2.5 stars for old fashioned Italian at Luca Bella in Aventura

Miami has its share of black-tie Italian restaurants, and more pizza joints than you can shake a jar of oregano at, but casual, “family-style” Italian-American spots are as rare as a good steak carpaccio. I’m talking about places that serve up big platters of classics like baked ziti, stuffed mushrooms, chicken scarpariello, Italian wedding soup and lots of dishes smothered in melted mozzarella and Parmigiano. That — along with some very friendly staffers — is what makes Luca Bella in the old Chef Allen’s space worth a try.

Ambience: The setting is not dramatically different from the restaurant’s former incarnation. The palette is more muted, with browns and blues offset by white tablecloths, and the open kitchen still looks out over the 200-seat dining room. Nostalgia comes in many forms here. You hear it on the soundtrack with Old Blue Eyes and see it on the walls with photos of owner Mickey Maltese’s kids, Marcelo Luca and Isabella, for whom the restaurant is named.

What Worked

  • Prompt, polite and generally all-male servers in blue button-downs
  • A basket of warm, rustic bread slices that crackle when broken
  • Soft-as-butter roasted garlic cloves
  • An exceptional Caesar salad tossed tableside with crisp, cold romaine, house-made croutons and eggy-garlicky dressing
  • Meat-filled chopped salad loaded with salami, peppers and provolone
  • Delightfully snappy clams casino coated in buttery bread crumbs that are well seasoned with wine and garlic
  • Simple spaghetti marinara with a wonderfully thick and zingy sauce
  • Indulgent baked fettuccine alfredo topped with buttery & crunchy bread crumbs
  • Eggplant parm made with layers of perfectly done lightly fried naked slices of eggplant & a heavy hand with melted mozzarella
  • A serviceable wine list with lots of affordable bottles and some Italian gems
  • A sweet and flaky Napoleon that’s bigger & lighter than a box of Kleenex

What Didn’t Work

  • Dense & salty lobster ravioli
  • Overcooked, chewy & dry whole Maine lobster in tomato sauce
  • Fist-sized “famous” meatballs that lacked a juicy, tender touch
  • Rock hard fried calamari



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