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Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen in Miami. It’s impossible to go a few blocks without running into one. It takes a quality eatery to stand out amidst the crowd – and Zucca does so easily with fantastic fare and impeccable attention to detail. 

There are many reasons to fall in love with Zucca, and first and foremost is the service. From the moment you sit down, you know you’re in for a treat. Servers are knowledgeable and approachable, rattling off answers to your questions without hesitation; they know the menu front to back, and their recommendations – especially for wine – warrant consideration. 

Such a level of service is impressive, especially considering the size of the place. Despite having seating for over 100 guests, this eatery inside Hotel St. Michel feels intimate thanks to the perfectly trained staff. It’s an elegant and romantic ambiance for sure: We saw our fair share of couples there during our Wednesday night visit. That said, it shouldn’t be relegated to your date night or special occasion list, as prices are reasonable for the quality. You can eat like royalty without breaking the bank. 

Although if you did decide to splurge, we wouldn’t stop you: The food is worth every penny. Take the salumi, prosciutti and formaggi options, for instance. Even if you are not the meat and cheese board type, the selections at Zucca will likely make you reconsider. Same for items like the soups and salads, which can often be afterthoughts on a menu. Not here: Options like the Maine lobster salad and fresh kale salad deserve part of the limelight, too.

For antipasti, there’s no shortage of delicious bites – and there’s no wrong choice either. Actually, there is one: not ordering the zucchini blossoms. They have their own section on the menu for a reason, and the reason is they’re that good. If it’s your first time, consider getting the standard ones with mozzarella; they’re a crowd favorite, and you’ll see why at first bite. There’s also an option with ricotta cheese and lemon zest, and depending on the night, other fillings might be an evening special.

While the zucchini blossoms are a must, they’re only one of the many starters offered. Another highlight is the daily crudo, a light and refreshing dish that might be the way to go if you’re ordering a hefty main … and the mains are serious business. Case in point: the pastas. All the classics are here, like spaghetti, tagliatelle, gnocchi, ravioli, sedanini … the list goes on. They’re dishes you’re familiar with – Zucca doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, it refines it. You might have had sedanini before, but it’s likely you haven’t had it this good. 

Zucca’s sedandini

If you aren’t in the mood for pasta, the wait staff will likely mention the Chilean sea bass, another best-seller. Listen to your server: the pan-seared fish comes atop “venere” black rice and is gorgeous to look at (and a delight to eat). At $46, it’s definitely one of the more expensive dishes at Zucca, but it’s not hard to see why. The restaurant also offers lamb chops, baby chicken, ossobuco and an assortment of other proteins. Desserts are equally diverse, with both light and decadent selections including tiramisu, apple tarte and sorbet. 

In a sea of Italian restaurants, Zucca stands above the rest. You’re not just enjoying lunch or dinner here – it’s a culinary journey through Italy. And this is one adventure you don’t want to miss.

By Geoffrey Anderson Jr., a contributing writer

South of Fifth’s Italian newcomer tempts with fresh pasta and a gorgeous courtyard

Finding a good Italian restaurant is not necessarily difficult. But finding a good Italian restaurant where the waiter may entertain during a quiet interlude by belting out an Italian aria—that is increasingly hard to find. Which is why Amare, the handsome Italian newcomer in South of Fifth is such a refreshing addition to Miami’s dining scene. A collaboration between Gino Iovino of Girasole in Atlantic City and Franco Ricatti and Chef Cosimo Cassano of the Michelin-starred Bacco Osteria in Puglia, Italy, the indoor-outdoor spot is one where you’ll bring a group of friends to revel in the joys of pasta made from scratch, with forays into vegetables and seafood dishes heretofore unseen in South Beach. An Italian food lover’s dream come true, Amare’s Michelin-starred Chef Cosimo Cassano brings a taste of the Amalfi Coast with classic dishes made in-house with seasonal ingredients flown directly from Italy. A main dining room awash in azure, white, and coral hues inspired by the Bay of Naples, intricate, hand-painted ceramic tiles flown in from Naples, and an al fresco terrace transports diners from Miami to the Italian coastline. On cool nights, request a table on the outdoor patio overlooking a dramatically-lit courtyard. And if you’re lucky, one of the waiters will serenade you in Italian opera or the famous Bocelli rendition of “Con Te Partiro” (Time to Say Goodbye). Service here is friendly with many of the waitstaff speaking Italian and bringing that polished sense of hospitality to the proceedings.

