First impression: The last thing you expect to find on Federal Highway in Boca Raton is an intimate, 75-seat restaurant packed with the city's well-heeled older set. They're here for modern-continental fare that's heavily accented with Italian favorites.
Background: Owner Chris Lanza, 28, opened Dorsia at the end of January. He's no stranger to the Boca dining scene. He grew up in restaurants. His father, Rosario, had a 15-year run at La Viola before selling it, buying it back and reopening it as Rosarios. After four years, the 72-year-old recently closed Rosarios and is now officially retired, aside from making an occasional tomato sauce or special dessert for his only child's new venture. Dorsia's chef, Tommy Kabashi, is also well known locally as the former owner of Boca's Tiramisu. The Lanza-Kabashi pairing has made reservations here necessary most nights of the week.
Quote: "We're not breaking any new ground or anything with our food," Lanza says. "But I like to think we're doing continental kinds of traditional dishes, bringing them back and adding a different touch to them with presentation."
Ambience: Fort Lauderdale interior designer Pamela Manhas gutted the space that once housed the Basil Garden restaurant. It looks like the kind of spot you'd expect to find in a busy downtown setting, with tables set a bit closer than Boca may be used to. Lighting is exquisite, including the chandeliers made from wine glasses in the bar. A long banquette runs the length of the restaurant.
Starters: Dinner starts with a very good bread basket and a bowlful of olives in spicy olive oil. Who can resist stuffed-zucchini blossoms ($10)? Here, they're filled with ricotta-basil mousse before being lightly fried and served with simple marinara. Meatball sliders ($10) are topped with caramelized onions, provolone and pesto aioli. They were just a bit overdone. Excellent grilled romaine ($9.50) is served with pepperoncini, asiago cheese and balsamic dressing. There's also a selection of cured meats and cheeses served with fruit preserves and bread.
Pasta: With five fresh pasta dishes and another five dried pasta dishes, it's worth sharing one of them as a middle course. We had a special perciatelli Amatriciana ($21), which I prefer with chili pepper. Among the fresh pasta is squid-ink linguine ($22) in a white-wine seafood sauce and pappardelle ($20) in a light tomato sauce with porcini mushrooms.
Entree excellence: Chef Kabashi serves the kind of familiar restaurant food you could eat every day. His mustard-crusted pork loin ($23) is perfection. Moist and fork tender, it's served with a rosemary-red-wine reduction. In a generous serving, tomato-braised beef short ribs ($25) fall off their bones. A 16-ounce veal chop ($30) is topped with fontina and wild mushrooms and plated with a port-wine demi-glace. Yellowtail snapper ($28) is very simply grilled and served with fresh herbs and lemon.
Sweet! Every dessert, including exquisite tiramisu ($7) and espresso chocolate cake ($7), is made in house.
Service: Plodding and awkward at times. And the hostess, whom Lanza later identified as his mother, Antonia, made us feel uncomfortable by staring at our table during the entire meal.
Trivia: Dorsia is named after a fictional restaurant from the 1991 Bret Easton Elis novel "American Psycho." In the movie version from 2000, the restaurant was so exclusive that lead character Patrick Bateman could not get a reservation despite endless attempts to do so.
5837 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton
Hours: Dinner daily
Reservations: Strongly suggested
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Can be noisy
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Complimentary valet or self parking