mousse and ganache are both pleasantly light in texture and embody a restrained sweetness.
Sauté’s spring menu will be around until the end of May. We can’t stress enough about how much of a mistake it would be to miss out on it.
Oh, and we will be back for the summer menu.
Larry Nichols can be reached at [email protected].