We were impressed with the meticulous yet unfussy approach to cooking here. A must-order dish is the Fiori di Zucca e Baccalà, zucchini blossoms stuffed with Atlantic cod and robiola, the delicate flowers keeping their integrity while enrobing the fish and cheese treasure. The Cappellacci di Branzino, a Sea Bass-Filled Ravioli with  mascarpone, sorrento lemon, butter, and sage was a pasta-lover’s revelation for its marriage of dough and filling. The Lasagna di Mare, layers of housemade artisanal lasagna, fish ragu, mascarpone, and light tomato sauce, once again united seafood and Italian staple for a satisfyingly complex dish.

Daily specials underscore the made-from-scratch approach and the homey vibe: Mondays feature warm Maine lobster salad; Tuesdays bringing slow-roasted porchetta; Wednesdays are lasagna days; and Thursdays feature pan-baked black rice with seafood. Saturday, don’t miss the Osso Buco, and on Sunday is the traditional family dinner with rigatoni in a slow-cooked ragu sauce.

The restaurant’s Miami Spice offerings reflect the upscale yet accessible menu of Italian classics that will elevate a power lunch or a fancy night out. Mirroring all dishes available during lunch, additional dishes available during dinner include starters like the Carpaccio di Tonno with yellowfin tuna, avocado, pear, lemon, and mint, and the Carpaccio Amare, a warm, thinly sliced filet mignon with artichoke, asparagus, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, and truffle. Belly-filling entrées include Tagliatelle Bolognese with veal, pork, and beef ragu with bay leaf, and Branzino, a one-pound grilled Mediterranean Sea bass with fresh herbs and capers. Desserts keep things classic with the Tiramisù with mascarpone, lady fingers, espresso and chocolate shavings, and the Torta di Formaggio, a ricotta crema cheesecake with mascarpone and strega liqueur.

Amare Ristorante is located at 1 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, and is now open for dinner. Reservations are available by calling the restaurant at 786.598.8622 or via OpenTable.com/AmareRistorante.

By Sara Liss, contributing writer

Black and white movies featuring some of the most iconic legends in show biz, drinks being poured in Gatsby-esque coupe glasses and delicious food with every turn you take. This is the charm of the 20th Century. This is also the charm of Osteria Del Teatro {1200 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach; 305.538.7850}, Miami’s oldest and award-winning Italian restaurant, situated in the boutique Marlin Hotel in the Art Deco district of South Beach.

Providing the perfect blend of atmosphere, taste and tradition, the old-world comfort combined with new Miami style is what has contributed to the restaurant’s success for more than 30 years, says long-time owner Gilbert Gonzalez. Adding to that, the success and reputation of Osteria Del Teatro is also due to consistency. How do you achieve consistency? A combination of quality, carefully chosen, fresh ingredients, as well as an experienced waitstaff and kitchen team who have been dedicated to making customers feel like family for more than three decades.

Gilbert Gonzalez, owner of Osteria Del Teatro

As you walk through the doors, you’re immediately immersed in a decade where good food, drinks, and jazz music are at the center of a fabulous time. The exposed brick walls, vintage Edison bulbs, and tufted dark leather booths set the scene for a trendy culinary experience for visitors and locals alike.

A view from the top of main dining

Start your night in the lounge with a specialty cocktail such as the Sophia Loren or a wine from “Gilbert’s Selection,” an extensive hand-selected list of reds and whites from Italy and other regions around the world.

Cocktail lounge of Osteria Del Teatro

When it comes to the fare, the menu offers northern Italian dishes influenced from the Bergamo region. After lavish drinks in the lounge, head to your table in the dining room where your waiter will not only suggest the chef specials, but even give insight on some of the best “off-the-menu” dishes that will leave you saying, “wow!”

To start, try one of the “off-the-menu” favorites among regulars, which is the avocado and mango salad with black truffle vinaigrette. And if you’re a bread lover, we can’t fail to mention the homemade bread served on the side—for your dipping pleasure!

Salmone Bruschetta

For your main course, whether you’re a pasta, seafood, or meat lover, Osteria Del Teatro caters to everyone. The homemade pastas are, in fact, a highlight on the menu offering both traditional and specialty pastas. The Casonsei alla Bergamasca is a handmade bow-tie candy shaped ravioli with roasted veal stuffing, Parmesan cheese, and crispy pancetta in a brown-butter sage sauce. The Agnolotti al pesto is pasta infused with ricotta and spinach and topped with a creamy pesto sauce. Or try the Pappardelle porcini made with pappardelle pasta and porcini mushrooms topped with a pink vodka sauce.

