I've passed the Ristorante Sapori patio "garden" too many times to count, always admiring the variety of herbs, vegetables, and greens growing in a collection of pots of various sizes and materials. The Boca institution lies in a busy corridor that funnels foot traffic between the precarious Royal Palm Place parking lot and nearby street parking. I'd see the urban garden and make a mental note to later check the place out. Unfortunately, it's a memo that routinely got misplaced in favor of avoiding injury in the poorly designed lot. (Honestly: Try parking on a nearby side street and hoofing it there if you can. Or valet. The self-parking is a disaster.)
A long-overdue first visit on a recent Thursday night brought the pleasant discovery that the planters aren't just window dressing to lure in the snowbirds: They're an integral part of the Italian restaurant's menu. During our visit, chef-owner Marco Pindo finessed a platter of homemade pasta and fire-roasted tomatoes with sprigs of lemon basil, including the pungent buds, that had to travel no more than a few dozen feet to get to the kitchen.
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When he wasn't in the kitchen, Pindo was out in the dining room, a smallish space with a warm layout and a wall filled with framed menus of previous "themed nights" hosted at the restaurant (Paris nights, etc.). He was one of the quartet who handled our table throughout the evening, taking our order and nodding approval at our choice of pasta dishes; the herbed special for me and spaghettini al pesto genovese (puréed basil and garlic with potato and green beans) for my date.
We had no business ordering dessert, but we did. Lemon sorbet served in a frozen, hollowed-out lemon peel for me, a petite ricotta cheesecake for him. As we cleaned our plates, Pindo was called out to a six-top that wanted to applaud his work. The ovation led to the revelation of impending nuptials for someone at the table. This brought a complimentary bottle of bubbly and an effusive conversation between Pindo and his guests about rabbit, Italy, and amore that lasted a good 15 minutes.
The dinner bill came in around $75, without wine or cocktails. For that, we'd had a starter -- Bufala mozzarella caprese covered in hand-torn arugula -- two pasta entrées, Italian mineral water, and two desserts, plus complimentary bread.
As we were leaving just minutes before closing, I mentioned to our primary server that I'd loved the herbs in my pasta dish. The young man, who'd earlier in the evening recited every special in great detail and without a hiccup, led us out to the terrace to the row of plants dotting the sidewalk. As he conducted a minitour of the garden, we learned of Pindo's tendency to mine the bounty for special dishes and inspiration. To be honest, the food had already spoken to that point, and quite well.