Two years ago, I wrote about a well-hidden Capistrano Beach restaurant called Sabatino's, which featured some of the best Italian sausage anywhere. Then abruptly the restaurant vanished. And so did the sausages.
Two weeks back, though, I spotted them again, coiled up and peeking out from a glass case in an equally well-hidden new restaurant, the Lido Shipyard Sausage Co. Now I know how Dr. Zhivago felt when he saw Nora after all those years.
I'm anxious to describe this sausage, but first things first. You may need a compass to find the restaurant. Uh, make that a sextant--it's in a real shipyard on the Lido Peninsula. (It's so real, in fact, that you get to hear the whir of shipbuilder's tools while you eat.)
Here's what you do: Pass Delaney's Restaurant on your right and head for the stop sign. Then make a right toward the shipyard, and you'll see some buildings directly to the right of the big ships. The restaurant is in among them.
Now for the good part. I'm happy to report that the long years (well, it's only been two) haven't changed these noble sausages. If anything, I'd say they're better than ever.
They are still made by a man named Peter Sabatino, son of a Chicago sausage maker. They are still served sizzling on an iron plate with a pile of roasted peppers. And they are still full of fabulous seasonings: fennel, garlic, red pepper and sage, as well as a soft Italian cheese that comes drooling out when you bite in. What more could a goombah ask for?
Those of you who remember Sabatino's will recall that it had a lounge-lizard atmosphere. Lido Shipyard, by contrast, is almost quaint. There is a cheery outdoor patio section with several tables under giant blue umbrellas, and two intimate (cramped, really) indoor rooms alongside a half-open kitchen. Red- and white-checkered tablecloths make the place seem warm and homey. We'll forgive the pictures of Joey Bishop and Jerry Vale next to the sausage case.
The menu isn't nearly as extensive as the one at Sabatino's, though, and I'd have to say the overall quality of the food is somewhat lower than it was at the other restaurant. But there are some improvements.
For instance, pizza Sabatino, which I found to be doughy and flavorless at the Capistrano Beach restaurant, is simply terrific here. You get your choice of two toppings, but the chef allowed me to order three: sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. It's a thin-crust pizza this time, with an excellent marinara sauce. Bellissimo!
Caesar salad is a trademark dish of the Sabatino family. It is no longer mixed table-side, but it's still first-rate at a much lower price. As before, it's served on a chilled plate and has plenty of kick, abounding with anchovy, shredded Italian cheese and lemon juice in the dressing. (I do wish Sabatino would bring back the pickled garlic he used before, though.)
As to the rest of the menu, I wouldn't rush to eat much of it. Naturally, there are pastas, basically the classics with few, if any, touches of originality.
Tortellini en panna, highlighted on the menu in a special box for no apparent reason, is one of the most boring dishes the restaurant serves. It's a plateful of thick, Christmas-red and -green tortellini in a bland Alfredo sauce, all of which congeals rather quickly as it cools.
Pastas with wine- or oil-based sauces don't perform well, either. The vongole sauce, red or white, is made with tired canned clams with sauteed onions; cafeteria fare, unworthy of the restaurant. The spaghettini with aglio olio (garlic and oil) is notable for slightly bitter garlic and overcooked pasta.
But all is not lost. You can take advantage of that excellent marinara sauce and have baked manicotti or lasagna, generously stuffed with ricotta, or capellini di arrabbiata, where angel hair pasta comes in a fiery tomato sauce with bacon and prosciutto. Just ask them to go easy on the cooking if you like your pasta al dente.
You'll also find several meat dishes on this truncated menu, most of which are worth a try. There is usually a veal special such as veal scallopini or veal Marsala, and it is usually good. The restaurant uses tender white Provimi veal and gives you good value for the dollar with it.
Chicken Sabatino is another good one: boneless breast of chicken stuffed with Arborio rice, sun-dried tomato and wild mushroom in a light cream sauce. Pass on the scampi dishes, whether sauteed in white wine garlic sauce or olives and tomatoes. The scampi are overcooked, and do not taste as fresh as they might.
The dessert selection, at present, is rather sad. There is a store-bought spumoni ice cream that tastes as if it came from the supermarket, and one of those gummy cheesecakes with a fruit topping you can peel off in one shot.
The truth is, if I were hungry enough for dessert here, I'd probably just have more sausage. It is the best thing the restaurant serves. And besides, I'll eat it when I can--there's no telling when it might do another one of its disappearing acts.
Lido Shipyard Sausage Co. is moderately priced. Hot sandwiches are $4.50 to $5.50. Starters are $1.50 to $8.95. Pastas are $6.95 to $10.50. Main dishes are $9.95 to $13.95. There is a good, small beer and wine list, with several well-chosen Italian wines at reasonable prices.
LIDO SHIPYARD SAUSAGE CO.
251 Shipyard Way, Newport Beach.
Open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. Closed Monday.