Sasso, a cavernous new fine-dining Italian restaurant near Copley Square, is about as cozy as you can reasonably expect from a place with 15-foot-high ceilings and a panoramic view of the Prudential Center shops across the street.
It's handsome and classy, though, and if you want romantic, take a seat in the bar area, where little oil candles shoot slivers of light onto marble tabletops like a mirrorball and kaleidoscopic rows of wine bottles serve as decor.
But on a recent weeknight, we're not here for the ambience. It's executive chef David Ross's food that would easily draw us back -- when we've got an extra $75 per person to spare, that is. With cocktails starting at $12 and bottles of reserve wine topping out at $875, this is a place to splurge.
Sasso truly is a decadent experience, starting with the efficient welcome in which the host gracefully seats a female companion so snugly, she compliments him on how well he tucked in her chair.
The excellent service deserves extra mention. Your server will politely stand five feet from your table and wait for a lull in the conversation rather than interrupt it. When there's a little downtime, the waitstaff tends to cluster around the host's stand, yet always leaving one person to oversee the whole dining room with the mindful eye of a shepherd.
And the servers are always thinking ahead, too: A few minutes after our entrees arrive, our waitress wants to know if we'd like to try the pistachio souffle since it takes 20 minutes to make. It's worth the wait. Once we deflate it, we dunk the airy treat into its rich chantilly cream sauce.
But earlier in the evening, we dive into the appetizers, which are divided into two types of antipasti: cold and hot. An octopus carpaccio is jarringly light, sliced so thinly that it loses the elasticity often associated with the rubbery delicacy. Meanwhile, the crudo misto platter comes as a trio of sculpted mounds paired with the perfect accompaniments: yellowfin tuna with blood orange and zabaglione ; a scallop ceviche with melon; and kampachi flecked with basil. The crespelle is described as a whole-wheat crepe yet arrives with its contents (wild mushrooms, escarole, and leeks) laid bare, like a lonely tortilla. Once folded, it's gone in about five forkfuls.
Sasso also scores extra points for its presentation. The cinghiale entree is a work of art, as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate -- delicious little pillows of triangular ricotta raviolis served upright on a bed of tender wild boar. And costolette (braised beef short ribs) look like they've been showered with confetti, a festive dish that gets an extra zing from generous bits of horseradish.
On a second visit two weeks later, Sasso has switched to a spring menu. As our waiter explains, "We focus on regional Italian fare, so this new menu just moves farther down Italy and uses the best produce for it."
This time we order a moist, flaky red snapper with potatoes drenched in olive oil (much of the food is a bit heavy on the oil, in fact); the haricot verts beneath the fish squeak in the mouth before giving way to a perfect snap. The lone chicken entree, while delicious, is a little pink for our companion's taste, but given its potent, slightly acidic lemon-parsley marinade, we figure we're all right.
For dessert, we decide on the ubiquitous chocolate molten cake, which is especially dense (as if flourless), accompanied by an unnecessary melange of whipped marshmallow, a petite scoop of strawberry ice cream, and strawberry compote. If you're too full for dessert, consider one of the specialty cocktails. Sasso's version of a sidecar packs a bite from its chipotle-orange reduction.
By now, it's nearing 11 p.m., the dining room is nearly empty, and we're surprised to learn that Sasso serves food until 1:30 a.m. It's hard to imagine stragglers from the Prudential Center sticking around that late for dinner, but our waitress says the place does get pretty busy on the weekends.
After 11 p.m., you order from the abbreviated bar menu, which offers pastas and meat and seafood entrees, along with the option of less-expensive half orders. Finally: Budget diners, take heart.
Sasso, 116 Huntington Ave., 617-247-2400, sassoboston.com. Appetizers: $10-$16. Entrees: $21-$36. Wines by the glass: $8-$17.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.