A relatively new establishment located in Tioga Town Center, just a few miles west of Gainesville, Saboré is worth every minute of the short drive north from Ocala. Since opening last August, Saboré (pronounced “sa-bohr-ay”) has quickly become a favorite dining spot among patrons hungry for exotic flavors and memorable meals.
If you had to define Saboré (and that’s hard to do!), you’d have to label it a “world fusion” restaurant.
“The name comes from the word ‘sabor,’ which means ‘flavor.’ Our dishes are inspired by a fusion of tastes from Europe, South America, the Mediterranean and Asia,” explains General Manager Tuti Ariet.
A gracious host, Tuti is quick to make guests feel at home and helpfully answers questions about the menu and the establishment.
The atmosphere alone is something to be savored. Clever and contemporary, the artsy designer touches are reminiscent of a fairytale, especially the playful red ribbon chairs, the unusual wooden chaise lounges and the oversized flowers in the foyer. I loved the restroom’s bright colors, funky mirrors and ultra-cool washbasin, too. Washing your hands at home is never this fun!
In one part of the dining area, you can’t miss the eye-catching liquid floor tile, which achieves its mesmerizing effect through a mix of colored water and oil just beneath a transparent top layer of flooring. (Tuti says they’ll soon be featuring live entertainment, so that liquid tile dance floor will be getting a workout.) Strategically placed mirrors and pendant lighting add just the right splash of brilliance as you settle into cozy seating and peruse the menu.
And “peruse” is definitely the right word, because unless you’re already a regular, it’s going to take a bit of time to read through the delightfully varied menu and make a choice. Deciding what to order is the most challenging part of the dining experience, but the owners, including Co-owner and Executive Chef William “Willy” Hernandez, have tried to make it easier by offering many dishes that are “tapas-sized” and meant to be shared. This way you can select several items instead of agonizing over just one or two.
By all means, ask your server to explain anything you have questions about, because the menu descriptions simply can’t do justice to the wonderfully creative and often unique food combinations.
The menu is divided into several categories, including snacks, raw, salads and soups, specialty sushi rolls, world fusion and of course, desserts.
For starters, I strongly suggest picking several items from the first four sections. We were impressed with the “Tuna Tostones,” featuring barely-seared ahi tuna and a mouth-watering fresh avocado salad heaped on green plantain crostini. We also enjoyed the “New World Carpaccio,” a heady combination of delicately sliced London broil, wrapped around thin cucumber sticks and shoestring potatoes, topped with hard Parmesan, truffle oil and slivers of fresh tuna steak. After just one bite, we totally understood why our server, Cecile, said this is one of her all-time favorites.
If you have a craving for lobster bisque, let me assure you, Saboré’s is the best I’ve ever had. Ultra rich and creamy, and loaded with flavor thanks to plenty of lobster and sherry liquor, it’s not to be missed. My friend Martha indulged in her bisque with closed eyes and a sigh of happiness. As soon as I tried it, I understood her blissful expression.
One of the reasons we ventured up to Saboré in the first place was because a friend told us the sushi chef is the talented Nestor Espartero, formerly of Sushi Bistro in downtown Ocala. Indeed, Nestor is on hand, working his magic in the sushi kitchen. We were thrilled to find him again and even happier when devouring some of his amazing sushi rolls. (Somehow, the fact that the restaurant provides slim metal chopsticks instead of the predictable wooden ones makes his creations taste even better.) We especially loved the “Make My Day,” a California roll topped with yellow tail, avocado, cucumber, crab, spring mix and lemon juice. For a savory twist on tradition, try the Cuban roll, featuring brown rice, tender pork, cream cheese and avocado. This delightful creation is topped with sweet plantain and a guava glaze.
Venturing over to the world fusion side of the menu, you’ll get to experience the best of Chef Willy’s ingenuity and expertise. There are so many dishes that it’s tough to choose just one, so again, I recommend sharing a couple (or more!) with your dining companion.
Fusion definitely comes into play here. The combinations of flavors and ingredients are sometimes unexpected, but they work together magnificently.
A perfect example is the “Baby Corvina,” a succulent mild white fish paired with a slightly sweet coconut ginger sauce and topped with banana brûlée. Among the house specialties is the “Fiocchi with Pear,” a small pouch-shaped pasta filled with gorgonzola cheese and essence of pear. Another excellent pasta choice is the “Fettucini Carbonara,” which has a rich, almost smoky flavor thanks to Italian pancetta, sweet onion, black pepper and Parmesan cheese.
We raved over the king salmon, a perfectly cooked filet served atop brown rice with an avocado salad and strawberry balsamic glaze. The diver scallops are pan-seared to buttery tenderness and presented atop sautéed spinach with a delicate lobster sauce that literally melts in your mouth.
Our server explained that many guests order the scallops along with the churrasco to create their own “surf and turf.” Great idea! On that recommendation, we decided to try the churrasco and realized why this marinated, grilled strip steak is such a big seller. Cut into pieces and served atop thin, crispy shoestring potatoes, it’s one of the most uncomplicated, yet most popular items on the menu.
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Chef Willy has been practicing his art in the kitchen for 25 years. It’s the only work he’s ever done or wanted to do, and once you taste his culinary creations, you’ll be glad that’s the case.
“I don’t consider it ‘going to the kitchen’ when I go to work,” says Willy with his trademark beaming smile. “It’s like going on stage. I feel like I’m on Broadway doing magical things. The biggest compliment a chef can get is for people to love the food.”
Be sure to make Willy happy and save room for dessert. That’s not too hard to do if you settle on the sampler plate, which allows you to choose three small dessert portions. My hands-down favorite is “The Funk,” a decadent version of tiramisu to which bits of broken Heath bar are added for a sweet crunch. The “Hot Chocolate Walnut Brownie” and the “Mango Cheesecake” are also tasty options to end your meal.
A full bar with a good wine list as well as coffee drinks and after-dinner liquors are ideal enhancements to your food selections.
Situated in a prime location in Tioga Town Center, Saboré is nestled among several wonderful boutiques and merchants, so you may want to plan for a little shopping time before or after your meal. I was sold after my very first experience, and subsequent visits have only reinforced Saboré’s standing atop of my “favorites” list.
Want to go?
13005 SW 1st Rd., Ste. 129
Tioga, Florida (3 miles west of I-75 on SR 26)
Lunch: 11am-3pm, daily
Dinner menu available from 5pm, daily
Weekend brunch: 9am-3pm