Story and photos by Melanie Kopacz
Dare to be enlightened through an exploration of flavors from the Italian island of Sardinia in a culinary journey at the new local restaurant Zona Blu. The Sardinian style cuisine features an eclectic magic that makes for delectable culinary art with Mediterranean seafood, fresh-baked breads, unique cheeses and imported ingredients.
“We love our island,” co-owner Debbie Marras Bautista said. “We wanted to do something that reflected our cuisine in Sardinia, our culture.”
The restaurant is celebrating that uniqueness with the grand opening at its new location on Okeechobee Blvd., following a thriving first location in Broward’s Weston community. Sisters Debbie Marras Bautista and Sheila Marras David partnered with the menu’s creator, co-owner and Corporate Chef Andrea Fadda.
“The common thread for all of us is that we’re from the island of Sardinia, and that was Andrea’s vision. After traveling the world as a chef, to have these dishes unique to the island on our menu, and that’s what sets us apart,” Bautista said. “We seem to have tapped into a niche. We’re not your typical Italian.”
This is a cuisine that originated from a place in the world that’s so unique, it’s considered a “Blue Zone.” Sardinia is one of only five designated places in the world deemed by researchers as an area where people are known for their longevity, living 100 years and older.
“The food that they eat and the wine that’s made from grapes that are grown in Sardinia that have antioxidants,” Bautista explained. “They have benefits attributed to the longevity of the people who live there, so we wanted to incorporate that into the concept, and that’s why we named it Zona Blu.”
The illuminating and tranquil blue hues throughout the dining room set the tone, reflective of the Mediterranean Sea where Sardinia is situated above Sicily, making for a serene dining experience. An extensive outdoor patio is complete with blue shade awnings. Sardinian wines and varieties from around the world fill racks around the restaurant.
“Our maître d’ is from Sardinia and is basically our sommelier,” Bautista said. “He selects all of our wine, so we have an extensive wine selection from Sardinia, but also all over Italy, France, California, Washington. On Wednesdays, we have 50 percent off our wines that are up to $100.”
Paintings by a Sardinian artist are spaced around the restaurant portraying the people of the region, giving a feeling of who these recipes represent and the fishermen who reel in the fresh catch.
Like Octopus alla Griglia, for starters. The crispy grilled Mediterranean octopus is presented atop arugula salad and aromatic roasted potatoes.
A must-try is the Soufflé al Pecorino. It’s the signature appetizer — a creamy delight made with pecorino cheese from Sardinia with truffle sauce and mushrooms topped with a crispy traditional flat bread.
To help navigate the menu is a knowledgeable staff that helps make the culinary experience one to savor. Also on board is Executive Chef Nico Zallu, who not only loves being in the kitchen, but he also loves singing to the customers.
A huge tableside flaming cheese wheel is also an interactive favorite and a tasty experience.
“They prepare the pasta in the cheese wheel and scrape the cheese from the aged big wheel onto the plates. People love the show, and it’s delicious,” Bautista said. “They have all this fresh cheese. It’s something that’s not on our menu, but we have it, and it’s very popular.”
Another experience for the senses is the Spaghetti al Cartoccio with mixed seafood, fresh tomato sauce and pasta covered in a pastry dough baked in a wood-burning oven.
“It comes out as a big puff of pastry, and then they open it in front of the guest, and all they have is the aroma of the fresh seafood,” Bautista explained.
Freshly served Salumeria comes displayed on authentic Sardinian cork serving trays. “One of the main resources is cork, so when you drive around the island, you see all these trees, where the bottom of them is bare because people shaved the cork, and it grows back, and artisans use the cork to make shoes and purses. We wanted to bring that to our restaurant,” Bautista said.
The Salumeria platters come with a choice of meats, including Prosciutto Crudo and Salame Felino, and cheeses like Pecorino Semi Stagionato, with sprinklings of fresh olives served with a side of jam and giardiniera. “It’s a beautiful presentation and very unique,” she said. “People always ask us if they can buy the tray.”
Another plate with a beautiful presentation and full of flavor is the Fregola Sarda ai Frutti di Mare — a Sardinian couscous-style pasta with mixed fresh seafood.
You can pair any dish with a drink from the stocked bar, and happy hour is daily from 4 to 7 p.m. Zona Blu even has signature drinks specially created for them by a mixologist from Bacardi with a Sardinian twist. “We use a liqueur called mirto, and it’s grown only on the island, kind of like a licorice,” Bautista said of the spirit that comes from myrtle bushes growing wild all over the island.
One of those is the bestselling Wild Sardinia Martini, made with Wild Sardinia gin and mirto. Another favorite is the Cora Sardu, which means “Sardinian Heart.”
An array of desserts makes it hard to choose, including pistachio sorbet coated with pistachio crumbles and a tiramisu layered dessert dusted with cocoa powder. The most popular is a family secret recipe.
“Our parents are from Sardinia, and they’re the ones who make the traditional Sardinian dessert Seadas con Miele Sardo, a homemade puff pastry filled with sweet cheese, lightly fried and drizzled with Sardinian honey. I don’t think my mom will ever give up that recipe,” Bautista laughed.
It truly is a family affair, right from the beginning when their uncle, a restaurateur from Michigan, suggested the sisters help Chef Andrea Fadda find a location for his talents in Weston. The sisters used their expertise in marketing and advertising to create a concept that has since exploded with community support. “It’s not only that we work well together, but we’re also having fun,” Bautista said. “Andrea is like a brother, and we’re so excited about this second location.”
In true Sardinian style, Zona Blu does stand out like an island of its own.
Zona Blu is located at 8170 Okeechobee Blvd., Suite 1, just west of Benoist Farms Road. For more information, call (561) 323-4799 or visit www.zonabluwpb.com.