Italian above all

Soprattutto Salumeria & Ristorante

1347 Fulton Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95825

(916) 484-7833

The stretch of Fulton Avenue that Soprattutto inhabits is home to a diverse mix of restaurants, from Middle Eastern to Chinese, but it’s easy to drive right by the Italian one. It’s in a big, almost flashy strip mall, but surprisingly hard to spot, partly because the dining room is in the back. Out front, you’ll see the “salumeria”—a counter full of Italian cured meats (salumi) and other to-go items—and the storefront is also apparently linked to a cooking school.

Step inside tentatively, though, and you’ll be taken back to an intimate, five-table dining room lined with surprisingly opulent fabric on the walls. The menus you’re handed are Italian to the core, in the style of a family place with a few ambitions—which is precisely what Soprattutto is. The chef is the dad, our server is the daughter and you can hear the sounds of the busy kitchen from the dining room.

There are two menus. One’s short and simple, mentioning daily specials of all sorts of things—stuffed pastas, meat, game birds, fresh fish, soup and so on—and listing a few basic dishes, such as lasagna. The other clarifies what all those “of the day” dishes actually are. There’s also a menu section of “contorni”—sides, generally vegetables, as well as an artichoke-heart tart that, unfortunately, they’d run out of—and some salads, like the unusual Caprese, which we ordered.

The Caprese found a solution to the problem of off-season tomatoes by oven-roasting them, until plump and flavorful, with some dried herbs. The big halves of tomatoes and the slices of buffalo mozzarella were accompanied by a giant dollop of the pesto. This take on the salad lacked the fresh summer lushness of the classic, but it was enjoyable in its own right—although the imported buffalo mozzarella was a tiny bit tough on the outside, rather than meltingly creamy throughout.

We also received an experimental order of bruschetta, something our server said the kitchen was “playing with.” It had slivers of endive, bits of olive, pancetta and other flavors topping evenly toasted bread. (Atypically, it was toasted with oil, yielding a crunchy texture something like the outside of an all-American grilled-cheese sandwich.) The bread, in the true Italian style, is saltless and to my taste a little bland. The topping was unusual and a bit wintry for June, but I liked the kitchen’s spirit in offering up new tastes.

That proved to be a theme. We ordered a contorno of grilled radicchio and the chef came out to say they were out, but that he’d swap in a dish of sautéed frisee—and wouldn’t charge us for it. A nice gesture. I loved the crispy leaves of the mildly bitter greens, though it was logged with a bit too much oil for my taste, and I thought I noticed a little grit in the vegetable.

For our daughter, we ordered the goat-cheese ravioli with sage butter, but then ended up eating most of them ourselves. (By the way, Soprattutto is actually a little too intimate for a 2-year-old. Everyone was nice about her presence and we hustled her outside when she acted up, but next time we’d get a babysitter.) Slight variations in the thickness of the pasta made it clear this was fresh and made in-house, and the melting texture of the fresh, tart goat cheese inside was a nice contrast with the al dente wrapper (almost too al dente, in fact). The sage butter seemed to use dried herbs, an odd choice at this time of year; the kitchen relied on dried herbs pretty heavily.

I had the Trota Piemontese, a boned, skin-on trout dusted with dill, sautéed to a crisp, deep-brown edge and drizzled with a balsamic and red-wine reduction. Alongside it came some just-right steamed asparagus spears. This was a lovely, light spring dish cooked with a sure hand; for me, however, the dill was a bit distracting from the quiet flavor of the fish.

My husband’s plate of osso buco was a lake of super-creamy polenta (I suspect, actually, that a lot of cream or mascarpone was worked into it), which could have used more salt. It was topped by a meaty bone of long-cooked, very tender, yummy veal, which had that perfect gelatinous quality that characterizes osso buco, as well as a nice subtle tomato sauce around it. We also tried a very tasty eggplant parmigiana, which had a bolder, punchier tomato sauce over the breaded, tender eggplant—a nice rendition of the dish.

For dessert, I was interested in the cannoli, which the menu touted as piped to order, but the chef came out to tell me about his tiramisu and, when I said I wasn’t sure and really wanted the cannoli, gave us a giant piece of the tiramisu to take home, gratis. He was similarly sending out extras and talking up the food to other tables, and I found his pride in his work endearing. In the case of the tiramisu, which was deliciously light and creamy and barely sweet, he was right: It was very good. I also loved the cannoli, made with a super-smooth Sicilian sheep’s-milk ricotta and some very tasty, not-overwhelming candied fruit.

Soprattutto might need the occasional bit of refining, but it has a lot going for it. It’s more like the experience of wandering into a place in Italy and getting an interesting family meal than any other place I know of in Sacramento. The heart the restaurant shows makes it easy to overlook a few oddities and minor missteps.