Sardinia is the Mediterranean's second largest island, lying northwest of its big sister, Sicily, and just south of France's Corsica. The region's natural beauty would be enough to monopolize your vacation plans, but the island offers more, in the form of some of Italy's most deliciously fresh cuisines and one of the country's most diverse selections of wines, which remain bargain-priced at the island's restaurants.
When it comes to fresh, local food, Sardinia is hard to beat. Sardinian chefs focus more on perfect ingredients than elaborate presentations. The current generation of modern chefs strikes a balance, using a light hand to combine fresh base ingredients with Sardinian staples like myrtle leaves, olive oil, sweet peppers, capers, citrus juice, lemon rind, fennel and rosemary.
Note: When calling the establishments featured in this story from North America, dial 011, then the telephone number. (We recommend calling ahead to confirm restaurant hours in the off-season.) Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars using the exchange rate at press time ($1 = 0.80 euros)and rounded to the nearest dollar.
Via Ardoino 45, Alghero
Telephone: (39) 079-982098
Open: April to October, lunch and dinner, daily; November to March, lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Sunday
Cost: Entrées $24-$62; tasting menus $75-$81
Credit cards: All major
Cristiano Andreini boasts Sardinia's only Michelin star, for the eclectic and creative restaurant he runs with his brother Gianluca in a centuries-old olive-oil cellar in Alghero's old town.
Begin the meal with seafood antipasti or tapas before moving on to pasta dishes such as Andreini's take on Sardinian fregula. This traditional couscouslike dish is prepared like risotto and features an explosion of flavors from the capers, sweet peppers and fennel, as well as toppings of grilled octopus and squid-ink breadcrumbs. Next, try Andreini's perfectly spiced tomato-based seafood soup, or meat dishes such as Cannonau-stewed mutton. Cheese aficionados come for the impressive selection sourced from shepherds across the island.
Andreini's wine list is the most adventurous on the island, featuring everything from Italian and Sardinian classics to cult wines. Try lighter, fish-friendly reds such as Alessandro Dettori Romangia Rosso 2006, a varietal Cannonau ($37), or Sella & Mosca Acino M Monica di Sardegna 2009 ($31). With meat, go for the heftier Agricola Punica Barrua 2006 ($87), a Carignano-based blend made by a joint venture between Cantina Santadi and Tuscany's Tenuta San Guido.
Corso Cavour 32, Carloforte
Telephone: (39) 0781-854048
Open: June to September, lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost: Entrées $19-$31
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
A 30-minute ferry trip off Sardinia's southwestern coast brings you to this convivial tuna lover's mecca on the satellite island of San Pietro. Da Nicolo is about 100 yards from the ferry drop, along the port in the charming seaside resort.
Carloforte is home to a famous high-end tuna-fishing industry that supplies the Pomata family's terrace restaurant. The restaurant's charismatic namesake, Nicolo, runs the restaurant's service-taking orders, offering guests lessons in fish anatomy and jovially distributing tastes of specialties by the current chef, his son Luigi.
Start with tuna tartare or slices of smoked tuna topped with dollops of goat ricotta, then try the classic linguine tossed with tuna, capers, olives, pecorino and lemon rind. Rather than limit yourself to one main dish, order a sampling of all three melt-in-your-mouth tuna entrées, cooked rare: tuna fillet in an herb crust, served with eggplant and sweet cherry tomatoes; tuna loin braised with sweet peppers; and grilled ventresca topped with a light sprinkle of citrus. Southwest Sardinia is Carignano country, so order a bottle of Cantina Santadi Terre Brune 2006 ($75), or choose from more than 70 other Sardinian wines.
Viale Regina Margherita 28, Cagliari
Telephone: (39) 070-664318
Open: Lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday
Cost: Entrées $17-$32; tasting menus $75-$81
Credit cards: All major
You can pick out the locals in this elegant restaurant situated in a turn-of-the-century building near Cagliari's harbor because they start arriving after 9 p.m. They come for the innovative take on Sardinian cuisine prepared by young chef Stefano Deidda, the third generation of his family to man the stoves here.
Deidda's mother and father run the dining room. Almost everything is homemade, from the pastas right down to the thin, 2-foot-long breadsticks that arrive at the table like a dramatic flower arrangement. For a summer starter, consider the salad of pungent mullet bottarga tossed with pecorino cheese shavings, rocket and zucchini flowers, dressed with organic olive oil produced by a cousin of the family. Follow that with an entrée of beef filet braised in Cannonau or lightly grilled gallinella di mare in a tomato broth with clams, peas and fennel.
Try a fish-friendly red such as Giovanni Cherchi's single-varietal Cagnulari 2010 ($31), or choose among the 50 Sardinian wines on the all-Italy list. Another option is to pair your meal with a flight of four wines ($31-$37).
Via Zara 43, San Pantaleo
Telephone: (39) 0789-65205
Open: April to September, lunch and dinner, daily
Cost: Entrées $30-$47
Credit cards: All major
Giagoni is the restaurant of Sant'Andrea, a small, modest hotel nestled in the granite cliffs above Costa Smeralda. It serves some of the most innovative Italian and Sardinian seafood and pasta dishes in the area, accompanied by picture-window views of towering rock formations that glow orange at sunset.
Prices are not cheap, but the service is generous. An amuse-bouche such as cold-roasted tuna belly with raw fennel, as well as complimentary glasses of spumante, may come as you choose your meal. A raw seafood starter featuring knife-cut ombrine tartare blended with tiny pieces of melon may prompt your waiter to suggest the perfumy Attilio Contini Karmis Bianco 2011, a Vernaccia blend, to pair with it ($31).
A ripe, fruity Vermentino such as Argiolas Vermentino di Sardegna Is Argiolas 2011 ($29) is a fine match with the beautifully prepared lobster salad, featuring chunks of sweet, steamed lobster served on a bed of nectarine slices and doused with passion fruit juice. Follow it with fresh grilled fish or pasta such as paccheri tubes on a light sauce of tomatoes and flavorful gallinella di mare.
Località Porto Faro, Palau
Telephone: (39) 0789-708045
Open: June to September, lunch and dinner, daily; October to May, lunch and dinner, Thursday to Tuesday
Cost: Entrées $32-$35
Credit cards: All major
This elegant, family-run restaurant near Costa Smeralda boasts one of the most spectacular dining room vistas in Sardinia, from a seaside bluff to the nearby Maddalena islands. Dine on the glass-enclosed terrace on hot, windy afternoons, or take a candlelit table outdoors in the evening.
Now in its second generation, La Gritta is run by Simona D'Amore and her chef-husband, Roberto Pierro, who prepares Sardinian-Mediterranean coastal cuisine based on the haul of local fishermen.
Nibble on an amuse-bouche of roasted tuna belly and homemade squid ink and fennel breadsticks before moving on to a warm salad of tender steamed octopus seasoned with rosemary, or prawns and squid drizzled with ginger oil. Vongole lovers should go for Pierro's classic spaghetti with clams, with tiny, sweet local clams and date tomatoes.
La Gritta's pan-Italian wine list features about 40 Sardinian selections, including a pair of Tenute di Capichera Vermentinos from nearby: the rich, late-harvest Vendemmia Tardiva 2008 ($125) and the more lively Capichera 2009 ($75).
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