That quote is from Big Night, 1996, my favorite food movie of all time. I love the soundtrack and the classic underdog story. Two cousins who are struggling to keep their restaurant afloat concoct a scheme that the the famous Louis Prima is scheduled to dine. They go all out on ingredients to throw a feast of a lifetime. While Prima never shows, the food is truly the star of the show.
The same can be said for Sampino’s Towne Foods, a culinary gem so hidden you could easily miss it. Decorated with drying pasta, vintage posters and Italian specialty foods, Sampino’s is simultaneously warm, inviting and bustling. A delicious Italian delicatessen by day, every Friday night, Sampinos opens for a multi course family meal that should not be missed. The portions are so generous and numerous that on the various times I’ve attended a Friday dinner at least one course has come home with me to be saved for later.
My most recent visit was with Sacramento Epicureans, so I’ve adapted my recap for the purposes of this blog. Our evening began with two courses; focaccia and Italian bread with a delightful fennel balsamic vinaigrette dipping sauce and antipasti of olives, pepperoncini and pickled carrots, celery, cauliflower and other vegetables. The bread was soft and fresh and the antipasti bright and pungent with vinegar and spices.
Next we were welcomed by owner and Chef Michael Sampino, who gave us his family’s history in the local food scene. His father Bill started nearly a decade and a half ago supplying handmade specialty meats and sausages for local restaurants and Corti Brothers. After repeated urging from friends and colleagues, Bill decided to try shifting into retail. Operating as a deli during the day, this hidden treasure is now a local institution, serving dinner just one night a week – which is often sold out- on Fridays. Sacramento Epicureans packed the house for another special sold-out dinner event last Thursday.
Zuppa, or soup was next on the menu. Changed seasonally based on what’s fresh and in season, we enjoyed a delightfully creamy blend of both New England and Manhattan Clam Chowder. Slices of Timbale followed. The featured entree in the movie Big Night, Sampino’s version layers pastry, penne pasta, meatballs, free range eggs, salami, mushrooms, marinara, Grana Padano and mozzarella cheese in a delicious medley of flavors and textures.
Next the diners were treated to an expertly executed risotto of saffron and asparagus. Perfectly textured rice surrounded fresh asparagus spears in a well-balanced and delicate sauce. After a brief interlude when diners took a moment to stretch their legs and visit others throughout the restaurant, it was then time for the main course. Diners chose between Braised Beef Short Ribs or Chicken Saltimbocca with prosciutto, sage and fontina cheese with a white wine sauce. Each entree was served over a bed of herbed polenta and sautéed rainbow chard with garlic and red bell pepper.
In traditional Italian style, the salad course came after the main course, with arugula, chicory, radicchio, spinach and baby greens with homemade Italian dressing and heirloom tomatoes. Finally, just when our Epicureans thought there was no more room left, dessert was served. Beautiful Affogatos of vanilla gelato drowned in cappuccino with biscotti cookies.
Stuffed to the brim, many Epicureans took the opportunity to stock up on Italian delicacies from the deli case before departing. Fresh pasta, homemade sausages and even the delicious dipping sauce all went home with diners to enjoy at home.
If you’re interested in sampling the all that is good about Italian foods, but have yet to obtain or renew your passport, be sure to head to Sampino’s Towne Foods at 1607 F Street, open Monday- Saturday 10am-5pm.