3 stars for Strada, sexy new Italian in the Grove

A narrow, unmarked alley off Commodore Plaza leads to Strada, the sexy new Italian in the Grove. The wall is lined with hanging pots filled with basil, thyme, tarragon, rosemary and tiny tomatoes. 

“It is my little passion,” says owner Maurizio Farinelli [cq], the Torino native who once owned South Miami’s popular Trattoria Sole and Blu. He is back in business, this time in the barren culinary landscape of Coconut Grove, where he has planted more than just aromatic herbs. Farinelli is quickly growing a following of Italian food lovers who have found their way to this intimate, casual hole-in-the-wall for exquisite cuisine that is at once homey and elegant.

Ambience: Though tables are tight and demand high, the charming, Como-born maitre’d, Renato Brivio, welcomes all comers with a hug and two kisses as if they were all regulars. The slender space, straight out of Manhattan’s West Village, is understated with a gray-on-gray color scheme, big barrel lighting and cozy, candle-topped marble tables.

What Worked

  • An antipasti board loaded with gorgeous skeins of just-carved meats and cheeses
  • Chicken liver pate made with lots of long-cooked onions
  • Garlic- and herb-infused toast (from bread shipped in from Italy)
  • Meaty green olives stuffed with a pungent Gorgonzola and gently fried with the lightest dusting of breadcrumbs
  • Octopus done three ways (all fantastic)
  • Black mussel prepared with white wine, lemon, lots of parsley and black pepper
  • Zuppa di pesce that is loaded with mussels, clams, thumb-size bits of tender white fish and shrimp in a tomatoey garlic broth so aromatic and alluring you can almost see the cartoon steam finger beckoning as it wafts toward the table
  • “So tender it can be cut with a fork” Vitello tonatto – a northern Italian classic of cold braised veal sliced thinly and smothered in a rich, creamy, emulsified tuna sauce
  • Stellar pastas
  • Simple spaghetti with garlic, oil and anchovies
  • Hand-rolled agnolottti with pumpkin and brown butter sage sauce.
  • Perfcet linguine alla vongole with aggressively al dente noodles, tiny, tender, clean and briny clams and a broth so good you must soak up every drop with a slice of warm bread
  • Rich and complex rigatoni all’Amatriciana with a sauce of long-simmered pancetta, onions, rosemary, red wine and tomatoes
  • A well-organized long and varied menu
  • Excellent and affordable wine list
  • Seductively simple desserts
  • Smooth and creamy panna cotta elevated by a luscious wild blueberry reduction
  • A wedge of lemon cheesecake that’s easy to love

What Didn’t Work

  • A quintet of dense, dry, walnut-sized meatballs
  • A distracted waiter that seemed annoyed when asked about side dishes & who rolled his eyes when queried about a typo
  • Well-intentioned but under-trained staffers