2.5 stars for Il Mulino's "Italian-American razzle dazzle: in Sunny Isles

 

Il Mulino New York a lavish treat

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Jodi Mailander Farrell

Il Mulino New York is poised to open a second South Florida outpost this spring in South Beach. Can the classic Italian-American restaurant still razzle dazzle? If its Sunny Isles location inside Acqualina Resort & Spa is any indication, some of us are still smitten with its trademark Old World nostalgia and unabashed extravagance.

From the long row of Rolls-Royces lining the valet circle at the oceanfront resort to the polished, napkin-placing wait staff that
services each table, Il Mulino is a reminder that 1 percent of us do live differently. The desire to sample that lifestyle (or at least its food) must be why the well-known name draws so many birthday parties and couples on first dates, which seemed to constitute the crowds on our recent visits.

Ambience: Diners can choose between the narrow two-tiered, rich-red interior, with its wrought-iron chandeliers and formal tables, or the outdoor patio under a regal red-and-white cabana overlooking the Roman column-lined pool. Travertine and Sinatra tunes abound.

Unlike the rest of the opulent resort's restaurants, which are under the purview of the resort's new executive chef, Dewey Losasso, Il Mulino stays strongly connected to its New York roots. Having sold the name years ago, the Manhattan landmark's founders -- brothers Gino and Fernando Masci -- now operate the popular Il Gabbiano in downtown Miami. That leaves Il Mulino New York executive chef Michele Mazza in charge of the Sunny Isles spot as well as branches in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Roslyn, N.Y. (Long Island), Tokyo and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Formal and practically flawless in its service, Sunny Isles' Il Mulino impresses with its generosity. Once we are seated, a tuxed-out trio of servers descends with complimentary starters: a small plate of Pecorino Romano; spicey, lightly fried zucchini rounds and coins of dried, cured sausage, followed by fresh bruschetta heaping with chopped tomatoes, basil, red onions. A bread basket with spicy, oil-soaked flatbread and warm white bread is planted on the table before the wine list arrives.

The Italian-centric list has a healthy Tuscan red section, but the high markups foreshadow $65-$70 entrees.

The hospitality and a number of divine dishes cushion the blow. East Coast oysters, plump and on the half-shell, are popping with freshness. Caesar dressing, assembled at the table, is a throwback to the elegant art of salad making. An expansive Dover sole is deboned, also table-side.

Classic veal piccata, pounded tender and lightly breaded, with lemon and butter, is a stand-out entrée, although solitary on the plate. Vegetables -- asparagus, zucchini, broccoli -- must be ordered separately. Rave-worthy pastas include the porcini ravioli and house-made tagliatelle with savory-sweet beef ragu. One night, a divine black-ink pasta special came adorned with fresh cherry tomatoes and giant prawns, delicately breaded and light as clouds.

Desserts are respectable yet predictable, with a lineup that includes tiramisu and flourless chocolate cake. A house-made ricotta cheesecake steals the show with freshness and flavor.

Complimentary green apple grappa, brought to the table in a copper urn of ice chips, spreads warmth going down.

Still, with all its attention to detail and service, Il Mulino comes across at the end of the evening as slightly stiff and mechanical. If this East Coast transplant doesn't want to leave Miami diners as cold as a New York winter, it needs to infuse more passion and soul into its kitchen and wait staff before it opens South of Fifth.

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