Spaghetti Puttanesca

The menu is expansive, and if you’re looking for a seafood treat, you’ll find both locally caught and imported options. However, another favorite “off-the-menu” item is the South African Black Tiger Shrimp marinated in olive oil and lemon then steamed and grilled in the shell and served with French green beans and scalloped potatoes. While it’s rare to find, it’s delicious to eat, and Gonzalez says they’ll serve it as long as they can get it. Heading into dessert, grab a cappuccino to pair with their classic tiramisù, the flourless chocolate cake, the vanilla bean créme brûlée, or the caramelized apple torte. Like the name of the restaurant, Osteria Del Teatro, your dining experience is bound to be a production, and one you won’t be able to stop talking about for days following.

By Loren Gutentag, contributing writer

Quattro Miami

Photo by Gary James

When you think of South Beach’s Lincoln Road, most likely you think crowds of tourists, bustling outdoor eateries, endless shopping opportunities, and street performers. But lo and behold, there exists a quiet, authentic Italian restaurant right in the middle of the action: Quattro Gastronomia Italiana {1014 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; 305.531.4833}.

Since summer 2006, this KNR Restaurant Group restaurant has been wowing locals and visitors alike with its decadent Northern Italian cuisine, excellent wines, and inviting ambience.

Inside, the romantic space, which was designed by New York-based Studio A Design, feels worlds away from the busy pedestrian-only thoroughfare that it faces. Warm browns and deep pine greens are offset by the glimmering custom Murano glass chandeliers overhead. The focal point of the space is a Calacatta marble bar that’s surrounded by the sleek two-story wine cellar that showcases the hundreds of award-winning wines on offer. Even Quattro’s outdoor tables that line the sidewalk seem more intimate than their neighbors, as though they were plucked from a cozy Italian café and dropped straight into the South Florida sunshine.

Quattro Miami

The menu reflects this unassuming atmosphere: extensive, but not overwhelming. Overseen by Executive Chef Alex Portillo, this is Italian cuisine at its finest, with seasonal dishes that reflect the Piedmonte region of Italy, which is known for its fine cheeses, hearty local game dishes, and exotic white truffle mushrooms. In fact, the mushrooms are such an important ingredient that during truffle season (mid-October through December), the restaurant offers a special white truffle menu.

Quattro Melanzane

Parmigiana di Melanzane in Forma

We started with the Burrata, Pomodori, e Basilico, a gooey mozzarella and tomato dish; and the Parmigiana di Melanzane in Forma, a melt-in-your-mouth, baked eggplant covered in melted mozzarella and tomato sauce. Both appetizers were excellent, and we licked the plates clean. (What was leftover, we unabashedly sopped up with the oven-fresh bread that was brought to the table.)

Quattro Miami

Paccheri di Gragnano con Zucchine e Gamberi

Of course, we had to try the pastas, which are made in-house daily in an imported La Monferrina machine, a pasta-making device that is rarely found in the U.S. Both the Preparazione Casalinga dei Ravioli di Casa Savoia Tartufati (fontina and Taleggio cheese ravioli drizzled with white-truffle flavor) and Paccheri di Gragnano con Zucchine e Gamberi (paccheri di Gragnano with zucchini and shrimp) were exquisitely rich in flavor, and certainly filling enough to be a meal in and of themselves.

Though we made our primi piatti our main course, our waiter informed us that the seafood here is top-notch, and recommended that next time we try the Branzino Intero in Crosta di Sale Marino (Mediterranean sea bass baked in salt crust with sautéed vegetables). He also recommended the Scaloppine di Vitello al Limone (seared veal scallopini with lemon sauce, broccoli, and rosemary potatoes).

Quattro Miami

Scaloppine di Vitello al Limone

We couldn’t resist having a look at the dessert menu, and settled on the Bomboloni della Casa (made-to-order Italian doughnuts filled with vanilla custard, Nutella, and apricot jelly) and the Semifreddo al Gianduja (chocolate hazelnut semifreddo, torrone gelato, and caramelized bananas).

The verdict? The next time you find yourself strolling Lincoln Road, be sure to stop in at Quattro Gastronomia Italiana. You won’t be disappointed.

By Sherri Balefsky | Miami Editor