Sambuca Italian Bistro
31161 Niguel Road
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
When the weather turns colder, or as cold as it ever gets in OC, I start to crave Italian food. I think it's the red sauces, or the plates that always come out steaming hot. It also might be the way that Italian food coats your insides, like a warm blanket. Whatever the reason is that I crave Italian when the temps go lower than 70 degrees, I'm always willing to try a new Italian place. This time we were going to be meeting my in-laws at a new place for all of us, Sambuca Italian Bistro in Laguna Niguel.
Sambuca has been around for three years now. They might not have come across your radar, and ours, because they are located in a sleepy little shopping center on Niguel Road, a shopping center that's biggest draw has to be a Carl's Jr., and even that closes at 8pm. That tells you about all you have to know about this area of town.
People seem to have found this restaurant though. They get a four and a half star rating on Yelp, and that's with 100 plus reviews. Even when we showed up here at 7, the dining room was packed with people, and that might explain why the tables are placed so close to each other. The decor is understated, and comfortable, which is good, because it does not distract your view of all the action happening in the open kitchen.
The menu at Sambuca is heavily dominated by a good number of seafood dishes. It seems that almost all of their pastas contain something from the sea. Out of their 17 pasta offerings, 11 of those involve either shrimp, lobster, or calamari. The entree portion of the menu makes an about face, with only one seafood dish offered, out of the eight on their current menu. We arrived shortly after Katie's parents, who had already made their dinner selections, so we hurriedly made our choices as well, and this is how it all worked out for us at Sambuca,
Our meal started off with this La Caprese ($9). To be truthful, I'm not a very big fan of caprese, but the rest of our party loved this starter. All the key ingredients were here to make a good one; sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, and olive oil balsamic. The three of them made quick work of this, and all said they would definitely get this again.
Since I was not partaking in the caprese, I ordered the Sambuca Classico Caesar ($6) to start off with. Their version of a Caesar comes with garlic croutons, plenty of Caesar dressing, olives, and cubed tomatoes. I really enjoyed the rather large size of this salad, and there was plenty of dressing included here, which I liked. The croutons added a very nice crunch, but I'm not a big fan of tomatoes on a Caesar, but they were easily discarded. Overall, a pretty good salad.
It's a running joke about Katie's dad, Dennis that he always asks what the soup of the day is, and about 90 percent of the time he ends up not getting it. This Mushroom Soup ($5) must have hit him on the right day, because he actually went ahead and tried it. Not exactly what he was thinking when he ordered this, he liked this twist on mushroom soup. Very thin, but big on flavor is how he described this. A soup he would order again, providing it was available when he was here next time.
We might as well start the entree part of this review with the one that I liked best, The Brandy Gorgonzola Roasted Chicken ($17). This plate had a lot going on with it. The good sized portion of chicken was served over a bed of lemon risotto, and then topped with a Gorgonzola brandy cream sauce. I was not sure how the lemon from the risotto and the Gorgonzola was going to interact, but it made a wonderful flavor combination. The chicken was tender, and the the veggies were crisp. A very well done plate, and a good start to our entree portion of the evening.
A very simple dish for Dennis on this evening, the Spaghettini Bolognese ($14). When we asked our waitress what some of her favorites were on this menu, this was one of them, and she stated that they are very proud of this dish. They have every right to be proud. This was a very meaty sauce, the noodles were cooked well, and the flavor of the sauce was on point. I would have added some cheese and red pepper flakes to this to make it really pop, but Dennis enjoyed it just the way it came out.
If there was one thing the people on Yelp loved more than any other item at Sambuca, it was this Black Linguine with Lobster and Shrimp ($18). I was a little taken aback when Katie's mom Lynn ordered this dish. Black linguine is topped with seared lobster, white gulf jumbo shrimp, basil, garlic, and tomato sauce. I can see why they have so many seafood dishes on their menu, because they cook seafood well. The lobster and shrimp were tender, and the black linguine was nice for a change. I thought the sauce was okay, as it was kind of plain tasting, but that suited Lynn just fine.
The only clunker out of the entrees was unfortunately my selection, the Penne Filletto ($15). This bowl had such promise with its diced up filet mignon, mushrooms, and creamy tomato brandy sauce, but it fell flat. The beef was way overcooked, and the sauce was not very good. I was only able to make this more enjoyable by adding parmesan and red pepper flakes to it. Definitely not the right choice for me on this evening.
I was hoping that we could finish with a bang by ordering this Tartuffle ($7), but it was not meant to be. This dessert was fair, but not what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be more like other tartufo's we have had. This was coated with nuts, and more closely resembled a fried ice cream that you would find in Mexican restaurants. Not bad, but probably not something I'd get again.
Sambuca was a solid Italian restaurant, even though I was not in love with my plate. From our experience, seafood is definitely the way to go here, and will be what I have the next time we visit. Be advised that this is not the kind of Italian food that most people think about when they are going out for Italian. This is more traditional, with no lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, or chicken parmesan on the menu. The service was warm and friendly during our stay on this night. This might not be everyone's ideal Italian spot, but it did help to warm us up on this evening when it reached the bone chilling 50 degree mark.
Out of five coffee beans, (because when doing a shot of Sambuca, usually coffee beans are included in the shot glass), five being best to zero being worst, Sambuca gets 3 coffee beans.
For more information about Sambuca Italian Bistro, go to their website here: http://www.sambucabistro.net/