Valentino Cucina Italiana

Valentino Cucina Italiana– 620 S Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, (954) 523-5767, http://www.valentinocucinaitaliana.com

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It’s all about fine Italian dining. This is one of those places you hear about when folks gather to speak of great meals they’ve had. Chef Giovanni Rocchio has created a beautiful setting to enjoy his menu, to which he adds daily specials. A unique feature of the restaurant is limited seating at the kitchen bar, where you can view all of the action in the open kitchen. And then there’s Chef Enzo DiPasquale, from Milan, who cooks a special menu of unique small bites, which look as interesting as they taste. Try the Calamari Artichoke Tart appetizer, the Black Bass and the Short Rib entrees. There are truly no bad dishes. Service and decor are in keeping with a restaurant of this caliber and is never fussy or pretentious. Reservations are a must.

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Timpano Italian Chop House

Timpano Italian Chop House- 450 E Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale  http://www.timpanochophouse.net/

Where do you go for a good steak in Fort Lauderdale? That has got to be the most frequent question I’m asked and it’s a tough one to answer, as this area has no shortage of fine restaurants producing good steaks. So for me it’s a personal choice based on my tastes.  What I look for is a place that has dry-aged beef and the know-how to grill it. Timpano is one of those places. Although they bill themselves as an “Italian Chop House,” I’ve never had their Italian food. I come here for the steaks! I learned about Timpano a few years ago from a friend who was a Restaurateur, Club Owner/ Bon vivant man about town in New York, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale. One evening we were discussing local restaurants and he asked if I’d ever been to Timpano. Apparently he and his brother were regulars. When I said no, he grinned and his eyes widened as he began a thorough description of the place and precisely what to order. “You take my advice and you’re going to have an enjoyable meal”, he said.  And with slight variation, I’ve been ordering this meal happily for several years.

For starters try the signature Black Skillet-Roasted Mussels
 tossed with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Kosher Salt and spritzed with a shot of fresh lemon before serving.  The mussels are brought to the table on the skillet they were cooked on, steaming & sizzling…a nice show. This dish is so simple and yet so tasty, that I always dip a piece of bread into the pan after. The entrée is always steak and the two cuts I enjoy are the 20 Oz. Bone-In Rib Eye and the 14 Oz. Aged Bone-In Filet.  If you don’t like navigating the bone there is also a 12 Oz. Aged Hand Cut Filet, which is more than enough food for most. The meat is dry aged, which increases tenderness and flavor unique to that process. I order my steaks “Pittsburgh-style” — charred on the outside, medium-rare on the inside. If you’re still ordering steaks well done we need to talk!  The Grill people here know their stuff and consistently produce meat cooked to proper doneness. Side dishes are a must and my favorites are the Sautéed Spinach With Garlic And Chili Flakes (the spice is not over powering) and Baby Portobello Mushrooms With Fresh Herbs.

Sadly my friend Bob, who put me on to Timpano, is no longer with us. I remember his legendary enjoyment of life and his eagerness to share his dining adventures with others as I do now. So, as he wished, when family and friends join me over dinner, I raise my glass and remember…this one’s for you Bob!

© 2011 alanEATS

Pete’s Café Bella Sera

Pete’s Café Bella Sera- 7351 N State Rd 7,  Parkland  http://www.petescafebellasera.com/index.htm

For the last five years my brother has been telling me about many fabulous restaurants that he wants to take me to, but he just never seems to able to make it happen.  Recently he made up for one food promise on the occasion of my Great Nephew’s 11th birthday, who I publicly thank here for selecting Café Bella Sera. And what a restaurant he selected!  The Owner/Chef, Pete, I was told, was formally the Chef at one of Fort Lauderdale’s iconic Italian restaurants, so I had high expectations.  Our party of seven adults and three children was quickly seated in the dining room, which has a view of the large open kitchen. Waiters seemed to appear, busy getting drinks orders and serving warm crusty Italian bread followed by dishes of olive oil with sliced fresh garlic. And then the family ordering began. We’ll have a dish of this and we must have that and add-on one of those and the kids love the other thing.  It was totally out of my hands, strange for me, but I sensed this was to be a memorable, if not immense, meal.  So now finally…here’s what I ate, sampled and otherwise enjoyed.  The appetizers started with Fried Calamari Bella Sera Style served with long green hot peppers in a Fra Diavlo Sauce. The dish is delicate, not over done or overly hot and the calamari is cut wide. The flavors in that dish are amazing so I had several helpings of that. Arriving next were Fresh Roasted Red Peppers served with Dry Sopressatta & Reggiano Cheese and Fresh Sautéed Baby Artichokes topped with Toasted Italian Bread Crumbs. Then the Jumbo Stuffed Shrimp was served. They looked like small lobster tails.  By this time I’m filling up fast and dinner is on its way out.  It was recommended that I order the Bone-In Veal Chop Parmigiana. It’s a 16 oz. Veal Chop pounded out, covered with their fresh sauce and cheese and served almost falling off the plate.  The veal is tender, the sauce tastes of fresh tomatoes and the generous amount of Mozzarella Cheese is stunning. If you’re hungry and haven’t eaten in a while, this dish is still a challenge to finish. My savvy brother had a Center Cut Filet served with Tuscan Potato Chips.  Must say the filet had good flavor and was served at the proper temperature. The birthday boy had Chicken Milanese served plain, which I thought would be dry, but turned out to be moist and tasty. All three kids ate off that portion with some to take home.  Other dishes of note were Chicken Francaise, Homemade Lobster Raviolis, and Pete’s Famous Meatballs with Spaghetti. Side orders of Sautéed Spinach and Asparagus completed the meal. After the table was cleared, dessert was ordered and served, but I was almost comatose by then and managed to have small tastes of several things with coffee.  The birthday boy had a gigantic piece of Chocolate Cake that he couldn’t make a dent in, while the other two kids fell asleep. Wonderful evening. Good food. Must return here soon!!!  Check out the menu and specials before you go.

