Sapore Italian Cafe is a hidden gem; once you discover it, though, you’re certain to remember the experience for quite some time. If you’re up for enjoying Italian cuisine before heading to Chaminade to catch a performance of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” at the Winter Opera, Sapore is a fine choice.

The interior of Sapore is cozy and comfortable. The low lights and understated décor make it a good spot for a weekly date night or a special get-together. Patio fans take note: There’s also a spacious outdoor-seating area available when the weather permits.

The restaurant offers plenty of antipasti options: The polpette di casa ($10), a pair of hearty house-made Sicilian meatballs in spicy tomato sauce topped with melted mozzarella, is a good place to start. It’s certainly substantial but just big enough to get the appetite primed. Take my advice and save some of the complimentary crusty Italian bread to mop up every bit of the cheese and sauce.

Of course, ordering pasta was a foregone conclusion, but which one? Sapore has a solid selection of favorites, from spaghetti to fettuccine. The final decision was the parpadella puttanesca ($18), although we’ll definitely be back to try out the rest (I’ve also got eyes on the restaurant’s risotto, as well). The tender, wide parpadella noodles in the dish are smothered with a rich and savory tomato sauce seasoned with garlic and basil, augmented with anchovies, black olives and capers. The peppery sauce has a delicious tang and flavor.

While pasta is plentiful at Sapore, there are many other classic Italian dishes that don’t revolve around noodles that are equally delicious. I got out of my pasta comfort zone and ordered the chicken marsala ($17). The simple dish is much more than the sum of its humble parts: The creamy sauce was surprisingly light, full of mushrooms, tomatoes and peppers, and complemented the tender chicken perfectly.

All of the dishes we indulged in during our visit paired well with a glass of Valpane Barbera ($10), an earthy Italian vino from the Piedmont region. The wine has a surprising touch of sweetness and just enough fruit up front to make it a spot-on match for all of the tomato-based sauces we sampled.

In the interest of our continuing quest to find the ultimate cannoli, we sampled Sapore’s version ($7) and found it to be up there with the best in St. Louis. The shell of the cannoli is made with red wine, a nice touch that gives this traditional confection interesting new dimension.

Sapore Italian Cafe, 451 S. Kirkwood Road, 314-909-7575, saporeitaliancafe.com

Matt has been writing about the food scene in St. Louis for the past 15 years or so. He's also a bartender at Planter's House in Lafayette Square and, with his wife Beth, owns Cocktails Are Go!, a craft cocktail catering concern.

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