Dagoberto
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“Now, don’t you go giving her a hard time,” says Diane. “Short is in.”

“Easier to spot the fleas, I guess,” I say.

Sapori Italian Restaurant

120 Orange Avenue, Coronado

“See? There you go again. A woman needs buttressing. Hairdos make women feel vulnerable like nothing else.”

Diane does Carla’s hair. Has mystical powers over Carla I could only wish for.

“Kidding,” I say. “Kidding.”

“Darlin’, best way you can help is getting your butt out of sight,” says Carla. “I’ll see you in two hours.”

Sigh. Where’s the appreciation?

On the other hand, two hours. And, fourish... gotta be happy hour somewhere. This is on Coronado. So I definitely need a happy hour.

I end up at the little cluster of shops and cafés where the island dips into the bay. From here you can see the city rising up out of the waters. So I’m walking along. Notice Saiko Sushi. Has Sapporo Beer umbrellas up, right next to another place called Sapori. Except it’s...Italian? “Caffé Cibo Vino (coffee food wine)” says its sign.

Wow. They both have happy hour. I’m just wondering which to choose when I feel this tap on my shoulder.

I turn around, and here’s this guy, this face I remember...

“Dago,” he says. “Dagoberto! Remember, Chance Café?”

Oh, right. Chance Café. Further up the avenue. Was loved, but then closed. Carla and I had been in a zillion times after the hair thing.

“You here?”

“I’m here,” says Dago. “It’s good Italian food. Standard, but everything well executed.”

“But above my pay grade, right?”

“Well, not now, happy hour.”

“How come the Japanese-sounding name?” I ask.

“No no. ‘Sapori’ is 100 percent Italian,” he says. “It means ‘Flavors.’”

He says that a couple, Laura and Raffaele Petrazzuolo started this place from scratch, in 2010. “She’s an English chef and pastry chef and chocolatier. She makes all the pastries. Raffaele is from Naples, which is famous for its cuisine.”

Bruschetta at the next table

Except I’m looking at the happy hour menu. Not exactly running over with choices. They have “zucchini blossoms filled with ricotta and fried in a light batter,” melon with prosciutto, calamari fritti, bruschetta with tomato and pesto, and “chef’s choice of dessert.” Five bucks each. Then for $4, red or white Tuscan house wines, or Peroni Italian beer.

So...good deals, but not much selection.

“Zucchini blossoms good?” I ask Dagoberto.

“Oh yes, full of subtle flavor,” he says.

“Okay. Let’s try that.”

“Uh, it’s off today.”

Okay... So that leaves melon and ham, bruschetta, and calamari. D’aagh... Time to check the rest of the menu. Of course the main plates are out of my range. Like, lamb shank, $26, steak, $29.

They have bargains, for sure, like lunch specials. Lentil soup or salad go for $4. Linguini is $6 (but $11 if you include chicken or shrimp). Pasta’s around $15. Baked lasagna goes for $14.

The sun sets on the bay, and the city’s starting to glow. Have to say, the patio lighting right now ain’t that great for reading, or for seeing your food.

I order coffee. It turns out to be a really good espresso-based cup. Even though — ulp — it’s $3.50 per small cup, no refills.

The other struggle is sticking with the salad diet. Better have the danged salad. I see salads are between five and twelve buckeroos, so that’s doable. Hmm... The green ($5 for appetizer size and $7 for entrée size) is the cheapest. Then we’re looking at arugula and reggiano cheese ($7, $9), the pear and walnut (with Gorgonzola and candied walnuts, so-o tempting, $8, $12), Caesar (with bacon and Parmesan, $9, $12), and the Sapori ($9, $11).

I pretty much go for that last one no questions asked, because when a restaurant puts its name on a dish, they know everyone’s going to judge them by it. With the Sapori they promise “mixed greens, roasted butternut squash, toasted almonds, feta cheese,” and Medjool dates.

I ask for the entrée size. “But will it be enough?” I ask Dago.

“Oh, sure,” he says. “And you get plenty of bread.”

He’s right on both scores. Especially when he brings the little bottles of oil and dark balsamic vinegar.

“I put them on the salad?” I ask.

“Uh, no,” he says diplomatically. “The salad is already tossed in its own honey-seeded dressing. The oil and vinegar is for the bread.”

“Oh, right.”

Here’s the thing about salads. Once you get into the swing of them, you start to appreciate the small differences. And today, man, this salad is a doozy. I mean the mountain of green stuff is coated on its summit with the snows of killer feta cheese and sliced almonds. Around the lower slopes you get orange eruptions of squash, dark purple logs of dates, and little red boulders of baby tomatoes.

I pour dark splots of balsamic vinegar and the olive oil onto a plate — hope it’s the right one — dip a chunk of bread, mix it round, and start bulldozing the lettuce and squash onto my fork. Guess it’ s because I’m strangely new to Salad World, but the whole thing is full of surprising tastes and combos — I mean, who ever really liked squash before? And those dates are like wicked little sweet treats — and I come out the other end feeling not full, but satisfied, and wanting to get more into the different tastes of fresh stuff.

And did I mention virtuous? I’d say right now I’m feeling light, healthy, and smug.

Think I might drag the lovely Carla down. Can afford to sin a little. We could share a couple of the pastries that Laura Petrazzuolo makes right here.

If I recognize Carla after the shearing Diane was threatening, that is.

  • The Place: Sapori Italian Restaurant, 120 Orange Avenue, Coronado, 619-319-5969
  • Prices: Happy hour $5 items include zucchini blossoms filled with ricotta; melon with prosciutto; calamari fritti; bruschetta with tomato and pesto; lunch specials include lentil soup, $4; salad, $4; linguini $6 (but $11 with chicken or shrimp); lasagna $14; Sapori salad, $9 (appetizer size), $11 (entrée size); regular menu includes lamb shank, $26; filet beef medallions, $29
  • Hours: 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m., daily
  • Buses: 901, 904
  • Nearest bus stop: Orange Avenue and 2nd Street Coronado (904); 3rd Street at Orange Avenue (901)
  • Ferry: Ferry landing, 1st Street at C
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