3.5 stars for Italian fine dining at Fort Lauderdale's Valentino's

 

3.5 stars for Italian fine dining at Fort Lauderdale's Valentino's

valentinos

Rochelle Koff

For more than six years, Giovanni Rocchio served his elegant Italian dishes in a small, inconspicuous storefront on U.S. 1, the kind of spot that feels like a secret find. Never mind that there wasn’t enough parking or seating at the old Valentino’s Cucina Italiana. It was beloved.

So for some, the opening of the new Valentino’s six weeks ago was bittersweet. Success brings change. Rocchio’s new restaurant is just six blocks north of the original but worlds apart. Some lament the higher prices and an end to the BYOB policy (there’s now an extensive wine list and a sommelier). And fans who felt like Rocchio was their personal chef now have to share him with new devotees who have been packing the place. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the chef’s intriguing, innovative cuisine, his fresh ingredients and attention to detail. With a bigger, state-of-the-art kitchen, he and his larger crew of cooks can give rein to creativity.

Rocchio often invited outside chefs to cook with him at the old restaurant, and he’s continuing that practice here. On our recent visits, there was a list of eight dishes by Italian chef Enzo DiPasquale. Rocchio had tasted his cooking on a trip to Milan and was so impressed, he invited DiPasquale to spend a few weeks at Valentino’s.

Rocchio has converted the old Valentino’s space into a casual restaurant, Osteria Acqua & Farina (“water and flour”), serving pizza, pasta and paninis. So you can enjoy the best of both worlds — Rocchio style.

Ambience: The chef spent more than $1 million transforming a former tire shop into a gleaming fine-dining destination just south of the tunnel. He can now seat nearly 100 instead of 55. There’s plenty of parking (mostly valet), and instead of waiting outside for a table, you can have a drink in the full bar. The decor is lovely, with soft colors, wood floors and gentle archways, a draw for an attractive crowd.

What Worked

  • Heavenly butternut squash ravioli
  • Grilled calamari
  • Salmon cured in gin and juniper berries
  • Cool, refreshing melon soup crowned with a mound of peekytoe crab salad and a sprinkling of edible flowers
  • A delicate baccala gnocchi, the saltiness of the dried cod offset by milk and a broth made from butter lettuce and shallots
  • Clams and mussels mixed with gnocchi that seems to float and nduja, a spicy sausage spread from Calabria
  • A delicious calamari and artichoke tart roasted in a cast-iron pan with a hint of garlic, a splash of lemon and a dusting of herbed bread crumbs
  • Seared wahoo
  • Roasted turbot
  • Cuttlefish, which tastes a lot like squid
  • A simple dish of plump shrimp paired with house-made fusilli pasta and a flavorful arugula pesto sauce
  • Buttery tender filet mignon topped with caramelized onions, wild mushrooms and a touch of fontina fonduta, an Italian version of fondue
  • House-made and luscious desserts
  • Tiramisu
  • An incredible caramel mousse with a crème brûlée center
  • Fun bomboloni — puffy Italian doughnuts paired with a creamy ricotta honey dip

 

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