© 2011 alanEATS

Cafe Italia

Café Italia- 3471 N Federal Hwy., 
Oakland Park                                http://cafeitaliafortlauderdale.com

Recently some friends of mine introduced me to an Italian restaurant that I’ve wanted to try, but was never motivated enough to visit.  After all, to say we have a lot of Italian restaurants in the Lauderdale area is a gross understatement.  So with the further inducement of…”we’re buying”…I relented.  When I walked into the place and met owner, chef, food impresario, and wise philosopher Francesco, I was instantly hooked.  It was like when Golda Meir shook hands with Anwar Sadat for the first time and said, “ What took you so long?” Francesco is very proud to tell you that he’s from the Abruzzo region of Italy and will point to a map in the dining room to show you exactly where. He is also very proud of his food and eagerly explains about its freshness and authenticity. When the food arrives you know everything he said was true. It turns out Francesco can sometimes be the greeter, take an order and prepare the meal although on most nights his wife does the honors in the kitchen. All entrées are served with a house salad and fabulous Italian bread from Grand Forno Bakery. Try the Lamb Meatball Ragu with spaghetti, the Eggplant Parmigiana with a side of spaghetti, the Lasagne alla Bolognese and the Spaghetti Vongole.  All very reasonably priced. I’m sure I’ll have more suggestions for you after my next several visits. Until then, follow the link to a Sun Sentinel review on this restaurant that some say, is the best-kept secret in Fort Lauderdale.  http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sfl-dinecafeitalia,0,7418101.story

Crazy About You

Crazy About You- 1155 Brickell Bay Drive, Miami         http://crazyaboutyourestaurant.com/

My dear friend and foodie, Maiko, just emailed me about a restaurant she and some friends ate at the other day. Since I trust her food sense and she seemed so excited about it, I asked her if I could post it here…even before I’ve had a chance to go! I checked out the menu (link above) and from the standpoint of value you can’t go wrong. There are three price points for entrée that includes a choice of appetizer. The food is a mix of Mediterranean with a little Italian and Spanish flavor thrown in. Maiko says, “The choice of menu items is pretty cool and the location is awesome. If you sit outside, there is a dining area with a view of the bay…and a cat to greet you too!” I need to put this place on my Miami to-do-list! Here are a few pix of what Maiko and her friends ate. Shown is The Flash Fried Avocado with chopped tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette; Fish Sliders Duo: Key West fried Dolphin and seared Ahi Tuna; and the sweet and spicy Petit Pork Ossobuco. Maiko suggests a glass of wine with this last dish. Have you dined here? Share your thoughts.

Luigi’s Coal Oven Pizza

Luigi’s Coal Oven Pizza- 1415 E Las Olas Blvd, 
Fort Lauderdale http://luigiscoalovenpizza.com

There really is a Luigi and you can see him preparing food in front of the coal oven to the rear of the dining room.  He’s authentic, from Milan I’m told, and so is the food.  Pizza here is thin and crisp with plenty of Luigi’s homemade sauce. Ok, there are several places that do coal oven pizza. This one is up there with the best. I usually order the House Salad that can feed 2 or 3. Oh yes, bring someone to eat with you or you’ll end up packing it up or making friends on-the-fly. Try the Mozzarella in Carrozza served with a dish of tomato sauce, the Chicken Wings done in the coal oven served with caramelized onions and focaccia bread and also a couple of Luigi’s Meatballs. Now let’s talk about the pizza. Pizza is one of those food products that engender a passionate following. We all know the ones we don’t like and the ones we would crawl across broken glass to get our hands on. I’ve dined at Luigi’s on several occasions and must say that I have enjoyed his crisp thin coal oven pizza. I may not be a pizza purest, but in the end I know one thing…it has to taste good. And Luigi’s did not disappoint me. Try the Margherita Napoletana Pizza. It’s simple and tasty and you can always add a topping. Now after that you’d figure, he’s done. Sorry no!  Normally I don’t have desserts, but you should not leave Luigi’s without having a portion of his Italian Cheesecake. Mangia!

© 2011 alanEATS