Sabore, at last we talk about Sabore. Located in Town of Tioga just west of Gainesville at 13005 SW 1st Road, this upscale restaurant has undergone a number of changes since opening years ago under the direction of Chef Willy Hernandez. Back when it was first opened, the menu was large, filled with a variety of tapas that drew influences from cuisines all around the world. There were a number of menu changes over the years, as Chef Willy moved back to Miami and ownership changed. Admittedly, the constant changes left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, and it was some time before I went back to Sabore.
Enter Executive Chef Valero Alises. Born in Havana, Cuba, raised in Spain, Chef Valero began working at some of Spain’s best restaurants at the age of 16. By the time he was 21, he had worked at one of Spain’s most prestigious restaurants, Restaurante Santceloni, and would later be named chef at El Senor Martin and Ramses Life & Food in Madrid. Simply searching his name on Google would yield a number of articles by Spanish publications praising him as “un prodigio de chef” (a prodigy of a chef). I call him a certified bad ass, uber-creative young chef who’s only beginning to reach his full potential. We’re only lucky enough that he chose Gainesville as his audience.
At the ripe age of 25, he is now steering the culinary ship at Sabore, doing things that no one else in this town is doing. The menu was recently revamped again, this time at the direction of Chef Valero. He improved some of the old dishes like the Pappardelle Short Ribs now done with cavatelli pasta instead (trying to eat long long strands of pappardelle was a nightmare with the short ribs), and added some of his own like the Sous Vide Kurobuta Pork Belly (pork belly marinated in five spice served with Thai sweet chili sauce and a cucumber mint salad). The menu is young, exciting fusion that embodies the spirit of its Chef. Hell, they even ditched traditional paper menus in favor of iPads! That’s right, when grandma doesn’t know how to work the menu at a restaurant; you know it’s going to be a fun dining experience.
The menu is still fairly large and served tapas-style, meaning small plates that are meant to be shared amongst the table. For this reason, Sabore is best enjoyed in a group where a diverse number of dishes can be ordered. If you’re a saucy fellow like myself, you opt for the Chef’s Table. That is you let Chef Valero pick and choose his favorites from the menu and form an all-out non-stop culinary barrage on your palate, all paired with a selection of excellent wines available at the restaurant. Don’t worry, if you’re not quite as saucy, all of these dishes can be ordered off the menu as well.
First up, Tuna Tostons ($10 – seared blackened tuna atop an avocado salad and a plantain crostini, drizzled with spicy mayo, teriyaki, and sesame seeds). What else can be said about high quality seared tuna atop creamy avocado and a crunchy piece of fried plantain, this was a standout dish. Up next were Spanish Cod Fritters ($10 – creamy salted cod fritter bites covered in a honey garlic aioli). Not exactly being a lover of seafood, cod was a bit too fishy for me, but the dish was still excellent. I particularly loved that it was served to us in the wooden box that contained the original filet of cod.
We move onto the Roasted Pork & Crab Rolls ($12 – roasted pork and lump crab egg rolls, wrapped in romaine lettuce, fresh mint, and thai sweet chili sauce). What a simple, yet delicious dish. Being Cantonese and all, I’m big on texture when it comes to food. The pork and crab were a perfect blend without one flavor overpowering the other, wrapped in a lightly fried spring roll skin and the crispness of the fresh slice of romaine lettuce was perfect. The Thai chili sauce and mint added just the right amount of spice, sweetness, and minty flavor to really give it balance. I loved this dish.
Then came the Salmon Tartare ($14), fresh chopped raw salmon combined with an Asian garlic aioli, chives, and served with a side of crispy chips made of tapioca and black sesame seeds. It was a brilliant dish that puts an Asian spin on a traditional French dish that I enjoyed immensely. It’s one of several raw items available on the menu. Others include an Octopus Carpaccio (thinly sliced sous vided octopus served with shoestring potatoes and Spanish paprika) and a Vieras Tartare (scallops, kimchi aioli, chives, and lime). The tartare was followed up with Scallops a la Catalena ($19), seared diver scallops atop sautéed spinach with garlic, pine nuts, and raisins. The dish was finished off with baby arugula and a generous amount of high quality extra virgin olive oil. AGAIN with the textures, it was just beautiful. From the tenderness of the scallops, to the sweetness of the raisins, and the pine nuts, it was another winner. Look at the photo, this dish is as close to food porn as it gets.
You thought we were done? Next up was the Beef Carpaccio ($12), thinly slices of raw angus New York Strip served with truffle Dijon aioli, parmesan cheese, baby arugula, and that amazing olive oil again. Quality raw beef is some of the most delicious food on Earth, so needless to say at this point I was a pleased little Asian.
As the meal winded down, and I was extremely satisfied with a near-flawless meal (and drunk from wine), we were brought an assorted plate of delicious cheeses that included goat cheese, brie, and well…I honestly got too drunk to remember. Oh and a delicious fruit plate of watermelon and pineapple infused with sangria and vanilla bean liqueur. HOW CAN YOU SERIOUSLY GO WRONG!? IT’S FRUIT WITH ALCOHOL IN IT!
All in all, this was probably the best meal I’ve had in Gainesville. Sabore is not without its faults, many will find their dishes to be on the pricier side with most small plates ranging from $10 to $20 each, and a bar that leaves something to be desired. But Chef Valero’s work in that kitchen is magic. This is a young chef who is still growing, and is already cooking brilliant food that Gainesville deserves. In a town where many consider Bonefish Grill to be a fine dining option, Chef Valero hasn’t watered down his vision, and most of all doesn’t insult our palates. To me, he embodies Gainesville’s changing foodscape. It is my hope that his success will draw more chefs like him into our city. Spain calls him the prodigy chef, but he’s our prodigy chef now.