Sardina’s Italian Restaurant3314 S. McCarran Blvd.
Reno, NV 89502
Perhaps it was a telling sign when my parents, who live around the corner from Sardina’s Restaurant, turned down a free dinner with my husband and me.
“We went once before, and weren’t too impressed,” they explained. Instead, they stayed home and made spaghetti.
For five years now, Sardina’s has been serving southeast Reno, delighting some and disappointing others. When people a quarter mile away turn down an Italian restaurant for homemade spaghetti, it might not be the best first sign, but we went to Sardina’s with an open mind. Based on this one-time experience, here is my assessment:
Décor/Ambiance: Terrific. The place is cute, tucked surreptitiously next to a laundromat and Chinese takeout in the shopping center on the corner of Mira Loma and McCarran. Black-and-white tiles create a funky contrast with the pale blue walls adorned with paintings of delighted diners and abstract scenes, the color schemes of which matched the curtains. It is refined and not garish, cozy but not constricting. We chose a table by the window and nibbled our fairly good appetizer bread while plotting our order. The eclectic but still somehow perfectly appropriate music was set at a comfortable volume. Everything from Billie Holiday and Roger Miller to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Merle Haggard accompanied our pre-dining conversation.
Service: Outstanding. We were greeted immediately by the friendly server/owner and a ubiquitous sidekick who, we eventually learned, was in training and whose job it was to hover as we were served. Our guide cheerfully recommended a new wine—a cabernet ($10 a glass). When our entrees came, parmesan and pepper were provided with heartbreaking politeness and finesse.
Appetizer: Delectable. We chose to begin with the polenta with balsamic mushrooms and fresh basil ($8). And were we happy that we did. In truth, it was the best thing we ate that night, with its scrumptious blend of the constituent ingredients along with spices and cream cheese. Things were looking really good as some of Thelonious Monk’s better riffs punctuated our enjoyable chat. Locals began to drift in, happily greeted by the staff and clearly anticipating a great night of dining and service.
Presentation: Perfect. We were given ample time to enjoy our wine and appetizer, nibble at our bread and people-watch the devoted locals who appear to love the place. However, our sole—but key—disappointment loomed.
Entrées: OK. Just OK. Yes, that, I fear, was our truthful assessment. I had the pasta Napoli, spicy vodka sauce with shrimp on fettuccini ($17), mostly because spicy sounded perfect on a cold night. It was edible, but the red sauce just lacked something. It was spicy, yes, but the flavor wasn’t there. The ample salt and pepper I added made it serviceable.
My husband tried one of the chef specials—the market trout stuffed with bacon and sundry other innards, but at $16 we were not impressed with it. Put simply, despite the great atmosphere and service we just didn’t think the food was worth it—at least for the money we spent.
But there were quite a few people present who clearly do not share our take on the food. As we dined, couples wandered in, most of whom were obviously regulars and were known by name. They sat and enjoyed their wine, chatted with the owner, and talked of the meal to come. They were experiencing something a little too rare: a local favorite. While for us the price seemed steep for the rather bland product, perhaps the overall dining and social experience justifies the occasional sojourn to Sardina’s.